Abstract


Vladimir Chertkov 

 The Last Days of Leo Tolstoy by Vladimir Chertkov, Tolstoy's long-time personal  secretary, disciple and executor of his literary estate, is both a history, a chronicle of  Tolstoy's deathbed scene, and a story, a personal interpretation of that event in a literary  genre reminiscent of the Gospels. Chertkov depicts the dying Tolstoy as a kind of  Christ-figure, who, by his renunciation of all worldly goods, by his ethics of love and by his  very death, saves a suffering humanity. This deification of the great Russian novelist, who  sought salvation in this world, not beyond it, calls to mind the similar fates of Buddha, Jesus,  Confucius and other heretics. Repudiating, in his last period, all religious institutions, dogmas and rituals, Tolstoy preached the gospel of a living God within us all, for which he was excommunicated. Persecuted by state and church and scorned by his own family, Tolstoy at long last fled the spiritual conflicts brought on by the aristocratic life on his ancestral Yasnaya Polyana estate to begin his new life as a simple Russian peasant. He reached Astapovo, a railroad juncture, where, a few days later, in 1910, he died at the age of 82. His tremendous vitality, reflective powers, passion and sense of humor are all evident to the very end in Chertkov's fascinating account. 


Introduction

In January 1911, Vladimir Chertkov, close friend and personal secretary of Leo Tolstoy, published his impressions of the great writer's death at Astapovo in a booklet entitled O Posledniakh Dniakh L. N. Tolstogo (The Last Days of Leo Tolstoy). This work is presented here to the reader.
In 1922, a book by the same author was published in Moscow entitled Ukhod Tolstogo (Tolstoy's Flight). A translation of this book by Nathalie A. Duddington under the title The Last Days of Tolstoy (151 pages) was published the same year by Heinemann in London. Notwithstanding the Russian and English titles of this book, NOWHERE in it does Chertkov deal with Tolstoy's death. The book ends several months before Tolstoy's flight to Astapovo.
 
The present text, a booklet written by Chertkov in December, 1910, barely a month after Tolstoy's death on November 7 (Old Style) [November 20 (New Style)], 1910, fills in this glaring gap in Chertkov's 1922 account.
When one considers the intimate relationship between Leo Tolstoy and his disciple, Vladimir Chertkov, and all the more so the international stature of Leo Tolstoy and the tremendous amount of literature that has been devoted to him during and after his lifetime, it is difficult to understand the conspicuous lack of attention to the 1911 document.
Among admirers of the Tolstoys and among the immediate descendants of the Tolstoy family, Chertkov was considered as Evil Incarnate, his name associated in their minds with the Russian word chert, i.e. the Devil. It was widely accepted by them that, deliberately or otherwise, Chertkov created a deep schism between Tolstoy and his wife, Sophia Andreevna, so bitter in fact that on his deathbed Leo Tolstoy, while welcoming Chertkov, resisted every effort on the part of his wife of 48 years to come to his bedside until he became comatose. One weeps at this sad and tragic end, which, by its very nature, stood in stark contradiction to the principles of love and tolerance espoused by Tolstoy throughout his life.

This chasm between the disciple and the bereaved widened after Tolstoy's death, even though Chertkov passionately carried on and promoted Tolstoy's ideas of non-violence to evil. He did this under a variety of circumstances which could have brought him great personal harm.
 
Nearly a century after his death, Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy remains a giant in the world of literature. While the impact of his "spiritual" mission cannot be fully gauged, we know that his pacificism, his advocacy of passive resistance to evil through non-violent means, has had incalculable influence on pacificist movements in general and on the philosophical and social views and programs of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez. The Last Days of Leo Tolstoy, here translated in its entirety by Benjamin Sher, is a profoundly moving record, which will help to illuminate the specific circumstances surrounding Leo Tolstoy's death. It will also, we hope, promote a reappraisal and vindication of Vladimir Chertkov, his closest friend, who was so maligned and vilified during his own lifetime. (1)

    (1) See Alexander Fodor's A Quest for a Non-violent Russia -- The Partnership of Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir
    Chertkov (University Press of America, 1989).



 

Acknowledgements

In the preparation and execution of this web site, I wish to thank the following:

Benjamin Sher - for his recognition of the importance of this document and his encouragement to pursue the successful completion of the project, to say nothing of his masterful talent in its translation.

Thomas Magner - for his inspiration as my first Russian language professor, at a time in the history of the cold war, when the study of the Russian language was suspect, and for his generous advice in the final completion of this project.

Vlad Kogan - for his superb transliteration of the old Russian orthography into contemporary Russian .

Brick Robbins - for his rare and unique combination of linguistic and technological talents, as webmaster of this project, and for his great patience, as he led me literally by the hand through the internet maze.

Anna Sher - for her superlative editing of the Last Days of Leo Tolstoy, for her devotion to the text and for her appreciation of the art of literary translation.

Kashif Hoda - for his sensitive, artistic and generous contribution to the revision of this page, I am deeply indebted.

Hank Beaver - for his motivation and encouragement  in the use of the academic facilities for the development of this project  in the Center of Independent Learning, San Diego Mesa College.

To all of the above, and to others, in the former Soviet Union, who provided me with the materials for this project, to my dearly departed parents, Abraham and Hannah Finegold, who endowed me with love and respect for scholarship, I humbly dedicate this web page.

Leo Finegold


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