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Tolstoy Journal, June 20, 2017: “his handsome eyes, from which the lashes were gone, still gleamed with fire.”

The illustration above is from the frontispiece of Volume XII of The Novel and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi. It is called “The Invaders” and is by T. V. Chominski. I couldn’t find much about him online but auction sites; however there is a mention of him in a book I found on Google Books here. “The Invaders” is usually entitled “The Raid” and the scene pictured above is when the Cossacks take an elderly man prisoner from a raid on a Chechen village.

I will include the passage this illustration describes but first would like to mention I found the work of a scholar that I think will encourage me a lot in this journey. I was looking through Amazon to find more books on Tolstoy–received a gift certificate to Nonesuch Books for Father’s Day–and came across the work of Andrew Kaufman: Give War and Peace a Chance and Understanding Tolstoy. He also has a book called Russian for Dummies that I might also get. Anyway, I called Nonesuch and ordered Understanding Tolstoy. Here is Kaufman’s website: Enlightenment Through Literature. He does a good work by reading Tolstoy with troubled youth.

As far as my reading goes, I have read up to page 40 of Volume XII of The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi, or Chapter III of “The Wood-Cutting Expedition.” I have also read up to page 190 of Shirer’s Love and Hatred. Here is what I wrote in my journal this morning: “As I read Shirer he does say Sonya became mentally unstable. Just read most of the chapter on  her infatuation w/ composer. Grief, vacuum of. So many years spent in vexation.

“I think Tolstoy had a power problem. He mixed up his power complex with his religion and tried to force people into his mold. I don’t know why he couldn’t say I will live more simply and let it go at that, he had to try to impose it on his family. Love/ control.”

Here is the passage that explains the illustration:

“The tall form of Lieutenant Rosenkranz flashed here and there through the aul [village]. Without a moment’s pause he was engaged in carrying out orders, and he had the appearance of a man who had all he could do. I saw him coming out of a hut, his face full of triumph; behind him two soldiers were dragging an old Tartar with his arms tied. The old man, whose garb consisted merely of a many-colored, tattered beshmet, and ragged drawers, was so feeble that it seemed as if his bony arms, tightly tied behind his misshapen back, were almost falling from his shoulders; and his crooked bare legs moved with difficulty. His face and even a part of his shaven head were covered with deep wrinkles; his distorted, toothless mouth, encircled by gray clipped mustache and beard, incessantly mumbled as if he were whispering something; but his handsome eyes, from which the lashes were gone, still gleamed with fire, and clearly expressed an old man’s indifference to life.

“Rosenkranz through an interpreter asked him why he had not gone with the others.

“‘Where should I go?’ he replied, calmly looking away.

“‘Where the rest have gone,’ suggested some one.

“‘The jigits [Chechen warriors] have gone to fight with the Russians, but I am an old man.’

“‘Are n’t you afraid of the Russians?’

“‘What will the Russians do to me? I am an old man,’ he repeated, carelessly glancing at the circle surrounding him.

“On the way back, I saw this old man, without a hat, with his hands still tied, jolting behind a mounted cossack, and he was looking about him with the same expression of unconcern. He was necessary in an exchange of prisoners.”

I am also reading Tolstoy’s A Calendar of Wisdom to go along with my New Testament and Imitation of Christ. Today’s highlighted passage was a challenge to an omnivore like me:

“‘But the time will come when people will have the same disgust for the meat of animals as they now have for human flesh.’ After Alphonse Lamartine.”

I have a daughter who is vegetarian, not because of a belief but because she realized one day that she really only liked hot dogs or hamburgers, can’t remember which. I have thought about becoming one but it seems very hard and meals would be a quandary for this stay at home dad. I have thought about watching one of those documentaries wherein people have worked in abattoirs with hidden cameras but have not had the courage. I think I will pray about it.

Here are some more passages from Wilson’s Tolstoy:

“The lives of those who have been transformed by the ethics of the Gospel, are, for the most part, those of a profoundly mystical character–figures who believe in some way or another that they are encountering not just a set of extraordinary ethical commands, but the presence of Jesus himself. In lives as various as Francis of Assisi, John Wesley or General Booth of the Salvation Army, for example, this seems to be an inextricable part of the experience. Tolstoy never had an encounter with Jesus, nor, as far as is recorded, did he ever believe that he had met with Jesus in prayer or had any of the mystical experiences of others who have decided that they must live as Jesus taught. Tolstoy’s decision to live in this way seems to have been purely idiosyncratic and arbitrary.

“This is where the Voltairean sceptic is observable. It is possible to read the rest of Tolstoy’s life as an heroic attempt to live as Jesus Christ told his followers that they should live. That, up to a point, is what it was. But it is also possible to read the next thirty years as an extraordinary demonstration of the fact that the Sermon on the Mount is an unliveable ethic, a counsel of craziness which, if followed to its relentless conclusion as Tolstoy tried to follow it, will lead to the reverse of peace and harmony and spiritual calm which are normally thought of as the concomitants of the religious quest. Tolstoy’s religion is ultimately the most searching criticism of Christianity which there is. He shows that it does not work.”

More on this tomorrow, I think. I disagree with that last bit.

 

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