Tolstoy: A Russian Life [Rosamund Bartlett]

Tolstoy: A Russian Life [Rosamund Bartlett]

– he wrote about his life, but not always in a direct way – he appeared in all his characters, including the female ones in his books
– he was eccentric, an anarchist, a narcissist, he disliked authority, he was needy/insecure, he could be supremely confident & unconfident at times; he was impulsive; early on he was hedonistic, & then became increasingly “morally pure” – he spent his life in search of an identity – living life to the full while living a pure life & searching for the truth – he would devote himself to following a religious idea (his youth was spent searching for something that would satisfy & absorb him) – he was always “searching” throughout his life | his conscience told him something quite early & would mean he would “swim against the tide” for his entire life
– he joined few organisations/institutions in his lifetime
– he tried to give freedom to & educate “his peasants”/ serfs before it was fashionable or legal to do in Russia before the 1860s
– he was born into the landed aristocracy – he was a Count (but there were people higher up the social pecking order)
– he came from 2 old families
– he lived on the family estate (& wrote there)
– his education involved private tutoring
– both of his parents died before he turned 7 – this led to living with aunts
– his teenage years were erratic (& hedonistic)
– apparently he did not like being taught by anyone
– he did not finish his university studies – oriental languages then law
– he came into his inheritance at the age of 21 – the ancestral home (which he sold off gradually, village by village)
– he is unsure what to do with his life – diplomat? Military? While carousing & gambling & simultaneously beginning a personal religious quest for a better life for people
– his first piece of fiction is called “childhood” – renamed “My childhood” by the editor
– it is immediately published [he submitted it under a pseudonym while serving in the Army]
– he is famous for writing universal truths
– he came to national attention while serving in the Army at Sevastopol during the Crimean War
– it was the first time anyone had written – even vaguely realistically – about contemporary warfare
– his first despatch was patriotic & the Russian Monarch, Alexander II, decided it should be commended, translated into several languages & widely distributed within Russia
– his experience of war quickly turned him into a pacifist
– while still in the Army – & following the fall of Sevastopol – he goes to St Petersburg where he gets to meet all the great writers – but he soon fell out with them & he returned to his estate where he spent the rest of his life, including the Russian winters (which many in the aristocracy did not do)
– he became a teacher of his peasants – but his was not a typical school of structure, discipline (corporal punishment), rote learning etc.,
– his work in education gained much personal hostility & animosity from his neighbours
– he got married – & was happy for the next 10 years on his estate – this was also the period where he wrote War & Peace in this time – published in the late 1860s
– following the book he falls into a profound depression
– Tolstoy wrote about the Decembrists & he went back to 1805 – a historical survey –
– Anna Kerenina was the only work he did which he considered to be a novel
– he wrote an ABC Book for children to learn the alphabet
– he re-translates Aesop’s fable into Russian
– he wants to instil in children the love of the Russian language
– he travelled twice to Western Europe – the second time he spent reviewing primary schools & their pedagogical studies for possible use in Russia
– wife encourage him to write – she attributes marital stability, his happiness to writing
– when he writes about modern family life in Anna Kerenina in 1873 – Tolstory was less happy & was having marriage difficulties himself – his wife was 30 years her junior. Divorce at the time was difficult in Russia.
– he does 15 drafts before he gets really started on the work
– it took 4 years to complete & he found it difficult to apply himself & release regular instalments for publication in the monthly journals
– after this book, he tires of writing for the “pampered upper classes” & dedicates his life to the poor
– in 1877, he becomes devout & attends church regularly until a spiritual crisis where he turns his back on the church (he came to see it as a hypocritical institution & saw it as too close to the state in the way it sanctioned war) & attacks it for the next 30 years of his life
– he lives instead according to his conscience – he dispensed with money, lived basically & dressed as a peasant – he believed the peasants had a richer spiritual life (& more wisdom) – he was a vegetarian & advocated for animal rights – he spoke of being a “wanderer” & living like a pilgrim | he railed against modern technology & yet loved to be photographed
– he produced a more “pure” version of the bible’s teachings
– some said Tolstoy had produced a cult on his estate – for people of any class disenchanted with modern life, the church etc., | he was seen as an elder | he wanted to live a simple life on the earth
– his death in the Winter of 1910 in a railway station – he was famous at this time & followed when he left his family estate – & his wife, Sonya – he wanted to be a wandering pilgrim – he is given the first civil burial in Russia (he had been ex-communicated from the church) – the government is worried about the protests/demonstrations after his 3 decades of trying to bring down the czarist regime
– 1928 was the centenary of his birth & the Soviets published all his work – but promoted the patriotic side, rather than his religious works (which amounted to millions of words)

Source: new Books in History / Biography | podcast date: 5 November 2011


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