June 28, 2018

Leo Tolstoy, radical dad


Tolstoys, père and fille.

“He used to put us on the carpet. We would sit on the carpet, and he would go around dragging us on this carpet all round the dining room.”

That’s a daughter remembering her dad, who happens to be Leo Tolstoy — writer, thinker, radical Christian pacifist anarchist, infinite-minded weirdo, huggable beardo, and Melville House author. Tolstoy is a guy it’d be nice to have around these days.

We don’t, but we do have this truly fascinating BBC documentary about him, featuring his equally extraordinary daughter, Alexandra Tolstoy — a World War I veteran and humanitarian who emigrated to the US in 1929, where she founded and, for nearly forty years, ran the Tolstoy Foundation. The organization’s purpose was to “build public support for international refugee relief efforts and to effect changes in U.S. immigration laws,” and Tolstoy herself was instrumental in Congress’s passage, seventy years ago this week, of the Displaced Persons ActEleanor Roosevelt once said of her, “Countess Tolstoy by her own enthusiasm and devotion inspires you greatly with a desire to be helpful to this group of harassed human beings.”

In the video, Tolstoy is wonderfully compelling, sharing her recollections of the life of Tolstoys at play, her father’s excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church, and his notorious, quasi-suicidal death. It’s entirely worth your time: