Monday, January 5, 2015

EMPTYING CHAMBER POTS (Tolstoy Late in His Life)

Late in Tolstoy's life the young English writer Desmond MacCarthy came on a visit to the Yasnaja Polyana estate. Tolstoy took him aside:

"You must empty your own chamber pot. It is demeaning to ask the servants to do this."

A few minutes later Tolstoy's wife, Sof'ja Andreevna, took him aside:

"I must ask you, most strictly, not to empty your own chamber pot. We pay our lazy servants to work!"

Young MacCarthy found himself in something like the position of the character Luke (in the film "Cool Hand Luke"), when one of the guards makes him dig a hole, then another comes along and orders him to fill it in, and then the first comes along, berates him, and tells him to dig again.

MacCarthy improvised a solution to his problem--he found a tree to get behind on the grounds of the estate.

Such were the relations of Tolstoy and his wife, especially for the last few decades of his life: whatever he said she was against, whatever she said he was against. Writing the greatest novel about families and conjugal relations in all of world literature (Anna Karenina) did not prepare Tolstoy for the tribulations of his own family life in years to come.

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