Four Seasons Magazine, March 2012

"Moscow's Literary Life"

He was the most famous man in Russia, the author of War and Peace, whose ornate life traversed a complex path from lustful aristocrat to spiritual leader. By 1882, the last thing 54-year-old Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy wanted was to live in Moscow and join his wife Sonya at fancy soirees. In a capital city defined by its grand scale and lively society, Tolstoy sought simplicity and quiet.

Yet he was resigned to Sonya's wishes and the needs of educating their ten children, so he acquired a 16-room wooden house on the outskirts of Moscow's center, complete with a pleasingly lush garden. For 19 years until 1901, this would be their winter retreat, the place where he wrote A Day in the Life of Ivan Ilyich and more than a hundred other works. (Summers would be spent in the family birthplace, Yasnaya Polyana, a country estate about 150 miles away.)

A century after his death, the presence of Tolstoy and his family is touchingly evoked by the personal effects in room after room. Tolstoy took up bike riding when he was 67. He cobbled his own black leather boots. He wrote and recorded a waltz. As his eyesight worsened, he shortened the legs of his desk chair so he would be closer to his manuscripts. Visitors can see Sonya's finely stitched party dresses, the children's ice skates and the upstairs dining table set for soup.

It's hard to overestimate Tolstoy's impact in Russia. As biographer and translator Rosamund Bartlett notes, his stature exceeded that of the tsar at the end of the 19th century. Extraordinary, indeed. Yet he is not alone among revered Russian writers with outsized roles in the everyday life of Moscow, in the pre-Bolshevik period, during the Soviet era and today. Think Pushkin, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Gorky, Mayakovsky and Pasternak, to name a few. They lived here, walked the city's streets, captured it in prose and verse—often blurring the line for Muscovites between the real Moscow and the imagined...

(Full story available upon request.)

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