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Ch. 5: The Last Period

The last and most painful period of Leo Nikolaevitch's life at Yasnaya Polyana began in June 1910, when, on a visit at my summer bungalow at Meshtcherskoe, in the province of Moscow, he was suddenly summoned back to Yasnaya Polyana by a telegram from Sofya Andreyevna, informing him of her sudden illness; as it afterwards turned out, a sham one.

On his return to Yasnaya Polyana, Sofya Andreyevna surrounded his life with new restrictions, finally depriving him of even the limited share of personal freedom which he had until that time enjoyed. She gave up respecting his hours of literary work, for which she had once shown consideration, and by continually bursting in upon him and making scenes, she made it impossible for him to devote himself to the literary work in which he recognised his service to men. His daily walks had become his sole recreation and solace, and now she began to hinder him from going where he wished to go, and from taking with him those whom he wanted to take. She insisted that he should completely give up seeing those of his most intimate friends whose supposed influence on him she feared.[18] Even inside the house she subjected all his actions and conversations to a control which was never relaxed, not disdaining even the most indelicate methods, as, for instance, eavesdropping, with her shoes off at doors, and altogether watching day and night over every action he took. As has already been mentioned, she was demanding from him such an authorisation for the disposal of his works as would give her the power to take legal proceedings in connection with them, and to retain the copyright over a prolonged period in the future. Apprehensive of what he might write in his diary, she tried to prevent his giving the manuscript books of his diary to anyone whatever, even to those whom he charged with work of one sort or another in connection with them, or in whose keeping he desired them to be preserved for the sake of greater security. She secretly stole from his pockets those very private diaries which he kept and carried about with him during the most painful periods of his life and scrupulously preserved from every human eye. Not only did she fail to conceal from him and others her distrust and—terrible to say—hatred for him, but openly in the hearing of all gave utterance to these feelings and often expressed them to him in so harsh a form that it brought on heart attacks and even fainting fits in him. She was jealous, or pretended to be jealous, of some of his most intimate friends, bound to him by the closest spiritual unity. In this connection also she openly expressed to those about her, and to outsiders and to Leo Nikolaevitch himself, such incredibly revolting suspicions as the tongue cannot bring itself to repeat, thereby reducing Leo Nikolaevitch almost to complete collapse and driving him to lock all the doors of his room. And with all this she did everything she could to prevent his going away from Yasnaya Polyana, even for the briefest visits which might have enabled him to have at least some rest from the atmosphere of his home, and to gain fresh strength to endure further tortures.

All these requests and others similar to them Sofya Andreyevna did not merely put in words before Leo Nikolaevitch, but if he refused, tried by her whole behaviour to force him against his will to submit to her.[19] For this purpose she resorted to simulated fits of hysteria and madness, threatened to commit suicide, pretended that she would swallow or had swallowed poison, ran half dressed out of doors in the rain or snow or at night, making them search for her all over the park, and running in to him at any time of the day or the night, even when, utterly exhausted, he had dropped asleep, and waking him up with the object of worrying the concessions she wanted out of him. There is no recounting all the unutterably cruel means to which she unhesitatingly resorted for the sake of forcibly compelling him. And when the members of her family told her that she would kill him by such conduct, she answered coldly that his soul had long been dead for her and that she did not care for his body; and if she were asked what she would do and how she would feel if he really did die of her treatment, she would say, "I shall go at last to Italy; I have never been there."

Leo Nikolaevitch for his part, so long as he thought it right to remain with his wife, tried with strikingly touching meekness to gratify all her wishes and to comply with all her demands which did not run counter to his conscience. When he considered them unreasonable, at first he refused, but as she obstinately insisted and resorted to her usual methods, in the end he often gave way in those cases also; at one time regarding her as quite insane, and being apprehensive that in a moment of frenzy she really might do herself some mischief.

He was only unhesitating in his resistance when his conscience told him that he ought not to give way. Thus, in spite of all Sofya Andreyevna's importunities and strategy, he made his will and did not change it to the end; he did not give her the authority to take legal proceedings; he did not hand over his diaries to her, but put them in a place of safety (in the bank at Tula). But since what was most necessary for her object was just that in which he found it impossible to give way to her, it was precisely with these demands that she persecuted him most. And so all his concessions, instead of pacifying her, only encouraged her in more persistent importunities and still more cruel means of oppression.

FOOTNOTES

[18] The members of Tolstoy's household who were most intimate with him—Alexandra Lvovna Tolstoy, D. P. Makovitsky and Varvara Mihailovna Feokritova—were convinced that Sofya Andreyevna's hatred of me was a sham. This is proved, for instance, by the following extract from Makovitsky's diary:

"While I was riding with Leo Nikolaevitch to-day, I was thinking of Sofya Andreyevna's behaviour since June 24, and I came to the conclusion that in reality she is not, and never has been, jealous of Tchertkoff. She pretended to be jealous simply in order to separate him from Leo Nikolaevitch, and prevent him from influencing Leo Nikolaevitch; she thought it was due to Tchertkoff's influence that Leo Nikolaevitch wanted to give away his works to the public....

"And how well she played the part and deceived L. N., Tchertkoff, Tatyana Lvovna, and me (we were all convinced that she was jealous of Tchertkoff). I spoke of this to-day, and Varvara Mihailovna and Alexandra Lvovna answered that they had noticed the same thing long ago (that is, that there was no jealousy), and had put it down in their diaries" (October 13, 1910).

[19] D. P. Makovitsky records the following incident:

"The day before yesterday she made a scene again: fell at Leo Nikolaevitch's feet and begged him to give her the keys of the safe in the bank where his diaries or the will were kept. Leo Nikolaevitch said that he could not do it and went out. As he passed under her windows Sofya Andreyevna leaned out and cried, 'I have taken opium.' Leo Nikolaevitch rushed upstairs to her, but she met him with the words, 'That was not true, I did not take any.' This scene upset Leo Nikolaevitch very much, and he said to Sofya Andreyevna, 'You are doing all you can to make me leave home.' After this he had palpitations and almost fainted. He had attempted to run up the stairs, and during those moments of terror and agitation was living through his wife's death" (July 19, 1910)


Leo Tolstoy

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