Leo Tolstoy: The Later Years



Five years ago, after extensive research, Ernest J. Simmons began his two-volume life and appraisal of Russia’s great writer, Leo Tolstoy. In the first half of this biography, chapters of which were serialized in the Atlantic in 1945, he traced the gusty, exuberant career of the young Tolstoy. Leo was the fourth son of Count Nikolai Tolstoy, a Russian nobleman. Leo’s mother died before he was two; and he knew little of his good-natured but ineffectual father, who died when the boy was eight. Leo, his three brothers, and a sister were brought up by their aunts in a golden age on the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, with its thousands of acres and hundreds of serfs.

For the future novelist the road to wisdom lay through the valley of excess. Intensely passionate, vain, hypersensitive, Leo loved society and yearned to be comme il faut like his brother Sergei, but his coarse peasant features and his awkwardness did not make him popular with students and the well-bred girls of Kazan when he matriculated at the university there in 1844.

Young Tolstoy took pride in his physical strength. Studies interfered with his gymnastic exercises, and with sudden contempt he broke away from the university and returned to his estate, where for a time he played at being a bucolic philosopher and at reforming the serfs. But the serfs objected, and in the face of their recalcitrance the fleshpots of Moscow and Petersburg seemed more inviting.

In the city the eligible young man had more invitations than were good for him. His love of cards and his conviviality endeared him to the other young bachelors, who introduced him to the shady restaurants, the haunts of the gypsy singers. He struggled against these temptations, mercilessly flagellating himself for weaknesses of the flesh. With sudden resolution he left the city wasteland and accompanied his Army brother, Nikolai, who was returning to his battery in the Caucasus. There, in the intervals of frontier life, Leo found time to write his first book, Childhood, which was widely acclaimed on its publication in Petersburg. But in the rough-and-tumble life his spiritual resolution was as hard as ever to sustain.

During the Crimean War, Leo received a commission in the artillery and fought gallantly at Sevastopol. He wrote a series of Sevastopol Tales, and on his return to Petersburg after the war he was welcomed as a literary hero by Turgenev and other contributors to the Contemporary magazine. But Leo was too strident to fit with ease in a literary coterie. He would argue at the drop of a hat, and a dispute with Turgenev led to an angry challenge to a duel. Turgenev averted the duel by apologizing, but the estrangement between the two lasted seventeen years.

Again Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana with reforms in mind. With great zeal he plunged into the work of educating peasant children. But in 1861, as he approached his thirty-third birthday, he reached the point in his struggle between spiritual perfection and material happiness when neither education nor work nor literature could satisfy the urge within him. In September, 1862, after a stormy courtshio he married Sonya Bers, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a childhood playmate. In the next fifteen years, Sonya bore him nine children, and Tolstoy wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina. In 1876 he turned again to the spiritual quest from which he had been diverted during his fifteen years of happy marriage.




AT THE end of Confession Tolstoy indicated his distrust of the Orthodox Church and declared his intentions of separating what was true from what was false in the teachings of the Church and in the Bible. Over the next few years he devoted himself to this task. With magnificent arrogance, he swept through centuries of accumulated Biblical scholarship, textual exegesis, commentaries, and historical studies, Liake an intellectual titan, he absorbed this mountain of material as he had the “whole libraries” connected with the theme of War and Peace. Only now he worked with the spirit of God in his soul and with the consciousness that what he wrote might never see the light of day, in Russia at least. That his attitude towards established religion would be deeply hostile was almost a foregone conclusion: his entire previous intellectual history had been steeped in dissent.

After having dismissed the dogmas of the Church and the whole theology in which they were imbedded, Tolstoy turned to an investigation of the Gospels, for he was mystified by what he considered the Church’s distortion of the spirit of Christ’s teaching. By accepting the literal meaning of nonresistance to evil with all its implications, much that had been obscure in the Gospels became plain to him. For by not resisting him that is evil, one will never do violence, will never do an act contrary to love, which Tolstoy felt was the real substance of Christianity. All who would fulfill the low must be prepared to abandon everything and endure all consequences.

Once having decided upon an acceptance of the literal meaning of Christ’s words in this instance, Tolstoy applied the principle to many other significant precepts enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Gospels in general. And from this study he elucidated five commandments of Christ that he himself accepted, and that, if observed by all, would alter the whole course of men’s lives. Put in brief form they are: Do not be angry; Do not lust; Do not swear oaths (by which is meant: “Do not give away the control of your future actions”); Resist not him that is evil; and Love your enemies.

Tolstoy maintained that these commandments represented the core of Christ’s teaching, and if practiced would link religion to our daily lives. He saw clearly all their far-reaching implications. For a man who refuses to swear an oath cannot take any part in the offices of civil government or serve in the army; the complete observance of the commandment Resist not him that is evil involves ultimately the entire abolition of compulsory legislation, law courts, police, and prisons, as well as all forcible restraints of man by man; and adherence to Love your enemies would mean the end of all wars. He fully realized, of course, that man is weak and incapable of a strict observance of such precepts as Do not be angry or Do not lust; and to abstain from anger and lust as much as possible, he admitted, was perhaps all that our animal natures would allow.

All these commandments were implicit in much that he had said and written in his diaries, letters, and artistic works before 1880. Unlike the traditional theologian, he was not concerned with the personality of God or the creation and redemption of the world. He simply wanted an explanation of the meaning of life, and he found it in some Higher Power that manifested itself through the workings of reason and conscience. And by experience he became convinced that the existence of that Power in him constituted a moral force for good which in turn gave a meaning and purpose to life that was not defeated by death.

In striking contrast to the spiritual suffering Tolstoy had been through was the happiness he now derived from his newly found faith. Experience would soon teach him how difficult it was to conform to his religious precepts. In the meantime, he could not keep quiet about the failure of others to live up to them. In fact, he had scarcely formulated the commandments before he attempted to persuade the Tsar of All the Russias to observe several of them in a situation of grave national consequence.

In the 1860’s and 1870’s Alexander II had striven to correct the abuses of his predecessor’s reign, one of the most reactionary in Russia, by supporting liberal legislation, such as the emancipation act that freed the serfs. These progressive measures by no means satisfied the adherents of a growing revolutionary movement that demanded nothing less than the end of autocratic rule. The activities of the revolutionists were met with severe reprisals and their organizations were forced underground, but they continued to perpetrate violent acts, freely risking their lives to murder those they considered the enemies of the people. On March 1, 1881, a group of terrorists belonging to the revolutionary organization Peoples’ Freedom blew up the carriage of Alexander II and killed the Tsar. Six of the terrorists were apprehended (including one woman, Sofya Perovski) and were subsequently condemned to death.

The assassination of the Tsar shocked Tolstoy, as it did nearly everyone in Russia, but he was even more distressed over the condemned terrorists. His instinctive repulsion to capital punishment was now intensified by the faith he had adopted, a faith that regarded the taking of human life as a mortal sin. In a dream he saw the execution of the slayers of Alexander II, and instead of the executioners designated by the court, it was as though he himself executed them. He awoke in horror and at once wrote a letter to Alexander III. It began in a humble tone: “I, an insignificant, unrecognized, weak, and wretched man, write a letter to the Russian Emperor and advise him how to act in the most complex and difficult circumstances that have ever occurred. I feel how strange, improper, and bold this is, and yet 1 write.”

His tone soon changed, however, to that of a tremendously earnest and courageous pleader. He acknowledged how horrible was the crime that had been committed by the terrorists, and he admitted the possibility that their adherents, “for the sake of the imaginary general good they seek, must wish to kill you too.” That the Tsar’s soul was filled with a desire for vengeance on his father’s murderers, he could well understand. Yet his primary duty was not as tsar, but as a man, and if he would only follow the teaching of Christ, the temptation of vengeance would be destroyed.

In an eloquent peroration Tolstoy concluded his letter as follows: —

“Forgive! Return good for evil, and from among a hundred evil-doers scores will turn not to you, not to them (this is not important), but they will turn from the devil to God, and the hearts of thousands, of millions, will throb with joy and tenderness at this example of goodness shown from the throne, at a moment so terrible for the son of a murdered father.

. . . Who are these revolutionists? They are people who hate the existing order of things; they find it bad, and they have in mind the establishment of a future order that will be better. It is impossible to contend against them by killing and destroying them. Their number is not important, but their thought. To struggle against them one must struggle spiritually. Their ideal is a sufficiency for all, equality, and freedom. To oppose them one must oppose their ideal with one that is superior to theirs and includes it. . . .

“There is only one ideal that can be opposed to them. And that ideal, the one from which they start — though not understanding and blaspheming it — and which includes theirs, is the ideal of love, of forgiveness, and of returning good for evil. Only one word of forgiveness and Christian love, spoken and fulfilled from the height of the throne, and the path of Christian rule which is before you, waiting to be trod, can destroy the evil that is corroding Russia. As wax before the fire, every revolutionary struggle will melt away before the man-tsar who fulfills the law of Christ.”


TO GET such a letter to the Tsar was no easy task. Tolstoy had recourse to his friend Strakhov in Petersburg. He sent him the letter and asked him to deliver it to K. P. Pobedonostsev, former tutor of Alexander III, and at this time Procurator of the Holy Synod. Tolstoy hoped Pobedonostsev, who had the confidence of the Tsar, would present the letter to him. Tolstoy also wrote to Pobedonostsev, explaining his sense of moral responsibility which had obliged him to compose the letter, and soliciting his aid in seeing that it reached the Emperor. But the influential Pobedonostsev, who soon gained the reputation of being the most reactionary force in Russia, flatly refused to transmit Tolstoy’s letter to the Emperor.

Strakhov then turned the letter over to Professor K. N. Bestuzhev-Ryumin, who put it in the hands of the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. Through him it is reported to have reached the Emperor, but his only response, how authentic is uncertain, is recorded by Sonya: “Concerning this letter, Alexander III commanded that Count L. N. Tolstoy be told that if an attempt had been made on his own life, he could pardon it, but he did not have the right to pardon the murderers of his father.”

Tolstoy’s letter to the Emperor, however, did cause some repercussions which appear to have worried the powerful Pobedonostsev. Fearful that rumors of the intervention of so distinguished an author might create a party opposed to the execution, he wrote the Emperor pleading that nothing be allowed to interfere with the executions. Alexander III reassured him. “Be calm,” he replied, “no one will dare to come to me with such proposals; I guarantee that all six will be hanged.” And so they were.

Three months after Tolstoy had written to him to secure his assistance, and when the terrorists had long been cold in their graves, Pobedonostsev condescended to reply. The letter began with a sniveling excuse for tardiness, but it contained also a veiled warning that boded ill for Tolstoy in the future. “In such an important affair,” he wrote in explanation of his unwillingness to accommodate Tolstoy, “everything must be done in accordance with one’s faith. And after reading your letter, I saw that your faith is one thing, and mine and that of the Church another, and that our Christ is not your Christ. Mine I know as a man of strength and truth, healing the weak; but in yours I thought I detected the features of one who is feeble and himself needs to be cured.”

So Tolstoy had failed in his first major attempt to persuade another to practice the taith he had embraced. The letter to the Emperor is a fair sample of the attitude towards public affairs that Tolstoy retained for the rest of his life. And this attitude raises the question of how thorough was his understanding of the processes of government in Russia. In the past, with few exceptions, he had avoided any active participation in political matters. His distrust of civil institutions had been manifested on frequent occasions. Nor can there be any doubt that deeply rooted prejudice, springing from his own aristocratic background, made it difficult for him to have any sympathy for the widespread revolutionary movement. His conviction that the ills of society could be corrected by observing the law of Christ led him into a dangerous oversimplification of political and social problems. He did not see that pardoning a few terrorists, who were quite willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve their ends, would not solve an age-old problem that involved the deprivation of the most elementary human rights for millions of subjects of a despotic government.

The fact is, Tolstoy was seeking for the Kingdom of God on earth. His premise was that men can exist successfully and happily by living according to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount alone. Human experience, however, does not support the premise. Outside the confines of society, no limit need be placed on an individual’s striving for moral perfection. But as a member of organized society, the individual is obliged to submit to forces that are inimical to the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Eventually, Tolstoy recognized this fact. His great virtue and his largest service to humanity was his insistence that most of the suffering of mankind resulted from failure to abide by moral laws. Implicit in his letter to the Emperor is the clear realization that the failure of both the established government and its revoltionary opponents, in Russia and elsewhere, was caused then, and always will be caused, by the absence of morality in striving for political and social betterment.


KNOWLEDGE of Tolstoy’s religions experience and his new faith came as a surprise, and sometimes an unpleasant one, to his close friends. Many of his admirers, to whom he was the famous author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, were shocked and bewildered by his abandonment of literature for religion, and idle rumors about this defection quickly went the rounds. “Here in Petersburg,” communicated the faithful Strakhov, “all discuss your revolution”; and Dostoyevsky, while on a visit to Moscow, wrote to his wife: “Grigorovich reported that . . .

Tolstoy has almost lost his mind and perhaps may have gone completely insane.”

Turgenev could only lament the great loss to Russian literature that would result from Tolstoy’s preoccupation with religion. As though he felt that praise might tempt Tolstoy to hew to the literary line, he wrote him from Paris in January, 1880, to tell him of his success among the French. The glamour of artistic success, however, was something Tolstoy was beginning to think of as a positive evil.

The next year Turgenev paid his last visit to Yasnaya Polyana. It was Sonya’s birthday and merriment reigned in the household. Turgenev entered into the spirit of the occasion and danced a quadrille the young folks arranged. Then, taking off his coat and sticking his thumbs into his waistcoat, he began to perform weird movements with his legs, declaring that this was the way the cancan was danced in Paris. All were amused, but the stern Tolstoy entered in his diary that day: “Turgenev—the cancan! It is sad.”

The one Russian author who might have sympathized with Tolstoy’s faith in Christ’s teaching was Dostoyevsky. And it is an interesting fact that at just about this time Tolstoy had begun to manifest a lively interest in Dostoyevsky, who had already acclaimed him in print as one of the great writers of the age. Dostoyevsky had been eager to go to Yasnaya Polyana to meet him, but when he consulted Turgenev on the matter the latter discouraged the visit by telling him how difficult it was to approach Tolstoy. The two never did meet.

Years before (1862) Tolstoy had strongly recommended Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead to Granny, and in 1880 he wrote to Strakhov, who was close to Dostoyevsky and became his biographer, that he had just reread this work and did not know “of a better book in all modern literature, including Pushkin. Not the tone, but the point of view is surprising — sincere, natural, and Christian. ... If you see Dostoyevsky, tell him that I love him.” Strakhov showed the letter to Dostoyevsky, who was immensely pleased with this praise from a man whose literary art he thought supreme.

The next year Dostoyevsky died. In answer to a letter from Strakhov about the death, tolstoy wrote: “1 never saw this man and never had any direct relations with him, and suddenly, when he died, I understood that he was the closest, dearest, and most necessary man to me. ... I reckoned him as my friend. . . . What a support has been torn from me. ... I wept and weep now.”

Tolstoy did not deceive himself. Of all the Russian writers of the time Dostoyevsky was probably closest to him in an ideological sense, however strikingly contrasted their artistic works may be. In their thought and in an insistence upon the importance of morality in life, they had a great deal in common. Dostoyevsky’s sweeping doctrine of salvation by suffering and his condemnation of reason as an approach to faith would have repelled Tolstoy. But Christ was their hero. Both men were seekers after God, and in faith in Him they saw the only possibility of salvation. Dostoyevsky, however, attempted to realize the Kingdom of God in his art; Tolstoy sought through his active deeds to establish it on earth.


ALTHOUGH Tolstoy’s new faith obliged him 1o give no offense and to live in amity with all men, his strenuous nature and emphatic expression often led him into being severe on the conduct and occupations of others. He was soon made to realize that the discoverer of a truth, even though it be old and forgotten, must pay a price in friendship. For his friends and the public, he was a writer of great fiction, and they resented his preaching Christian ethics and donning the prophet’s robe. A still greater tragedy brought about by his devotion to the Prince of Peace was that it strained his relations with his family and ultimately left him spiritually alone in his own household.

In her diary at the beginning of 1881, Sonya well described the changed atmosphere of the household. “Every day,”she wrote of her husband, “he sits at his work, surrounded by books and keeps at it until dinner. His health has become very weak, his head aches, and he has grown gray and thin this winter. Obviously, he is not entirely as happy as I should desire, and he has become quiet, self-absorbed, and silent. Almost never does that jolly, lively frame of mind appear which formerly attracted all of us around him. . . . The clarity and calm of the personal state of his soul are undoubted, but suffering over the misfortunes and injustices of people, their poverty and imprisonment, over the evil of people, over oppression — all this acts on his sensitive spirit and consumes his existence.”

From the outset Sonya did not agree with her husband’s new religious beliefs, but at first she was willing to recognize their value, and in moments of spiritual closeness to him she tried hard 1o believe in them. Such moments of closeness, however, grew increasingly rare. The seeds of discord that had been planted in the early years of marriage had begun to bear fruit, and his religious change hastened the ripening.

In letters to her sister Tanya at this time, Sonya, perhaps with a touch of exaggeration and self-pity, complained of her grief and suffering, and her desire for death, and she hinted darkly of a crisis in her life with her husband. There were two reasons for her fear. The first and more important was an old one— her opposition to having more children. Her protests in the past had been swiftly crushed by Tolstoy’s uncompromising attitude. Shortly after the birth of her tenth child (a son, Mikhail, born December 20, 1879), she wrote in an almost hysterical tone to Tanya: “At times I should like to fly away to you, to mama, to Moscow — anywhere, anywhere away from my half-dark bedroom, where bending over the flushed little face of a new boy fourteen times a day I have shrunk away and almost fallen into a faint from the pain in my breasts. I’ve resolved to be consistent and nurse the last one too.” And in succeeding letters to Tanya in 1880, Sonya complained bitterly of the “solitary life” forced on her by childbearing. In October of that year, however, she wrote to her sister: “Misha is always throwing up the little milk that he sucks, and I feel ill. On that score, to my extreme horror, I’m surely pregnant again.”

No one would censure Sonya for her protests now, for almost without interruption she had spent her whole youth in burdensome pregnancies and painful nursing. Nevertheless, Tolstoy evinced no disposition to take into consideration her physical and psychical limitations. Undoubtedly this vital disagreement aggravated old wounds and intensified the dissension that now arose because of the new demands that his religious life necessitated — the second reason for her fear.

The uncongenial atmosphere at home, for which he was largely, though unwittingly, responsible, no doubt had something to do with Tolstoy’s frequent absence from Yasnaya Polyana during 1880 and part of the following year. With irritation Sonya wrote to her sister in November, 1880: “Lyovochka has plunged into his work, visiting prisons, justices of the peace, district courts, and recruiting stations out of extreme pity for people and for all the oppressed. All this is no doubt fine, great, and lofty, if only to feel the more one’s own insignificance and nastiness. But, alas! life has its own rights; it longs for the other side, and the discord is only more painful and powerful.”

She complained of his sudden contempt for money and of the bountiful way in which he had begun to distribute it to poor peasants, and she lent an attentive ear to her brother Alexander, who asserted that profound religious and philosophical preoccupation endangered one’s mind. For a time relations between husband and wife grew so unpleasant that Sonya confessed to her sister that she even wanted to leave home. “Truly, this is because they have begun to live a Christian life. Formerly, in my opinion, without this Christianity it was much better.”

Meanwhile Sonya had decided that the family must move to Moscow. Sergei wished to enter the university. In the normal course of things he would have been sent alone to Moscow to pursue his studies, for he had arrived at the college age, when such freedom was considered a necessity. The assassination of Alexander II, however, had stirred up the university students and intensified revolutionary activities among them. Already the government had instituted repressive measures. Sonya feared that her son might become involved in the radical movement if he were freed from parental supervision. Besides, the younger children could obtain better educational facilities in the city, and Tanya, who would soon be seventeen, needed to be brought out into the social life of Moscow.

The decision was largely Sonya’s, and it was she who had to hunt down a house in Moscow that would suit their social position and also their dwindling income. It was an onerous task. Further, it had to be undertaken at a time when she was expecting her eleventh child. Tolstoy was away in Samara, and her letters about the difficulties she was encountering in finding a suitable house, and about her trials with the children, eventually touched her husband and evoked a sudden upsurge of his former sense of duty and devotion to his wife. “You would not believe how troubled I am at the thought that you may be overtaxing your strength,” he wrote, “ and how I repent of having given you little or no help. . . . My justification is that in order to work with the intensity with which I have worked, and to get something done, one has to forget all else. And I have forgotten you too much, and I now repent. For God’s sake and for the sake of our love, take care of yourself as much as possible. Put off as much as you can till my return. I will gladly do everything and will not do it badly, because I will take pains.”

Yet Tolstoy did not hurry home, and by the time he arrived the removal to Moscow had been nearly all arranged. In truth, he regarded this event with dark foreboding. Just before he left Yasnaya Polyana, he wrote to friends in Samara: “ We are leaving on the 15th of September. I cannot imagine how I will live there.” He dreaded the life in a great city with all its glaring contrasts of wealth and poverty. What his reactions would be are suggested in a striking entry in his diary shortly before his departure: “An economic revolution not only may but must come. It is extraordinary that it has not come already.”


ON MORE than one occasion since his marriage Tolstoy had expressed a dislike for city life, but for Sonya it offered the glad promise of a change from the monotony that had bored and fretted her spirit at Yasnaya Polyana. At last she would be able to assume a social position and enjoy the sophisticated pleasures of Moscow.

The family settled in a spacious rented house in Money Lane. Sergei enrolled in Moscow University; Ilya and young Leo entered a Gymnasium; and Tanya soon began her studies in an art school. The pattern of their future existence in Moscow was quickly determined. Comings and goings of playmates of the children, relatives and literary friends of Tolstoy, and persistent worshipers of the famous author kept the house as busy as a railway station. “What a quantity and variety of people come to see us,” Sonya wrote her sister, “authors and painters . . . le grand monde, nihilists, and all sorts! ” Sonya, still young, attractive, and elegantly dressed in the latest style, played the charming hostess at the samovar.

If her husband was in the mood, he would enter the large drawing room at the tea hour. All conversation ceased upon his appearance, and he would behave with gracious aristocratic politeness to the guests, who hung upon his every word. At times, however, something of the real contempt he felt for convention would manifest itself, much to Sonya’s chagrin, in a refusal to wear his coat when company was present, because the room was too hot. More often he preferred to desert the large drawing room for the two small chambers that he had appropriated for himself. There, amid clouds of tobacco smoke, he held forth to eager admirers.

Beneath the pleasing surface that confronted their guests, family dissension grew with increasing tempo. The nature of their life together had changed; it had lost its simplicity, its artlessness, its originality. The older children, as well as husband and wife, felt this growing estrangement. The new life according to God that Tolstoy wished to live had nothing in common with the traditional aristocratic city existence that had been instilled into the family. The children felt it was not that they failed to understand their father, but that he had ceased to understand them, and they unconsciously drew away from him in order not to have their own happiness spoiled. Gloomily he walked the streets and grew irritated at the curious eyes that stared at him and at the occasional strangers who, recognizing the author of War and Peace, obsequiously bowed.

Before Tolstoy had been long in Moscow, he entered his reactions in his diary: “A month has passed. The most miserable in my life. The move to Moscow. All are busy arranging — when will they begin to live? All is not for the sake of living, but in order to be like other people. Unfortunates! There is no life. Stench, stones, luxury, poverty, debauchery. Malefactors have come together, robbing the people; they have collected soldiers and set up law courts to protect their orgies, and they feast.”

If Tolstoy’s reactions to life in Moscow were bitter, his wife’s were no less so on the score of his behavior, for she wrote to her sister Lanya: “We have been here a month tomorrow and I have not written a word to anyone. During the first two weeks I cried every day, because Lyovochka not only became sad, but even fell into a kind of desperate apathy. He didn’t sleep or eat and sometimes literally wept, and I thought I would really go mad. You would be surprised to see how I have changed and how thin I have grown. . . . Now he has arranged to work in a wing of the house, where he has hired two small quiet rooms for himself at six rubles a month; he walks to Maiden Field, makes his way across the river to the Sparrow Hills and there saws and splits wood with some peasants. It is good for his health and cheers him up.”

Although the poverty and evil Tolstoy observed in the city discouraged him, he felt keenly that he must do something to remedy the situation. Determined to see the worst the city had to offer, one late December afternoon in 1881 he made his way to the Khitrov market, a disreputable section of the town. His well-dressed appearance quickly attracted attention among the throng of ragged, shivering, hungry, import unale human derelicts and they crowded around him. He listened to their tales of desperate circumstances, and in an agony of helplessness he bought them hot drinks and distributed money freely.

The news of the ministering angel ran through the street. Each upturned begging face seemed to him more pitiful and degraded than the last. The press of people became great; disorder and a crush ensued. Tolstoy took refuge in Lyapin House, a charitable institution that provided free night lodgings. The sighl of the tiers of bunks, each with its impoverished occupant in tatters, further sickened him. Feeling terribly ashamed of himself, he hurried away.

Tolstoy reached home that night, ascended the carpeted stairway, took off his fur coat, and sat down to a five-course dinner served by two lackeys in dress clothes with white ties and gloves. And at that moment he understood with his whole being that the existence of tens of thousands of destitute people in Moscow was a crime, not committed once, but again and again; and that he with his luxury not merely tolerated it, but shared in it. That same evening, he described his impressions to a friend. With some satisfaction the friend began to explain that poverty was a most natural thing in the city and an inevitable condition of civilization. In the argument that followed, Tolstoy, quite unconscious of his rising temper, waved his arms at his friend and with tears in his voice shouted: “One cannot live so, one cannot live so! It is impossible!” His alarmed wife ran into the room, and both she and the friend remonstrated with him for his unnecessary ardor and reminded him that the existence of poverty-stricken people did not justify his spoiling the lives of those around him.

Tolstoy agreed that their criticism was just, but in the depths of his heart he felt that he too was right. When he told his experiences to other friends and aequaintances, they approved of his kindheartedness, but insisted that the most that wealthy people could do was to attempt to alleviate the misery of the poor by philanthropy.

Perhaps organized philanthropy, Tolstoy thought, was the only answer to the problem of the poor, and he decided to make use of the approaching decennial census (January, 1882) for this purpose. His plan was to persuade the numerous census takers to conduct a canvass of the city’s poor in the course of their official duties. On the basis of the detailed information thus obtained, a complete list of the most worthy cases would be compiled along with the relevant data necessary to provide the most effective kind of aid. in order to implement the scheme, he intended to use his influence in setting up a large charitable fund.

Tolstoy began the campaign with a stirring newspaper article, “On the Moscow Census,” in which he outlined his plan and made a forthright appeal for aid. Carried away by his own enthusiasm, 1m declared towards I he end of the article: “ However liltle may be done, it will be of importance. But why not hope that everything will be done? Why not hope that we will strive so that in Moscow there will not be one person unclothed, not one hungry, not one human being sold for money, not one unfortunate crushed by fate who does not know where to find brotherly aid?" He repeated the substance of this plea in the homes of wealthy friends and received promises of financial assistance, but he did not fail lo notice among those he solicited the uncomfortable feeling of guilty people and an attitude plainly indicating that his plan was a well-intentioned yet hopeless endeavor.


TOLSTOY secured a position as an organizer in the census and asked to have assigned to him one of the worst sections of the city, where was situated Rzhanov House, a series of cheap lodgings that had the reputation of being a don of extreme poverty and vice. His first reaction was one of pained disillusion. He saw that the majority of wretched inhabitants of these cheap lodgings were not at all exceptional, but just such people as those among whom he lived, and that their unhappiness depended not on external conditions, but on themselves — a kind of unhappiness that money could not remedy. He was amazed at the contentedness and self-sufficiency of many of these poor people and at their charity to each other.

The more he worked among the poor during the census and thought of the ultimate causes of all this poverty, the more Tolstoy lost heart in the practicality of his grandiose philanthropic Scheme. He soon began to wonder whether dispensing money was a remedy. People constantly told him lies to get a few kopeks, and he knew that often the money did them more harm than good. Was not money an evil in itself?

Tolstoy described the last night he visited Rzhanov House in the company of census takers and some interested friends: “All the lodgings were full, all the bunks occupied, and not only by one, but often by two people. This crowding was a horrible spectacle in which men and women were mingled together. Women, who were not dead-drunk, slept with men. Many women with children were sleeping with strange men in the narrow bunks. Terrible was the sight of the destitution, filth, raggedness, and fear of these people. And especially terrible was the immense number of people in this condition. One tenement, another the same way, then a third, a tenth, a twentieth, and no end to them. And everywhere the same stench, the same stifling atmosphere, the same overcrowd ing, the same mingling of the sexes, the same spectacle of men and women drunk to stupefaction, and the same fear, submissiveness, and culpability on all faces; and again 1 felt paint’d and ashamed of myself, as I had done at Lyapin House, and I understood that what I had undertaken was horrid, stupid, and therefore impossible.”

Perplexed, his nerves frayed, Tolstoy left Moscow for a rest at Yasnaya Polyana at the beginning of February, 1882. He dutifully wrote Sonya of his safe arrival, and the next day tried to explain to her in another letter why he preferred the country to the city, although he softened this by admitting that his Moscow experiences had been fruitful. All this reasoning was wormwood to Sonya. She felt that he had run away, and her own letters struck an entirely new note of bitterness and clearly reflected their sorry existence together in Moscow. After an enraged recital of her manifold domestic duties during his absence, she sarcastically added in her first letter: “My little one [the four-months-old Aleksei] is still unwell, and I’m very tender and pitying.”Then, with a suggestion of hysteria, she concluded: “I’m vile, sick, my life is hateful; I cry all day, and ifl there were poison at hand, it seems as though I would do away with myself.”

Letters from Sonya followed in quick succession, filled with a confusing mixture of love and hate, censure and self-castigation. She wanted him to return and then ordered him to remain away, for she was no longer of any use to him. “How I wish to wound you,”she wrote in a pathetic vein, “but if you only knew how I weep every day, when after a day of torment of the life of the flesh, as you call it, I remain alone at night with my own thoughts and grief; then my sole happiness is when Andryusha says to me as he did today: ’Mama, who loves you?' I tell him: ‘Andryusha, no one loves me; Papa has gone away. And he says: I love you, Mama.”' Jn her very next letter Sonya told her husband that for the first time in her life she did not look forward to his return, for “you will again begin to suffer, be bored, be alive although entirely silent, while censuring my life in Moscow. God, how this wearies me and torments my soul!”

Perhaps Tolstoy took fright over the morbid, almost ominous, tone of his wife’s letters, for he cut short his stay at Yasnaya Polyana. He was also expecting a visit from Granny in Moscow. His new faith was an irresistible challenge to this old friend, whose years she was now over sixty — had dulled the keen perception and upset the fine intellectual balance that had always distinguished her intercourse with Tolstoy. The Orthodox Church was her weakness, and after their last unpleasant altercation over this subject, she had returned again and again to the charge with more assiduity than good sense.

Tolstoy suspected her mission on this occasion, and in writing to accept her request to visit him, he begged her not to attempt to convert him. They saw a good deal of each other during the ten days of her stay, but the armed religious neutrality they sought to preserve frequently broke out into open warfare, and they parted more hostile than ever to each other’s faith. Like Tolstoy, Granny was an’ aristocrat, and she found it almost impossible to believe that one of her own class would forsake the faith in which he had been nurtured. Tolstoy was proud, but he never mistook tradition for truth.

Sonya look his advice and came to Yasnaya Polyana for the summer late in May, and Tolstoy went to Moscow to see the older boys through their examinations. He soon returned to his estate with his sons, and after their first year of discord in Moscow the whole family joyfully resumed the country life that they loved — swimming in the pond, tennis, croquet, picnics, and amateur theatricals. As was customary, sister-in-law Tanya and her children were there to add to the general merriment.


ADMIRING friends and the pleasures of social intercourse in the city, however, only served to intensify Tolstoy’s feeling of moral dereliction. The year 1882 was one of the most difficult in making adjustments with his new way of life. Repeated trips to Yasnaya Polyana were again a measure of his discontent. Spring in the country revived his drooping spirits. The poet in him responded, and he wrote to Sonya in a lyric strain. In an exultant mood he told her that “everywhere are grass, birds, and honeybees; no policemen, no pavements, no cabmen, no smells, and it is very pleasant — so pleasant that I grow sorry for you and think that you and the children must certainly come here earlier, and I will remain in Moscow with the boys.”

The summer domestic harmony that reigned at Yasnaya Polyana was suddenly ruined by one of those painful quarrels between husband and wife that had become so frequent since the move to Moscow. Sonya chronicled the affair in her diary: “Twenty years ago, happy and young, I began writing this book — the whole story of my love for Lyovochka. In it there is hardly anything other than love. And now, after twenty years, I’m sitting up all night reading it and weeping over my love. For the first time in my life Lyovochka has run away from me and is spending the night in his study. We quarreled over trifles. I attacked him for not troubling himself over the children, for not attending lo Ilya, who is sick, and for not making their jackets. But it is not a matter of jackets, the matter is that he is growing cold towards me and the children. Today he loudly shouted that his most passionate desire is to get away from the family. To my dying day I shall not forget that sincere cry of his, for it was as if he had torn the heart ou1 of me. I pray to God for death. It is terrible to live without his love, and I felt this deeply that his love went from me. I cannot show him how strongly I still love him as of old, with twenty years of love. This would humiliate me and annoy him. He is imbued with Christianity and thoughts of selfperfection. I am jealous of him. . . . Ilya is ill, lying in the drawing room in a fever; he has typhus, and I keep watch to give him quinine at frequent intervals, which I’m afraid of missing. I will not lie down tonight on the bed my husband has deserted. God help me. I want to take my life; my thoughts are confused. It is striking four.

“I thought if he doesn’t come, then he loves another. He has not come. Duty — I used to know so well what my duty was, but now?

“He came, but we made it up only the next day. We both wept, and I saw with joy that the love I had lamented over on that terrible night had not died.”

As though finally reconciled to the fact that the children’s education would require years of residence in the city, Tolstoy decided 1o purchase a home. He found a large frame house with an attractive garden on Weaver’s Lane in a quiet section near the Moscow River, which he quickly purchased for 27,000 rubles (about $13,500). The business of extensive remodeling and furnishing he took upon himself, and throughout most of September he worked industriously at the task in order that Sonya might have a completely equipped home when she returned to the city. He visited furniture shops and bought antique pieces with excellent taste. Christ and the Gospels were now crowded out of the letters he sent to Sonya by elaborate details concerning the redecoration of rooms and the purchase of divans, lamps, and cretonne.

Sonya’s reaction to this domestic activity of her husband was curious in the light of her former complaints. She seemed to resent his successful aid in a sphere in which she dominated. ‘You write only about practical things,”she protested, “or do you already think that I have grown entirely stiff? I’m not interested merely in parquet floors and waterclosets. I wanted to copy out for you a whole passage from Seneca so that you could instruct me in it, for it refers to what is alien to the soul, as the city in your case.”

Here was a palpable hit. Her husband ignored it and got on with the business of putting the new house into perfect order. When all was ready and Sonya finally arrived on October 8, she displayed a lamentable lack of appreciation. “At Moscow Lyovochka met us with two carriages,” she wrote her sister. “At home a dinner was ready, and tea, and there was fruit on the table. But I was so tired from the trip and a week of packing and had become so irritable that nothing pleased me.”

The second winter in Moscow brought an improvement in Tolstoy’s relations with his family. It was only an external improvement, for he had lost none of his repugnance for the life they were leading. A firmer hold on the humility he strove to impose upon himself made relations in the household more bearable. Sonya heralded the apparent change with pleasure in letters to her sister. He had become quieter and more kind, she wrote, and his tirades against their easy existence briefer and rarer. In months they had quarreled only once, and she added: “Lyovochka is in such fine spirits; it is charming. May God grant that it continue.”


THIS household of growing children, constantly swarming with their young friends, recalls the merry Bers family of some twenty years earlier when Tolstoy first courted Sonva. Now, as the mother, seeking the best introductions for her own children into Moscow society, Sonya was in her element. With obvious pleasure, she described in a letter to Tanya the Christmas festivities of 1882: the tree; an evening party at one friend’s house; a French play and a large children’s gathering at the home of another friend, where young Masha and Leo danced until three in the morning; then the next night a ball at the Shcherbatovs’. Her daughter Tanya was arrayed in the latest style and her mother more conservatively in “a very splendid dress” that cost 250 rubles. Young Tanya was in ecstasies, and she and her mother remained at the ball until six in the morning. “It now seems that we are fully launched in society,” she informed her sister, “but the money vanishes terribly!”

The gloomy father watched these expensive, empty pleasures, while his experiences among the poor at Lyapin and Rzhanov Houses seared his brain. In his diary for December 22, he noted: “Again in Moscow. Again I experience horrible spiritual torments. For more than a month. But they are not unfruitful.” His only diversion at this time was a passion for a new language. He had begun to study Hebrew in October, 1882, taking lessons from the Moscow Rabbi Minor. He read the Old Testament, but concentrated largely on those parts that were of interest to him in his work. Sonva now objected to the considerable effort he expended on Hebrew as she had earlier complained of his study of Greek.

In December, 1882, Tolstoy received a letter from a total stranger, M. A. Engelhardt. This young man — he was only twenty-one at the time — had been exiled to his father’s estate for engaging in political activities in the university. Having failed to find a publisher for an article opposing the Orthodox Church, he sent it on to Tolstoy because he had heard of his deep interest in religious questions. Tolstoy’s reply so encouraged him that be sent a second letter, in which he attempted to justify the violence of revolutionary struggle for the common good by the teaching of Christ. This drew a lengthy answer from Tolstoy.

In the light of the charge that was repeatedly brought against Tolstoy of not living according to his beliefs, the conclusion of this letter is a remarkably sincere and humble confession of human limitations that goes far to explain his whole present and future struggle with himself, with his family, and with society. “Now another question directly and involuntarily follows from this, ‘Well, but you, Leo Nikolayevich, how do you practice what you preach?’ That is the most natural question: people always put it to me and always triumphantly shut my mouth with it. ‘ You preach, but how do you live?' And I answer that I do not preach and cannot preach, although I passionately desire to do so. I can only preach by deeds, and my deeds are bad. What I say is not a sermon; it is only a refutation of a false understanding of Christian teaching and an explanation of its real meaning. Its meaning is not that we should in its name rearrange society by violence; its significance is to find the meaning of life in this world. The fulfillment of Christ’s five commands gives that meaning. If you wish to be a Christian, then you must fulfill those commands; if you do not wish to fulfill them, then do not talk about Christianity apart from the fulfillment of these commands. . . .

“I have not fulfilled one-thousandth part of them, it is true, and I am at fault in this; but it is not because I do not wish to fulfill them, but because I am unable to. Teach me how to escape from the nets of temptations that have ensnared me, help me, and I will fulfill them; but even without help I wish and hope to do so. Blame me — I do that myself — but blame me and not the road I follow, and show it to those who ask me where in mv opinion the road lies. If I know the road home and go along it drunk, staggering from side to side, does that make the road by which I go the wrong one? If it be wrong, show me another; if I have lost my way and stagger help me, support me in the right path as I am ready to support you; and do not confuse me, do not rejoice that I have lost my way; do not cry out with delight: ‘Look at him! He says that he’s going home yet he’s slipping into the bog!' Do not rejoice at that, but help me and support me.

“So that is my relation to teaching and to its practice. With all my strength I try to practice it, and at every failure I not only repent, but I beg for help in order to be able to practice it, and with joy I meet and listen to anyone who, like myself, is seeking the road.”


UPON his arrival in Yasnaya Polyana the following summer, Tolstoy received a sorrowful last letter from Turgenev: —

“Kind and dear Leo Nikolayevich. It is long since I wrote you, for I have been and am, speaking frankly, on my deathbed. I cannot recover—there is no use thinking of it. I am writing to you particularly to tell you how glad I am to have been vour contemporary, and to express to you my last, sincere request. My friend, return to literary activity! That gift came to you from whence comes all the rest. Ah, how happy I would be if I could think that my request would have an effect on you. . . . My friend, great writer of the Russian land, heed my request!”

To the very end Turgenev could not understand why Tolstoy had forfeited art to solve the riddle of existence. He did not see that for Tolstoy the measure of true greatness was not what we are, but what we strive to be in the ceaseless struggle to achieve moral perfection. Nor did he realize that the same magnificent qualities that made Tolstoy’s art immortal — his sincerity and love of truth — were the very qualities that drove him on in his religious and social mission.

After Turgenev’s last visit to Tolstoy two years before, they had kept up a desultory correspondence in the friendly spirit of their recent reconciliation. Time had softened without eliminating Tolstoy’s reservations on Turgenev, and his new religious feelings induced an attitude of Christian love in his relations. At the first report of Turgenev’s illness, he immediately wrote of his concern and of the thought he had entertained of going to Paris to be near him.

The end came for Turgenev on August 22. In a letter to Strakhov after he heard the news, Tolstoy simply remarked: “The death of Turgenev I expected, yet often I think of him now.” In September, Tolstoy was asked by the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature to speak at a public memorial meeting in honor of Turgenev. He agreed either to read a paper or to have someone else deliver it.

Although Tolstoy went with the family to Moscow in September for the winter, he quickly returned to the country to work. He also had another purpose that he did not communicate to Sonya — he had been summoned as a juryman in the District Court. The first she heard of it was in a letter, in which he wrote that he had appeared at the court and emphatically refused to serve as a juryman because of his religious convictions. He was fined a hundred rubles for his refusal to serve. This action was Tolstoy’s first defiance of civil authority in an effort to remain true to his religious faith. He regarded his act as a protest against the whole system of public justice. It was a slight act, unostentatiously performed, but it gave him immense satisfaction as his initial attempt to repudiate constituted authority. Sonya’s reply to his letter told of her fears that his punishment would not end with a mere fine, and without approving or disapproving his act, she scolded him for not taking her into his confidence.

Tolstoy remained a short time at Yasnaya Polyana to write, and to read Turgenev’s works in preparation for his address. Delighted with two pleasant letters from Sonya, he answered: “Never have I thought of you so much and so well and so entirely purely as I do now. In every respect you are precious to me. I think about Turgenev always, love him terribly, and wish to read all of his works.” When he returned to the city, however, the “strained, even unhappy, expression on his face” suggested only too clearly to Sonya that he wished he were back in the country.

Preparing his address on Turgenev had become a labor of love. Sonya wrote her sister that all Moscow was stirred up in anticipation of a public oration by Tolstoy, and that an enormous crowd was expected to attend. But meanwhile, the dark forces of the government were at work. The matter was looked into, and the Governor General of Moscow coolly informed the President of the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature to advertise the fact that the meeting in honor of Turgenev “had been postponed for an indefinite time.”

The upshot of this whole business, so characteristic of the reactionary reign of Alexander III, is told in a letter from Sonya to her sister: “The lecture was to have been quite innocent and most peaceful; no one thought of shooting off any liberal squibs. But everyone is terribly surprised. What could have been said? Where could there have been any danger to the government? . . . Everyone without exception is angry about it, except Lyovochka, who is even glad to be excused from appearing in public a thing he is so unaccustomed to.”

During the whole of 1883, Tolstoy devoted himself primarily to writing his remarkable book What I Believe. The distilled essence of virtually everything he had written or thought on the subject of religion and on his personal relation to it up to this time is lucidly and artistically set down in this book. As in Confession, the conclusion he reaches is that life is a misfortune for him who seeks only the personal welfare that death inevitably destroys, but a blessing for him who identifies himself with the teaching of Christ and the task of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, here and now. Despite the didactic nature of the book, it has a profound human quality by virtue of his ability to share with his readers the tremendous inner struggle and intense experience that finally led him to his convictions.


DURING this period Tolstoy’s literary endeavors were largely of the instructional or didactic genre. In April, 18882, he made the first attempt to print his Confession in the magazine Russian Thought. He offered an introduction to this work, and, on the request of the editor, softened some of the phraseology. Nevertheless, the censor banned the production. This was the first of many failures to get his controversial works printed in Russia, but he appears to have accepted such prohibitions calmly, as part of the price he must pay for opposing the accepted order of things.

Tolstoy hoped to print What I Believe, and when he was putting the finishing touches on it in December, 1883, Sonya wrote to her sister: “ Lyovochka has finished his work for the press, which they will burn, but I hope that he will now grow calm and no longer write in this vein.”In her most charitable moments, Sonya adopted an attitude of resignation towards her husband’s religious writings: it was “the will of God,” she sighed, and perhaps these works were “for great purposes,” the implication being that they were beyond her comprehension. Her real feeling — at this time at least — was one of disgust. She had no natural interest in his religious and didactic works, and she worried over the hostility they might provoke in the authorities. Finally, and perhaps most important for her, such literary efforts were unremunerative.

Sonya on more than one occasion expressed sincere regret that her husband had turned his back on purely artistic works. Immersed in his religious and philosophical studies, however, Tolstoy paid little attention to his wife or to those close friends and admirers who urged him to return to fiction. On occasion he would turn on these well-intentioned critics with some asperity. When a literary friend remonstrated with him for not employing his artistic powers, he replied: “Why, you know, that is just like the former admirers of some ancient French whore repeating to her: ’How adorably you used to sing chansonnettes and flip up your petticoats!’”

Actually, Tolstoy had not turned his back on art; he had simply rejected his former conception of it, just as he rejected the kind of life he had led before his spiritual conversion. There is a suggestion that he would like to have broken cleanly with art, as with everything else, but art was too much a part of his being. He could not tear it out of himself, and at the same time he recognized that the aesthetic aim that he had formerly entertained could have no place in the new morality and ethics to which he now subscribed.

Towards the end of 1883 Tolstoy made the acquaintance of V. G. Chertkov, a man who as both guardian angel and evil genius played a most significant role throughout the remaining years of his life. Chertkov had been a Captain of the Guards, the son of a rich Adjutant General. Mis career in a Guards regiment subjected him, as he said, to the three classical vices of these aristocratic officers wine, cards, and women. But he soon wearied of debauchery, no doubt much influenced by the deeply religious attitude of Iris mother. Me read a great deal and was particularly attracted to the works of Dostoyevsky, which no doubt helped to lead him to a study of the Gospels and the teaching of Christ.

The conclusions he came to on tlie wickedness of violence, the necessity of productive work, and the need of humility were quiie similar to those of Tolstoy. Aware that his new convictions would not permit him to continue an army career, he tendered his resignation, much against the wishes of his parents, in 1881, when he was only twenty-seven. lie then retired to his huge estate in the province of Voronezh and engaged in all manner of practical activities aimed at bettering the material existence of the peasants. At the same time he abandoned all luxuries and endeavored to live a life as simple and frugal as that of the peasants.

It was not until 1883, when Chertkov grew agitated over the relation of social questions to the teaching of the Gospels, that he learned of Tolstoy’s concern with this same problem. Chertkov eagerly desired a meeting, and this was brought about in October, 1883, when he was passing through Moscow on his way to Petersburg to see his parents.

From Tolstoy’s first letter to Chertkov, a little more than a month after their meeting, it is clear that he was immensely pleased with his latest disciple. He wrote to thank Chertkov for some English books on theological subjects that he had sent, and he flatteringly commented on how Chertkov’s marginal notes had helped him to follow “your intellectual and zealous work.”But scenting the breath of heresy because one of the books treated at length the subject of the Resurrection, he sternly reproved his young pupil for concerning himself with such metaphysical nonsense. The relationship had begun auspieiously enough. Tolstoy had found a new saint, and Sonya a devil incarnate.


TOLSTOY had been slowly coming to the conclusion that the only way to encourage the Christian life he believed in was by personal example. He realized that the method would be slow, difficult, and indefinite, but at least he would cease being a parasite living on the back of the working class, as he expressed it.

The initial difficulty was that his life was not his own. At the beginning of 1884 he was the father of eight children, with another on the way. Domestic problems were numerous, and his advice and authority were in constant demand. Despite his wife’s careful management, the family expenses in Moscow mounted. Social caste, tradition, and custom dictated a certain standard of living. No fewer than five tutors and governesses lived with the family, and as many more teachers were employed from outside to give lessons to the children. Eleven servants worked in the house, took care of the grounds, and operated a carriage, calash, droshky, and two sledges. Food alone for the twenty-six members of this household was a considerable item in the budget Sonya reckoned her monthly expenses al 910 rubles (approximately $455), a large but not an extravagant, amount for so numerous a family.

The income had been derived mostly from Tolstoy’s estates until his literary earnings bad provided a substantial and important addition. Now he not ordy questioned the right of private properly, which had troubled him for years, but he believed it immoral to live ofl the money earned by the toil of ot hers.

It did not occur to Tolsloy to demand that his family should at once repudiate the idle, selfindulgent existence they were leading for one of frugality, simplicity, and hard manual work. However unbending he might be about expressing the rightness of his moral principles, he understood human nature too well to expect miracles of selfsacrifice. He placed his hope in an attitude ol “sweet reasonableness” — a famous phrase of Matthew Arnold that he admired — and in persuasion by example.

Tolstoy began his long struggle to practice what he preached in a mild enough manner. He dropped his title and requested servants to address him as plain “Leo Nikolayevich.”In January, 1884, after having finished What I Believe, he went to Yasnaya Polyana for a short visit. From there he wrote Sonya that he was making a pair of boots for old Gasha, a family servant, for he now deemed manual labor an absolute necessity.

Upon his return to Moscow in February, Tolstoy’s behavior baffled his friends and irritated his family. The tasks that servants were accustomed to perform for him, he now did himself. Entries such as the following occurred regularly in his diary at this time: “With the children I gayly cleaned up my room. I was ashamed to do what had to be done — empty the chamber pot.” But a few days later he recorded his triumph over shame and the chamber pot. Making shoes he now took up in real earnest, employing a workman to teach him the craft. Master and pupil sat at a bench in one of the two little rooms that Tolstoy had reserved for himself in the Moscow house. The smell of leather and tobacco filled the low-roofed, ill-ventilated workshop. As the impatient pupil sat huddled over his task, carefully waxing the thread and splicing the bristles, he groaned over every failure and yet stubbornly refused the attempts of his awed instructor to assist him. When success crowned his efforts, he rejoiced like a schoolboy.

In this effort to produce more and consume less, the principle succeeded better than the shoemaking. A pair of shoes which he turned out for one of his sons went unworn, although Tolstoy himself proudly wore hunting boots of his own manufacture. With mock seriousness, Fet, who had renewed his visits, ordered a pair of boots from his old literary friend turned shoemaker. Puzzled callers were obliged to wait until he drove the last peg into the leather sole. Any scoffer who thought the task easy might find himself challenged to a contest of peg-driving; Tolstoy would gleefully win and hand over the money wagered to his poor teacher in the craft. At first the family were alternately amused and annoyed by what seemed a bit of proletarian play-acting. But Tolstoy was in ea most.

The new regime transformed existence at Yasnaya Polyana during the summers. Tolstoy had always enjoyed farm work for the physical exercise and pleasure he got out of if; now he regarded it as a duty sanctified by Holy Scripture. Dressed more like a peasant than a country gentleman, he stood in the hot sun sweating and mowing. He would plow the land of a poor widow, assist at building a hut, or stack and carry grain. One could see him any day carting manure, lugging timber, or sitting astride a top beam of a hut that he was rebuilding, cutting a place for the cross-rafter to fit into; his sleeves would he rolled up, hair disheveled, unbuttoned shirt showing his bare chest, a chisel stuck in his leather girdle, a saw hanging from his waist, and his graying beard shaking at each blow of the axe.

The family at lirst went on with its croquet, visitors, and endless round of summer amusements. They felt sorry that their father should waste his valuable energies on such heavy toil, and perhaps they grew a bit ashamed of their own idle existence. Although he said nothing to them, they knew what he thought, and this made them uncomfortable and spoiled their fun. His proof-by-example began slowly to have an effect on the family. Nineteen-year-old Ilya finally asked his father to assign him some outdoor work. He was at once set to plowing the field of a woman whose husband had deserted her, and he relished the experience.

Soon his brothers Sergei and Leo joined him in manual labor, and presently field work became a fashion that swept through the entire household. Young and old, men and women, formed groups and competed in mowing, hacking awkwardly with their scythes, and cheerfully raising blisters in long hours of raking up the hay. Even Sonya in a sophisticated version of a peasant dress did her share, along with the younger children and the governesses.

During this first vigorous attempt to live the new life at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy gave up meat. He also gave up wine; and hunting the sport that had provided him with so much pleasure and with the material for some of the most brilliant passages of his fiction — was firmly abandoned. Smoking, too, he attempted to give up, having first made the effort in the summer of 1884. He now considered smoking a luxury and declared that instead of tobacco, grain should be grown to feed the famished. The struggle was hard. He loved to smoke and believed the practice soothed his nerves. Dilating his nostrils, he would eagerly inhale when someone smoked in his presence. The deprivation was a torment and backsliding not infrequent, and not until several years later did he finally conquer the habit.

These renunciations were not thrust upon the family, although Tolstoy always hoped that his example might influence them. In general, they respected his wishes in regard to his own behavior, but they lacked a sympathetic understanding and any spirit of discipleship. When they labored in the fields, they did so not for the reasons impelling him, but because it had become a kind of vogue and furnished them with good healthy exercise. However, Masha, aged fifteen, was beginning to regard her father’s views seriously, and so was his oldest daughter, Tanya.


CHERTKOV, the latest disciple, whom Sonya had already begun to distrust, was gaining a firm hold on Tolstoy’s affections and an important place in his daily affairs. The relations between the two men assumed that peculiar intimacy possible only between master and pupil when they discover that they hate the same things and are willing to compromise on what they love.

There were occasions in those early days of their friendship when the young disciple made bold to question the fundamental truths of the master’s faith. Tolstoy would then sternly pull him up and let him understand that if anyone were going to commit heresy, it was he. Such outbursts were rare, however, and the whole tenor of their extensive correspondence during 1884 and 1885 emphasizes the deepening bond of friendship and their growing dependence on each other. In the practical matters connected with his literary out put and in the propagation of his new faith, Tolstoy began to develop the habit of leaning upon Chertkov, who possessed considerable. organizing and financial abilities. In fact, Chertkov was already well on the way towards becoming a sort ofl self-appointed business manager of Tolstoyism. His crusading zeal was enormous, and he acted as the gadfly in Tolstoy’s literary endeavors with consequences of extreme importance.

Early in the correspondence of Tolstoy and Chertkov, the necessity for the cheap publication of good literature was discussed. Since the spread of elementary education, the reading public in Russia had grown considerably. Apart from cheap productions of legends, lives of saints, and penny-dreadfuls, no attempts had been made to publish good literature inexpensively enough to be within the reach of the poor. Tolstoy had long recognized this problem.

When he had been conducting his school at Yasnaya Polyana, he had been struck by the receptivity of peasants to artistic literature. Now he felt strongly that authors who wrote their books in comfort and consumed what the toil of the poor produced should at least attempt to provide literary food worthy of these people.

In February, 1884, Tolstoy read to a group of people interested in public education an article that he had written on the necessity of cheap editions of good literature for the masses. And in October, Chertkov proposed the publication of a popular magazine designed for the masses, a proposal that Tolstoy enthusiastically encouraged. By November the project had changed somewhat after Chertkov had had a conference with I.D. Sytin, a Moscow publisher of inexpensive books. An agreement was reached for the printing of cheap booklets and pictures that would bring to the people tales and illustrations in the spirit of Tolstoy’s Christian teaching.

The stories were to be written by the best Russian authors and the illustrations would be done by the most distinguished artists.

Thus the pioneering publishing business called the Intermediary was founded, one of the most practical and worth-while ventures inspired by Tolstoy’s influence, although due credit for its establishment must be given to Chertkov, who managed its fortunes for some years. In the first four years of its existence the little Intermediary booklets, priced at one and onehalf kopeks, sold twelve million copies.

Tolstoy’s theory that the masses would read good literature if they could afford to buy it was proved to the hilt. Something of the initial popularity of the publications must be attributed to the fact that three of the first four issues were stories from his pen. Chertkov, mindful of the success of Tolstoy’s tale “What People Live By,”written several years before, kept urging him to contribute similar stories for Intermediary; and during 1884 and 1885 he wrote no fewer than fifteen tales and texts describing pictures, most of which were quickly published by Intermediary.

These stories are principally retellings of popular folk tales, for which he had a special gift. Their clear religious or moral lesson is never allowed to obtrude upon the narrative interest, which is sustained with his usual skill. And the tales are told in that simple language which Tolstoy was beginning to favor more and more as the proper artistic medium for the mass of readers he hoped to reach.

The publication of Tolstoy’s own productions at this time was continually encumbered by difficulties with the censor. What I Believe was not actually finished until January 22, 1884, after he had lost the first set of proofs when his suitcase was stolen in a Moscow railway station, Convinced by his previous experience with Confession that such a religious work would never pass the censor in the ordinary course of events, he attempted a rather familiar dodge. He arranged for an expensive edition of only fifty copies in the hope that the book, obviously not intended for popular circulation, would be certified.

The ruse failed. The head of the Moscow Civil Censorship Committee reported that What I Believe “must be considered an extremely harmful book as it undermines the foundations of social and governmental institutions and wholly destroys the teaching of the Church.” On the basis of this report the spiritual censor Pobedonostsev ordered all copies of the book to be seized and burned.

Actually, not one copy was burned; the whole edition was sent to Petersburg and illegally distributed among high officials and their friends. “That is fine,” Tolstoy wrote when he heard of the fate of his book. As so often happens in cases of prohibition, there arose a widespread demand for his banned publications. News of them spread, and he appears to have been unconcerned over the unauthorized reproduction of these works. Secret printing presses and hectograph and lithograph machines were not uncommon in the hands of political revolutionists. And in some cases it is known that they reproduced in quantity Tolstoy’s forbidden works, for there was often much in them that revolutionists could use to their own purpose. The situation intensified the hostility of the government towards Tolstoy.


WHEN Tolstoy departed suddenly for Yasnaya Polyana in January, 1884, he wished a rest after finishing What I Believe, but a contributing factor was no doubt his displeasure over the family’s indulgence in the social events of the New Year. For Sonya’s letters were almost apologetic on the score of the various balls she had been attending, and she expressed regret that she could not enjoy with him the brisk country air and the moral freedom of his solitude.

In a letter to her sister Tanya, she revealed a quite different frame of mind over his absence. “ Yesterday Sergei Nikolayevich [Tolstoy’s brother] returned from Tula,” she wrote. “He had seen Lyovochka at Yasnaya Polyana. He [her husband] sits in a blouse, in filthy woolen socks, disheveled and gloomy; with Mitrofan he stitches boots for Mikhailovna. The schoolteacher reads aloud the lives of the saints. He will not return to Moscow unless I call him back or unless something happens to us. Though he has a swarm of children, he is unable to find in the family any occupation, joy, or duties, and I more and more feel towards him contempt and coldness.”

In a few months Sonya would be forty. In twentytwo years of married life she had been pregnant twelve times, and in the last few years she had fought, in vain against having more children. Her pregnancy now unquestionably contributed to the mounting hysteria that made living with her a torment for Tolstoy. About two months before the birth of her child, a letter to her sister clearly echoed Sonya’s despair: “Sometimes I get wildly despondent. I’m ready to scream and fly into a rage. I will not nurse the child but will get a wet nurse; and I have bought everything at Moscow in cheap shops in order to clothe it.”

Meanwhile Tolstoy had returned to the city. He tidied his room, hammered pegs into shoes, read Confucius, and watched Sonya with “silent, critical, and stern" eyes. His diary records the approaching storm. “I remained alone with her,”he noted on April 12. “Conversation. I had the misfortune and cruelty to wound her pride, and it began. I did not remain silent. . . . She is seriously, mentally ill. And the point is this pregnancy. And it is a great, great sin and shame.”

The behavior of his children intensified Tolstoy’s misery. “It is very sad in the family, he wrote. It is said that I cannot sympathize with them. All their joys, examinations, social success, music, furniture, purchases — all this I reckon a misfortune and an evil for them, and I cannot tell them this. I can, I speak, but my words do not aflect anyone. ... In weak moments — such as now — I am astonished at their ruthlessness.” And a few days later he exploded: “ What for and why do I have such a terrible misunderstanding with the family! I must find a way out of it.”

About a month before the birth of the child, relations between Tolstoy and his wife were rapidly reaching a breaking point. The family had moved for the summer to Yasnaya Polyana. He tried to talk to Sonya about the necessity of changing their way of life, but such conversations only infuriated her. It is a measure of the intimacy that he had already reached with Chertkov that he now felt impelled to make him a confidant of his domestic woes.

Alexandra was born June 18, 1884. The new arrival brought no peace into the household. Tolstoy’s diary for the month of July is a poignant record of his sufferings, and his wife must have suffered correspondingly. The problem of the resumption of marital relations widened the breach between them. Of late, after the birth of children that she had not wanted, Sonya had feared this period. Now it was her husband who, still profoundly shaken by their prolonged differences, found it impossible to renew relations.

Torn by desire and forgetting that his was the active role, he unfairly blamed his wife for her passivity. He murmured against the unfulfilled “sensual temptation” that he struggled with at night. And less than a month after the birth of Alexandra, he angrily burst forth in his diary: “Cohabitation with a woman alien in spirit, i.e. with her, is terribly disgusting. Just as I wrote this she came to me and began an hysterical scene. There is the thought that it is impossible to change anything, that she is unhappy, and that she must escape somewhere. I was sorry for her, but together with this I recognized that it was hopeless. To my death, she will remain a millstone on my neck and on the children’s.” Once again the situation became so impossible that he decided to leave her. At night he packed his things, awoke Sonya to say farewell, but after a talk with her, he agreed to remain. The next morning he wrote in his diary: “ I do not understand how to save myself from suffering or her from the destruction towards which she flies wit h haste.”

Except for fitful bursts of anger, Sonya’s hysteria vanished, and the remainder of the summer passed off calmly enough with Tolstoy working in the fields and feeling immensely pleased that his daughters had begun to evince some sympathy for his new way of life. When the family returned to the city, he remained in the country for a short time in the autumn, Letters between husband and wife reveal a marked improvement in their relations over the nightmarish summer. The separation may have contributed, but the deep affection they had for each other was never far below the surface; it flowed freely whenever the dam of spiritual and material obstacles crumbled.

With genuine concern Sonya reproved him for playing the Robinson Crusoe in the country while he neglected that “mental work which I regard as higher than anything in life.” She concluded her letter on a touching note of sympathy and understanding that at once revealed the real place he held in her heart: “Farewell, my dear, I kiss you. All at once I vividly pictured you to myself, and a sudden flood of tenderness for you rose in me. There is something in you so wise, kind, naive, and stubborn, and it is all lit up by that tender interest for everyone, natural to you alone, and by your look that reaches straight to people’s souls.”

Tolstoy was grateful. Sonya’s criticism he took in good part, and his letters were filled with loving concern over her illness. Her worries over money matters he cheerfully dismissed. “Do not be angrY, darling, that I cannot attribute any importance to these money matters. That life should not appear trivial, one must take a wider and deeper view. What our life together is, with our joys and sorrows, will appear to our nine children real life, and therefore it is important to help them acquire what gave us happiness, and to help them to free themselves from what gave us unhappiness; but neither languages, nor diplomas, nor society, and, still less, money performed any part in our happiness or unhappiness. And therefore the question how much our income shrinks cannot occupy me. If one attributes importance to that, it hides what is really important.”

During this brief separation, a passionate longing for her husband seems to have banished the illfeeling in Sonya’s heart. “You ask: Why do I not summon you home? Ah, Lyovochka, if I were to write at this moment when I wish to see you, I would write everything that I feel — then I would give vent to such a flood of passionate, tender, demanding words that you would not remain content merely with words. In all relations I am sometimes inexpressibly sad without you; but I have accepted the idea of fulfilling my duty in my relation to you as a writer, as a man requiring first of all his freedom, and therefore I demand nothing from you.”

This newly won harmony was quickly disrupted by the impact of city life when Tolstoy returned to Moscow at the beginning of November. Scarcely a month passed before he fled again 1o the solitude of Yasnaya Polyana. The need of quiet to write was his excuse, and his letters were full of the progress he made. Sonya was hurt, and the familiar aggravation, caused by his insistence on the new life, reappeared.


BY THIS time the struggle had assumed a definite character. Sonya was opposed to every move of her husband that threatened the security of herself and her family. For Tolstoy, it was a necessity to change his manner of life without thought of anyone’s security. There were frequent compromises on both sides, for the habits of years of happy married existence were a bulwark against deterioration in their relations. Each suffered for the other in the tragic struggle in which principles warred against love. But their external differences were slowly poisoning the wellspring of this love.

At the beginning of 1885, Sonya obtained her husband’s permission to republish in a new edition (the fifth) all his works that had appeared before 1881. This was not a unique venture, for she had the successful precedent of Dostoyevsky’s widow, who gave Sonya much helpful advice. Sonya borrowed money to start with and herself did all the work of reading the proofs.

As she went over the proof for her edition of his first work, Childhood, charming memories were recalled, and she wrote to her husband, who had gone off to the Crimea at the time: “I went through the chapters of Childhood and there arose in me that former girlish feeling that I first experienced when I was eleven, and again my eyes grew dim, and instead of quietly correcting the misprints, I took to weeping. But I know what I loved in you when I was thirteen to fourteen, and I love the same thing now; but that which has been added to it and hardened — that I do not love; that is an addition, an excrescence. Scrape it away, and what is left will be pure gold. Always a bit of a romantic, poor Sonya wanted her girlhood hero to remain a girlhood hero and not a titan dedicated to founding the Kingdom of God on earth.

In her edition, Sonya soon fell afoul of Chertkov, who wished certain works for his own publishing venture, Intermediary. He grew disagreeable, for he was already developing a proprietary attitude towards the products of Tolstoy’s pen, and a long and bitter quarrel was in the making.

In November of this year, Sonya went to Petersburg to try to obtain permission from the censor to include What / Believe in the twelfth volume of her edition. Despite all the influence she marshaled up, the permission was not granted. Shortly after she returned, her relations with her husband once again reached a crisis. His simmering feelings boiled over. Sonya wrote to her sister: “There happened what has already happened so many times, Lyovochka had fallen into an extremely nervous and gloomy condition. I was sitting, writing; he entered and I looked up — his face was terrifying. Up to that time we had been living excellently, not one disagreeable word had been said, none whatsoever. ‘I’ve come to say that I wish to divorce you; I cannot live this way; I’m going to Paris or America.”

“Imagine, Tanya, if the whole house had tumbled down on my head, I would not have been more astonished. I asked in surprise: ’What has happened?' ‘Nothing, but if the cart is loaded more and more, the horse stands and does not pull it.’ What was loaded on him, I don’t know. But he set up a howl, reproaches, rude words, all getting worse and worse. I was patient—was patient but answered almost nothing. I saw that the man was mad, and when he said that where you are the air is poisoned, I finally ordered my trunk to be brought and began to pack. I wanted to go to you if only for a few days.

“The children came running in, wailing. Tanya [daughter] said: ‘I’ll go with you; what is this?’ He began to beg me: ‘Remain.’ I remained, but suddenly hysterical sobbing started; it was simply frightful. Think: Lyovochka all torn and twitching from sobbing. At this point I became sorry for him.”The upshot of all this was that Tolstoy went with his daughter Tanya to the country to stay with the Olsufyevs, family friends.

Before he departed for the country, he left behind a long and unusual letter for Sonya, which has only recently been published in full. That she read it we know from one Masha sent her sister at the Olsufyevs’, in which she wrote: “After dinner today we had quite a disagreeable conversation. Mama attacked vegetarianism. She read a letter that Papa left for her, and it obviously upset her.”


THIS long letter of Tolstoy amounts literally to a history of his spiritual development and of the conflict his views had brought about in his relations with his wife. “I cannot return to the way I lived,”he wrote, “in which I found destruction, and which I have acknowledged to be the greatest evil and misfortune. But you can attempt to come to what you still do not know about, and which in general features is precisely a life not for one’s own satisfaction (I do not speak of your life, but of the children’s life), not for one’s own ambition but for God and for others — a way of life always accounted the best by everybody, and which your own conscience responds to.”

He begged her to realize that the very illegal works for which she had so zealously been trying to obtain permission to print he wrote not for the public or as exercises in style, but because his suffering and searching had obliged him to write them. And he asked her to read in these works the reasons why they were written. There she would find also why he could not continue to live the life of the family, He could not now reject the faith that he had found. His faith could not change; nor could he allow it to be a mere matter of words: it must be acted upon. Conscience and intellect demanded it of him, he said, and “I cannot see people, joined to me by love, knowing yet not doing what intellect and conscience demand, and not suffer myself.”

Then with passionate earnestness he pointed out that she and the family had always tended to regard his spiritual revelation as an experience suitable perhaps as literary material but not something by which to guide one’s life. But only by living according to his new convictions had he been saved from despair and returned to life. Finally, when she began to see that he was serious in his efforts to lead a new life, she condemned it all as a form of mental illness from which she must protect herself and the children.

There followed a long recital of their life over the last few years in both city and country, in which he and the family had steadily drifted apart. At times, he indicated, there seemed only one solution: that he must leave the family. But he had resisted this as a temptation. He had felt it necessary to continue to live as he had lived, struggling with all his power against evil, but always lovingly and meekly. Must this struggle go on? he asked. “ It will be sad for me to die with a reproach for all the useless burden of the last years of my life, of which few remain, and it will be sad for you to see me off with the doubt that you ought not to have brought me those grievous sufferings that I experienced in life.” And he ended with the ominous warning: “Between us there is a struggle to the death. Either God or no God.”


THE year 1886 began badly for the Tolstoy family: the youngest son, four-year-old Alyosha, died from croup on January 18. Sonya’s grief was intensified by the belief that God had punished iter by taking a child she had never wanted. Her husband was sad, but he found solace in his faith. With composure, he wrote Chertkov the day he lost his son: “I knowonly that the death of a child, which formerly seemed incomprehensible and cruel to me, now appears sensible and good. The death has united us all more lovingly and closely than before.” His faith seems to have enabled him to conquer his lifelong fear of death.

Shortly after the loss of his son, Tolstoy at last finished, on February 14, his remarkable book What Then Must We Do? For several years he had wrestled with ihe intricate problems connected with this work, for he felt that upon their solution would depend the justification of his new faith. With overwhelming evidence and irrefutable logic he stated the case of the poor against the rich. Not content with this, he insisted that such economic disparity inevitably resulted in the moral impoverishment of both classes. He did not except himself from the general condemnation of the well-to-do; if anything, he was most severe on what he considered his own guilt.

What Then Must We Do? is a unique work and perhaps did more than any other book up to that time to expose ihe tremendous problem of poverty in modern society. Tolstoy condemned the causes of poverty with all the moral indignation of an eloquent preacher. In many respects, however, he may be said to have diagnosed the disease correctly and then prescribed an incantation as a cure. His outlook was circumscribed by the backward conditions of the Russian society of that time, and still more limited by his instinctive devotion to his own elass. lie was ignorant of the changes that developing industry and commerce were bringing about in the economics of capitalism, and this unawareness was rendered virtually incurable by an ethical arrogance that made him all too ready to condemn achievements remote from his own experience.

An enemy of progress in terms of modern technical advancement, he oversimplified the complex phenomena of industrial and economic life. That government in its systematic organization of society might logically strive to achieve righteousness, he emphatically denied. Yet in What Then Must We Do? Tolstoy performed a signal service in his frank and fresh treatment of one of the most acute problems of modern times, and his prediction that if the problem were not solved, a “workers’ revolution with horrors of destruction anil murder” would ensue was fulfilled in his own country not many years later.

Meanwhile life in the Moscow household of the Tolstoys wasrapidly taking on the aspect of a religious revival. Ready-made disciples, who had caught the virus from widely circulated contraband works, called to see the master in the flesh. In February Chertkov and Anna K. Diterikhs, who was soon to become his wife, paid a visit. Anna anticipated her introduction to the master with awe and trembling. Tolstoy greeted her kindly, but he soon left her marooned in the living room with his wife, for he had some business matters to talk over with Chertkov. Sonya, after she had ascertained the girl’s devotion to Tolstoy’s beliefs, vented on her the spleen that she felt for all these disciples — these “dark people,” as she called them.

“Well, I’ll tell you frankly,” Sonya said, “that you are mistaken, as are many other youths and these shaggy nihilists who come to him from everywhere. He’s not at all what you imagine, and I tell you plainly he is not that which he tries to be. What it he does stitch boots and split wood? He was and has remained a Count, and all this simplicity, — I speak to you plainly just as I would to him, Leo Nikolayevich, I say that all this is only affectation, simply a pretense, a kind of amusement; he always loved originality. Even in his youth he played various tricks in order to shock people and make them speak about him.”

The astonished guest protested that Tolstoy had no need to attempt to be original and that his new faith had brought him blame rather than praise.

“And they blame him justly,” Sonya interrupted. “He was a writer, an artist; he wrote novels, tales, and suddenly for no reason he took to philosophy, to religion. Is this his affair?”

When the question of Tolstoy’s novels came up, Sonya warmly declared: “Do you know I copied War and Peace seven times, but this rubbish of his [his religious works] ... I have refused to copy. I will not soil my hands with them. I would burn all these manuscripts with pleasure. Who wants them? Who will read them? He is an artist, and suddenly he becomes a shoemaker! It is plain insanity!”

Another tribute to his fame was the Tolstoyan colonies that soon sprang up in various parts of Russia, and later in England, Holland, and the United States. Without exception, they all eventually failed. Yet somehow these failures did not convince Tolstoy that his Christian-anarchist beliefs were incapable of practical application. The fact that he himself never actively participated in the life of any of these colonies blinded him to their faults. It was not difficult for the colonists to accept his dictum that to love God meant to do the business of God, and that if you loved God, you would unfailingly love people. When the “business of God,” however, involved a practical application of nonresistance to evil and a condemnation of property, the services of government, and all the customary aids of modern society, then the business of daily life itself broke down completely.

Tolstoy’s reaction to these efforts of his disciples was a mixed one; later he grew hostile to them. He wished to see his beliefs propagated, for he had a supreme faith in their efficacy, but organized proselyting he deeply distrusted.

Many of his most radical followers hoped to give the Tolstoyan movement a definite form by attracting masses to it and trying to persuade the master to leave his home, surround himself with disciples, and create a kind of moral Eden. But Tolstoy knew that to tag a movement in the realm of ideas with forms, limitations, and labels meant its destruction this was the first step in the direction of a church. He said to A. S. Butkevich, who was visiting him: ”To stand aloof, to shut oneself up in a monastery, surrounded by such angels as oneself, amounts to creating a hothouse and those conditions in which it will be easy to be good oneself, but no one else will be warm. Live in the world and be good that is what is needed.”


THROUGH most of 1886 and the next year tolstoy found time to write even amid the manifold tasks he now imposed upon himself. The practice seemed to intensify his mental and moral strength without diminishing his physical powers. Among other things, he wrote his grim realistic tragedy The Power of Darkness (1886). It is based directly on a crime he had heard of several years before: a peasant confessed to the guests assembled at the marriage of his stepdaughter that he had murdered a child he had had by her and afterwards attempted to kill his own six-year-old daughter. Upon the foundation of this sordid crime Tolstoy built a moving drama that involved the darker aspects of peasant life.

A good part of the play he wrote in the autumn of 1886, while he lay ill in bed with an infected leg. Members of the household went about on tiptoe. At times he would drop his pencil, throw his head back on the pillow, and his face took on an expression of pain that arose from his bodily illness mingled with the spiritual suffering he experienced in creating the horrific scenes of his play that dealt with poison, adultery, and infanticide. He admitted that he could never read without tears the scene in the cellar where Nikita crushed his child with a board so that its “ bones crunched.” The horror of it all is strangely neutralized by a sense of atonement for sin and by the moral message of the terrible evil-begetting power of evil.

The Power of Darkness possessed excellent acting qualities and Tolstoy was anxious to have it staged as well as published. His friend A. A. Stakhovich, a lover of the theater and a talented dramatic reader, read the play with much success to Petersburg society gatherings at the beginning of 1887. He was asked to give a reading of it before Emperor Alexander III and high Court officials. The Emperor seemed impressed, pronounced the play “a marvelous thing,” and suggested that it be staged by the best actors and actresses of both the Moscow and the Petersburg theaters.

Preparations went forward rapidly, until the plans were brought to the attention of Pobedonostsev, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, and the archenemy of Tolstoy’s religious beliefs. He read the play and lost no time in writing to the Emperor that the drama filled him with horror and that it represented a ” negation of ideals,” a “debasing of moral feelings,” and an “offense against taste.” Alexander III judiciously recanted in his reply. He admitted that the play had made a strong impression on him, but that it had filled him with aversion and that it was his “opinion and conviction that it was impossible to stage the drama, because it was too realistic and frightful in its subject matter.” With this fickle royal favor withdrawn, the play could not be acted, although it was published in 1887.

A few weeks later the Emperor sent a memorandum to the Ministry of the Interior, in which he used much sharper language about the play and its author. “One ought to put an end to this mischief of L. Tolstoy. He is a downright nihilist and atheist. It would not be bad now to forbid the sale of his drama, The Power of Darkness, for he has already succeeded in selling enough of this nastiness and in spreading it among the people.” The Power of Darkness was not staged in Russia until 1895, but with the aid of Zola it was acted earlier (1888) in Paris, where it at once won a remarkable success.

On her visit to Yasnaya Polyana in the summer of 1887 Granny was charmed with the Tolstoy children. There were eight of them. Thoy were kind, simple, gay, and quite gifted. She observed how attached they were to their parents, and how they worshiped their father. Not all of them shared his views, particularly the eldest son, Sergei, a thoughtful man and a talented musician. The second son, Ilya, erratic but warmhearted, strove hard to follow his father’s religious and social creed, and his efforts were repaid by a tender solicitude on the part of Tolstoy. His father once suddenly asked Ilya if he had ever had a woman, and when he answered in the negative, Tolstoy wept from joy.

At about this lime Ilya was thinking of marrying, and his father wrote him a long and earnest letter to warn him that he and his future wife must be certain that they both had a useful purpose in life or otherwise they would not be happy together. “Your purpose in life,” he counseled, “must not be to enjoy the delight of wedlock but, by your life, to bring more love and truth into the world. The object of marriage is to help one another in the attainment of that purpose.”

Although the third son, temperamental Leo, early showed a disposition to subscribe to his father’s views, he soon opposed them, and even in print. The younger sons, the ebullient Andrei and stolid Mikhail, had little regard for the teaching of their father, and later they openly displayed their antipathy by voluntarily serving in the army.

Tolstoy once remarked that he had reason to thank God for his daughters, and it is true that they served him with a devotion and sympathy that his sons did not possess. Tatyana, the eldest, while always maintaining certain reservations of her own concerning her father’s faith, was much influenced by his teaching and proved a willing helper in his work. But the second daughter, Masha, was a true disciple, and often risked the anger of her mother because of her quiet insistence upon living up to her father’s teachings. She worked in the fields, taught the village children, faithfully attended sick peasants, and in her spare time aided her father in his voluminous correspondence and in his literary labors. When these two sisters eventually married, the youngest, Alexandra, took their place as an assiduous disciple, helper, and favorite child of her father.

On September 23, 1887, Tolstoy and his wife celebrated quietly their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. In his diary he scribbled that the course of his family life “could have been better.” About a month before, in her own diary, the forty-three-yearold Sonya wrote: “Pregnancy both physically and morally tortures me. Lyovochka’s health has gone downhill; family life becomes complicated, and my own moral strength diminishes.” On March 31, 1888, Sonya gave birth to her thirteenth child, Ivan.


MANY people in Russia were wondering if the author of War and Peace had not lost his mind. For some ten years now, instead of exploiting his great literary success, he had been serving up to readers and listeners religious treatises and moral exhortations. The Church was becoming alarmed over his wholesale condemnation of its dogma and practices, and government officials, long since suspicious, now secretly reported every move of Tolstoy. Because of his wide fame, the police feared to arrest him and granted a kind of extraterritoriality to his estate at Yasnaya Polyana.

In January, 1888, the Governor General of Moscow sent a confidential report to the Ministry of the Interior, in which he cautiously declared that “every repressive measure taken against Count L. Tolstoy will surround him with an aureole of suffering and will all the more assist in the dissemination of his thought and teaching.”Both Church and State were uninterested in his search for the meaning and purpose of life, but the uncompromising Tolstoy failed to understand how anyone could go through life without asking himself: “What the devil does it all mean?”

Of greater consequence to Tolstoy’s immediate peace of mind was the fact that his wife’s hostility to his views had become more irreconcilable than ever. By 1888, at the age of sixty, he had finally renounced meat, alcohol, and tobacco, and the next year he wrote an article, “Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?” in which he roundly condemned drinking and smoking as habits employed by mankind to still the voice of conscience.

The luxury, frock coats, and singing at the wedding of his son Ilya offended Tolstoy’s new sense of proprieties, and he complained of it in a letter to Chertkov. Sonya found her husband’s Christian idealism something less than ideal. Having a child at fortyfour had placed a terrific strain on her physical powers. Tolstoy wept over her suffering, but it was a joyous compensation for her to see him fondle and kiss the newborn Ivan.

Then, less than three weeks after this event, and in the face of his exhausted wife’s bitter protests, Tolstoy, with knapsack on his shoulders, set off from Moscow to Yasnaya Polyana on foot. He has “again taken the bit in his teeth,”the chagrined Sonya wrote her sister Tanya.

There was little in the correspondence between husband and wife on this occasion to suggest that Ivan’s birth had been anything other than an unnecessary and superfluous event in their lives. All Tolstoy’s attempts to change his wife’s views and way of life had failed. She simply could not understand his transformed attitude, and was frankly annoyed by the evidence of the Gospels that he quoted to her. Husband and wife had become spiritual and intellectual strangers to each other. The only real bond left was the physical and that too was soon endangered.

One of the most welcome of the several visitors during the summer of 1889 was Strakhov, who had not been at Yasnaya Polyana for some time. He found it a “center of spiritual activity,” and he saw in the master’s calm moral beauty a power of conviction that could afford to dispense with verbal persuasion. To Strakhov, Tolstoy seemed already to have discovered truth, and his serene faith in it required no demonstration beyond his sincere willingness to live what he believed.

The center of spiritual activity, however, was largely in Tolstoy’s study, where the “dark people” paid him furtive visits. The rest of Yasnaya. Polyana seemed like a palace of pleasure. For the family had decided to remain there for the winter, and they made every effort to keep up their gay social city existence. As in the city, the entire life of the family at Yasnaya Polyana revolved about the mother. Sonya ran the household, looked after the children s education, edited a new edition of her husband’s works, and collected rents from the estate. The numerous children, servants, and peasants turned to her alone for the daily decisions of their lives.

For the most part, the father, like a guest in his own house, kepi singularly aloof from domestic cares and the affairs of the estate. He serenely led his own existence— a life of the spirit. When the summer work in the fields was over, Tolstoy’s daily regimen was fixed, and no one and nothing were permitted to interfere with it. He rose about eight, emptied his chamber pot, swept his room out, and brushed his clothes. If a mouse were caught in the cage—there were many mice in the house that year — he took the cage out to the orchard and carefully released the rodent. No matter what the weather, he went on a solitary walk in the morning and returned about ten for coffee. Then he shut himself up in his study and worked till twelve, when he emerged for a quick lunch and returned to his reading and writing until three or four.

It was only now that he grew sociable, for he would invite any member of the family or guests to walk with him, chatting with his companion in lively fashion and questioning peasants on the road. The peasants liked to banter with him and hear his deep, sincere, toothless laugh. Returning for dinner at five, he kept the table in lively conversation and remained until eight, when he retired to his study to write up his diary for the day. He would soon emerge and entertain the family circle with conversation or readings from his own compositions or from French, English, or Russian novels. He read well. Sometimes there would be music or a quiet game of chess, which he played badly but with great seriousness. At about midnight the mail arrived, and after going over his letters, he went to bed.

Sometimes the family’s traditional funmaking interrupted the search for God. If the entertainment caught his fancy, he quickly became the lift of the party as in the old days. Such an occasion was the performance of his play The Fruits of Enlightenment at Yasnaya Polyana in December of this year. Tanya and Masha had thought it time to liven up the household, and a play seemed like a good excuse to invite people. They had difficulty in finding a satisfactory piece until Masha remembered seeing the manuscript of a drama among her father’s papers. She purloined the manuscript, and with Tanya and the young tutor Novikov read it over with much amusement.

It was just the thing — a merry comedy in four acts, in which high society and spiritualism were blisteringly satirized, while some wonderful peasant characters were introduced who provided a combination of farce and genuine distress over their lack of land. To the delight of the readers they at once recognized in the numerous characters members of the family, their friends, and oven some of their own peasants. Tolstoy at first remonstrated: staging a play, he said, was simply an amusement of rich and idle people. The young folks stood their ground and soon the author was more deeply involved than his children.

Rehearsals were held daily, and the author was nearly always present, directing and encouraging the actors, slapping his sides and wagging his head in peasant fashion, and laughing until the tears came, when his humorous lines were effectively rendered. With animation he lectured the cast on dramatic art, and during the rehearsals the artist in him was never dormant. He observed attentively the performance of each actor and took notes on the dialogue. At night he collected all the roles, retired to his study, and altered the speeches, sometimes on the basis of the individual abilities of the players. These alterations continued right up to the very performance of the play.

On one occasion, when Tolstoy was deep in conversation with the actors, little Andrei ran in to tell his father that two peasant women urgently wished to see him in the kitchen. Tolstoy went immediately. followed by several of the guests, who were aware that something was up. As soon as he entered and asked the women what they wished, they fell on their knees and began to wail. Tolstoy was embarrassed and confused.

“Get up, mother, get up, get up,” he said, speaking to each in turn, but they did not arise and continued to howl. Tolstoy’s features grew stern, his chin trembled, and he helplessly appealed to the women, assuring them that he was not God, and finally, falling on his own knees, he declared: “Well, now I shall kneel too. What is it you wish of me?”

Rut they still remained on their knees lamenting.

“Well, I’m on my own knees, I am, I am! Now, what do you want?” pleaded Tolstoy, bowing to the floor before the women. Suddenly the wailing changed to hysterical laughter, and only then did Tolstoy, looking hard at them, recognize in the disguised women his own daughters. Jumping to his feet, Tolstoy shook with laughter, and finally through his tears he said: “No, this is really impiety,” and he went to his study.

The Fruits of Enlightenment was finally performed on December 30 in the big salon before a large audience and it achieved a triumphant success. It had been a long time since such high spirits and jollity had reigned in the great manor house of Yasnaya Polvana, which now became once again a “center of spiritual activity.”


THE year 1880 was particularly noteworthy, for it marked the return of Tolstoy to the larger field of creative literature. In this year he finished his famous piece The Kreutzer Sonata. According to Sonya, Tolstoy obtained the initial idea for it from the actor V. N. Andreyev-Burlak. He told the family of meeting on a train an unfortunate stranger who poured out to him the story of his wife’s betrayal. Tolstoy originally began this tale of “sexual love,” as he first called it, in 1887, but he put it aside after a mere start.

The following year an incident provided him with new inspiration and added a new motif—that of music. In a gathering at the family’s Moscow house in the spring, the violinist Yuli Lyasotta, accompanied by young Sergei Tolstoy at the piano, performed Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata.” Tolstoy had long been acquainted with the piece, but this performance produced a powerful impression on him. He turned to the distinguished painter Repin and the actor Andreyev-Burlak, who were present, and offered to write a story based on the sonata, if the actor would read it publicly in the presence of a canvas, inspired by the same music, that Repin would engage to paint. Tolstoy once again took up the unfinished tale of “sexual love,” which now became The Kreutzer Sonata, but of the three artists, he was the only one to fulfill the agreement.

In 1888 and at various times during the next year Tolstoy worked away at this strange story of Pozdnyshev, whose violent jealousy over theattention paid his wife by a musician drove him to kill her and thereafter to preach the doctrine that sex should be eliminated from human life as far as possible. Draft followed draft until Tolstoy had accumulated nine of them. Behind this extensive effort was not merely his usual sense of artistic perfection; The Kreutzer Sonata had finally taken on a deep personal significance for him.

The new ideal that had gripped Tolstoy, and for the expression of which his unhappy hero Pozdnyshev became the mouthpiece, was the necessity of absolute chastity not only for unmarried, but even for married people. All his life Tolstoy had advocated marriage as the only normal and moral outlet for sexual satisfaction. And a few years previously, in What I Believe (1884), he had roundly condemned a celibate life for those who were ripe for marriage. But the factors compelling him to repudiate his former beliefs and to adopt the ideal of chastity must be studied against the background of his own recent marital difficulties.

“Man survives earthquakes, epidemics, terrible illnesses and every kind of spiritual suffering,” said Tolstoy, “but always the most poignant tragedy was, is, and ever will be the tragedy of the bedroom.” This new view, ironically enough, he began to express in correspondence with Chertkov, whom a few years before he had been urging to marry for the good of his health and morals. In several letters to him during 1888, Tolstoy developed his thoughts on marriage and chastity, progressing swiftly from compromise to an extreme position. He frankly confessed to Chertkov that in his own marriage he had failed utterly to live up to his new convictions, but that in the future he would try to abide by them as the teaching of Christ. Then he outlined his argument. A man and woman fall in love, he wrote, and they marry, and the result, is a child. When pregnancy begins, a sexual coolness develops between husband and wife which interrupts relations, as it does among animals. The coolness continues until after the weaning of the child, when once again husband and wife feel sexually attracted to each other. During the time of pregnancy and nursing, husband and wife live like brother and sister, unless the husband, thinking only of his own pleasure, insists on continuing sexual relations. In this abuse, Tolstoy declared, may be found “the key to all the suffering hidden in the enormous majority of families.”

“It seems to me,”Tolstoy continued, “that when husband and wife live as brother and sister, she quietly, inviolably gives birth, nurses, and in this morally develops, and only in the free periods do they give themselves up once more to love, continuing for weeks, and again there is calm. It seems to me that this amorousness makes for a kind of steam pressure in the course of which the boiler would burst if the safety valve were not opened. The valve opens only during this powerful pressure, but otherwise it is always closed, carefully closed, and our aim ought to be consciously to keep it closed as tightly as possible and to place a weight on it so that it should not open. . . . That is,”he concluded, “let everyone aspire never to marry, but haying married, let him live with his wife as a brother with his sister.”


THE original story on sexual love was rapidly turning into a moral treatise on Tolstoy’s new faith in celibacy and chastity. But his wonderful artistic sense prevented The Kreutzer Sonata from becoming a mere didactic tract. Nothing could be more realistically and psychologically convincing than the half-mad hero’s narrative of his moral and spiritual struggle. But Pozdnyshev’s presentation of the problems of sex undoubtedly reflects Tolstoy’s own opinions at this time, a fact substantiated by the Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata, which he later felt compelled to write in order that there should be no mistake about his own views on sex, for some people actually read into the story an advocacy of free love. The Afterword, however, clearly differentiates the idealistic but logically developed thought of Tolstoy on these matters from the extravagant conviction of the deranged Pozdnyshev. In brief, Tolstoy’s ultimate position in the Afterword is that the Christian ideal is one of love of God and of one’s fellow man, a love incompatible with sexual love or marriage, which amounts to serving one’s self.

When the story was originally submitted to the censor, like so many of Tolstoy’s works that had the aura of the forbidden about them, it was eagerly passed around and read by high government and church officials. They of course condemned the tale, the Empress declared herself shocked, and the Emperor categorically forbade its printing.

Sonya, however, very much wished to include The Kreutzer Sonata in the thirteenth volume of her husband’s works that she was publishing, and much against Tolstoy’s will she sought an interview with Alexander III in the hope of obtaining permission to prim the story. The interview did not take place until April, 1891, after infinite wirepulling by the stubborn Sonya.

When she pointed out that The Kreutzer Sonata had been suppressed, the Emperor replied: “But then it is written in such a way that I’m sure even you would not give it to your children to read. ”

Sonya replied: “ Unfortunately the story has taken a rather extreme form, but the idea underlying it is this: the ideal is always unattainable; if this ideal is perfect chastity, then people can only be pure in matrimony”— an ignorant or willful misrepresentation on the part of Sonya.

When she boldly asked the Emperor to lift the ban on the story, he answered: “ Yes, we might allow you to print it in the complete works, because not everyone could afford to buy the full set, and it would not be too widely disseminated.”

Sonya won her fight, and in 1891 The Kreutzer Sonata was published for the first time in Russia in the thirteenth volume of Tolstoy’s collected works. But on her own responsibility Sonya made numerous changes in the text (about two hundred), toning down certain sections and softening the forthright realism of the language.

Long before the first published version, The Kreutzer Sonata was known far and wide in Russia and even abroad. Copies of the manuscript (not the final redaction) were sent to friends, who read them to large gatherings in Petersburg and Moscow. Surreptitiously hectograph copies were made and widely distributed in large numbers. So much in demand were they that they sold for as high as fifteen rubles in bookshops that dared to handle this contraband literature. Strakhov told Tolstoy that people, instead of saying “How do you do?” generally asked, “Have you read The Kreutzer Sonata?”

An interesting passage in Granny’s Reminiscences gives some idea of the tremendous impression these illegal works of Tolstoy made upon Russian society. The government never seemed to learn the old truth that repressions increase interest.

“It is difficult to imagine [wrote Granny] what happened when, for example, The Kreutzer Sonata and The Power of Darkness appeared. Still forbidden to be printed, these works were reproduced in hundreds and thousands of copies; they passed from hand to hand, were translated into all languages, and were read everywhere with incredible passion. It seemed at times that the public, forgetting all its personal cares, lived only for the literature of Count Tolstoy. The most important political events rarely seized everyone with such force and completeness.”

Readers of these illegal copies of The Kreutzer Sonata deluged Tolstoy with letters. Although the story was eagerly read, it met with little approval. Some thought it a straight piece of autobiography as though Tolstoy had murdered his wife — others accused him of preaching immorality, and the Archbishop of Kherson denounced him as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“Only sensible and reasonable young people and sensitive and reasonable women . . . have recognized the evils you attack, and sympathize with your inculcation of chastity. Even Countess Alexandra Andreyevna Tolstoy amazed me by exclaiming: ‘How is this? fie wants to end the human race!’ As if it was someone’s business to look after the perpetuation of that race! Or ought we to organize studfarms for it ?”


TOLSTOY’S story did not achieve its purpose — to preach a moral ideal through the medium of an artistic narrative. The author was perfectly aware that the didactic purpose obtruded. And discerning critics made this same distinction. The acutely critical but always generous Chekhov praised the design, beauty of execution, and the provocative thought of the story, but he complained that Tolstoy’s remarks about syphilis, foundling hospitals, and women’s aversion to conception not only were open to dispute, but clearly revealed an ignorant man, who during his long life had not taken the trouble to read a couple of books by specialists. Strakhov wrote Tolstoy of the impressions created by The Kreutzer Sonata: —

This might also have been Tolstoy’s answer to the customary objection that his ideal of chastity, if carried to its logical conclusion, would result in ihe end of the human race. But he never imagined that his views of complete chastity were anything other than an unattainable ideal. He believed literally the statement in the Bible that “every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Nor did he believe that sex permitted of any compromises with the devil or with fine words. When the lady in The Kreutzer Sonata indignantly declared: “But you are speaking of physical love! Don’t you admit the existence of love founded on identity of ideals and on spiritual affinity?” Tolstoy would have heartily seconded Pozdnyshev’s incisive answer: “Spiritual affinity! Identity of ideals! But in that case (excuse my rudeness) why do they go to bed together?”

Nor did Tolstoy entertain any illusion that he of all people could achieve his ideal of perfect chastity. Cynical critics, after the appearance of The Kreutzer Sonata, slyly suggested that the author was getting old and that the grapes had turned sour. Yet when he was nearly seventy Tolstoy told his biographer, Aylmer Maude: “I was myself a husband last night, but that is no reason for abandoning the struggle.

God may grant me not to be so again.” In fact, not until he was eighty-one, a year before his death, did he admit — again to Maude — that he was no longer troubled by sexual desires.

No, when Tolstoy wrote The Kreutzer Sonata, the grapes were still very tempting, and this fact has an important connection with the story itself. His wife’s plea to the Emperor to be allowed to print the work in no sense indicated her approval of it. Her effort to see the Emperor on behalf of the work has sometimes been represented as an instance of her selfsacrifice for the sake of her husband. In her diary, however, she explained that she sought the Emperor’s permission to print the book not so much out of devotion to her husband as a desire to defend her own and her family’s reputation, to prove to the world that The Kreutzer Sonata had nothing to do with the intimate life between her and her husband.


With his usual sincerity Tolstoy attempted to practice what he preached. It was no easy task. As during the period of his youth, he chronicled in his diary the lapses in his struggle to be chaste. Only now the temptation was not a Caucasian beauty or a bewitching gypsy wench, but a forty-five-year-old wife who had borne him thirteen children. “The devil fell upon me,”he wrote. “The next day, the morning of the 30th, I slept badly. It was so loathsome, as after a crime. And on that same day, the 30th, still more powerfully possessed, I fell.”In a later conscience-stricken entry, he jotted down: “What if a child should be born? How shameful, especially before the children. They will reckon when it happened, and they will read what I write [The Kreutzer Sonata]. It has become shameful, sad. And I considered: not before people, but before God must one be afraid. I asked myself: In this relation how do I stand before God? and I at once grew calmer.”

ESPITE the many sharp differences in their life, and of late their serious quarrels, Tolstoy had clung firmly to the institution of marriage as an ultimate good. He had remained scrupulously faithful to his wife, and in his writings he had uncompromisingly condemned any violation of’ the sacred bonds of matrimony. Then, suddenly, towards the end of 1888, his whole attitude changed. He decided that marriage was not one of the forms of service to God, and he concluded by advising bachelors not to marry, and married couples to preserve chastity.

If other evidence were unconvincing, Tolstoy’s wife read into The Kreutzer Sonata a clear expression of her husband’s new ideal. In all their quarrels in the past, they had never once seriously differed about marriage — its sanctity, its duties and privileges. Of late, worn-out by constant childbearing, she had murmured complaints, but she had never once suggested contraceptives, which she knew were morally and physically repugnant to her husband. And in the end, she had always surrendered. Marriage and all it entailed had been the rock on which Sonya had built her happiness, and on which she instinctively felt her future secure no matter how seriously her views may have otherwise differed from those of her husband. Then, suddenly, after twenty-seven years of life together, and without any apparent reason, this rock was smashed to bits. Now she could not help but feel that during all these long years they had been living a cruel lie.

Having constant access to Tolstoy’s diary, which she was accustomed to copy, Sonya could hardly fail to relate these new entries concerning his struggle to preserve his chastity to those ancient jottings, which she had read with horror even before her marriage, of his youthful attempts to fight the devil of sex that tempted him in the form of loose women. In his youth he had condemned lust, and now in his old age he condemned all sexual relations. The conclusion was inescapable to Sonya: her husband, even throughout all his married life, had possessed the same aversion to sexual relations that he had expressed as a youth. The possibility had perhaps always existed that she might eventually dwindle into an acceptance of his new way of life. And now the very fabric of their whole married existence together had been torn to shreds. Here there could be no compromise. The family drama had changed from a tragicomedy to pure tragedy.

At times, in her anger and self-pity over this latest defection of her husband, Sonya could not refrain from holding him up to ridicule. When Alekseyev visited, he found her alone and had a long talk with her, while she held the baby Vanichka in her arms. The conversation finally turned on The Kreutzer Sonata. Sonya, affecting a laugh over Tolstoy’s intention in the story, said: “It is fine for Leo Nikolayevich to write and advise others to be chaste, but wdiat of himself?" and with a malignant smile she motioned towards the child.

One may date from this time a pronounced development of the hysteria of Tolstoy’s wife, traces of which she had exhibited in the first years of their disagreements. This condition was aggravated by his desire to sever the last bond that bound them together. Now, with increasing frequency, extravagant unbalanced declarations began to appear in Sonya s Own diary. “He is killing me very systematically. . . she complained. “I want to kill myself, to run somewhere, to fall in love with someone — anything only not live with the man whom 1 have loved all my life. . . .” And shortly after (his, she wrote in her diary: “It would be terrible to become pregnant, for all would learn of this shame and would repeat with malicious joy a joke just now invented in Moscow society: ‘There is the real Afterword of The Kreutzer Sonata.”

(To be continued)