Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Great Russian writer

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself"

Leo Tolstoy’s travels in Europe

In St Petersburg Tolstoy was welcomed in the salons of the upper classes and in literary circles. He became the closest of friends with Turgenev, with whom he shared a flat for some time. Turgenev introduced him to the Sovremennik circle, and Tolstoy then established friendships with such famous writers as Nekrasov, Goncharov, Panayev, Grigorovich, Druzhinin, Sollogub.

At this time they wrote “The Snowstorm”, “Two Hussars”, finished “Sevastopol in August” and “Youth”, continued writing the future “The Cossacks”.

However, a happy and busy life left a bitter residue in Tolstoy’s soul, at the same time he began a rift with a circle of writers close to him. As a result, “people disgusted him and he himself disgusted” – and in early 1857, Tolstoy, without any regret, left St. Petersburg and went on a trip.

On his first trip abroad he visited Paris, where he was horrified by the cult of Napoleon I (“Worshipping the villain, terrible”), at the same time he attended balls, museums, admired the “sense of social freedom. However, his presence at the guillotine made such a heavy impression that Tolstoy left Paris for the places associated with the French writer and thinker Jacques Rousseau – Lake Geneva. In the spring of 1857, Turgenev described his meetings with Leo Tolstoy in Paris after his sudden departure from Petersburg as follows

“Indeed, Paris is not at all in harmony with his spiritual system; he is a strange man, I have not met and do not quite understand him. A mix of a poet, a Calvinist, a fanatic, a barician – something reminiscent of Rousseau, but more honest than Rousseau – highly moral and at the same time unsympathetic creature”.

His travels in Western Europe – Germany, France, England, Switzerland and Italy (1857 and 1860-1861) made a rather negative impression on him. His disappointment with the European way of life he expressed in the story “Lucerne”. Tolstoy was disillusioned by the profound contrast between wealth and poverty, which he was able to see through the splendid outer shell of European culture.

Leo Nikolayevich writes the novella “Albert”. At the same time, his friends never ceased to be amazed at his eccentricities: in his letter to Turgenev in the autumn of 1857 Annenkov described Tolstoy’s project to plant forests all over Russia, and in his letter to Botkin Leo Tolstoy remarked how glad he was not only to become a man of letters against the advice of Turgenev. In the intervening period between his first and second visits, however, the writer continued work on The Cossacks, wrote the short story Three Deaths, and the novel Family Happiness.

The latter novel was published by him in Mikhail Katkov’s Russian Gazette. Tolstoy’s collaboration with the Sovremennik magazine, which continued from 1852, ended in 1859. In the same year Tolstoy took part in organizing the Literary Foundation. But his life was not limited to literary interests: on December 22, 1858 he almost died on a bear hunt.

Around the same time, he began an affair with a peasant woman, Aksinya Bazykina, and plans for marriage matured.

On his next visit he was mainly interested in public education and institutions to raise the educational level of the working population. He studied popular education in Germany and France closely, both theoretically and practically, in conversations with experts. Of the prominent men of Germany he was most interested in Berthold Auerbach as the author of folk tales of the Black Forest and publisher of folk calendars. Tolstoy paid him a visit and tried to get close to him. He also met the German educator Disterweg. While in Brussels, Tolstoy met Prudon and Lelevel. In London he visited Herzen, was at a lecture by Charles Dickens.

Tolstoy’s serious mood during his second trip to the south of France contributed to the fact that almost in his arms died of tuberculosis, his beloved brother Nicholas. The death of his brother made a great impression on Tolstoy.

Criticism gradually cooled towards Tolstoy for ten or twelve years, until the appearance of War and Peace, and he himself did not seek rapprochement with literary figures, making an exception only for Athanasius Fet. One reason for this estrangement was Tolstoy’s quarrel with Turgenev, which happened when the two prose writers were visiting Fet on his Stepanivka estate in May 1861. The quarrel almost ended in a duel and soured relations between the writers for a long 17 years.

Turgenev and Tolstoy quarrel

“I am through with Tolstoy: he no longer exists for me as a man,” was how Ivan Turgenev wrote to Vasili Botkin in April 1858. What was the matter? What on earth was it that made Turgenev speak so emphatically and harshly of Lev Nikolayevich? Why did he cut off all contact with a man with whom he had spent more than one hour in a pleasant, friendly chat? The answer can be found in the diaries of Leo Tolstoy. An entry from around the same time reads: “Turgenev is being unkind to Mashenka. A wretch!”.

The cause of discord between the two outstanding writers was Leo Tolstoy’s favourite sister, Maria Tolstaya. She met Ivan Turgenev at Spasskoye-Lutovinovo, on a courtesy visit with her husband Valerian Petrovich Tolstoy. Maria Nikolaevna is very fond of the famous writer. In a letter to Pavel Annenkov, Turgenev says of her:

“His sister is one of the most attractive creatures I have ever met. Pretty, clever and simple – I wouldn’t take my eyes off her. In my old age (I was 36 on the fourth day) – I almost fell in love. Maria Nikolayevna mistook this “secular adoration” for genuine affection”.

At the last moment, when a decisive step had to be taken (Maria Nikolaevna had already left her husband, who had been caught in numerous adulteries), Turgenev was indecisive. Promising nothing and giving no hope, he hastily leaves Russia at Pauline Viardot’s behest.