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How Leo Tolstoy spent his last days

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Ten days before his death, the 82-year-old Tolstoy ran away from home and hid from his wife. What prompted such a rush of blood? What happened to him afterwards? And how did Russia react to the news of the great man's passing away?

L. N. Tolstoy
L. N. Tolstoy
(Image by Wikipedia (, Author: Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii  (1863–1944)   )
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On Nov. 20, 1910, one of Russia's most illustrious writers breathed his last. The old man's eccentric night-time dash from his Yasnaya Polyana estate in the Tula Region turned into a detective story that was lapped up by the press. The whole country was gripped from beginning to unhappy end.

Spiritual upheaval and attempts to leave home

For many years, the exemplary family man Leo Tolstoy had spouted the virtues of family values. For him, love, marriage and children constituted the meaning of life, together with continual spiritual self-improvement. However, in the 1880s, having turned 50, he experienced a powerful inner transformation. The writer became disillusioned with the Orthodox Church and with marriage as the sacred union of man and woman.

His attitude to private property also changed, and he sought to offload his wealth, donned his now trademark peasant shirt and headed off to work in the fields around his estate.

He even decided to forfeit the copyright to his works, much to the chagrin of the family. Tolstoy's long-suffering wife, Sofya Andreevna, was strongly opposed. After all, it would deprive the family of funds and Tolstoy's numerous children of an inheritance.

In these fits of passion Tolstoy had the support of his admirer and personal assistant Vladimir Chertkov. It was he who suggested to the writer that he leave his family, since his new philosophy was seemingly lost on them. Chertkov became an ever-present irritant to Sofya. The atmosphere in the family home turned sour, as the spouses did nothing but bicker.

"Today he screamed out loud that his most fervent desire was to leave the family," Sofya Andreevna wrote in her diary in the summer of 1882. A week later, another row erupted when Sofya accused her husband of having an irresponsible attitude to the family coffers, whereupon he stormed out with just one bag of personal items.

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