As an atheist Leo Tolstoy looked into Oblivion: What made the great writer to overestimate life
In the life of Leo Tolstoy once there was a strange case when the writer either became a victim of an attack, or met face to face with something otherworldly, not from the world of the living. It happened in Arzamas, the town where Tolstoy stopped for the night, heading in the Penza province. At that moment the writer was forty-one years old – by a strange coincidence, it was exactly half of his earthly journey.
Overnight in Arzamas
It was the autumn of 1869, and most recently saw the light of the novel “War and peace”, quickly won success with readers despite the mixed reviews of critics. One of the articles read: “the Mistake of count Tolstoy is that he gave too much space in his book to the description of real historical events and the characteristics of real historical figures.” The novel was really ahead of its time and set new literary standards – as, indeed, the real situation in which the writer created.
The end of the 60-ies of the last century was marked by changes in different areas of Russian life – recently launched peasant reform, breakthroughs in science, philosophical trends from Europe could not leave indifferent and indifferent writer, from an early age accustomed to immerse themselves in thought and reflection. Tolstoy in 1869 was seven years as happily married, brought up children and in connection with literary successes had the opportunity to expand their land holdings not only by inheritance from dead brothers.
After consulting with his wife Sophia Andreevna, Tolstoy went to Penza province to buy the estate of Ilyino. The way lay through Nizhny Novgorod, then Saransk, and then, in the evening of September 2, Lev Nikolaevich, accompanied by a young servant Sergei Arbuzov was in Arzamas, where he stayed for the night in the first hotel caught the eye. It was the room of the merchant Tragulina, and they have become the place where Tolstoy embraced the most painful condition that affected the rest of his life.
“A clean whitewashed square room. As I remember, painfully I was, what room it was exactly square. The window was one with a curtain – red. Table of Karelian birch and sofa with curved sides”. Tolstoy felt tired and exhausted, but he could not sleep. “Suddenly I found anguish, fear, horror, such, which I have never experienced” – he will tell then in a letter to his wife. Painful realization of futility, senselessness of all built plans, at the same time with impossibility to hide “from something terrible” because it is terrible inside, and you will not run away from yourself, and as a result – the asked question and at once the received answer. “What do I miss, what do I fear? – Me, – the voice of death answered inaudibly. – I’m here. Frost has fought me on the skin”.
Tolstoy tried to pray – he, before not showing special Church zeal, from this day will actively seek in faith the answers to the tormented his questions of life. Prayer did not help, except that “entertained the fear that I see.” In fear and in a state of unbearable depression Tolstoy spent the rest of the night, which since then will be considered the date of the meeting with death, with non-Existence.
After the “meeting with the Other”
Having already left Arzamas, Tolstoy sent a letter to Sofya Andreevna with questions, whether everything is safely at home. “I’m worried for the second day. The third night I spent the night in Arzamas, and there was something extraordinary with me.” Tolstoy’s estate was never bought.
Fifteen years later, the writer began his “Notes of a madman”, where he reflected in detail his Arzamas experiences. In addition to them, the stories about the incident were in the diaries that Tolstoy led from his youth to the end of his days. After returning from the trip, the writer refused in favor of his wife and children from the rights to property – movable and immovable, as well as rights to literary works.
Since 1869, Tolstoy turned to Orthodoxy, immersed in the study of Christian philosophy and trying to find answers to questions about life and death. By the end of the seventies, he was already frustrated with Church dogmas and rituals, which led to the creation of his own religious philosophy. One of the main proclaimed ideas of Tolstoy was a simplification, the rejection of the benefits of civilization, which the writer showed himself, becoming a vegetarian, dressed in simple peasant clothes, but really, saving the efforts of Sofia Andreevna comfort in the house.
The explanation of the Arzamas history is still being sought – there is an opinion that the fear experienced did not significantly affect Tolstoy’s perception of the world, who was previously inclined to philosophize and search for the meaning of life and even expressed thoughts of suicide. Perhaps the long tedious road, coupled with anxiety for the family and the estate contributed to the beginning of an acute attack of depression and spleen. In addition, for several years the writer has been treated for melancholy – koumiss, as dictated by the then fashion.
We must not forget that at the time of the events Tolstoy was over forty – a difficult age for a man, when rethinking the path, made a reassessment of goals and plans. The writer could also be the victim of a psychological trap, when the goals are achieved, but do not bring the expected satisfaction. Tolstoy himself later considered his works of art an intermediate link in the transition to his own serious philosophical works. About one of the episodes from his life, when an enthusiastic reader thanked for the creation of “War and peace”, Lev Nikolaevich responded: “It’s like that someone came to Edison and would say: “I really respect you for the fact that you dance the Mazurka well.” Perhaps Tolstoy’s spiritual quest was just waiting for an expression that could occur in any other circumstances, apart from Arzamas, where the writer happened to be.
However, when looking for a rational explanation of Tolstoy’s experiences in the hotel Arzamas, involuntarily have to admit the existence of a strange coincidence: the writer’s death occurred in 1910 at the station Astapovo, forty-one years later – that is, “horror” divided the life of Leo Nikolaevich into two halves.
Be that as it may, it is impossible to deny the significance of what happened and its impact on the worldview and creativity of Leo Tolstoy. In literary texts there is hardly another passage, so descriptive of familiar to almost everyone inexplicable, unaccountable, irrational fear that sometimes overtakes the human on level ground, and defies the usual methods of relieving depression and stress. And here it is for everyone to decide whether to attribute this state to fatigue and illness or to take it as evidence of imminent and inevitable death, as Leo Tolstoy understood in Arzamas.
A similar state, apparently, experienced by other writers – depression of varying severity covered Gogol, Edgar PoE, Hemingway, periods of melancholy accompanied the creative life of almost all the great masters of literature. Some ended up leaving more questions than answers about their deaths.