Narrative Summary of Reminiscences of Tolstoy, by His Son

Overview: I’m Count Ilya Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy’s son, and I’m sharing personal reminiscences about my father. The text spans my childhood and youth, mostly spent at Yasnaya Polyana, our family estate. It describes our daily life, my father’s relationships with family and friends, and his evolution as a writer and thinker.

Main parts:

  • Part I: Focuses on family life at Yasnaya Polyana, including vivid descriptions of my mother, the servants, and the house. It also touches upon my father’s teaching of village children, his passion for horseback riding, and his process of writing “Anna Karenina.”
  • Part II: Explores the unique “Letter-box” tradition in our family, where members wrote and shared personal pieces. It features in-depth portraits of Sergei Nikolayevitch Tolstoy, my father’s brother; Afanasyi Afanasyevitch Fet, a poet and friend; Nikolai Nikolayevitch Strakhof, a critic; and Nikolai Nikolayevitch Gay, a close friend who shared my father’s spiritual journey. It concludes with an analysis of the complicated relationship between my father and Ivan Sergeyevitch Turgenieff.
  • Part III: Explores my father’s evolving views on charity, his illness in the Crimea and his preparations for death. It delves into the relationship between my father and my sister Masha, highlighting her role in bringing him warmth and providing emotional support. It culminates with a detailed account of my father’s final will, his decision to leave Yasnaya Polyana, and his eventual death at Astapova.

View on Life:

  • Leo Tolstoy’s evolving views: He initially embraces a traditional aristocratic lifestyle, but eventually renounces material possessions and social hierarchy, advocating for simplicity and service to others. He questions religious dogma and seeks a more personal, spiritual connection with God.
  • Ilya Tolstoy’s perspective: He expresses admiration for his father’s intellectual strength, but also observes his inherent fear of death and his struggle to reconcile his personal life with his evolving beliefs.


  • The Letter-box: A unique family tradition where members share writings, revealing their thoughts, secrets, and observations.
  • The Famine: My father’s decision to break his personal principles and engage in charitable work to help famine-stricken peasants.
  • My father’s illness in the Crimea: A period of critical illness where my father confronts his mortality and prepares for death.
  • Masha’s death: A poignant event that highlights the deep emotional bond between my father and his daughter, showcasing his vulnerability and human side.
  • My father’s flight from Yasnaya Polyana: A pivotal event driven by a complex combination of factors, including his internal struggle with his lifestyle, his concern for his family’s well-being, and his desire to seek peace amidst personal and intellectual turmoil.


  • My father’s inner struggle: He grapples with reconciling his aristocratic upbringing with his evolving beliefs and desires to live a simpler, more spiritual life.
  • The conflict between his personal life and his principles: He is torn between his family responsibilities and his desire for self-sufficiency and a simpler lifestyle.
  • The famine: He faces the challenge of reconciling his anti-charity stance with the suffering of the peasantry, leading him to participate in relief efforts.
  • My father’s illness: He confronts his mortality, battling fear while seeking deeper understanding of death and the afterlife.
  • His wife’s mental health: He experiences the strain of his wife’s neurasthenia and the tension in their relationship.


  • Internal conflict: My father grapples with his own conflicting desires and beliefs, battling between tradition and personal convictions.
  • Conflict with societal expectations: He rejects the privileged lifestyle expected of his social class, seeking a more authentic and ethical existence.
  • Conflict with his wife: His evolving beliefs and life choices create tension in his relationship with Sofya Andreyevna, leading to a complex dynamic.


  • The early years at Yasnaya Polyana: We witness the idyllic, albeit traditional, family life, my father’s initial involvement in teaching, and his passion for the countryside.
  • The writing of “Anna Karenina”: The novel’s creation unfolds, highlighting the meticulous rewriting process and the tension between my father’s desire for artistic expression and his evolving philosophy.
  • The shift in my father’s worldview: We observe his growing disillusionment with material possessions, social hierarchy, and religious dogma, culminating in his embrace of simplicity and service.
  • The famine and charitable work: This event challenges his beliefs about charity, leading him to participate in relief efforts despite his reservations.
  • His illness in the Crimea: This period marks a turning point as he confronts his mortality, prepares for death, and seeks spiritual solace.
  • The final years at Yasnaya Polyana: The tension between his desire to live a simpler life and his familial responsibilities reaches a climax, culminating in his decision to leave Yasnaya Polyana.
  • His departure and death at Astapova: His final journey represents a culmination of his internal struggles, marking a symbolic ending to a life marked by intellectual and spiritual evolution.

Point of View:

  • First-person perspective: Ilya Tolstoy narrates the story from his personal viewpoint, providing intimate insights into his own experiences and his observations of his father’s life.
  • Shared perspectives: Ilya draws upon the writings and observations of family members and friends to offer a multi-faceted understanding of Leo Tolstoy’s personality and thought process.

How it’s written:

  • Conversational tone: Ilya uses a conversational, informal style, making the text engaging and personal. He often shares anecdotes and personal reflections, creating a sense of intimacy.
  • Example: “When I got to Yasnaya, my father had already left it.” This simple sentence exemplifies the conversational tone and direct, unadorned language characteristic of the text.


  • Nostalgic: Ilya recounts his childhood with fondness and a sense of nostalgia, evoking the beauty of Yasnaya Polyana and the warmth of family life.
  • Respectful: Despite his observations of his father’s complexities, Ilya maintains a respectful and admiring tone, acknowledging his father’s intellectual brilliance and moral courage.
  • Melancholy: As the narrative unfolds, a sense of melancholy emerges, reflecting the tension and turmoil of my father’s later years, culminating in a bittersweet awareness of his inevitable decline.

Life Choices:

  • Leo Tolstoy’s choices: He chooses to renounce his privileged lifestyle, embrace simplicity, and dedicate himself to helping others, even if it means defying societal expectations and his family’s comfort.
  • Ilya Tolstoy’s choices: He follows his own path, embracing his own beliefs and values while navigating the complexities of his father’s legacy.


  • Embrace authenticity: The text underscores the importance of living in accordance with one’s true beliefs, regardless of societal pressures or familial expectations.
  • Seek understanding: It highlights the value of open communication, honest reflection, and seeking deeper understanding of oneself and others.
  • The power of compassion: It emphasizes the importance of service and compassion, even when faced with internal struggles and conflicting beliefs.
  • The inevitability of death: It explores the complex relationship with mortality, acknowledging the fear of death while seeking meaning and solace in the face of the inevitable.
  • Embrace simplicity: It suggests that true happiness lies not in material possessions or social status, but in living a life of simplicity, purpose, and connection with something larger than oneself.


  • Leo Tolstoy: A complex and evolving individual who grapples with internal conflicts, challenging societal norms, and seeking spiritual truth. He is driven by a powerful intellect and a deep desire for authenticity, but also plagued by doubts and anxieties.
  • Countess Sofya Andreyevna Tolstoy: Leo’s wife, she is deeply devoted to him, but experiences a growing sense of isolation and misunderstanding as his beliefs shift and his choices become increasingly unorthodox.
  • Count Ilya Tolstoy: The narrator, he is a loving son who observes his father with a mixture of admiration, confusion, and concern. He is shaped by his father’s legacy and struggles to find his own place in the world.
  • Sergei Nikolayevitch Tolstoy: Leo’s brother, he is portrayed as handsome, aristocratic, and independent, maintaining a somewhat distant but respectful relationship with his brother.
  • Afanasyi Afanasyevitch Fet: A poet and friend, he shares a deep intellectual connection with Leo Tolstoy, but their paths diverge as their philosophies diverge.
  • Nikolai Nikolayevitch Strakhof: A critic and close friend, he provides intellectual and emotional support to Leo, valuing his thoughts and offering insightful critiques.
  • Nikolai Nikolayevitch Gay: A close friend who shares Leo’s spiritual journey, he is deeply moved by the Gospel and finds solace in faith.
  • Ivan Sergeyevitch Turgenieff: A renowned writer and friend, his relationship with Leo is marked by both admiration and tension, fueled by their divergent views on life and artistic expression.
  • Masha: Leo’s daughter, she is portrayed as kind, sensitive, and deeply compassionate, providing Leo with much-needed warmth and emotional support.


  • The search for truth: The text explores the lifelong quest for spiritual truth, examining various philosophical and religious perspectives and questioning the nature of faith and belief.
  • The struggle for authenticity: It delves into the challenges of reconciling personal beliefs and desires with societal expectations and familial obligations, emphasizing the importance of living authentically.
  • The transformative power of love: It highlights the influence of love on personal growth and transformation, emphasizing the importance of human connection and compassion.
  • The fragility of human life and the inevitability of death: The narrative confronts the complex relationship with mortality, prompting reflection on life’s meaning and the nature of death.
  • The importance of service and humility: The text emphasizes the value of serving others and living a life of humility, even in the face of personal struggles and societal pressures.


  • The value of simplicity: The text emphasizes the importance of a simple life, free from material possessions and unnecessary complexities, allowing one to focus on spiritual growth and service to others.
  • The power of faith: It suggests that true faith lies not in adherence to dogma, but in a personal, spiritual connection with God, leading to a life of love, compassion, and service.
  • The importance of truth and honesty: The text advocates for truthfulness and authenticity in all aspects of life, urging individuals to live in accordance with their beliefs and to reject societal hypocrisy.
  • The significance of family and love: The text emphasizes the importance of family relationships and the transformative power of love in shaping one’s life and providing meaning and support.


  • Leo Tolstoy: His primary intention seems to be to live in accordance with his evolving beliefs, seeking a simpler, more ethical life, even if it means defying societal norms and causing discomfort to his family.
  • Ilya Tolstoy: His intention is to share his personal experiences and observations of his father’s life, shedding light on the complexities of his father’s personality and his struggle to live authentically.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “Circle of Reading”: A phrase coined by Leo Tolstoy to describe his collection of wise sayings, emphasizing the importance of continual learning and self-reflection.
  • “Corrections beforehand”: A term used to describe the intrusions and suggestions of those close to Tolstoy, highlighting the pressure he faced to conform to others’ expectations.


  • The story of Agafya Mikhailovna and the dogs: This anecdote highlights the woman’s deep love for her dogs and the unconventional nature of her spirituality.
  • The story of Lieutenant Himbut: This anecdote reveals Uncle Seryozha’s dry wit and his ability to find humor even in unexpected places.
  • The story of Turgenieff’s mother: This anecdote provides insight into Turgenieff’s family background and the intellectual and eccentric nature of his mother.


  • The importance of self-reflection and spiritual growth: The text promotes introspection, questioning societal norms, and seeking deeper meaning in life.
  • The need for authentic living: The narrative emphasizes the importance of living in accordance with one’s own beliefs, rejecting external pressures and societal expectations.
  • The power of service and compassion: The text highlights the transformative power of serving others and acting with compassion, even when faced with internal struggles and external challenges.
  • The interconnectedness of life and death: The narrative explores the complex relationship between life and death, suggesting that death is not an ending, but a transformation.

Facts and Findings:

  • Leo Tolstoy’s views on charity: He critiques traditional charity as a form of self-indulgence, believing that true aid requires addressing the root causes of poverty and social injustice.
  • The impact of Tolstoy’s writings on his contemporaries: The text highlights the influence of his work on those around him, particularly his friends and followers, who were deeply impacted by his evolving beliefs.
  • The controversy surrounding Tolstoy’s departure from Yasnaya Polyana: The text explores the complex factors that led to Tolstoy’s decision to leave home, highlighting the tension between his personal desires and his family obligations.


  • None are cited in the text.

Points of View:

  • First-person narrative: The text is written from the perspective of Ilya Tolstoy, providing a personal and intimate glimpse into his father’s life and offering a unique lens through which to view the events and relationships.


  • Personal and intimate: Ilya’s perspective is personal and intimate, offering a deep understanding of his father’s internal struggles and complexities, as well as the emotional dynamics within the family.
  • Respectful yet critical: Ilya’s perspective is respectful but not without a degree of criticality, allowing the reader to see both the brilliance and the contradictions within his father’s life and choices.

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