About the Book
The theme of the peasantry is central
throughout most of Tolstoy’s long career. His obsession with this class is seen
not just as a matter of social or humanitarian concern, but as a response to
the questions of “how to live a good life” and “what is the meaning of life
that an inevitable death will not destroy?” questions that plagued his entire
The letters he exchanged with the four
major peasant sectarian writers (Bondarev, Zheltov, Verigin, and Novikov)
reveal not only Tolstoy as a profound thinker, but his correspondents also, as
they converse on subjects concerning religious-moral questions, the meaning of
life and how one should strive to find it, along with a wide array of burning
social and personal problems. An analysis, and a consecutive reading of the
letters (provided with extensive annotations) as a unified whole, elucidates
the progressive development of the ideas they held in common (and where these
diverged) and which guided Tolstoy’s and his correspondents’ lives.
The juxtaposition of Tolstoy’s letters
with those of his four sectarian correspondents makes them even more
significant by showing them in their original context of a dialogue, or
conversation. Also, with the aim to present the conversation in an even broader
context, Andrew Donskov briefly discusses Tolstoy’s relationship with peasants
in general as well as with each of the four individual writers in particular.
In addition, he has provided a background sketch of two major religious groups,
namely the Doukhobors and Molokans, both of which still claim sizeable
populations of followers in North America today.
published in 2008 by the Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa under
the title Leo Tolstoy and Russian peasant
sectarian writers: Selected correspondence, the expanded University of
Ottawa Press edition includes 44 new letters never published in English, out of
the total 155 letters.