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Leo Tolstoy as a Trendsetter

Leo Tolstoy with a beard looking at the camera


Yesterday, September 9, ExploRussia celebrated Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy’s 190th Birthday. Leo Tolstoy (the English-speaking world calls his name like this) is one of the greatest Russian writers and novelists of the world.
To speak and moreover to write about Leo Tolstoy is as easy as trying to draw like Vincent Van Gogh or sing like Montserrat Caballe. But we could not but write about him.

Among the most famous novels are “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”. The Russian school education program includes the huge work “War and Peace”, consisting of four large volumes. Being pupils at secondary school most of us used to cheat and read a brief summary of it to be able to cope with the quiz at the lesson.:) Only then when becoming adults we decide to reread the novel we finally understand the power of the book and can easily call it “one of the best books of all time”. We do not know any person who is not impressed by the language, the story, the depiction of the Russian souls in this novel. So when a foreigner asks: “What is the top classic Russian novel worth reading?” The answer is clear: “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy.

House of Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 at Yasnaya Polyana (literally “Bright Glade”) near Tula that is 200 km from Moscow. Now, this is the writer’s memorial museum and the history of this awesome place is incredible. The museum now belongs to the state but the manager is Tolstoy’s descendent great-great-grandson Vladimir Tolstoy. It is a huge territory where you can visit his house with all his preserved belongings as well as his library with 22000 books, see the school that he created for peasant children, the park, and the grave of Tolstoy. You can feel a true atmosphere of rural Russian life of the 19th century.

Life of Leo Tolstoy was very rich and full of so many interesting and controversial facts that it is rather difficult to cover them all in one article.

During the lifetime of Leo Tolstoy Yasnaya Polyana became a place of pilgrimage, and not only because of the opportunity to look how the classic of Russian literature lives but to ask for advice, for wisdom. He was a teacher, a person who knew the answers to existential questions.

A fan of fashionable inventions and life experiments, Leo Tolstoy turned his house into the concentration of all the newest and the most modern things.

Today we want to focus on his life in Yasnaya Polyana as Leo Tolstoy can easily be called a trendsetter of the time he lived in and what is more today in 2018 his ideas and the way of life would be a mainstream too. Read and feel the scale of this personality.

Selfie by Leo Tolstoy


“I made a photo of myself,” says the legend in a photo of Leo Tolstoy, dated 1862.

It was a time of rapid growth of photography.

By the mid-1860s in Russia, so many people were found of photography that one of the art critics of the time defined this phenomenon as “the exorbitant reproduction of photographers.”

The general fashion for photography did not pass by the 32-year-old Count Leo Tolstoy, who just started to grow his famous beard.

Leo Tolstoy skating


Tolstoy was a very sporty guy. Tolstoy’s favorite was walking. It is known that when he was 60, he made three walking tours from Moscow to Yasnaya Polyana, that is app 200 km! Leo Tolstoy was fond of skating, he loved riding, swimming, every morning he started with gymnastics. It was the promotion of the idea that the image of an intellectual who can not lift anything heavier than a book must remain in the past.

Vegetarianism of Tolstoy


According to an interview in 1908 in the American magazine “Good Health”, Leo Tolstoy became a vegetarian when he was 55. This decision was a logical follow-up of his own doctrine of the immoral nature of any violence. In 1893 Tolstoy wrote the article “The First Step”, which played an important role in popularizing vegetarianism in Russia. Under the influence of Tolstoy, not only his friends and some relatives refused to eat meat. In 1912 after Tolstoy’s death the “Spiritual Awakening” society was organized in Moscow, and as a result, the First All-Russian Vegetarian Congress had been held.

Leo Tolstoy on a bicycle


Leo Tolstoy first tried a bicycle at the age of 67. After the death of his seven-year-old son Vanechka, he was sad and the members of the Moscow Society of Bicycle Lovers decided to present him with an “iron horse” and teach him to ride along the paths of his garden. Leo Tolstoy became very fond of cycling and could cover a distance from Yasnaya Polyana to Tula i.e. 15 km.

Leo Tolstoy with a book


By 1910 there were 22 thousand books in Tolstoy’s library. Sofya Tolstaya wife of Leo Tolstoy was responsible for the storage and description of the library. Tolstoy practiced bookcrossing, guests could easily take the books they liked from his library.

Among the collection there are more than 5000 books in foreign languages, the books were sent to Tolstoy from different parts of the world.

Leo Tolstoy in ordinary clothes


*The word Normcore is made from the words normal and hardcore. Normcore wearers are people who do not wish to distinguish themselves from others by their clothing.

Tolstoy’s refusal of the noble dress was due to his idea of the need to overcome class distinctions. Tolstoy was not the founder of the new fashion, but he anticipated the trend for the democratization of clothing, which will be actual throughout the twentieth century.

Shoes of Leo Tolstoy


Leo Tolstoy had a rich collection of exclusive handmade shoes. Checkered home shoes, soft shoes made of elk skin, canvas shoes.

Leo Tolstoy liked to wear simple blouses, like Kosovorotka (Russian shirt with collar fastening at side). Sofya Tolstaya sewed them from such materials as flannel, cotton, expensive raw silk.

Leo Tolstoy's gadgets


Tolstoy’s house was full of gadgets of the XIX-XX century. A phonograph, mimeograph (gadget for making copies), pencil with electric lighting, self-writing pen, pencil sharpener from the USA.
In 1903 the student of Tolstoy brought him a gramophone. Tolstoy was enthusiastic about the gift and later appreciated educational opportunities of the new technology. In 1910, immediately after Tolstoy’s death, “Gramophone” company issued records with Tolstoy’s voice, a record of 100,000 copies at that time.
The own phonograph appeared in Tolstoy’s house in 1908. Thomas Edison personally sent him his invention as a gift with a letter, in which he asked Leo Tolstoy to make special recording addressing the non-Russian audience. According to the memoirs of his contemporaries, Tolstoy was waiting for the phonograph with excitement, anticipating the benefits that it could bring to him. And indeed, Tolstoy became the first Russian writer to use a phonograph in his work: he recorded his works of art, letters, fairy tales for peasant pupils at his school in Yasnaya Polyana.

Yasnaya Polyana tour
Visit Yasnaya Polyana to see his clothes, gadgets, to feel his lifestyle and to know more about his literary works that worth separate attention.
Tour to Yasnaya Polyana is a great choice for a weekend, it is just 200 km (2-hour ride) away from Moscow the capital of Russia. You may learn more about the tour here.