Tolstoy Year in Tatarstan is underway, and we want to share some details about the famous writer's life during his stay in Kazan.
Leo Tolstoy's years in Kazan were reflected in some of his well-known novels and short stories, such as Childhood Adolescence Youth, After the Dance, A Landowner's Morning, The Cossacks, A Confession, and others.
The Tolstoy family's ties with Kazan emerged in the 18th century. The novelist's great-grandfather, Andrey Ivanovich Tolstoy, served here in the military as a second major in 1754 - 1759, and grandfather Ilya Andreevich was Governor of Kazan in 1815 - 1820 and was buried here. The latter's daughter, Pelageya, married local landowner Vladimir Yushkov. In 1841, she moved her several nephews, one of whom was Leo, and one niece to Kazan, acting as their foster parent. They settled at what is currently 15 Yapeev Street in Kazan and spent most of their time in the city there (1841 - 1845).
Older brother Nikolay transferred from Moscow University to Kazan University in 1841 and became a sophomore of the Division of Mathematics. Brothers Sergey and Dmitry enrolled in the same program in 1843. Sister Mary was admitted to the Rodionov Institute for Noble Maidens.
Leo, in his turn, chose the Division of Oriental Languages. On 29th May – 5th June 1844, he passed entrance exams. He received an excellent 5+ mark for his French, 5 for Turkish-Tatar, 4 for theology, algebra, Russian, and English, but failed history and geography. After re-taking the latter two subjects upon Rector's consent, he was admitted. However, Oriental languages didn't occupy his attention for too long.
From the very beginning, student Leo Tolstoy was involved in local social life with its many entertainments. An attractive young man from a well-reputed family was a welcome guest in every house. As historian Nikolay Zagoskin wrote, “Old people of Kazan remember him at all the balls, evenings and meetings, being invited everywhere and dancing everywhere.”
The tumultuous social life hindered studies. As per the exam results for the first year, Tolstoy wasn't allowed to progress. On 25th August 1845, he petitioned Vice-Rector Carl Voigt to be transferred to the Faculty of Law.
At first, he approached his education very seriously. However, he got a measly “2” at his exams in criminal law and history of civil law. In a private conversation, civil law teacher D. Meyer told one of the students, “He doesn't have a desire to study seriously, which is a pity; he has such intelligent eyes that I am sure he would become a remarkable man with some good will and self-reliance.”
For extracurricular work, Meyer advised Tolstoy to compare The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu and Nakaz by Catherine II. This led to some serious change in Tolstoy's outlook on political life and influenced his further development as a thinker. Tolstoy wrote in his diary, “My work with Nakaz and The Spirit of the Laws opened for me a new domain of autonomous intellectual work, and the University with its requirements didn't just not help in that work but stood in its way.”
On 12th April 1847, Tolstoy wrote to Rector Ivan Simonov and asked to remove him from the student ranks because of “ill health and domestic circumstances.” He left Kazan on 23rd April. Later, the famous thinker visited Kazan in 1851 when he left for a military assignment in Caucasus and in 1860s – 1870s during his river trips to Samara Governorate.
In 1908, the 80th anniversary of the then world-renowned novelist was celebrated. He was elected Honorary Member of Imperial Kazan University, and his portrait was placed in the Main Ballroom. A citation from the induction order says, “Count Tolstoy's spiritual and social connection to Kazan and his great literary works make him a worthy bearer of the name of an Honorary Member of Imperial Kazan University.”
Sad news about Tolstoy's death on 7th November 1910 resonated personally with many Kazanites. Students decided to make 8th November a day of remembrance and to abstain from entertainment, including the cancellation of a theater performance and the closing of a cinema. The students also sent a delegation to the writer's funeral.