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Ch. 2: His Wife's Attitude


And so in the last few months before Leo Nikolaevitch left Yasnaya Polyana he was subjected in an intensified form to all the agonising conditions which had for many years made him long to get away from his family. What went on around him in Yasnaya Polyana, particularly in the management of the estate, seemed to be purposely calculated to wound, insult and revolt him more and more in his most sacred feelings. In her relations with the peasants Sofya Andreyevna, far from restraining herself through consideration for her husband, behaved with peculiar injustice and harshness as though to spite him.[11]

At one time she would try to impress on the peasants that she was acting with the consent and approval of Leo Nikolaevitch himself; at another she would boast before him that his championship had no influence on her arrangements. It is easy to imagine how unutterably painful all this was for him. It is sufficient to recall how he sobbed when he chanced to come across a policeman on horseback dragging along a Yasnaya Polyana peasant caught in the Tolstoys' forest, an old man whom Leo Nikolaevitch knew well and respected. Fully realising that he would not in the least improve the position of the peasants by going away, Leo Nikolaevitch went on regarding such spectacles as a bitter trial laid upon him, and confining himself to protesting warmly on every possible occasion. In the same way, that is as a trial laid upon him, he continued to look upon the false position in which he was placed in the eyes of the public by his apparent acceptance of what was done in Yasnaya Polyana. On this subject he not only continually received abusive letters which he accepted as a useful exercise in humility, but also from time to time persons wishing him well addressed him with censure and exhortation. A letter written by Leo Nikolaevitch at the beginning of 1910 in answer to an unknown student who had written to persuade him to leave his privileged surroundings, is characteristic:

"Your letter touched me," wrote Leo Nikolaevitch; "what you advise me to do is my cherished dream! That I should be living at home with my wife and daughter in horrible, shameful conditions of luxury in the midst of the poverty around us tortures me unceasingly and ever more and more; and not a day passes on which I do not think of carrying out your advice."

At the same time a third and most painful trial, consisting in his wife's immediate attitude to him, was intensely accentuated. The mournful recital of those spiritual agonies which shattered his health, and which she systematically inflicted on him in the last months of his life, will be set forth in its time and place. No one can imagine what he had to endure and to suffer at that time. On one occasion, calling in D. P. Makovitsky,[12] Leo Nikolaevitch said to him: "Dushan Petrovitch, go to her" (Sofya Andreyevna) "and tell her that if she desires my death she is going the right way to bring it about."[13] In a touching letter of July 14, 1910, to Sofya Andreyevna, Leo Nikolaevitch, after making her every concession he considered possible, adds in conclusion: "If you will not accept these conditions of a good and peaceful life, then I will go away.... I will certainly go away, because it is impossible to go on living like this."

It will be readily understood that with such a position of affairs Leo Nikolaevitch began to foresee more and more definitely the possibility that in the end he would have to leave Yasnaya Polyana.

In a moment of openness he said to his friend, the peasant Novikov: "Yes, yes, believe me, I tell you frankly I shall not die in this house. I have made up my mind to go to a strange place where I shall not be known. And perhaps I may come straight to die in your hut.... I want to prepare for death in peace, and here they think of me as worth so many roubles. I shall go away, I shall certainly go away."

Only a final decisive shock was needed. In his same letter to the student he says about going away: "This can and ought only to be done when it is essential, not for the supposed external objects, but for the satisfaction of the inner need of the soul,—when to remain in the old position becomes as morally impossible as it is physically impossible not to cough when one cannot breathe.... And I am near to that position, and every day I get nearer and nearer to it."

But Leo Nikolaevitch still did not go away, and remaining continued to be subjected on an increased scale to the tortures to which he had been subjected since the 'eighties. And he remained still for the same reasons as had restrained him for thirty years. He knew that he would not alleviate the position of the peasants of the district by going. From his painful position in the eyes of men he drew a profitable lesson in humility. His wife's attitude to him assisted in him the development of true love for those who hated his soul. And therefore the more intense these trials became with the passage of time, the more painfully they were reflected in his soul, the more difficult it became for him to deal with them—the more insistent from the spiritual point of view became the moral duty not to forsake his post, but to endure to the end.


[11] At the beginning of the eighties of the last century, Leo Nikolaevitch's feeling against property in general, and the ownership of land in particular, began to take shape, though it was only somewhat later that it was fully fixed and confirmed. He renounced all property for himself personally in 1894, acting as though in that respect he were dead, that is, leaving the possession of his former property to those whom he regarded as his heirs, that is, his family. After this Sofya Andreyevna began to manage the estate of Yasnaya Polyana, while his children divided the land and property between them. Later on Leo Nikolaevitch felt, he said, that he had made a mistake in giving up the land to his "heirs" instead of to the local peasants, and at the desire of his family confirming the transfer by legal act.

[12] An intimate friend who shared the views of Leo Nikolaevitch, a doctor who lived in the Tolstoys' house from the year 1904. He was of Slovak nationality, and in 1920 left Russia and returned to Czechoslovakia, where he died in 1921.

[13] From one of the diaries and letters of Tolstoy's friends and household of the times.

Leo Tolstoy

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