A former president, the writer responsible for “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, and a Russian aristocrat dressed like a peasant walk into a room… The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord by Scott Carter imagines what might happen if these three men were trapped in limbo together.
Whether you’re a devotee of one of these men or only know them by their most famous contributions, they were defining characters of their time beyond our stage—their philosophies and written texts shaped (and continue to shape) a legion of followers.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the 3rd U.S. president, and a longtime politician and philosopher:
- Focused on universal human rights, religious equality, and education.
- Fathered six children with his slave, Sally Hemmings.
- Famous work: Declaration of Independence.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a British author, critic, and commentator:
- Focused on poverty and social class.
- The first modern literary celebrity.
- Famous works: Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and Great Expectations.
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian writer, thinker, and social reformer:
- Focused on morality and faith.
- Born an aristocrat and revered the peasant class.
- Famous works: War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
Performances of The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord by Scott Carter run September 19 – October 22, 2017 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Click here for tickets and more information.
In hopes of shining a light on the weighty life questions put center stage in Scott Carter’s The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy, we’ve put together the following resources for further exploration of their relationships to legacy, philosophy, and religion. From lesser known works by the men themselves to sweeping adaptations of beloved stories, there’s hardly a medium that Dickens, Jefferson, or Tolstoy did not influence.
- A Confession and Other Religious Writings by Leo Tolstoy: Tolstoy is best known for his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but this collection of his personal writings—on the likes of faith, freedom, and morality—is further testimony to the tireless mind of a man lauded as one of the greatest authors in history.
- Jefferson’s Extracts from the Gospels by Dickinson W. Adams: Thomas Jefferson was unsatisfied with the authors of the four Gospels and the trustworthiness of their accounts, so he took it upon himself to literally extract the offending passages from his own copies of the New Testament. This volume is a compilation of Adams’ research into Jefferson’s Bible, and the definitive presentation of the president’s religious beliefs.
- The Life of Our Lord by Charles Dickens: Written exclusively for his children, Dickens forbade the publication of this book so long as he or any of his children lived. Published 64 years after his death, Dickens’ The Life of Our Lord is a simple and endearing retelling of Jesus Christ’s life and became a bestseller in its first year of publication (1934).
Film & TV
- A Christmas Carol (1984): If you’ve ever wrinkled your nose at the holiday season, you’re likely to have been called a “Scrooge.” We have Dickens to thank for coining the term with his iconic Ebenezer Scrooge and the timeless (and oft adapted) story of a miser transformed by visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.
- War and Peace (1966): Adaptations of Tolstoy’s epic have taken liberties with their sprawling source material, but Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1969 Academy Award-winning undertaking—some 7 hours on 3 discs—is as close to visualizing the text as you can get.
- Thomas Jefferson (1997) by Ken Burns: The 3 part documentary by American filmmaker Ken Burns is an overview of both the public and the private face of the once president (and also writer, inventor, and architect). Academics and political figures discuss his life and legacy, as well as his relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings.
- The Trouble with Tolstoy (2011) by Alan Yentob: Originally aired in two installments on the BBC, Alan Yentob’s documentary takes the viewer on a train ride through Tolstoy’s Russia. Featuring contributions from the author’s great great grandson and distinguished Russian commentators, it is a comprehensive overview of a singular and mercurial man.
- Uncovering the Real Dickens (2003) by Peter Ackroyd: Presented by Peter Ackroyd for the BBC, this 3-disc set explores the best of times and the worst of times of the author, with the help of dramatic reconstruction. The additional material includes the 1999 adaptation of David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol as performed by Anton Lesser.
- “Charles Dickens: Six Things He Gave the Modern World” by Alex Hudson: From shaping the portrayal of modern Christmas in our culture to his influence on cinema, Dickens’ work has a reach that transcends the page.
- “Leo Tolstoy’s Poignant Letter to Gandhi on the Laws of Love” by Nathan Gelgud: It’s easy to overlook the fact that history’s most towering figures lived alongside equally formidable contemporaries and didn’t just exist in a vacuum by themselves. Take Tolstoy’s writings to Gandhi in the last years of the former’s life, where he expounds on his belief in love triumphing over force: “any employment of force is incompatible with love as the highest law of life, and that as soon as the use of force appears permissible even in a single case, the law itself is immediately negatived.” The letters in their entirety can be read here.
- “Charlottesville: Why Jefferson Matters” by Annette Gordon-Reed: Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, Annette Gordon-Reed, writes on Jefferson’s aspirations and paradoxes, and how they continue to underline the fragility of the American experiment.
The Primary Stages production of The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord runs until October 22, 2017 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. For tickets and additional information, please visit our website.