October 23, 2017
Tolstoy RebornOn this day in 1881, Count Leo Tolstoy donned his peasant coat and homemade bark shoes, gathered his walking staff and two bodyguards, and set out from his estate for the Optina Pustyn monastery. Tolstoy was a national hero for his two masterpieces -- War and Peace (1869), Anna Karenina (1877) -- but already in the grip of the religious-political mania which would dominate his writing and trouble his life over the last three decades. In A Confession, written shortly after his pilgrimage to Optina Pustyn, Tolstoy portrays himself to be doubtful of his accomplishments, troubled by guilt, and ready to be born again:
Although many in Russia and around the world regarded Tolstoy as a moral leader and prophet –- his estate became a place of pilgrimage itself -- his wife and children were less enthusiastic. In the end, the marriage that had been so important to the creation of the great novels was in ruins. At the age of eight-two, Tolstoy "escaped" his wife, Sonya, in the middle of the night, setting of with several attendants to some unclear destination to live in reclusion, his route including one last visit to the Optina Pustyn monastery. The Tolstoys' marriage was ever volatile, but this last crisis proved calamitous for both: Sonya carried through with her hysterical threats by attempting to drown and starve herself; Tolstoy became ill while travelling and died in a railway station, refusing to the end to see his wife, who had waited for days outside the stationmaster's hut begging for admission. From Tolstoy's farewell note to her, written on the night of his departure:
Please try to understand this and do not follow me if you learn where I am.... I thank you for your honorable forty-eight years of life with me, and I beg you to forgive me for anything in which I have been at fault toward you, as I with all my soul forgive you for any wrong you have done me. I advise you to reconcile yourself with the new position in which my departure places you....
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