Skip to main content


Tolstoy's False Disciple

Alexandra Popoff

Hardcover

List Price: 28.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Description

On the snowy morning of February 8, 1897, the Petersburg secret police were following Tolstoy's every move, and he was always in the company of a man named Certkov. At sixty-nine, Russia's most celebrated writer was being treated like a major criminal, and had abandoned his literary pursuits and become a spiritual mystic, angering the Orthodox church and earning both the admination and ire of his countrymen. Tolstoy was recognizable enough, with his peasant garb and beard, but who was the man who towered over Tolstoy, twenty years younger, with a cold, impenetrable look on his face?This man, Chertkov, was a relative to the Tsars and nephew to the chief of the secret police and represented the very things Tolstoy had renounced—class privilege, unlimited power, and wealth—and yet Chertkov fascinated and attracted Tolstoy. He would become the writer's closest confidant, reading even his diary, and at the end of Tolstoy's life, Chertkov had him in his complete control, preventing him from even seeing his own wife on his deathbed.


Praise For Tolstoy's False Disciple

Popoff draws on long unavailable archival materials, including Chertkov's letters to examine the relationship that tore apart Tolstoy's family and threatened his literary legacy. Chertkov's motives may have gone beyond greed, obsession or love of fame. How could the author of some of the world's most psychologically penetrating fiction fall in love with a third-rate con man?

Popoff, who had exclusive access to Chertkov’s letters to Tolstoy, constructs a narrative of a toxic, controlling friendship, in which Chertkov manipulated Tolstoy for his own gain and damaged the aging author’s fragile relationships with his family. Popoff deftly interweaves archival and secondary sources.

Popoff’s Tolstoy’s False Disciple ought to be seen as the bookend to her biography of Sophia: Having earlier set out to resurrect the reputation of Tolstoy’s wife, she has now set out to bury the reputation of the man considered to have been Tolstoy’s most ardent follower. Revelatory and deeply disturbing.


Ms. Popoff’s Tolstoy’s False Disciple ought to be seen as the bookend to her biography of Sophia: Having earlier set out to resurrect the reputation of Tolstoy’s wife, she has now set out to bury the reputation of the man considered to have been Tolstoy’s most ardent follower. Revelatory and deeply disturbing. Chertkov’s baleful influence has been noted by others before, but Ms. Popoff’s book is the most damning indictment to date.


The strange tangled story of the friendship — perhaps love is a better word — between Tolstoy and Vladimir Chertkov has engaged, tantalized, and befuddled biographers and lovers of Tolstoy for a century or more. It’s a riveting tale of discipleship and betrayal, with many sides to every point. The mysteries have, to a wonderful degree, been explored in detail with a great deal of fresh evidence by Alexandra Popoff, a brilliant biographer and Russian scholar. I admire her work here immensely.
— Jay Parini, author of "The Last Station"

Popoff’s writing flows with narrative ease, smoothly integrating historical data including information from memoirs written by friends, along with brief summaries of Tolstoy’s original writings alongside Chertkov’s alterations. Thanks to scholars and researchers like Popoff, much of Tolstoy’s original works can now be restored.

An impressive work of seminal archival research and scholarship. A profound and invaluable contribution for students of Tolstoy's life and work. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented.

Popoff, who had exclusive access to Chertkov’s letters to Tolstoy, constructs a narrative of a toxic, controlling friendship, in which Chertkov manipulated Tolstoy for his own gain and damaged the aging author’s fragile relationships with his family.

Well-researched. The book is fascinating—and it fills a gap, providing the first full account of the bizarre relationship between a great man and his 'moral antipode.'

A well-written, polemical view of Tolstoy’s self-appointed vicar on earth.

Pegasus Books, 9781605986401, 400pp.

Publication Date: November 15, 2014



About the Author

Alexandra Popoff is the author of the award-winning biography Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography. She has written for Russian national newspapers and magazines in Moscow and, as an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow, published articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer and its Sunday magazine. She has also contributed to The Huffington Post and The Boston Globe. Popoff lives in Canada where she obtained post-graduate degrees in Russian and English literature.