The Death of Tolstoy: Russia on the Eve, Astapovo Station, 1910

The Death of Tolstoy: Russia on the Eve, Astapovo Station, 1910

by William Nickell
     
 

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In the middle of the night of October 28, 1910, Leo Tolstoy, the most famous man in Russia, vanished. A secular saint revered for his literary genius, pacificism, and dedication to the earth and the poor, Tolstoy had left his home in secret to embark on a final journey. His disappearance immediately became a national sensation. Two days later he was located at a

Overview

In the middle of the night of October 28, 1910, Leo Tolstoy, the most famous man in Russia, vanished. A secular saint revered for his literary genius, pacificism, and dedication to the earth and the poor, Tolstoy had left his home in secret to embark on a final journey. His disappearance immediately became a national sensation. Two days later he was located at a monastery, but was soon gone again. When he turned up next at Astapovo, a small, remote railway station, all of Russia was following the story. As he lay dying of pneumonia, he became the hero of a national narrative of immense significance.

In The Death of Tolstoy, William Nickell describes a Russia engaged in a war of words over how this story should be told. The Orthodox Church, which had excommunicated Tolstoy in 1901, first argued that he had returned to the fold and then came out against his beliefs more vehemently than ever. Police spies sent by the state tracked his every move, fearing that his death would embolden his millions of supporters among the young, the peasantry, and the intelligentsia. Representatives of the press converged on the stationhouse at Astapovo where Tolstoy lay ill, turning his death into a feverish media event that strikingly anticipated today's no-limits coverage of celebrity lives—and deaths.

Drawing on newspaper accounts, personal correspondence, police reports, secret circulars, telegrams, letters, and memoirs, Nickell shows the public spectacle of Tolstoy's last days to be a vivid reflection of a fragile, anxious empire on the eve of war and revolution.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"William Nickell describes the death drama itself as Russia's first great mass media event. The room in the stationmaster's house in Astapovo where the dying Tolstoy was lodged was the eye of a news hurricane. . . . It comes through from Nickell's account that Russians believed something died for ever at Astapovo."—James Meek, London Review of Books

"The one-hundredth anniversary of Tolstoy's passing provided an occasion for continuing controversy over his status as writer, spiritual leader, and moral authority. The appearance of The Death of Tolstoy could not be more timely, but it is the product of years of exhaustive research, examination of all levels of Russian life, and study of Tolstoy's life and works. Elegantly written and quick of pace, it is more gripping than any fiction and a thorough and penetrating account of intellectual, cultural, and literary history."—2011 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures Honorable Mention Citation (Modern Language Association)

"The Death of Tolstoy is a highly sophisticated, richly contextualized, and—above all else—elegantly written account not only of Tolstoy's last days but also of the cult of this international celebrity author. It is more gripping than any novel or film I know on this complicated set of events. William Nickell's book is essential reading not only for those who would understand the late Tolstoy but also for those concerned with the cultural institutions of the modern world."—William Mills Todd III, Harvard College Professor and Harry Tuchman Levin Professor of Literature, Harvard University

"Tolstoy was the leading public figure in Russia when he died in 1910. His dramatic death produced a firestorm of commentary and discussion and not only among the cultural elite. In this fascinating book William Nickell captures the drama of his death and explores the range of Russians' fascination with his life and that of his family. The volume is beautifully illustrated and well produced. It is also a pleasure to read."—Jeffrey Brooks, The Johns Hopkins University

"William Nickell's account of the dramatic death of Russia's greatest literary genius is a haunting evocation of an era and the extraordinary moment that defined it. Rich in documentary detail, The Death of Tolstoyprovides anintimate portrait of a private family crisis that encapsulates a public and social evolution in moreson the eve ofthe Russian Revolution. This is certain to be one of the most important books in Russian cultural studies this decade."—Amy Mandelker, Graduate Center of the City University of New York

"William Nickell's account of Tolstoy's death, its circumstances, and its consequences is the most thorough in any language. The story Nickell tells about the final days and death of a great writer is important in itself, but his careful charting of the reaction of family, the public in all its complex manifestations, church, and state to this death turns into a fascinating revelation of the state of Russian society just before World War I."—Donna Tussing Orwin, University of Toronto

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801448348
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
06/28/2010
Pages:
232
Sales rank:
1,317,326
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

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