Richter Scholar examines connection between famous novelists

Nihada Hadzic ’16 really got to know Leo Tolstoy this summer. A Richter Scholar, she read and analyzed three of his works, in part to help Associate Professor of English Carla Arnell prepare to teach the works during her First-Year Studies class this fall on Dickens and the Russian Novel, and in part to trace the influence of Charles Dickens on Tolstoy for a scholarly paper.

The fact that Tolstoy was influenced by Dickens already has been established by scholars and biographers, but Hadzic felt like there was something more — and she found it partway through Anna Karenina, in a passage where the author reflects on the nature of children and their education. She can quote the line from memory: “All one has to do is not spoil children, not to distort their nature, and they’ll be delightful.”

The line is one of the few instances in Tolstoy’s novel where he offers a definitive answer to an idea, Hadzic said. It also aligns with the notion of “original innocence” explored by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and dramatized repeatedly in Dickens’ novels. According to one of Tolstoy’s biographers, as a teenager, Tolstoy had so idolized Rousseau that he is reputed to have said that he wished he could wear a picture of Rousseau in a locket around his neck, as if it were a holy icon.

“That’s what drew Tolstoy to Dickens,” Hadzic said. “Dickens was influential to Tolstoy because of Rousseau.” 

Delving into this connection, which only has ever been briefly mentioned by biographers, was Hadzic’s primary task over her 10-week research experience. Although frustrating on the onset as she searched for an original topic, she became more committed to her work with every biography and diary she read. Also noteworthy is that she compared two works that are not often compared to prove her argument: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Hadzic decided she wanted to work with Arnell because she enjoyed taking her Ancient and Medieval Literature class last fall and is interested in Tolstoy, who is from Russia. Hadzic was born in nearby Bosnia and said the two countries share many ideologies and similar languages. Hadzic and her family moved to the United States when she was 5 years old.

The English major and philosophy and Classics double-minor who aspires to perhaps become a professor some day said writing her first-ever scholarly paper was a challenging experience compared to the style of writing she’s used to, particularly in the areas of audience and tone. Even though the Richter Program is over, she does not plan to close the book on the paper and expects to revisit it as she gains more experience in her upper-level classes. 

In the near future, she looks forward to sitting in on some of Arnell’s First-Year Studies classes in a few weeks’ time to see how her own interpretations of Tolstoy match up to other students’ understandings.