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Ch. 6: Mental Agony

It will be readily understood that no health could hold out against such torments lasting over several months at a stretch, no less severe, it may be said, than the tortures of the Inquisition, and exceeding them in their uninterrupted persistence and prolongation. And indeed, returning to Yasnaya in a vigorous and excellent state of health, Leo Nikolaevitch began visibly fading away before her eyes in the nightmare period of the last months of his life: in the course of a few weeks he looked so old and drawn, so weak and thin, so pale and in every respect so physically run down as to be unrecognisable. In the course of those months he had several attacks of faintness. By the day of his departure he looked only the shadow of himself: his heart, his nerves, all his forces were utterly undermined, and of course, under such conditions, the slightest ailment was sure to carry him off, as happened indeed with the first cold he chanced to catch immediately after he went away.

All Sofya Andreyevna's conduct during those last months of their life together revealed to Leo Nikolaevitch much in her that he had never noticed before. He was not only led to doubt of his cherished dream of softening her heart by his all-forgiving love; he began even to feel uncertain whether he were doing her harm or good by being near her, and whether the doctors were not right who in her interests advised them to live apart.[20] And in the end he became convinced that his presence really was a direct incitement to evil for her, calling out and accentuating all the worst sides of her character. Speaking of his departure with that same Novikov a week before it took place, Leo Nikolaevitch said: "For my own sake I have not done this and could not do it, but now I see that it would be better for my family, there would be less dispute among them on my account, less sin."

Another reason that had previously restrained him from going away lay in the fact that he considered that the ordeal to which he was continually exposed in his wife's company was profitable for his own soul, and found in it a spiritual satisfaction. But in the end Sofya Andreyevna, as she herself expressed it after his death, "overdid it" in her behaviour with him, putting him in such a position that instead of satisfaction he began to experience the sense of awkwardness and shame which one feels in taking part in something unbecoming, unseemly. Two days before he went away he wrote to me: "I feel something unbefitting, something shameful in my position." And in the letter to Alexandra Lvovna the day after he went away he says: "I do not feel that shame, that awkwardness, that lack of freedom which I always used to feel at home." In his last letter to Sofya Andreyevna from Shamardino he states even more definitely that to return to her when she is in such a state of mind would be equivalent to committing suicide, and he did not consider that he had a right to do that. So by now he no longer believed that staying with Sofya Andreyevna was profitable for his own soul, and recognised it as undesirable.

In the course of the later years his hesitation had increased with every day, and at times he seemed to be on the very point of flight.[21] He only stayed through not feeling as yet that irresistible impulse which, as he so well recognised, was essential in order that he might take this momentous step, not through rational considerations alone, but with all his soul, confidently and inevitably. And so long as this impulse was lacking and he was more or less weighing the pros and cons of his departure, the consideration that for him personally to go away would be a relief, and that there would be more self-sacrifice in remaining, retained its force. Thus I have been told that two days before his departure, when he informed his old friend, the old lady Marya Alexandrovna Schmidt (who, by the way, later on fully understood and approved his departure), that he thought of leaving Yasnaya Polyana, and she thereupon exclaimed: "Leo Nikolaevitch darling, it will pass, it is a moment's weakness," he hastened to reply: "Yes, yes, I know that it is a weakness and I hope that it will pass."

So that in spite of the fact that Leo Nikolaevitch had now become aware of a new phase in Sofya Andreyevna's relations to him, which in reality removed any reasonable purpose in his remaining at her side, and justified his departure, since his presence was becoming bad for her and unprofitable for him, nevertheless he still lingered on, dreading to act prematurely, and as it were waiting for the last decisive shock.

And this shock was not long in coming with startling abruptness.


[20] At the advice of all his friends and members of his household Leo Nikolaevitch went in September to stay with his daughter Tatyana Lvovna Suhotin (at Kotchety) in order to have a rest from family scenes. But Sofya Andreyevna would not leave him in peace even there. This is what we read in Makovitsky's diary:

"This is the third day that Sofya Andreyevna is perfectly frantic. Leo Nikolaevitch sent me to her several times during the day; in the morning she was in her room; she complained of headache and said that she had taken no food for two days; in the afternoon she ran off into the garden.

"Sofya Andreyevna spent the whole day by herself in the park. Leo Nikolaevitch sent me to find her.

"'Oh, Dushan Petrovitch!' he said to me, 'it's worse than ever; everything is going to the worst. Sofya Andreyevna insists that I should go away with her. But I simply cannot do it, for her demands go crescendo and crescendo. I don't know what to do!'" (September 11, 1910, Kotchety.)

[21] Thus in D. P. Makovitsky's diary we read:

"Leo Nikolaevitch spoke to Alexandra Lvovna of how heavy their family atmosphere was, and said that if it had not been for her he would have gone away. He is on the alert. Yesterday morning he asked me what were the morning trains to the south. He had said to Marya Alexandrovna, and before that to us, that he has not been able to work for the last four months and that Sofya Andreyevna keeps running in to him, and always suspecting that some secrets are being concealed from her, written documents and conversations" (October 26, 1910).

Leo Tolstoy

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