Tolstoy as Diarist

January 15, 2015

What do you do if you’re Leo Tolstoy, 20 years old and being treated in isolation for venereal disease? Start a diary, of course. Because you’re Tolstoy, you’ll probably use this diary to make a plan of your day, and then comment on how your actual activities line up with your ideals (“not quite,” usually). And, to be as Tolstoy-ish as possible, why not rate all your actions on a general moral scale? An example: “Arose somewhat late and read, but did not have time to write. Poiret came, I fenced, and did not send him away (sloth and cowardice). Ivanov came, I spoke with him for too long (cowardice). Koloshin (Sergei) came to drink vodka, I did not escort him out (cowardice).” And so on. For some long-term perspective, pair with The Millions‘s perennially popular “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? 8 Experts on Who’s Greater.”

is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York and every so often writes things at

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