What Was on Tolstoy's Bookshelf?
By Charles Dickens
Dickens was one author Tolstoy praised unabashedly. Tolstoy found there to be something infectious about the love and good will that Dickens exuded. He accounted for the popularity of Dickens in this way: he thought that Dickens forced readers to love him because he himself showed such great love for his own literary creations.
Reading Dickens had the effect of making Tolstoy want to sit down and write. His wife recorded in her diary, in 1878, that she could always tell that when "Levochka starts reading English novels," he was getting ready to write himself. Dickens also was at least partly responsible for Tolstoy's decision to write fiction to start with. Reading David Copperfield, which he pronounced "a delight," was a major impetus for Tolstoy's decision to write "Childhood," the first segment of his trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. This work has many features that smack of David Copperfield, starting with a hero who is a momma's boy but suffers the loss of his beloved mother. Tolstoy's hero, like Dickens' David, must learn to make it in a man's world, but retains a sensitivity that sets him apart.