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Pushkin House Russian Book Club: Ukraine Series: Sebastopol Sketches

The second event in the Pushkin House Russian Book Club series focuses on the work about the Crimean War that catapulted a young Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy to authorial fame in 1855.  Led by Dr Rosamund Bartlett and Prof Stephen Lovell, the informal discussion will revolve around both the philosophical themes and the historical background of the series, as well as importance of the novella in the evolution of Tolstoy’s work and thinking.

On one level the three stories forming the Sevastopol Sketches are an honest, on-the-ground ‘report’ of the campaign; on another, they are a powerful revelation of the pointlessness and irony of war.

The first sketch, Sevastopol in December, is told in the second person, setting the scene by placing ‘you’, the reader, right in the centre of action, in a field hospital amongst the flies, the stench and rows of amputees. 

Sevastopol in May muses on the senselessness and vanity of military conflict; the shallow humanism of truces easily broken, children picking flowers amongst the corpses.

In the final sketch we follow new recruit Volodya, charting his enthusiasm for the fight, his thirst for glory and recognition – human constructs made ridiculous amidst the surrounding reality of squalor and death.

Rosamund Bartlett is an author, translator and scholar whose books include biographies of Chekhov and Tolstoy, and a study of Wagner’s influence on Russian thought. As a translator she has published the first unexpurgated edition of Chekhov’s letters, and two anthologies of Chekhov’s short stories. Her new translation of Anna Karenina for Oxford World Classics will be published this autumn: she is now writing a cultural history of opera in Russia





Stephen Lovell is Professor of Modern History at King’s College, London. An alumnus of St. John’s College, Oxford, SSEES, UCL and King’s College, Cambridge, he now specialises in Russian social and cultural history. His books include The Russian Reading Revolution: Print Culture in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras (2000), Summerfolk: A History of the Dacha, 1710-2000 (2003), Destination in Doubt: Russia since 1989 (2006), The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction (2009) and The Shadow of War: Russia and the Soviet Union, 1941 to the Present (2010). He is currently completing a history of Soviet radio.