Leo Tolstoy from 1901-2010 in Two Leading English-Language Newspapers in India

By Balasubramanian, Radha | Tolstoy Studies Journal, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

Leo Tolstoy from 1901-2010 in Two Leading English-Language Newspapers in India


Balasubramanian, Radha, Tolstoy Studies Journal


On May 30, 1901 The Hindu published its first lengthy editorial on Count Leo Tolstoy. It was followed by a personal letter to Tolstoy on June 13, 1901 from A. Ramaseshan, publicist and editor of the journal The Arya out of Madras. This seminal letter set the stage for a steady correspondence between Tolstoy and many Indians from different walks of life, the most prominent among them being M. K. Gandhi (1869-1948), who, as a political and ideological leader of India during the Indian Independence Movement, wrote to the Russian writer between 1909-1910.

Some of the essence of this continuous correspondence with Indian freedom fighters, religious thinkers, philosophers and the general public in Colonial India, was shared through newspaper columns. The surprisingly extensive coverage of Tolstoy's life and beliefs during those years shows that his voice and image were revered by the Indian reading public. His death was sincerely mourned; he has not been since forgotten. The following is a selection of archival materials from two Indian English-language newspapers and a weekly journal (published from one of the newspaper offices) that gives us a glimpse into the extraordinary interest the reading public took in Tolstoy and his work.

L. N. Tolstoy During His Lifetime (1901-1910)

The first significant mention of Tolstoy in The Hindu was made on April 1, 1901 under the heading "Leo Tolstoy." It reported the writer's formal excommunication by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. It also relayed the news of March 9 in St. Petersburg as issued by [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a publication of the Holy Synod. Printed in a word-for-word translation, the report opened with the explanation that the circular on the heresies of Count Leo Tolstoy was issued in order to guard the children of the church from being led into moral corruption. It read briefly as follows:

   Count Leo Tolstoy, to the grief and horror of
   the whole Orthodox world, has by speech and
   writing increasingly striven to separate himself
   from all Communion with the Orthodox
   Church, and this not only clandestinely, but
   openly, to the knowledge of all persons. All
   attempts to dissuade him from this conduct
   have proved of no avail, and consequently the
   Orthodox Church no longer considers him as
   one of its members, and cannot regard him as
   such so long as he does not repent and become
   reconciled to the Church.

Following this reasoning, the newspaper reported that the Russian Orthodox Church hoped that Tolstoy would in due course acknowledge the truth and return to the Church. The news of his excommunication evoked a response in the Indian press and within two months there appeared a long article on the topic.

The issue of May 30, 1901 brought further attention to Tolstoy's excommunication and his firm stance against the Orthodox Church's interpretation of the Christian faith, emphasizing the power and strength that Tolstoy wielded in the world. It was among the first of a series of articles that followed in the print journalism of those times, where Tolstoy frequently emerged as more than a mere mortal, assuming a larger-than-life image.

On May 30, 1901 the editors of The Hindu published an article under the heading, "Count Leo Tolstoy on 'The Root of Evil.'" It began by recalling two well-known statesmen, Bismark and Gladstone, whose significance, despite the prophetic roles they had played, was restricted to their respective countries. By contrast, the editors presented Tolstoy as having influenced the whole of "modern Europe" and indeed the world, stating that

   there is one whose powerful personality, saintly
   life and ethical influence will leave a lasting
   mark on modern Europe. The philosophical
   and religious teachings of Leo Tolstoy are a
   refreshing feature of the otherwise dull,
   monotonous and lifeless history of modern
   European thought. … 

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