Newspaper article International New York Times

Tolstoy's Nemesis: The Svengali and Scribe

Newspaper article International New York Times

Tolstoy's Nemesis: The Svengali and Scribe

Article excerpt

The story of Tolstoy's relationship with a conniving aristocrat.

Tolstoy's False Disciple. The Untold Story of Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Chertkov. By Alexandra Popoff. Illustrated. 309 pages. Pegasus Books. $28.95.

In 1910, Lev Tolstoy died of pneumonia in a filthy house at a provincial train station. He had fled home at the urging of his closest disciple, Vladimir Chertkov, a cunning, talentless man. How did the mediocre Chertkov come to be beside Russia's greatest writer as he died, even as Tolstoy's wife, Sophia, stared through the window, denied entry? In "Tolstoy's False Disciple," Alexandra Popoff, the author of the biography "Sophia Tolstoy" and "The Wives: The Women Behind Russia's Literary Giants," draws on long unavailable archival materials, including Chertkov's letters, to examine the relationship that tore apart Tolstoy's family and threatened his literary legacy.

The wealthy, spoiled Chertkov met Tolstoy, 26 years his senior, because of their shared interest in a Christianity that rejected the Orthodox Church. Chertkov, who didn't care for literature, convinced Tolstoy that they were soul mates by simply parroting his philosophy. By then, Tolstoy was lost in the thicket of his own ideals, torn between what he believed and what he desired. He seems to have felt there was something holy in submission to Chertkov's will, but the bond wasn't strictly spiritual. Chertkov liked to keep plenty of handsome peasant youths nearby; as a young man, Tolstoy had written that he'd loved only men, and never women. He worried, pathetically, about Chertkov not loving him enough, even as friends and family wondered how such a great man could love such a cad.

Soon Chertkov was reading Tolstoy's diary -- a privilege reserved, until then, for Sophia. He was allowed to edit Tolstoy's work and his papers, sometimes making large cuts and even rewriting sections, including sections of his diaries. He urged Tolstoy to focus on religious writing, and to revise his fiction to make it more didactic. Where major works were concerned, Tolstoy's literary instincts rebelled, and he rejected Chertkov's meddling. But most of the time, he submitted meekly. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.