dead tolstoy


William Nickell describes the death drama itself as Russia’s first great mass media event. The room in the stationmaster’s house in Astapovo where the dying Tolstoy was lodged was the eye of a news hurricane. A horde of reporters elbowing their way through crowds of onlookers sent out their despatches in thousands of telegrams to hundreds of newspapers, some of which gave over half their editorial space to a kind of frozen proto-blog. ‘Please delete that Tolstoy ate two eggs, incorrect: drank only milk tea,’ one telegram reads. The cameras were there, and the cinematograph. You can see Tolstoy on YouTube. The essential modern corollary of a media feeding frenzy, the self-flagellating analysis by the media of its own actions, was rampant, as reporters masochistically savoured the irony that they were trying to grab and sell a piece of the great anti-materialist. ‘We’re shams!’ wailed Sergei Yablonovsky, correspondent of the Voronezh Telegraph. ‘With counterfeit bodies, counterfeit souls.’ The result of the public scrutiny of Tolstoy’s death was that all those closest to him at the end, even those he bumped into by chance, came out with their own versions of events. Six doctors kept separate medical records of his last days. Government spies sent secret reports back to St Petersburg. Before Tolstoy fled Yasnaya Polyana, he was one of eight people keeping supposedly private diaries of life there. Dushan Makovitsky, Tolstoy’s personal physician, was a doctor and a diarist.

more from James Meek at the LRB here.