Essay: Lev Tolstoy and England

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Commettee of Youth Affairs

Peter Pan Club

Essay: Lev Tolstoy and England.

Performer: Mikhail Rostovtsev

Adviser: O.M.Rostovtseva




1.Things in Yasnaya Polyana which remind us about England.

Maria Nikolaevna Volkonskaya.

2.Lev Tolstoy studies English goes abroad visits London. Lev Tolstoy comes to Herzen in England.

3.English governesses and Tolstoy’s children. Hanna Tarsey.

4.Tolstoy’s descendants in Great Britain nowadays.


First when I came to Yasnaya Polyana I was 6 years old. I liked it very much. It was very quite there everything all around was covered with snow: the garden the alleys and the houses. There was a school “Philipok ” organised in the estate-museum and we studied many things there read Lev Tolstoy’s “Primer” for children talked about his relatives and children. We had classes in Volkonsky’s House and I liked to climb the old staircase very much. We studied English there as well: we had puppet performances and played a lot learning knew English words and expressions. But most of all I liked the house where Lev Tolstoy lived. There were a lot of books there many of which were written in English. The master read all of them in the original. There were a lot of pictures on the walls where we could see the writer and his children. They also read those books and knew many foreign languages. How had Lev Tolstoy and his children learnt English so well? It was interesting for me but I was a little boy then and was too shy to ask the teacher… Now in my report I’ll try to find the answer myself.

1. Tolstoy’s house and things which remind us about England.

The first thing we see in the hall as we cross the threshold of Yasnaya Polyana house are the birchwood cases packed with books in many different languages on all manner of subjects. Books not only greet guests but accompany them all over the house. Many of the books are English. Lev Tolstoy read them in the original. John Galsworthy Bernard Show and H.Wells sent him their books with their own granting signatures.

On the upper landing of the staircase we can see the 18-th century grandfather’s English clock that has a mahogany case with a turret on top. According to a family legend Tolstoy’s grandfather - Prince Nikolai Volconsky bought it. The clock was made by the London firm of FArdley Norton and is still going. It has a very melodic chime and shows not only the hours minutes and seconds but the day of the month as well.

In the mornings Tolstoy liked to walk in the park Kliny that had been also planned according to his grandfather Prince Volconsky’s order and smoothly turned into English garden with a cascade of artificial ponds. There are ancient limes there planted very close to each other with narrow alleys between them. The crowns of the trees are interlaced so tight that even when the day is very hot there is always shade there and it’s rather cool in the park. It is called Kliny (“ Gores” in English) because the park consists of 8 gores. When Prince Volkonsky and his daughter took their morning walk a serf orchestra played for them from the bandstand in the centre of the garden. Lev Tolstoy liked to work in the park as well: sometimes in summer he asked to bring his table and arm-chair in the park and wrote there. In the centre of the square formed by the gores apple-trees were planted in Tolstoy’s lifetime they had enough sunlight and bore fruit. Tolstoy often debated with Turgenev whose park is better and insisted that his own park was better of course.

One of the ponds in the English garden was used for swimming. Tolstoy’s son Sergey remembered how they caught tritons there being small boys. The same thing their grandchildren did since 50 years. Besides they caught grass-snakes in the garden there were lots of them there. Tolstoy’s children played hide-and-seek in the low part of the park that was always quite and mysterious like a wild wood. According to a family legend that was the favourite spot of Tolstoy’s mother in the garden. There sitting on the bench near the pond or in the summer-house which rises in the very corner of the garden she often waited for arriving of her husband when he was away. She also liked to walk there with her children.

That was the reason why that part of the garden reminded Tolstoy about his mother. He lost his mother when he was less than 2 years old in 1830.

Lev Tolstoy’ mother Maria Nikolaevna Volkonskaya.

Lev Tolstoy’s parents knew many foreign languages. Besides French German and Italian Maria Nicolaevna ( his mother) knew English very well. She read many books of her father and had about 160 books in her own library in Russian French German English and Italian. She had many bilingual dictionaries as well. She not only read the books but made literary translations of some parts. Her best friends were two English sisters. She made good matches for them giving them unheard of dowries – one she gave 50 thousand and the other 75 thousand roubles. She wanted to give an estate with serfs and all to her English friend for a dowry. Maria Nikolaevna was a kind mistress with a good temper and a mind of her own. The family would not allow her to give away that estate and so she made her English friend a gift of 75 thousand roubles instead. Maria Nikolaevna died when she was about 40 no picture of hers was left but only some things could remind the children about their mother and those translations among them.

2. Lev Tolstoy studies English.

Lev Tolstoy knew English very well. Among the main tasks which he set himself in his youth were to study English. ”Learn French Russian German English Italian and Latin”. Much of the programme was carried out. He took up English seriously and then read all Dickens’s novels in the original as well as many other English books.

In 1857 and 1860-61 Lev Tolstoy left for abroad to see how people lived there and what they taught the children in their schools. It was a long journey to the West. The schools were being reformed in Russia at the time. He dreamt of a different school of the kind school that might be set up by the peasants themselves a school that would not alienate the children from the patriarchal way of life. He taught a lot at schools himself.

Lev Tolstoy set out for the West convinced that the way of life of the Yasnaya Polyana peasants was the most correct in the world. He was to meet Alexander Herzen a big man who had lived for many years in the West. Tolstoy was going abroad to ask questions draw comparisons and learn. What he wanted to learn was how to avert the grief of the morrow how to keep Russia safe from imitating England with its machines factories child labour and colonies. Lev Tolstoy visited Germany France Switzerland Italy England and Belgium.

Tolstoy visits London

Tolstoy attended one of the first lectures given by Charles Dickens. Dickens had a dark moustache he brushed his hair back wore varicoloured clothes. Tolstoy described Dickens as a powerful figure of a man: he saw him as such and remembered him like that all his life. He also looked at London with Dickens’ eyes. Dickens had taught him to see the details and to single out the most important things: he showed what the chirping of a cricket and the sound of the kettle coming to the boil meant in an English home.

It is difficult to picture London as it was then. Ivan Goncharov thus described mid-nineteenth century London:

“I shall not forget the picture of this vast gas-lit city as it appears to the traveller arriving there in the evening. The steam engine plunges into this ocean of brilliance and flies over the house roofs above the graceful chasms where as in a kaleidoscope an ant-hill moves along the sparkling colourfully painted streets.”

To us today that “ocean of brilliance” would look like a dark abyss. The city was quite. Goncharove wrote:" One hears hardly any other noise save for the inevitable sounds made by horses and wheels. The city a living creature seems to be holding its breath and the beating of its pulse. There is no senseless shouting no unnecessary movement and as for singing jumping or naughtiness there’s little of it even among the children. Everything seems to have been calculated weighted and evaluated as though taxes were levied on voices and mime as they were on windows and cart wheels. The carriages race at great speed but the drivers do not shout and actually there’s no need as a pedestrian will never be caught off his guard. Everyone is in a hurry everyone is running somewhere: there are no carefree or indolent figures except mine.”

Dickens lived in this city illumined with yellow gas light where even in the daytime the sun filtered through a film of smoke to shine down on the grass on the smoke-shaded buildings and the iridescent mud of the Thames bristling with masts. This flashily dressed man who spoke loudly described things vividly picked out details from the darkness with his peculiar beam of light exaggerated people’s characters laughed cried and invented- he was the real voice of the silently hurrying city.

Tolstoy comes to Herzen

Herzen lived in Putney a suburb of London.

Tolstoy came to the two-storey house with a small front-garden. It was March. He came to the front door and rang. A footman opened the door took in his card and left him in the hall. He heard a quick footstep and Herzen came running down the stairs. He turned out to be a short fast-moving fat man full of energy.

Holding his flat cap in his hands Herzen stood looking at his visitor. Tolstoy wore a fashionable long coat and was holding a new silk hat.

They went for a walk and dropped in at a nearby pub.

“I have never seen anyone like him ” Tolstoy recalled. When Tolstoy spoke of Herzen in his recollections he said that for six weeks they met every day though actually he spent only sixteen days in London. Those days must have been so important that the number of their meetings had become trebled in his memory in the course of almost fifty years.

Tolstoy remembered Herzen’s words:” If instead of saving the world people tried to save themselves and if instead of liberating mankind they tried to liberate themselves how much they could do for the saving of the world and the liberation of mankind.”

All Herzen’s daughter could remember of Tolstoy was that he spoke with her father about cockfights and also that there was something said about Sevastopol and a solders’ song.

Tolstoy thought Herzen an old but very powerful man with a mind of his own. Herzen thought Tolstoy a man who took everything by assault.

They came to know understand and respect each other and though they did not make friends they remembered each other forever. Together with Herzen they thought about Russia its future and the Decembrists as a movement. They talked about religion about the social system of the future.

Tolstoy left London the day the manifesto on the abolition of serfdom in Russia was published.

3. English governesses and Tolstoy’s children. Hanna Tarsey.


1 2 3 4 5

Sergei Tatiana Ilya Lev Maria

Born on born on born on born on born on

28 June 4 October 22 May 20 May 12 February

1863 1864 1866 1869 1871

“The big ones” “ The little ones”

Tolstoy’s eldest daughter Tatyana said that she was grateful for her happy childhood to the three main persons:

1.father who ruled their life and created special conditions for their development;

2.mother who tried her best to make their life interesting and nice;

3. Hanna Tarsey their English governess who spent 6 years with Tolstoy’s children teaching them loving them greatly and helping the little ones to understand what was good and what was bad.

Lev Tolstoy thought that the best literature for children was English so he wanted his children to study English to read books in the original. He invited Hanna Tarsey to come from England to teach and bring up his children. Hanna’s sister worked as a governess at the Tolstoys friends. The sisters came to Jasnaya Polyana when Lev Nikolaevich was in Moscow. His wife Sofja Andreevna did not speak English and was greatly confused. In her letter to Lev Tolstoy she told about her feelings at that moment that she was really at a loss and described the English girl: “ Very young rather nice even pretty but we both don’t know each other’s native languages and it’s horrible”.

Little Tanya needed time to make friends with Hanna. First she used to run to her old baby-sitter and show her how ”jenglichanka” spoke imitating the unknown words and laughing. The old baby-sitter laughed too. Sometimes the girl quarrelled with Hanna cried and went to her mother pouting. But it was not because the governess was cruel but because the child was tired of trying to understand her foreign speech. But little by little they began to understand each other and liked each other. Tatyana repeated English words after Hanna all days long and the teacher was pleased. The little girl used to repeat words so much that began to repeat Russian words after her mother.

The mother of the family Sofja Andreevna tried to make Hanna’s life in Jasnaya Polyana pleasant and interesting. She organised a special driving in a sledge for the kids and their governess. It was warm…Hanna was very happy and jumped with joy saying “ so nice” explaining that she loved Russia Sofja Andreevna and the kids and that she was very happy.

Hanna and her sister Jenny were the daughters of a gardener of Windsor Palace in London. They were very good and honest girls.

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