100 years ago...
When did Count Lyev Nikolayevich Tolstoy die?
It depends on the calendar we intend to use to fix the date , once again all the convention we create to determinate time are so relative, in spite of our effort to make them valid and accurate.
In our case it’s a matter of Julian and Gregorian calendars which were not applied simultaneously in all countries, so when Tolstoy died, in Russia it was the 7th of November, while in Western Europe it was the 20th of November.
We might imagine being ideally in Russia exactly 100 years ago, on the 7th of November 1910.
Some days earlier, in the night between the 27th and the 28th of October, a 82 years old, man famous all over the world , had suddenly left his abode, his books, his family, his wife, most of all his wife.
It was a flight, not a planned trip. He had not any precise idea of his destination, he thought a little confusedly to join obscure disciples and to run a secret life, far from public obligations of fame and social status.
He travelled with one of his daughters and his doctor, maybe they intended to go to Rostov on Don or maybe to take there another train only.
But the old man, travelling in the third class carriage, felt poorly, maybe disturbed by the smoke, maybe too weak and tired.
They are obliged to leave the train at the first stop and they find themselves in a lost place which was even difficult to find on a map, Astapovo.
Nothing happened usually in Astapovo, it was just a railways connection, and probably none chose voluntarily to get off from train in Astapovo railways station.
There was nothing to give shelter to travellers, no inns, no cafés, and no restaurants.
They could only knock the door of the railways station master, Ivan Ivanovich Ozolin, who was totally shocked when he found out who was at his door in the middle of the night.
Just to give you an idea, imagine a station master of a small and quiet sleepy village of a lost corner of Alaska who is suddenly waken up at night by Barak Obama, with only other two people with him, asking him if he can sleep there because he doesn’t feel too well.
Tolstoy was extremely famous all over the world and he was venerated in Russia.
The kind and pragmatic Ozolin immediately reacted and offered to the renowned old writer his house and arranged his living room transforming it in bedroom for Tolstoy.
But also 100 years ago fame had a loud voice and could spread out news.
There was no internet, no telephone either, but there was telegraph.
And telegraph was enough to inform the entire world and, as a consequence, to attract a huge quantity of journalists, photographers and reporters not only from Russia, but from different countries.
In few days the quiet and obsolete railways station of Astapovo became a kind of mediatic circus.
I find intriguing and thought-provoking to think over about these events, with the old writer agonizing slowly and the whirling of people just outside the simple little house of the station master trying to overwhelm each other to get exclusive news to transmit by telegraph to their newspapers and magazines.
Maybe human nature doesn’t change that much, simply adopts different paces due to different technological means.
Tolstoy dead of pneumonia 100 years ago.
Probably the greatest novelist we have had.
He was a very complicated character with a deep relationship of love/hatred with his wife.
Obviously I won’t bore you with any poor attempt to sum up his biography, but if you have a little of curiosity to know something about the man, behind the writer and the artist (where is the border between these territories of one’s spirit?) you might read The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy or the good and fascinating book by Jay Parini "The Last Station".
I’d like to close my rambling talk by quoting Parini.
“For Leo Tolstoy and his extended household, diaries were an early version of Facebook. Everyone had his or her own page, and most people were fanatical recorders of their own feelings.
The great man himself kept voluminous diaries, making entries almost to the day of his death.
His doctor, his secretary, his disciples, his children, and – most of all – his wife also kept journals.
Of these, the greatest diarist of them all was Sofia, the Countess Tolstoy.”