A Confession

James Meek writes:

The crystallisation of Tolstoy’s transition from worldly, hedonistic, materialistic author, as he saw it, to moral, holy exemplar, with a new set of Christian rules, was his 1882 memoir,A Confession.

It was according to these rules that Tolstoy took the death of his son as a blessing. In A Confession, he runs through a version of his past: he pursued fame, money and pleasure, killed men in war, married, had children, and at the moment when he was at the height of his powers and had everything a man could seem to want, he lost interest in life and had to take measures to avoid the temptation of suicide. He began an intellectual quest for meaning, but found meaning instead in the Christian faith of the narod, the common folk, who accepted whatever happened to them as the will of God:

These people accept sickness and grief without question or resistance but calmly, in full certainty that this had to happen and could not be otherwise, it was all for the good . . . these people live, suffer and approach death with a tranquil spirit, more often than not with joy . . . a difficult, complaining and unhappy death is the ultimate rarity among the common people.

(LRB 22 July 2010)

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