Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Dickens vs Tolstoy Battle (2018)

October 2, 2018:

Tom Hiddleston was one of the many readers at the Dickens vs Tolstoy battle hosted by Intelligence Squared. Intelligence Squared is the world's leading forum for intelligent debate and discussion. The event was held at the Emmanuel Centre in London. Team Dickens was lead by University College London professor John Mullan.  Team Tolstoy was lead by Columbia Professor Simon Schama. Other guests included Bonnie Greer, Julia Sawalha, Timothy West, Zawe Ashton, Kit Kingsley. 

The host, Farah Jassat, shared a picture of Tom in rehearsals shortly before the event started. 

Inside the event: 

You can watch the full video of the event below or listen to the podcast here

  • Charles Dickens
    • (12:48-18:40) Great Expectations performed by Zawe Ashton, Timothy West, and Kit Kingsley. 
    • (21:10-22:55) Bleak House performed by Tom Hiddleston
    • (25:10-30:25) Great Expectations performed by Zawe Ashton, Julia Sawalha, and Timothy West.
    • (33:15-37:55) David Copperfield performed by Zawe Ashton, Julia Sawalha, Timothy West, and Kit Kingsley.
  • Leo Tolstoy
    • (44:45-47:25) Hadji Murat performed by Tom Hiddleston
    • (53:23-58:38) Anna Karenina performed by Julia Sawalha and Zawe Ashton
    • (1:00:12-1:04:50) Anna Karenina performed by Tom Hiddleston and Julia Sawalha
    • (1:06:00-1:10:20) Anna Karenina performed by Tom Hiddleston and Zawe Ashton
    • (1:13:02-1:19:40) War and Peace performed by Tom Hiddleston and Zawe Ashton
Also at the end there's a question period where Bonnie Greer asks the company how different it is to perform based on prose (a book) rather than a playtext, Tom answered (1:23:05): The interesting thing about both Tolstoy and Dickens is the richness of description. With a play you just have the dialogue and so.. you're basically looking for subtext because underneath the meaning of the things people say are the things people mean. Sometimes they don't say what they mean. Whereas with Tolstoy and Dickens you've got these long passages of where both writers invite the reader into the mind of the protagonist or of the character. So that Tolstoy piece with Levin waiting for Kitty to give birth is actually in the third person but it's written with such a momentum that it feels like it's in the first person in some way. Actually that's true of all. If you're ever in a situation as an actor where there's a book. It's such a blessing because you can go to the book and look at all this interiority to shore up the exterior which is what we have to present as actors. 

There was a cute blurb about the event in the Evening Standard: Tomsky does Vronsky!

The final result was Tolstoy FTW

I predicted when the event was announced that Tom would be on team Tolstoy since Anna Karenina is one of his favorite books. 

More about the event: 

Dickens. Tolstoy. Their names and reputations shake the ground – and so do their books, if you drop one. They are the two greatest novelists from the century when novels were really great. Both captured their countries’ very souls and, as vastly influential social reformers, savagely criticised them as well. But whose legacy is more enduring? Whose vision truer and more relevant today? Should you embark on War and Peace or Our Mutual Friend? To battle it out, Intelligence Squared are bringing two celebrated writers, John Mullan for Dickens and Simon Schama for Tolstoy, to our stage.
To his fans, Dickens is matchless for his compassionate heart and his brilliant caricaturist’s eye. The great champion of social justice in his era, he was also a master of class comedy. And no writer does pathos like Dickens. His settings haunt you – he virtually created the idea of Christmas, as well as that of Victorian London – and his characters are unforgettable. Remember Mr Micawber cheerfully saying ‘Something will turn up’? Oliver Twist bravely asking for some more? Or what about the heart-rending story of Little Nell? American fans of the serialised novel legendarily stormed the New York docks to ask transatlantic passengers arriving with the latest installment, ‘Is Little Nell dead?’
Tolstoy would never stoop to sentimentalism, his followers would say, still less caricature. You can’t imagine him writing The Old Curiosity Shop or A Christmas Carol. Or calling his characters Bumble, Gradgrind, Pecksniff or the Artful Dodger. Tolstoy is the quintessential Russian novelist, a profound spiritual and historical thinker whose radical, mystical ideas spawned a sect in his own lifetime. But like Dickens, he is also a supreme chronicler of emotion. No one has ever written so movingly about death, or passionate love. As Schama says, his books are ‘stained on every page with the juice of life’. Bewitching Natasha Rostova, noble Prince Andrei, tragic Anna Karenina – Dickens may make you laugh and cry, but Tolstoy makes you fall head over heels.
To help you decide who should be hailed as the supreme giant of the 19th-century novel we have lined up the best advocates to make the case for each writer. And they will be calling on a cast of star actors, including Tom Hiddleston, to bring their arguments to life with readings from the authors’ finest works. 

Tom's biography on the event page: 


Tom Hiddleston is wearing PS Paul Smith coat from RADA Hamlet ($550).  Along with his John Smedley Lundy sweater ($250), J brand jeans ($270), Kurt Geiger chelsea boots (£139), and  Mykita glasses ($609). 


Intelligence Squared 
Tom Hiddleston
Farah Jassat
Emily Brett
Simon Salter
Meike Zane


  1. These are amazing! Thank you so much for posting.

  2. I think I may just have to HAVE the black coat Tom is wearing! SO, SO COOL!