The Tolstoy museum


Back in 1978 I spent a few days with a tour group in Moscow. The guides got tired of us after a while, and let us go off on our own. I noticed that some of the classic authors – Gorky, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy – had small museums dedicated to them around the city, and I decided to visit the Tolstoy museum.



It took me forever to find it; it was an inconspicuous door on a side street. I rang, and two old ladies ushered me in, babbling in Russian (I knew only a few words in Polish, which is close to Russian, but not close enough for me to fake it most of the time.) They showed me the house, which was small but magnificent; it was Tolstoy’s pied-a-terre in Moscow, full of beautiful furniture, and manuscripts displayed everywhere.



Finally the old ladies brought me into the library. There were at least fifteen or twenty folding chairs set up, and I was the only visitor; they sat me down in the front row, and got out an old Edison cylinder machine, and got it set up, and –  well, I didn’t know what to expect.



Finally, from the Edison cylinder, I heard something: a man’s voice, scratchy, evidently reading from something. The two old ladies were staring at me, waiting for my response.




Aha. This was a recording of Tolstoy himself, reading (presumably) from one of his own books. And the museum ladies were waiting for my response.



I gave them everything I had. I told them it was good, in Polish (which they may or may not have understood). I smiled.



And they seemed to be very happy, having shared their museum with me.



This is one of my best memories from my trip to Russia. It seems like a dream now, of course; I barely remember the details of the house, or of the sound of Tolstoy’s voice, or what the old ladies looked like.



But I do remember how lovely I felt as I left.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

2 Responses to The Tolstoy museum

  1. starproms says:

    Lovely memories Loren. You have been to many interesting places.

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