The Very Last Days of Leo Tolstoy Captured on Video

103 years ago today (Novem­ber 20), Leo Tol­stoy, who gave us two major clas­sics in the Russ­ian tra­di­tion, Anna Karen­i­na and War & Peace, died at Astapo­vo, a small, remote train sta­tion in the heart of Rus­sia. Pneu­mo­nia was the offi­cial cause. His death came just weeks after Tol­stoy, then 82 years old, made a rather dra­mat­ic deci­sion. He left his wife, his com­fort­able estate and his wealth and trav­eled 26 hours to Shar­mardi­no, where Tolstoy’s sis­ter Marya lived, and where he planned to live the remain­der of his life in a small, rent­ed hut. (Elif Batu­man has more on this.) But then he pushed on, board­ing a train to the Cau­ca­sus. And it proved to be more than his already weak con­sti­tu­tion could bear. Rather amaz­ing­ly, the footage above brings you back to Tol­stoy’s very last days, and right to his deathbed itself. This clip comes from a 1969 BBC series Civil­i­sa­tion: A Per­son­al View by Ken­neth Clark, and these days you can still find copies of Clark’s accom­pa­ny­ing book kick­ing around online. A big thanks to Mike S. for flag­ging the video and the anniver­sary itself.

Note: You can find many of Tol­stoy’s major works in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks col­lec­tions.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Record­ing: Leo Tol­stoy Reads From His Last Major Work in Four Lan­guages, 1909

How Leo Tol­stoy Learned to Ride a Bike at 67, and Oth­er Tales of Life­long Learn­ing

The Com­plete Works of Leo Tol­stoy Online: New Archive Will Present 90 Vol­umes for Free (in Russ­ian)

How Leo Tol­stoy Learned to Ride a Bike at 67, and Oth­er Tales of Life­long Learn­ing

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Comments (9)
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  • Here is some longer footage of Tol­stoy’s last days, when the old writer became the first celebri­ty of the new Russ­ian cin­e­ma.

    By the way, although Tol­stoy died 100 years before Novem­ber 20, 2010, he died on Novem­ber 7, 1910. (Shake­speare and Cer­vantes died on the same date, 23 April 1616, but not on the same day.)

  • Deniz says:

    “His death came just weeks after Tol­stoy, …” This seemed wrong to me, did you real­ly mean Tol­stoy in this sen­tence? I guess you intend­ed to type anoth­er famous artist — or I should­n’t write com­ments before I sleep 8 hours :)

  • Thorn daCosta says:

    Not only engross­ing for the footage of the great man but also the Pro­gram that framed and pre­sent­ed it in the 60s.

  • How is this, copy­rights-wise — has this use been autho­rised? I want­ed to send a point­er to this to the peo­ple from the Dan­ish-Russ­ian Asso­ci­a­tion, but not if it is just a video that some­one decid­ed to rip and stick on Youtube.

  • Rudy Rooz says:

    Curi­ous slip by Clark @ 2:11—“That scene took place in 1910. With­in 2 years Ruther­ford and Ein­stein had made their first dis­cov­er­ies.”

    Ruther­ford had already been award­ed the Nobel Prize for Chem­istry (not Physics) in 1908: “for his inves­ti­ga­tions into the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the ele­ments, and the chem­istry of radioac­tive sub­stances.” This, then, would gen­er­al­ly be regard­ed as his *first* dis­cov­ery; but not his most famous.

    That would be the Ruther­ford mod­el of the atom in 1911, which is “with­in” the 2 years referred to by Clark, just not Ruther­ford’s “first” dis­cov­ery.

    Ein­stein’s first sem­i­nal works, includ­ing the spe­cial the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty, appeared in 1905. It could be argued, how­ev­er, that he made his “first” dis­cov­ery (e.g., explain­ing cap­il­lary action), before that date. His first, for­mal, sci­en­tif­ic paper on that top­ic was pub­lished in 1901. EIther way, his “first” dis­cov­er­ies were made well before 1910.

    His mag­num opus on the gen­er­al the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty (grav­i­ta­tion), appeared in 1916; well beyond the 2 year ref­er­ence. Between 1910 and 1912 (inclu­sive) Ein­stein pub­lished 21 sci­en­tif­ic papers.

  • Kenneth Bergo says:

    “How do peas­ants die?” I read War & Peace on the train every­day on my way to NYC, I did it because evry­one said it was to long and I’d nev­er do it. I loved it, espe­cial­ly the parts about Napolean

  • Richard Drew says:

    The Last Days of Leo Tol­stoy Cap­tured on Video, NO! Cap­tured on FILM!

  • Colin Smith says:

    Tol­stoy fled his home to get away from his wife, who was men­tal­ly unsta­ble and harangued him cease­less­ly. I believe she man­aged to track him down and ambushed him at the rail­way sta­tion. He prob­a­bly was hap­py to give up the ghost I’ve known many hag-rid­den men who have fled from dement­ed wives.

  • M.Hunter says:

    Fatal error – these scenes were cap­tured on FILM; video did not exist in 1910!

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