Interpreting Tolstoy’s Intention in Anna Karenina

  • K. M. Newton


In the previous chapter I argued that the power of the humanist interpretation of Shakespeare has its basis in the ideology favoured by his critics. One implication of my argument was that this interpretation would lose support if evidence was discovered which suggested that Shakespeare did not hold a humanist position, since for most critics, even many who would not regard themselves as intentionalists, authorial intention possesses sufficient force to make the critic exercise control over any tendency to interpret a text in relation to his ideological preferences. This implication, however, requires some qualification, for one should not under-estimate the power of ideology. Although one can be certain that the interpretation of Shakespeare would be significantly affected if such evidence was to emerge, it would not necessarily overturn the humanist critical perspective, even among critics who would tend to support an intentionalist position. Critics are not, of course, compelled to accept that the author’s intention has priority over the critic’s point of view in determining how a literary text should be interpreted. In most cases, the literary institution will give greater support to interpretations which take account of authorial intention, but the institution is not immune to ideological influence.


Literary Text Humanist Position Moral Conflict Ideological Preference Humanist Interpretation 
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    Henri Troyat, Tolstoy, tr. Nancy Amphoux (London, 1968) p. 357.Google Scholar
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    F. R. Leavis, ‘Anna Karenina’ and Other Essays (London, 1967) p. 20.Google Scholar
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    Raymond Williams, ‘Lawrence and Tolstoy’, Critical Quarterly, 2 (1960) 37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Kenneth McMillan Newton 1986

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  • K. M. Newton

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