Le père Martin di Ruben Saillens e Là dove c’è amore c’è Dio di Tolstoj. Storia di un «plagio involontario»
The essay deals with the poorly known story of the plagiarism that the great Russian novelist Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) unintentionally committed against Ruben Saillens (1855-1942), a French writer who was, at the time, very popular in Protestant circles [milieu]. In fact, it was not the Saillens’ original story (Père Martin, 1882) to come into Tolstoy’s hands, but a fairly free Russian translation of it, which appeared in 1884 in a Russian journal (the «Russkij rabochij»), associated to the evangelical movement of the pashkovcy. Inspired by that version, Tolstoy composed one of his best known «popular stories» (Where there is love, there is God, 1884), which, translated into French, in turn fell into the hands of Saillens. Despite the different title, the French writer found his Père Martin there. Although Tolstoy had worked on a Russian adaptation, narrative structure, characters and passages of the Gospel reported at the end actually coincided with those of the original writing. Tolstoy had worked on the style, simplifying the syntax, breaking long and complex sentences, he had added a new episode – the old woman who forgives the boy who had stolen an apple. The comparison of the Russian version with the Tolstoian reveals that we are dealing with two profoundly different texts. Tolstoy entrusts the moral rebirth of the protagonist to a man of the people: an elderly fellow countryman returning from the pilgrimage to the monastery of St. Sergius, thus eliminating the intermediation of the church. Tolstoy also introduces the doctrine of non-resistance to evil. Moreover, in the hands of Tolstoy that Russian translation became a small masterpiece: he transformed an edifying text into a work of art, since, citing Berthold Auerbach, he too believed that «the people should be given the best which is available, just as a newborn is given the best food».