Yasnaya Polyana – Tolstoy’s manor house

So many famous people visited Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana, you can almost hear their ghostly voices talking, arguing, laughing in the lilac-scented air. There are pictures of Chekhov sitting with Tolstoy on one of the front steps and on the wooden veranda at the sie of the house.

The manor house is typical in style of a nineteenth century landowner’s house in central Russia. It looks massive from the outside, but actually most of the rooms are on a very human scale. The use of birch wood throughout gives the house a warm glow.

We enter the house on the left-hand side as you look at it.

The entrance hall itself is quite small and dark. The clock in the hall (not visible in my photographs unfortunately) stands at 6.05, the time at which he died.

Stairs from the hall lead up to the dining room which includes several famous portraits of the writer, including two by Repin. All the furniture and items are original. Tolstoy’s library included 30,000 books, most of which have been retained.

Before she died in 1919, Tolstoy’s wife, Sofia Andreyevna made an inventory of all the items in the house and where they were located. During the Second World War the contents of the house were packed up and shipped to Omsk for storage and then brought back at the end of the war. Her inventory was used to ensure that everything was put back in its place.

In fact Yasnaya Polyana did not escape the ravages of the war, as the Germans occupied it for 45 days and one room was badly damaged by bombing. However, all the rooms have their original flooring.

In his study, his writing desk has been preserved and covered in glass. The chair he used looks quite low in relation to the desk: as he was short-sighted he liked to be close to the paper he was writing on and, as his eyesight got worse, he had the legs sawn shorter.

Behind his desk against the wall is an old black leather sofa – the same sofa that he was actually born on.

On one of the study’s walls are five engravings of angels / religious figures, and the same five engravings are also to be found on a wall in Dostoyevsky’s home in St Petersburg. They happen to have been given to both writers by the same person. The curious fact is that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, two of the greatest Russian writers of the second half of the nineteenth century, never met. The closest they came to it was when they both attended an overcrowded lecture in St Petersburg in 1878.

Tolstoy and his wife has separate bedrooms, as was the custom in those days. On our visit, Sofia Andreyevna’s is closed ‘for repairs’. Tolstoy’s simple iron bed has a cover embroidered for him by his wife.

There are a couple of smocks that she sewed for him hanging on the wall. Here also hang a shooting stick and a stouter walking stick he used when he broke his foot. Until late in life he remained very fit, lifting weights every morning and doing pull ups on the wardrobe.

In the room where his two secretaries worked there’s an old Remington typewriter and a ‘copy press’ which was used to make copies of letters.

All the post that was addressed to Tolstoy was only opened by him – on average he received about 30 letters a day. On the day he died his wife gave instructions that no more post addressed to him should be opened and there are still a couple of unopened envelopes on display.

On the ground floor is a vaulted room that in earlier times had been used as a food store (in fact you can still see metal rings in the ceiling from which, presumably, meat was hung). It’s in this room that Tolstoy began to write War and Peace, and elsewhere in the house there is a portrait by Repin showing him at work in this very room. His poor, long-suffering wife used to make the fair copies of his manuscripts because his handwriting was so difficult to read and wrote out the manuscript of War and Peace twelve times with all his corrections. It is also said that Sofia Andreyevna used to dress up in the dresses that his female characters wore when he was writing to help him with the accurate description of their clothing.

The final room that is open to visit is the study that Tolstoy used when he was writing Anna Karenina, in fact he wrote the whole novel here. It’s interesting to note that there is a picture of Dickens on the wall, Tolstoy’s favourite writer. It was to here to that his coffin was brought from Astapovo station where he died and people came to pay their last respects to him, filing in from the hall and then on out through the French window.

It was also through the same French window that his coffin was carried out to its final resting place on the estate.

Many manor houses and estates were burnt down and destroyed during the Revolution, but the Bolsheviks stationed a detachment of troops here to protect it from rampaging peasants and in 1921 it was turned into a national museum.

Yasnaya Polyana is such a beautiful and peaceful place that you can understand why Tolstoy loved it. He said that it was like a microcosm of Russia and that he couldn’t exist without it.