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Tortoise Tuesday: Using Scholarly and In-Text Motive to Understand Death in Tolstoy

Distinguishing between the two types of motive – scholarly and in-text – in an introduction can be a challenge. As an author tries to convey to the reader why their argument matters, they need a strong in-text motive: the answer to the “so what?” question as to why the argument is relevant to the text, event, or other primary source under discussion. The scholarly motive is, however, just as important: since their paper is entering a scholarly conversation on the topic at hand, the author needs to take a clear position within that conversation. This can mean agreeing with a scholar but expanding on their view, knocking down another scholar’s argument and replacing it with a new model, or any other way of engaging with the existing literature.

In this opening passage from the essay “Tolstoy and the Geometry of Fear,” Kathleen Parthé articulates both her in-text and scholarly motive from the outset as she analyzes a symbol for death in Tolstoy’s short story “Notes of a Madman” (published posthumously in 1912). She explains how an analysis of the symbol, a square figure, can help the reader to understand and appreciate the story in the context of larger questions of death and fear in Tolstoy’s work (in-text motive). She also points out why her article is necessary to Tolstoy scholarship: although the critical literature has focused on the broad theme of death in Tolstoy, it has neglected the author’s use of symbolism, leaving a gap in the scholarly conversation that Parthé now tries to fill.

—Rosamond van Wingerden ’20

“Tolstoy was repeatedly drawn to the crisis of dying because he felt that the traditional literary perception of death was inadequate, Death for Tolstoy was not just another subject; it was an important personal and aesthetic challenge. The critical literature, however, has treated death in Tolstoy only from the thematic point of view, and the devices the author chose so carefully to signify death have been for the most part unexamined and underestimated. Virtually no attention has been paid to the most unexpected of all devices: the first-person narrator in “Notes of a Madman” (“Zapiski sumasshedshego”) experiences the fear of death as “a horror – red, white, and square” (uzhas krasnyi, belyi, kvadratnyi).

The goal of this article is to demonstrate that this “square” is more than simply another interesting example of the various ways of fearing death that Tolstoy observed in himself and others. I will attempt to show how this seemingly anomalous image is actually related to a series of Tolstoyan linguistic devices for depicting death, and is in fact the ultimate device in that series. Three kinds of evidence will be offered in support of this argument: other examples in Tolstoy’s work, independent observations in linguistic and critical literature, and similar groupings of devices in writers such as Bely and Zamyatin. Finally, the square will be discussed as a type of geometric image, which, along with other mathematical borrowings, enjoyed a rich development among twentieth century artists, especially in Russia.”

(Kathleen Parthé, “Tolstoy and the Geometry of Fear,” in Tolstoy’s Short Fiction [New York: Norton & Co.], 404-5)

Motive

The immunological consequences of Caesarean sections as associated with host susceptibility to a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

In a Tortoiseshell: In Isabella’s fall junior paper for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, she explores how Caesarean sections can affect offspring immunity such that the offspring may become more susceptible to HPV infection. The introduction of the paper is notable for its clear development of scholarly and popular motive, which helps the reader understand the importance of this research, both to expanding biological knowledge and to helping us understand patterns of disease prevalence.

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