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a joint project of the
Centre for Research on Canadian-Russian Relations
at Carleton University
and the
Slavic Research Group
at the University of Ottawa

Leo Tolstoy and the
Canadian Doukhobors:
an historic relationship


Andrew Donskov

Dedicated to the memory of
Lidija Dmitrievna Gromova

Cover art by Doukhobor artist
Jan Kabatoff

Cover layout by Pierre Bertrand

xiv + 473 pp.


Published at Ottawa by the
Centre for Research on Canadian-Russian Relations
Carleton University


ISBN 0-88927-320-0

A L L   T E X T   I N   E N G L I S H

* Guest essays by three prominent Doukhobors:
artist Jan Kabatoff
historian Eli A. Popoff
ethnographer Koozma J. Tarasoff
* Archival documents by Sergej L'vovich Tolstoy
and Sofia Andreevna Tolstaja
* 32 archival letters on Tolstoy and the Doukhobors
* Doukhobor timeline
* Chronology of 500 of Tolstoy's letters concerning Doukhobors
* 48 illustrations
* Bibliography and index of names

Distributed by
Penumbra Press

THIS STUDY, based in good part on a variety of hitherto unpublished documents (government and official Orthodox Church reports, diaries and letters, as well as Tolstoy's treatises and works of fiction), and complemented by guest essays, oral interviews and questionnaires, seeks to trace (both historically and from literary sources), the nature of the evolving relationship between one of Russia's greatest writers (along with members of his family) and the people known as the Doukhobors, to whom he was a kindred spirit, lending his moral and financial support to their emigration en masse to Canada in 1899.

A pragmatist, Tolstoy was not content to confine his creative output to the philosophical plane.  He was constantly searching for practical examples to illustrate his theories and ideas on the attainment of truth and on the meaning of life.  He had for some time been looking to the simple peasant way of life to satisfy this need.  It was in the Doukhobors' beliefs and especially in their lifestyle, their honest toil and living from the land, their communal sharing, their pacifist principles, the love of God they cherished within  themselves and their endeavours to follow Christís teachings in deed more than in word, that Tolstoy saw the practical embodiment of the ideals he himself would have liked to achieve.

In other words, Tolstoy needed the Doukhobors to provide a tangible illustration of the inseparability of the spiritual and the practical, and this endeared him to successive generations of the sect's members, especially in view of the close commonality of their outlook on life.  Their symbiotic relationship is summed up in a statement from his letter to them of 1897: "You are taking the lead, and many are grateful to you for that.Ö  There is so much I would like to tell you and so much to learn from you."

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From the Introduction

While a number of studies exist on the subject of Tolstoy and the Doukhobors, no one has systematically investigated their relationship (not to mention the involvement of other Tolstoy family members) from its beginning in the 1880s right up to Tolstoy's death in 1910, or included in their study the views of current Doukhobors on the subject. 
   In this work, my objective is to provide a sustained and detailed study of how both parties (including Tolstoy's family) viewed the other and how each drew upon the other's ideas and activities, to investigate the extent and nature of the involvement of Tolstoy and his family in the Doukhobors' affairs, to examine the consequences of their actions and the personal sense of fulfilment they derived from their involvement.
   My investigation will be based on a study of (a) a half dozen of Tolstoy's articles on the Doukhobors, (b) more than 500 of his letters to or concerning the Doukhobors, (c) letters written to Tolstoy (both published and unpublished) by or concerning Doukhobors, (d) government and church reports and accounts, (e) the Doukhobor journal Iskra.  I shall also seek to explain the Doukhobors' role in at least two of Tolstoyís fiction works -- namely, the novel Resurrection (begun in 1889) and the play And the Light shineth in darkness (unfinished, begun in the late 1880s).

From Chapter 5: The Doukhobors in Tolstoy's writings

[On Resurrection:] No other work by Tolstoy in the last two decades of his literary activity was subjected to so many corrections and redactions, and the corrections themselves required multiple editings (for an example, see Illustration 28 below).  Add to that the pressure for haste felt by the author to raise the funds (through royalties from the novel) needed for the Doukhoborsí emigration. ... One can only imagine the writerís pain (for he was an incorrigible corrector of his own works) at having to compromise his principles in order to hasten the novel's publication (with a view to facilitating an earlier departure of the Doukhobors for Canada).  Not only that, but the novel owes its very existence as a published work to the Doukhobors -- at the Doukhobor Centenary conference in Ottawa in 1999 Lidija Gromova declared her conviction that "the novel Resurrection would have remained unfinished and unpublished if there had not been the need for funds to help relocate a persecuted people".


Click on the links below to see other volumes in the Canada-Russia Series
by members of the Slavic Research Group

Canada Russia Series -- Volume I Russian roots & Canadian wings: Russian archival documents on the Doukhobor emigration to Canada
Canada Russia Series -- Volume VII Leo Tolstoy and the Canadian Doukhobors: an historic relationship


Click on the links below to see our volumes in the Tolstoy Series

Tolstoy Series -- Volume I Sergej Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: a journey to Canada
Tolstoy Series -- Volume II L. N. Tolstoj i F. A. Zheltov: perepiska
> English translation of this volume
Tolstoy Series -- Volume III L. N. Tolstoj i S. A. Tolstaja: perepiska s N. N. Strakhovym / The Tolstoys' correspondence with N. N. Strakhov
Tolstoy Series -- Volume IV Novye materialy o L. N. Tolstom: iz archiva N. N. Guseva
/ New materials on L. N. Tolstoy: from the N. N. Gusev archive
Tolstoy Series -- Volume V Edinenie ljudjej v tvorchestve L. N. Tolstogo
/ The Unity of people in Leo Tolstoy's works
Tolstoy Series -- Volumes VI & VII L.N. Tolstoj--N.N. Strakhov: Polnoe sobranie perepiski
/ Leo Tolstoy & Nikolaj Strakhov: Complete correspondence