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

by | Permalink | Comments (9) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (9)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.