Communities of Dialogue Russian and Ukrainian Émigrés in Modernist Prague

Conference | Paper

The “Great Man” as a Guiding Idea: The Origins of Tolstoy's and Dostoevsky's Napoleon Narratives and the Novel as the Genre for Negotiating Greatness

Eliane Fitzé, Simon Michel

Thursday 23 May 2024

09:00 - 09:45


Both Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869) and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866), written and published in serialized form during the same years, pick up on a guiding idea of the time: the concept of the “great man”, the “grand homme”, the “historical personage”. In our presentation, we trace the origins of this concept from the impact of the French Revolution on its German and Central-European philosophical development, including the notion of Titanism of German Romanticism, to Hegelian philosophy, up to its manifestation in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (and its subsequent influence on Nietzsche). Our investigation focuses particularly on the genre of discussing the “great man” idea, examining the disparities between Tolstoy’s literary portrayal of Kutuzov in War and Peace and his philosophical reflections in the novel’s epilogue, as well as Dostoevsky’s use of polyphony and dialogicity in the interaction between the implicit author and Raskolnikov. Through this analysis, we seek to illuminate how both writers tried to overcome the Western concept of greatness by introducing a ‘Russian’ version of the great man.