sealing wax and other things

Writer Leo Tolstoy came from a rather eccentric family, with Fyodor Ivanovich Tolstoy (1782 – 1846) being perhaps the most unruly of all his relatives.

His comrades at that time described Fyodor Tolstoy as an excellent shooter and a brave fighter. His wild character, along with his taste for women and card games, gave him frequent cause for arguments with his comrades and higher officers that often ended in a violation of discipline.

image found here

In 1803 Fyodor went on a circumnavigation of the world as a member of the sloop Nadezhda. His behavior on board, where he was unencumbered by official duties, was very unpredictable. He often provoked quarrels with the crew, including the captain himself and played jokes on those that he did not like: for example, once he intoxicated a priest and when the latter lay dead drunk on the floor, Tolstoy stuck his beard to the deck boards with sealing wax. When the priest came to, he was obliged to cut off his beard to free himself.

poppy seed beard found here

On another occasion, when the Captain was out, Tolstoy sneaked into his cabin with an orangutan that he had bought while the ship was moored on an island in the Pacific Ocean. He took out the logbook and showed the ape how to cover the paper with ink. Then he left the orangutan alone in the cabin, drawing on the notebook. When the Captain returned, all his records had been destroyed.

image found here

Similar behavior more than once caused Tolstoy to be put under arrest. Finally, the Captain lost patience and abandoned his passenger during a stop at Kamchatka. From Kamchatka Tolstoy managed to get to Sitka island, where he spent several months among Alaskan natives.

Russian Church in Sitka found here

During his sojourn on Sitka, he acquired multiple tattoos, which he later displayed with pride to curious acquaintances. The afore-mentioned orangutan, which was left on land with Tolstoy and whose later fate is unknown, gave rise to a great deal of gossip in aristocratic circles. According to one of the rumors, during his stay in Kamchatka, Tolstoy lived together with the ape; according to others, he ate it.

Alaskan tattoos found here

Tolstoy returned to European Russia via the Far East in August 1805. He developed a love of gambling and became famous for it during his years in Moscow. He did not hide the fact that he sometimes cheated. According to the memoirs of his contemporaries, he did not like to rely on luck during a game, preferring, by way of cardsharping, to “play for certain”, as he liked to say.

image by Georges de La Tour

Even more famous was Tolstoy’s participation in a number of duels, the reasons for which were often found in card games. It is unknown how many duels he fought, but some accounts state that he killed eleven men altogether. In his early years in Moscow, Tolstoy’s love affairs provided copious material for rumor and gossip in society. He married the gypsy dancer Avdotya Tugayeva on January 10, 1821, but only after having lived with her for several years.

19th century gypsy found here

Tolstoy suffered greatly from the death of his children, especially when his eldest daughter, Sarra, died at the age of seventeen. At the end of his life he  grew devout and considered the death of his eleven children to be God’s punishment for his killing of eleven men in duels.

He carefully noted the names of those he had killed in his diary. He had twelve children, who all died in youth, except for two daughters. As each child died, he would cross out the name of one person he had killed and wrote the word “quit” (repaid). When he lost his eleventh child, he crossed out the last of the names and said, “Well, thank God, at least my curly-haired gipsy girl will live.”

Harvey Keitel in Ridley Scott’s The Duellists

Tolstoy died in 1846, after a short illness, in the presence of his wife and only surviving daughter Praskovya. Before his death he summoned a priest and confessed to him for several hours. He was buried in the Vagankavo Cemetery. His widow Avdotya outlived him by fifteen years but died a violent death: she was stabbed by her own cook in 1861.

Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 8:41 am  Comments (39)  
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39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Gosh, eleven really wasn’t his lucky number, hey? Did the cook have anything to do with all the children dying?

  2. By rumour (mostly started by me) the family remain as mad today as he was then…my mother worked at London Zoo and somewhere there is a picture of her with a great ape around her neck. I don’t believe she ever ate it

  3. Aha, so clearly this gambling, duelling, rascal was quite unlike his writer cousin…I’m not sure if that tattooed woman is supposed to look like Sarah Pailn, but she’s really hot!

  4. For some reason, I find the poppy seed beard picture really disturbing — even more disturbing than half-naked tattooed Sarah Palin. I think it’s the poppy seed eyebrows.

  5. Love the drunken pranks, I’ve suffered a few of those at parties in my youth.

  6. Or did the ape in fact eat Tolstoy and then assume his identity for the duration? Avdotya may have noticed an increased banana consumption during this time but it seemed inappropriate to mention it.

  7. He took out the logbook and showed the ape how to cover the paper with ink.

    What was it they said about if a million monkeys typed ten hours a day?

  8. so if he’d wanted to slay a few more of his poker playing pals, he’d have simply had to continue breeding?

  9. I have been the purveyor of a milk mistache but never a poppy seed beard.

  10. Those Tolstoys were a wacky bunch.

  11. I find Harvey Keitel so appealing but I’m not sure why.

    • Me too. Have you seen him in Bad Lieutenant?

      • No I haven’t but I love it in The Piano when he’s under the piano and he touches Holly Hunter’s skin through a small hole in her stocking. Beautiful film.

  12. I love The Duellists.

    As to Tolstoy. I do wonder if Karma was a concept he learned while flaunting about in the Far East?

  13. How did you get that picture of Sara Palin with tattoos? This picture would explode here in the US

    • Heh, photoshopped somewhere most likely.

  14. It is one of my small ambitions to live a life worthy of several hours’ confession, by the time I’m done…

  15. Hey, Sarah Palin is really loosening up – tattooed and semi-naked. She’ll be fighting for workers’ rights next.

    I sometimes think the great tradition of the duel would settle a few disputes a lot more efficiently than paying vast sums to loquacious lawyers.

  16. Ape tastes a bit like chicken.
    Or… so I’ve… heard… :)

    • No. Crocodile tastes like chicken, Ape tastes like pork.
      Or… so I’ve… heard… on good authority :) :)

  17. This was such a fun article to read, I wondered the whole time what kind of book Leo would have written if he had written a novel based on his brother’s life. It would have been considerably more interesting than “War and Peace”, I’ll bet.

  18. An enjoyable read and an interesting character. Amazing that he managed to get away with so many murders and not die in prison. I wonder what his wife did to get stabbed to death. Complain about the stew?

    • I was going to write that exact same thing, except with “eggs” instead of “stew”! Great minds and all that…

  19. I initially misread that last sentence as “stabbed to death with her own cock.” It’s been that sort of day here at the Failure.

  20. But the question is, did someone bring you strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff? :)

  21. Confessing for several hours! I bet that priest couldn’t sleep for a week.

    • One wonders if the sealing wax misunderstanding was mentioned in confession?

  22. Even though he sounds rather crazy, losing 11 kids must have been incredibly hard.

  23. Are poppy seed beards coming back in style? I need fair warning because it takes me a while to grow a good poppy seed beard.

  24. you’ll hate me but i have to say he sounds exactly like every russian i’ve ever met.

    and as for being stabbed by your own cook, hope there was pilaf on the stove.

  25. Tolstoy was totally my kind of guy! As long as he didn’t eat the orangutan. Nah, he couldn’t have.

    I’m still hoping for a Friday miracle…

  26. I’ve used plenty of sealing wax on letters, but never to annoy my priest. Now you’ve got me thinking.

  27. Wow that Sarah Palin is Hot! Dumb as a stump though

  28. Sorry, which one was Sarah Palin and which one was the feckin ape again?

    • And that, folks, is the correct response to questions on the hustings.Well done, Jimmy.

  29. I’m surprised SP has not sued the photoshopper who created that image. Quite impressive, actually.

  30. That is colourful to say the least

  31. So did the cook eat the wife? Does anyone know?

    Also, drunk pranks are awsome.

  32. I’ve always felt a kinship with orangutans. It has to do with our matching red hair, I think. And our shared DNA.


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