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The Devil

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
Towards the end of 1880, when he was fifty-two, Tolstoy one day approached the young tutor who lived in his house at Yasnaya Polyana, and in great agitation asked him to do him a service. The tutor, seeing Tolstoy so moved, asked what he could possibly do for him. In an unready voice Tolstoy replied: "Save me, I am falling!" The tutor, in alarm, inquired what was the matter, to which Tolstoy replied: "I am overcome by sexual desire and feel a complete lack of power to retrain myself. I am in danger of yielding to the temptation. Help me!" "I am a weak man myself," replied the tutor. "How can I help you?" "You can, if only you won't refuse!" "But what must I do to help you?" "This! Come with me on my daily walks. We will go out together and talk, and the temptation will not occur to me." They set out together, and Tolstoy told the tutor how during his daily walks he had encountered Domna, a young woman of twenty-two who had recently been engaged as the servants' cook. This Domna was a tall, healthy, attractive young woman with a fine figure and beautiful complexion, though not otherwise particularly handsome. At first for some days he had found it pleasant to watch her. Then he had followed her and whittled to her. After that he had walked and talked with her, and at last had arranged a rendezvous with her. The spot was in a distant alley on the estate; to reach it from the house one had to pass the windows of the children's schoolroom. When setting out past those windows next day to keep the appointment, he had gone through a terrible struggle between the temptation and his conscience. Just then his second son had called to him through the window, reminding him of a Greek lesson that had been fixed for that day, and this had detained Tolstoy. He woke as it were, and was glad to have been saved from keeping the appointment. But the temptation dill tormented him. He tried the effect of prayer, but it did not free him. He suffered but felt powerless and as if he might yield at any moment. So as a last resource he resolved to try the effect of making a full confession to someone—giving all particulars of the strength of the temptation that oppressed him and of his own weakness. He wished to feel as thoroughly ashamed of himself as possible, and he had decided to ask the tutor to accompany him on his daily walk, which usually he took alone. He also arranged that Domna should be removed to another place. After the danger was over Tolstoy seldom referred to the incident unless to those who spoke to him of their own sexual difficulties, but on one occasion he wrote a full account of it to a friend. The incident resulted in his writing this story, The Devil—the hero of which yields to a temptation such as that Tolstoy had encountered. It was composed some ten years later, but was not published during Tolstoy's lifetime; nor did it appear in the English edition of his posthumous works issued by Nelson & Sons. It is now translated into English for the first time. Tolstoy had vividly imagined the consequences that might have resulted from yielding to the temptation, and used that mental experience for his story, employing fictitious characters placed in surroundings with which he was familiar and such as those amid which the incident had occurred. The relations of the sexes in Russian society of his day resembled that in English society to-day more than in English society of that period—when, both in literature and in life, repression and suppression of passion was more common. When in Kreutzer Sonata and in The Devil he expressed the views he held, Tolstoy was consciously opposing the current of life around him, and these works also run counter to the movement of our own society to-day.