The Tolstoys today: Tracking down a famous family

The importance of family values was a theme that Leo Tolstoy explored thoroughly in his work. His novel Anna Karenina presents the idea of family as something almost sacred, and one of the central characters in War and Peace, Countess Natasha Rostova, who is first depicted as a flighty and rather promiscuous girl, later finds real happiness with her family and her children. Tolstoy’s autobiographical trilogy, which comprises the novels Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, also revolves around his relationship with his relatives.

A devoted family man, Tolstoy had 13 children. Four died either in infancy or early childhood, while the rest mostly left Russia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. During Tolstoy’s lifetime, all his family members contributed to the dissemination of his literary work and legacy, a devotion that continued after the author passed away. Tolstoy’s wife, Sophia Andreyevna, copied – by hand, no less — War and Peace in its entirety numerous times; in 1917 his eldest daughter Tatyana became the first director of his memorial museum, Yasnaya Polyana, while his other daughters Maria and Alexandra were his aides and authorized representatives.


According to tolstoys.ru, there are currently almost 400 descendants of Leo Tolstoy living in different countries. Quite a few of them continue their famous ancestor’s work, preserve his legacy and study his many writings.


One of them is Vladimir Tolstoy, 52, who is Leo Tolstoy’s great-grandson. During the 1990s, he wrote several articles to notify the public about the illegal logging taking place on the grounds of Yasnaya Polyana estate, and in 1994 he was appointed the museum’s director. Under his management Yasnaya Polyana was revived and transformed into a major cultural center.


Incidentally, it was Vladimir Tolstoy who organized the first convention for Leo Tolstoy’s descendants in 2000, returning the family members to their roots. The convention has since become a traditional event and is held on the estate every two years.


In 2012, Vladimir Tolstoy became President Vladimir Putin’s cultural advisor, while his wife, Ekaterina Tolstaya, took over the role of Yasnaya Polyana’s director.

When 2015 was designated the Year of Literature in Russia, Vladimir Tolstoy was invited to take part in its organizing committee, an appointment that came off the back of his organizational role for 2014’s All Tolstoy in a Single Click project, which was of the major literary events of the year.

The project involved digitizing the complete works of Leo Tolstoy - comprising 90 volumes, including the writer’s letters and diaries – to make them available online free of charge. Several thousand volunteers from all over the world took part in the initiative, helping to proofread the digitized material.

“The work was presented as like a game, a competition of sorts: participants tried to do more than the others, proofreading as much as they could. It was a tremendous contribution for the future generations. I think we still do not fully comprehend the depth of what has been done,” says Vladimir Tolstoy.

“By creating an electronic version of his complete works, we actually fulfilled Leo Tolstoy's will – we made his work accessible to everyone,” says another great-granddaughter of the novelist, famous Russian TV presenter Fyokla Tolstaya, who managed the project.

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