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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Tolstoy's Tomes




Hardly any other Russian writer has been as prolific as Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), a legendary figure who left behind mountains of manuscripts.


His published version of "War and Peace" alone amounts to four voluminous tomes, but the original manuscript is five times as long. Selected fragments that did not make it into the novel from the novel's variants were, in fact, published in a four volume set, which included several different opening pages.


Furthermore, an earlier version of his great novel was published earlier this year. Criticized for its scandalously short text (it was 800 pages long) and for its controversial happy ending, it was nicknamed "War and Peace Lite."


The first and only complete works of Tolstoy were produced by the Soviet publishing house Goslitizdat in accordance with a decree signed by Lenin. Indeed, the Bolshevik leader loved Tolstoy as much as he hated Dostoevsky, which helped pave the way for the 90-volume set that was published from 1928 to 1958. The first 45 volumes of the set are devoted to Tolstoy's fiction and nonfiction, the next 13 to his diaries, and the last volumes to his letters.


However, due to the Soviet Union's tumultuous historic events, this mammoth collection was printed in a very limited number (usually only 5,000 per volume). The complete set is therefore very rare and expensive. Even its photomechanically made replica reprinted 10 years ago by the private Terra publishers was sold for the ruble equivalent of $2,500.


But this month Nauka turned a new page in the publication of Tolstoy's complete works. The academic publishing house produced its first volume of a 100-volume Tolstoy set. The 544-page tome contains his autobiographical trilogy, "Detstvo, Otrotchestvo, Yunost," ("Childhood, Adolescence, Youth") with detailed commentary. While critics have already heaped praise on the start of this long-awaited series, they expressed regret at the shamefully short print run (only 1, 500 copies) and concern at the slow pace of publication. At this rate, they worry, only their grandchildren will live long enough to buy the 100th volume.


In keeping with the Tolstoy theme, I must also mention another new release - Olga Safonova's history of the Bers family in Russia, "Rod Bersov." Bers was the maiden name of Tolstoy's wife, Sofia. Her great-grandfather, an army officer, came to Russia from Prussia in the middle of the 18th century. His descendants assimilated and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church. Many of Bers' male descendants became pharmacists and doctors, including Sofia's father, Andrei, who regularly attended Emperor Alexander II when he was in Moscow. A devoted sportsman, Andrei Bers used to receive his medical fee from the tsar in hunting dogs.


The book offers detailed information on dozens of Bers through two and a half centuries - including the 13 children of Leo and Sofia Tolstoy.


The book also reveals one juicy and little-known fact: Count Leo Tolstoy and another great Russian writer, Ivan Turgenev, were actually brothers-in-law. Andrei Bers, Leo Tolstoy's father-in-law, was a great womanizer. It turns out that among his illegal children was Ivan Turgenev's younger half-sister Varvara. She was born after Turgenev's mother had an affair with her family doctor at the time - Andrei Bers.


According to family legend, Bers had other well-known illegitimate children, among them Prince Peter Kropotkin, one of the country's greatest anarchists.