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Was Tolstoy’s father God?

Posted on 17 May 2010, 21:35

From his youthful and sneering atheism, Tolstoy discovered a great joy in God in later life. ‘I was filled with such joy,’ he writes, ‘and such a firm assurance did I gain of him! And my joy grew so great that all these last days I have been experiencing the feeling that something very good has come to me, and I keep asking myself, ‘Why do I feel so happy? Yes, God! There is a God, and I need never be anxious nor afraid, but can only rejoice.’

Yet amid this wonderful happiness, he also counsels restraint in our dealings with God: ‘In establishing your religion, it is best to leave God in peace…and refrain from attributing to him will, desire and even love…understand him to be completely beyond our comprehension.’

I am haunted by the phrase ‘leave God in peace’, for it seems to come from nowhere. But I wonder: Tolstoy’s mother died when he was two, and his father when he was nine. His father was away from home alot, pursuing various legal causes. But when he was at home, he allowed his children to sit in his study sometimes, as he pursued his business, and met with clients and advisors. What warmth, security and joy the children must have felt at such times - just to be with their father, even if he wasn’t attending to them. Yet no doubt they also will have heard, as childish shouts interrupted father’s business, ‘Leave me in peace!’

Sometimes, Tolstoy is happy for his God to be loving. At other times, it is deemed an inappropriate description. ‘And nor should love be demanded!’ he says - as no doubt little Leo had learned, long long ago. 


I read the quote in the context taken from the source cited. The author of the article, Taber Shabaneh used it as a statement of the inaccessibilty of GOD not of a “father.” Simon’s reading of it and taking it to Tolstoy’s family. If nothing else, in his later years Tolstoy was breaking from family and its ties and dedicating himself exclusively to God, not leaving God in peace, but begging for explanations and happiness. My initial comment was skewed for I accepted Simon’s take on the quote and went from there. Now, after reading Shabeneh’s article, I see that Simon used it to launch a talk on family values—which is fine, but not accurate if invoking Tolstoy especially at the end of his life.

(And, by the way who is Shabaneh, but a student writing something for a Lit Class? This is not a “scholarly source” and thus should be of limited value to quote . Like all of us, Shabaneh was a student with his own take on the Great man; still it was not a valid or validated source, but simply one student’s opinion.

I am sorry I began this exchange. These are my final thoughts on it.

Patricia, Fri 25 Jun, 17:12


I came across the phrase supposedly written by Tolstoy on October 2nd 1910. It is called “Tolstoy and the question of death.”
I hope this helps.

Jon, Wed 23 Jun, 16:09

I have never seen this statement in my studies of Tolstoy.. this “leave God in peace.” Could you cite the source? I agree that early loss of Tolstoy’s mother rendered him and his brothers lonely for her and that his father was a bit of a rogue, often not at home, leaving the boys in the care of their aged aunts. I would believe more that Tolstoy aligned himself with God—rather pompus and self-ordained priest of sorts that he was—which I attribute to his early motherlessness (and fatherlessness).  At any rate, I think Tolstoy’s admonition, such as you have quoted it, would be more about his feeling like a “god” and his wishing to be left in peace, free from the demands and pleas of his needy followers… just an opinion…  Patricia

Patricia, Tue 22 Jun, 04:20

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