As Paul, who sent me the link, wrote, “To me this is asking : which is better eating, poulet de Bresse roasted with herbs or prime New York strip perfectly char-grilled ?” And of course he’s right, and everyone involved in this poll at The Millions agrees, but it’s still an ever-enjoyable question to chew over, and the eight Russian experts asked for their opinions by Kevin Hartnett provide an enjoyable variety of answers. (An irrelevant remark: Duke University has a Professor of the Practice of Russian? I wonder how that odd title came about.) Myself, I will have no opinion until I’ve read more of each writer in the original, and even then I’m pretty sure my answer will be “They’re both great, and which I prefer depends on my mood that day.” I must say, though, that the respondents who come down on Dostoevsky’s side tend to write more entertainingly than the Tolstoyophiles, and the latter occasionally evidence a certain pomposity; when Andrew Kaufman says of Dostoevsky “What he doesn’t do, however, is make you love life in all its manifestations,” my response is “You shouldn’t need a novelist to make you do that, and that’s not what literature is for anyway.” I liked Chris Huntington’s conclusion:
In any case, I realize that the “competition” between Dostoevsky and Tolstoy is just an exercise in love. No one really has to choose one or the other. I simply prefer Dostoevsky. For my last argument, I will simply cite an expert far older and wiser than me:
Just recently I was feeling unwell and read House of the Dead. I had forgotten a good bit, read it over again, and I do not know a better book in all our new literature, including Pushkin. It’s not the tone but the wonderful point of view – genuine, natural, and Christian. A splendid, instructive book. I enjoyed myself the whole day as I have not done for a long time. If you see Dostoevsky, tell him that I love him.
-Leo Tolstoy in a letter to Strakhov, September 26, 1880