Alexander Goldenweiser  <<


Rights acquired by Aufbau Verlag, Berlin

Alexander Goldenweiser kept a record of Tolstoy’s remarks and took notes about the daily life at and visitors to Yasnaya Polyana for a period of 15 years. Tolstoy’s interests were wide-ranging and his ideas were often amazingly modern. He was interested in music and literature (for example, he liked Schiller much more than Goethe), in the history and contemporary politics of England, the USA and China (which, even then, he had recognized as a an up-and-coming power), in Karl Marx and socialism, in questions of death and suicide, religion and vegetarianism. He pondered the nature of women and of dreams, which even for the aging Tolstoy were not free of sin, leading him to conclude that there was no spiritual life during sleep.

Alexander Goldenweiser was not Tolstoy’s official biographer, which gave him a great deal of freedom. He does not try to smooth over the contradictions in the great writer’s life, and does not just document the things on a higher mental place, but also the small, everyday things. Goldenweiser always had a pencil and notebook with him, and he had the gift of writing things down unnoticed. Often he would write with his hand in his pocket. He developed his own stenographic system so that he could transcribe whole conversations in real time. In the evening, he would copy the transcripts into his notebook without editing them. This means that he has preserved the characteristics of Tolstoy’s spoken language for posterity.

The notes from 1896 to 1907 are fragmentary. During this time, Goldenweiser was primarily recording Tolstoy’s thoughts on various topics. Beginning in 1908, he made note of practically everything that he experienced at Yasnaya Polyana or on trips to Moscow or the Crimea. He even copied letters from Tolstoy, his friends and acquaintances into his notebook. His record of the last year of Tolstoy’s life—1910—is particularly detailed, making up almost half of Goldenweiser’s book. That year was overshadowed by endless conflicts with his wife, Sofia Andreyevna, during which Tolstoy’s daughter, Alexandra, took her father’s side. Sofia Andreyevna tried to isolate Tolstoy. She forbid his close friend and publisher Chertkov to visit him at Yasnaya Polyana. She staged a number of suicide attempts to keep Tolstoy from leaving his literary estate to posterity in the public domain, which was a trying experience for a man who preached the message of love for all humanity. Everyone advised Tolstoy to leave his wife, and finally the old man left Yasnaya Polyana, only to die a few days later in the small train station of Astapovo.

In consideration for Tolstoy’s widow, only excerpts of Goldenweiser’s book were published in journals in 1915. An abridged book edition appeared in Russia in 1922, and, in 1959, an unabridged edition was published, but it too lacked the crucial year 1910. The complete text was published for the first time by the Sakharov Publishers in Moscow.