Whew! I now know so much more about Leo Tolstoy. Aside from his great novels, “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace,” I have read some of his short stories and his “Confessions” and through that have grown to know more about this writer. Now I know more about him as a man. And what a man to know! Thanks to the Leo Tolstoy Centennial Festival held at California State University Long Beach last weekend we heard about many aspects of Tolstoy’s drive to make a difference in a chaotic world.
Of course there were readings of his work, and screenings of certain scenes from the many films based on his writing. We saw excepts of King Vidor’s 1956 version with Audrey Hepburn and Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1967 epic that won the Oscar and all sorts of other prizes. I saw this Russian six-hour classic last year at LACMA over two weekends It was clear that as in art, the novel in its best form is to read and understood by the reader though his own eyes and each will have his or her independent story form as a result. Central to the presentation was Vladimir Tolstoy, the great-great-grandson of Leo. With Vladimir were his two delightful daughters, Catherine, studying in Moscow to be an art historian and Anastasia, a PhD student at Oxford studying Nabokov. Vladimir manages Yasnaya Polyana, the family estate south of Moscow. The trio were wonderful guests who graciously shared their knowledge and opinions.
Among the new things I learned were Tolstoy’s great respect and caring for children, the poor and distressed and the outcasts of established society, such as the “sectarians” such as the Doukhobours and the Molokans, who all immigrated for the U. S. and Canada. He was the consummate non-conformist.
The event was sponsored by the Russian Department and the Department of Foreign Languages, Dr. Harold Schefski being the key organizer, and also the Long Beach/Sochi Sister City Committee. It will take days to revisit my notes and absorb more. If I rewrite and update my book, “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” I will include more about his most famous Russian who lived and wrote in that critical time of the late 19th century. He died at the age of 84 in 1910.