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The power of the story: history, the literary imagination, and Tolstoy's tales of Lincoln and Hadji Murád

Norman W. Provizer and Jennifer Provizer

Keywords: the role of stories; Leo Tolstoy; historical truth; Hadji Murád; stories and the brain; Abraham Lincoln


Stories play a critical role in what it means to be human. They provide, after all, a fundamental way through which we experience and understand the world. This article explores the interplay of history and the literary imagination relative to the power of the story in the context of two tales from Leo Tolstoy set against the backdrop of the Caucasus. The first is a newspaper article from 1909, still the subject of debate, that offers Tolstoy's comments on Abraham Lincoln, holding him to be the ‘world's greatest hero,’ published just before the centennial of the sixteenth president's birth. The second is the Russian novelist's slender book on Hadji Murád, who might be called Tolstoy's ‘Muslim hero,’ published in 1912, two years after Tolstoy's death. In exploring these works, emphasis is placed on how the potency of the historian's truth often pales in comparison to ‘the power of the right story.’

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