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Ch. 9: The Motives That Decided His Going Away

For us, the nearest friends of Leo Nikolaevitch, who watched step by step what was taking place at Yasnaya Polyana during the last days of his presence there, the reason why he could do nothing but go away was easy to understand. But the reader who is not so closely acquainted with all the circumstances may ask, Why exactly did Sofya Andreyevna's behaviour on the last night have such an influence on Leo Nikolaevitch? What did she do then that was new and not to be expected from her previous behaviour?

Of course Sofya Andreyevna's behaviour on that night only gave the final impetus to Leo Nikolaevitch's going away. In reality the question of leaving home had already been decided in his soul, and, as it seems to me, he was, as it were, instinctively only awaiting the inevitable final impulse for carrying out his intention. And the key to the understanding of Leo Nikolaevitch's spiritual state at the time is hidden in the words with which he concluded the note in his diary concerning his departure: "I feel that I have saved myself, not as Leo Nikolaevitch, but have saved what at times at least to some small degree there is in me." These words are marvellous in their touching humility on the lips of a man whose soul was filled to overflowing and was the reflection of the highest principle, and at the same time remarkable from the light which they throw on the deeper motives of his departure. In these words one is conscious of the dread—under the conditions beginning to exist about him—of being deprived of the spiritual independence essential for the preservation of the inviolability of his "holy of holies"—the dread of being deprived of the possibility of resisting the ever-persisting attacks from outside—which might very naturally come to pass, considering Leo Nikolaevitch's extreme age and the gradual weakening of his physical powers.

It must not be forgotten also that by this time he had become convinced of the complete uselessness, even undesirability, of his remaining longer with Sofya Andreyevna, and that therefore the various impulses to go away which he had before so scrupulously repressed in his soul were now set free. The painful consciousness of luxury and privilege in which his life was spent in the midst of the poverty around him, the yearning for peace and solitude before death, and many other causes began without hindrance to impel him in the same direction.

Thus the cup was already full and only the last drop was lacking. And just at this time suddenly the new element in his wife's behaviour which provided that last impulse to departure was revealed to Leo Nikolaevitch.

What was new to him was the sudden revelation of the atmosphere of lying and hypocrisy in which he saw himself entangled. He unexpectedly became the involuntary witness of how Sofya Andreyevna, when she thought he was asleep, secretly stole up to his papers, and of how, as soon as she found out that he was not asleep, she began again at once as though nothing were the matter, expressing solicitude for his health. His eyes were at once opened and he saw what had long been well known to his intimate friends, but what the remnant of confidence in and respect for his wife which were still preserved in his soul, forbade him even to admit in his thoughts: that is, that she was acting a farce with him.

Together with this discovery everything was transformed for Leo Nikolaevitch, and indeed that was inevitable. It was of little moment that the incident which opened his eyes may seem in itself not to be of much importance. For married people who have lived together fifty years the first incident which reveals hypocrisy in one of them is always of importance. This incident at once threw quite a new light for Leo Nikolaevitch on all that had passed between him and Sofya Andreyevna. Till that time he had supposed that he had to do with sincere egoism and ill-will, with open wilfulness and innate coarseness and with morbid abnormality. And meeting this with unvarying mildness, patience and love, he recognised that he was doing as he ought, and therefore felt an inner satisfaction. Now all this was turned upside down. In the past the position had been clear; before him was a definite evil which laid on him as definite a duty to meet the evil with good. Now he had to do with a sort of tangle in which there was so much falsity that it was impossible to make out where reality ended and deception began; so that instead of his former satisfaction Leo Nikolaevitch suddenly felt the ambiguous position in which he found himself. So at least I explain to myself the extreme emotion which Leo Nikolaevitch felt at his final decision to go away.

It is true that even before this he knew of Sofya Andreyevna's insincere behaviour. A month before he went away he wrote of Sofya Andreyevna in this diary: "I cannot get accustomed to regarding her words as the ravings of delirium. All my trouble comes from that. It is impossible to talk to her, because she does not recognise the obligation of truth nor of logic, nor of her own words, nor of conscience. It is awful. I am not speaking now of love for me, of which there is no trace. She does not want my love for her either; all she wants is that people should think that I love her, and that is so awful." (Diary, September 10, 1910.) Yet apparently Leo Nikolaevitch still had no idea of the degree of insincerity and deception of which Sofya Andreyevna was capable in her relations with him personally. But on that night he was involuntarily brought face to face with the manifestation of it, and he was the more revolted because he had hitherto so scrupulously striven in his soul to preserve some sort of trust in his wife.

Finally, convinced that he was incapable of changing the spiritual condition of Sofya Andreyevna, he saw now that his presence at her side could only serve as a cause of offence for her, exciting the worst side of her nature. And so the former obstacles to his departure were removed from him, and his soul demanded release from the unbefitting position in which he found himself.

It is easy to understand that under such conditions the first serious occasion was sufficient to impel him to carry out his long-cherished intention, and he went away.[25]

FOOTNOTE

[25] I have heard—it is true, from very few persons, and those chiefly belonging to Leo Nikolaevitch's family—regret expressed that he did not die peaceably at Yasnaya Polyana in the midst of his family. The picture imagined by these people of the death-bed of Leo Nikolaevitch in the home of his ancestors, surrounded by all his family, and giving his blessing to his grief-stricken wife, may perhaps be very touching. But such a scene would in reality be impossible, since Sofya Andreyevna was in such a condition of mind that, apart from a simulated exaggeration of feeling and the basest preoccupation with the material heritage, nothing more would have happened than on previous occasions when Leo Nikolaevitch was taken with the attacks and fainting fits to which he was liable, and it would have been painful for him. We ought, on the contrary, to rejoice that circumstances gave Leo Nikolaevitch the chance of spending the last days of his life and the last hours of his consciousness in a quiet, genuine atmosphere, among intimate friends who truly loved and understood him, and who strenuously watched over his spiritual peace and did not pester him in those last minutes with any worldly cares or material considerations. In this I cannot but see an immense happiness and blessing for Leo Nikolaevitch.

Some people lay stress on the spiritual pain which Sofya Andreyevna must have experienced when she learned that Leo Nikolaevitch had left her. There is no doubt that this pain must have been very severe, particularly at first. But one must not blame others for the sufferings which are the work of the sufferer himself. If my own negligence is the cause of a man slipping off the roof and falling on my head I cannot blame him for the bruises he has caused me by his fall. It is as unjust to blame Leo Nikolaevitch for the suffering caused to Sofya Andreyevna by his departure, which was provoked by herself. Moreover, sufferings which are the result of our own mistakes are often beneficial. So in this instance, if Sofya Andreyevna, toward the end of the life of Leo Nikolaevitch, ever displayed the faintest gleams of consciousness of the great wrong she had done him, it was only at the time of her heaviest suffering on account of his leaving her. And therefore one may regret the causes which called forth Leo Nikolaevitch's departure, but not that the emotional shock given Sofya Andreyevna by it opened her eyes, if only for a few instants, to the true significance of her behaviour to her husband.

If it should seem strange to anyone that Leo Nikolaevitch, even after he had left home, so dreaded an interview with Sofya Andreyevna, that is only because the mental condition in which, as Leo Nikolaevitch well knew, she was at that time is too little known. When he left Yasnaya Polyana Leo Nikolaevitch firmly and unhesitatingly decided to cut himself off from his family, and therefore while he was still hoping to live independently, he naturally avoided interviews with Sofya Andreyevna, who would with all her energies, and without scruple as to the means employed, have hindered his realising his plan. When he was laid up at Astapavo and foresaw the possibility of death being at hand, it was just as natural that he should have felt the need of that spiritual tranquillity to which every dying man has a right. And that Sofya Andreyevna's condition at that time really was such that she could have brought nothing to his death-bed but deception, vanity, material importunities, fuss and noise, that is well known by all who have had the opportunity of watching at close quarters her behaviour not only in all Leo Nikolaevitch's serious illnesses in later years and during the last months of his life at Yasnaya Polyana, but also during the first days after he had gone away, and during her stay in his neighbourhood at Astapovo, and by his bedside during the last unconscious moments, and during the first hours after his death. Anyone who saw Sofya Andreyevna under all these conditions cannot but acknowledge that Leo Nikolaevitch showed great foresight in so persistently avoiding interviews with her while she was in that condition. A personal interview between them at that time could not only add nothing to what he had told her in his last letters, which were permeated with forgiveness, pity and love, but, judging from the mental condition in which Sofya Andreyevna still was, it could only have evoked in her a renewal too painful for him of the same insincerity, hypocrisy and importunities which had provoked his departure.


Leo Tolstoy

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