Lot 288
  • 288


20,000 - 25,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Highly important autograph letter signed, in Russian, to Raphael Löwenfeld, Tolstoy’s first biographer, publisher and German translator, about the urgent need to abandon publication of part of The Kingdom of God is Within You, a precursor of Tolstoy’s final novel Resurrection
2 pages (5 1/4 x 8 3/8 in.; 134 x 213 mm) on paper, written recto and verso in Russian in black ink, affixed to card. [Dated 16 August 1893 in another hand], and signed "L. Tolstoy"; one or two stray spots, one or two letters just concealed by tape.  a letter written in some haste, following up from a telegram, Tolstoy explains the urgent necessity of stopping the printing of Chapter 12 of the book, containing descriptions of an execution in Orel, urging that if it has been printed, it should be pulped and the type destroyed and replaced by enclosed sections (not included), gives reasons why this should happen, though in a guarded way, explains the adverse effect the publication of these materials has had on international relations with Russia and his wish to alter the material to counter this …This is important not only for avoiding unpleasantness and for the success of the book, but also for my conscience. Due to the indiscretion of one of my friends who gave this chapter to an English correspondent, the description of the execution in Orel has been printed and reprinted in many newspapers. This narration created a sensation in Russian government spheres and the whole book is falsely interpreted as a denunciation of the Russian conduct of administration…I urgently ask you to make these corrections in the German translation as well as in the Russian text. Your failure to carry out my wish will cause me much distress…[translation]

Catalogue Note

This letter goes to the very heart of Tolstoy’s predicament as an author and thinker: the struggle to speak out on morality and liberty in the claustrophobic environment of the Tsarist state in its precarious last decades. In the twenty years between Anna Karenina and Resurrection Tolstoy had concentrated on writing philosophical, educational and religious works, which the authorities vainly tried to suppress. He became involved with the plight of the Doukhobors, a peasant Christian sect, whose ideas were close to Tolstoy’s precepts. They espoused chastity, teetotalism, vegetarianism, the sharing of property and non-resistance to evil by force. Their anti-militaristic attitudes set them at loggerheads with the Russian regime and they were persecuted and massacred as a result. Tolstoy came to their aid with an article, The Persecution of Christians in Russia in 1895. This was published in The Times in London. These same themes permeate The Kingdom of God is within you and his final novel Resurrection. Tolstoy had begun work on The Kingdom of God in the last months of 1890. It began as an article, extended into a book. He finished it in August 1893. The events of this letter are alluded to in his diary entry for 16 August:

…I finished and sent off an article Non-action both in French and Russian;…and most important, an excerpt from my book appeared abroad about the Orel affair and sparked off a lot of fuss and bother and reactions and misunderstandings and slanderous remarks…(i.325)

The execution in Orel is in chapter 12. It describes a punitive expedition by the tsarist authorities to quell a riot in the city in south-west Russia. Tolstoy could not publish the book in Russia, so he sent it to Germany where it appeared in translation in 1894. Some chapters had been published elsewhere and caused the furor reported here by Tolstoy. The recipient, Löwenfeld handled the publication in Berlin. He was the author of Graf Leo N. Tolstoy, Sein Leben, Seine Werke, Seine Weltanschauung (Berlin, 1892), which appeared in Russian translation in 1904.This important letter shows one of the greatest of all novelists coping with the problems of the censor, a feature of Russian life before and after the Revolution and which resonates still today.