Appreciating the Mind, Soul, and Art of Russia’s Greatest Novelist

Posted: July 29, 2007 in A Chat with Author, Biography of Author, Classic Literature, Leo Tolstoy, Literarary Review
“The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the power of my soul, whom I have tried to portray in all its beauty, who has been, is, and will be beautiful, is Truth.”
– Leo Tolstoy, “Sevastopol in May”, 1855.

What makes Leo Tolstoy relevant even today, even to the most contemporary audience, is that Tolstoy was not just a great writer. He was also a great and inspirational teacher of life. Leo Tolstoy wanted his books to be read by everybody, not just by a select few. Tolstoy’s writing is remarkably unstuffy. He wrote fiction to share his insatiable love of life and to tackle the eternal questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What will make me happy? Tolstoy doesn’t give readers the answers to life’s vexing problems, but he gives you something even more valuable. He gives readers such an appreciation of the truth and totality of life that you feel enlarged as a human being. After you read Tolstoy, you feel spiritually uplifted and intellectually empowered to seek out the answers to life’s vexing questions on your own.

Professor Andy takes you on a journey through the mind, soul, and art Russia’s greatest novelist. In his writing and speaking about Tolstoy, Andy combines both scholarly expertise and strong passion, and he talks about Tolstoy in the same way that Tolstoy himself wrote about life: with honesty, clarity, and deep sensitivity.


What you are about to hear is not a fabrication. It is not an imitation. It is the ACTUAL LIVING VOICE of Leo Tolstoy, recorded in 1909 on one the very first gramophones ever to exist in Russia.
Witness World History in the Making!

In this audio selection Tolstoy reads from his famous religious-spiritual essay, “Thoughts for Everyday.” Tolstoy, who knew English, French, and German, translated the passage himself, and he speaks in English with a Russian accent. Listen and follow along in the text below:

“That the object of life is self-perfection, the perfection of all immortal souls, that this is the only object of my life, is seen to be correct by the fact alone that every other object is essentially a new object. Therefore, the question whether thou hast done what thou should’st have done is of immense importance, for the only meaning of thy life is in doing in this short term allowed thee, that which is desired of thee by He or That which has sent thee into life. Art thou doing the right thing?”


Tolstoy Reads His Fairy Tale, “The Wolf”

Tolstoy loved to entertain children with fairy tales about exotic people, animals, and even vegetables. The picture to the left shows Tolstoy making his grandchildren laugh with a story about a cucumber — yes a cucumber! Click PLAY to listen in as Tolstoy reads from another one of his famous fairy tales, “The Wolf.”

Tolstoy Teaches the Peasant Children on His Estate

Tolstoy believed that quality education should be available to everybody, not just to the priviledged few. That’s why he created a school for peasant children on his Yasnaya Polyana estate and helped to create libraries in his local community. The picture to the left shows Tolstoy at the inauguration of “The Library for the People” he helped to found at Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy died only a few months after this picture was taken.

Tolstoy Reads from His Famous Essay, “I Cannot Be Silent”

Tolstoy was a passionate social activist, who used the power of his pen to fight social injustices and human rights violations in Russia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One powerful essay, which became known internationally, was called “I Cannot Be Silent.” In this essay Tolstoy expressed his moral outrage over the government’s policy of executing criminals and political dissidents. The event that finally compelled Tolstoy to write the essay was the court’s decision in 1908 to execute twenty peasants who assaulted their landowner. Tolstoy was 80 years old at the time.

Authentic Film Footage of Leo Tolstoy!
History comes alive in this authentic film footage of Leo Tolstoy celebrating his eightieth birthday party in 1908. Tolstoy is depicted here with his wife, Sofya Andreevna Tolstaya (picking flowers in the garden), his daughter, Aleksandra L’vovna (sitting in the carriage in the white blouse), his aide and confidante, V. Chertkov (the bald man with the beard and mustache), his dog (a spaniel-poodle), and his peasant students who have come to celebrate Tolstoy’s birthday with him. Shot on one of the first film cameras in Russia, this rare glimpse into world history is certain to excite and inspire.

The short film presented here was shot on L. N. Tolstoy’s eightieth birthday (August 28, 1908) by one of the early pioneers of Russian cinema, Aleksandr Osipovich Drankov, and his two assistants, I. S. Frolov and V. Vasil’ev. It was the first film taken of Tolstoy.

It was obtained from the Russian State Documentary Film & Photo Archive and digitized by Eric W. Hoffman at the Media Center of Stetson University. The Tolstoy Studies Journal holds non-exclusive copyright over its use.

The film opens with Tolstoy’s relatives and friends riding through the territory of Yasnaya Polyana on a light carriage, delivering a box of presents for peasant children. I believe the woman riding in the middle of the carriage (in the white blouse) is Aleksandra L’vovna, Tolstoy’s third daughter. The following scene finds Tolstoy’s wife, Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya, collecting flowers from the flower garden. The Tolstoys’ beloved dog (a spaniel-poodle mix) makes a brief appearance. Next, V. Chertkov, Tolstoy’s aide and close friend, distributes alms at the “tree of the poor”. Chertkov appears in several of the scenes: he is the bald man with a beard and mustache, sometimes wearing an English bowler. Among the men leaving the main house with Chertkov are the Tolstoys’ sons. You can also spy another of Drankov’s cameras set up near the house. The last scenes are of Tolstoy: In the penultimate scene, Tolstoy, who was suffering from leg pain at the time, is seated on the second-floor balcony, in a low wicker chair, barely visible over the railing. The men to the left are students who have come to congratulate Tolstoy on his birthday. Chertkov stands immediately behind Tolstoy, and Sofia Andreevna stands to the right. The final scene is taken from the balcony. Tolstoy smiles at the camera, his ailing leg propped on an ottoman. Sofia Andreevna stands to his right, Chertkov behind him, and Aleksandra L’vovna can be seen to Tolstoy’s left.

Watch the film:

For slow connections: Small picture, low quality image
Window’s Media Player version
Quicktime Version

For fast connections: Large picture, high quality image
Window’s Media Player version
Quicktime Version

You will need the Window’s Media Player or Quicktime Player to watch this short film. If the file does not properly launch, you might try to right-click on the link with your mouse and choose the “save link target as” option. Once the file is finished downloading, you can double-click the icon.

There are several accounts of the shooting of this film: The most detailed is in Lev Anninsky’s «Oxota na Lva» (Tula: Shar, 1998), p. 14-20. Another can be found in Jay Leyda’s Kino: A History of Russian and Soviet Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 33. You can read another account, published in the New York Times, of the day’s events and Tolstoy’s reaction to cinema here, on the Tolstoy Studies website.

Michael A. Denner,
Tolstoy Studies Website Editor

This article is taken from Visit the link to see the film and hear the voice.

  1. knicksgrl0917 says:

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