I am Tolstoy, but not a Tolstoyian

In 1828, somewhere in the countryside north of Moscow,
Leo Tolstoy was born into the Russian nobility. Count
Tolstoy, although acquainted with the finer things that life
had to offer, new that the Romantic view of the world was
false early in his life. His mother left this world when he was
two, and his father undoubtedly told horrific stories of the
chaotic Napoleonic Wars. This, coupled with the
consecutive deaths of not only his father, but his favorite
aunts and grandmother, all before his twenty-first birthday,
a three year stint in the military during the Crimean war, and
the works of masters such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Hegel,
Darwin, Dickens, Gogol, and the New Testament
contributed to the literary genius which is Tolstoy.

As a realist, Tolstoy was committed to truthfully
representing reality in literature. As a founder of a
socio-religious movement, aptly named Tolstoyism, his goal
was to enlighten the masses. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a
prime example of the merger of these two ideals. At first
glance this is a simple tale of a "most simple and most
ordinary and therefore most terrible" man’s life and death
(1208). But upon closer scrutiny, we see that this is a
stylized account of the Count’s own life.

Much like Ivan, the Count married a younger wife, not so
much out of love, as out of convenience. After a few years
of marital bliss, problems arose. Both men tried to separate
home and work, with the disastrous results of neglecting
their wives. Although ideally matched socially, these two
couple’s argued about everything from work and politics,
to the children not eating their food fast, or slow enough.
When Ivan dies, his wife wraps up his affairs, as best she
can. Tolstoy, however, made out his will well before his
death in 1910, and interestingly enough, leaves his wife of
over 50 years relatively little of his possessions.

Another similarity between the Count and the Judge is their
deaths. Ivan’s "floating kidney," or "appendicitis,"
depending on the doctor, caused him great pain and
discomfort for the last couple years of his life. Towards the
end, he refused to see any doctors, and finally had a
revelation. Tolstoy died the death of an eighty-two year old
man. His last year was spent confined to a few rooms in his
home, and refused also to see a doctor. Where Ivan’s
revelation of life occurred during the last days of his life,
Tolstoy’s occurred somewhere around 1877, following the
deaths of his 7th, 8th, and 9th children in infancy. Both,
however, came up with the same conclusion: a materialistic
and self-centered life is not a good one. Only when your
life has an unselfish, community minded purpose is it worth
living. And with "forgive me" on their lips, they died.

Category: Miscellaneous