Party Like It's 1908 With This Rare Footage of Tolstoy's 80th Birthday


Last year, after Joe Wright released his film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, sales of Tolstoy’s books increased, and the author returned to the spotlight. Considered one of the greatest novelists of all time, Tolstoy is best known for his two lengthy novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as well as a variety of short stories and essays. Considering that themes of life and death feature prominently in his novels, you have to wonder how such a contemplative author celebrated his birthday. Well, thanks to some some recently discovered footage of Tolstoy’s 80th birthday party, we can honor what would have been Tolstoy's 185th birthday by joining him, and partying like its 1908.

The video begins with Tolstoy and his wife arriving in a horse-drawn carriage. Unlike many authors, Tolstoy came from a wealthy family, and maintained that wealth for the majority of his life. His riches were especially handy when he was a university student. Tolstoy faced a lot of problems while studying Oriental languages and law, one of which was that girls did not find him interesting. Tolstoy’s solution? Like many wealthy young men before and since, he dropped out of school in order to pursue drinking, gambling, and women.

The next scene in the video shows Tolstoy standing in a crowd of children large enough to rival the cast of characters in his epic novels. Despite coming from a well-off family, Tolstoy deeply appreciated the role of peasants and farmers, which is why he featured them prominently in his novels.

Every good party involves that one person who fills up his or her bag with party snacks and favors. My favorite part of the video comes next, when a woman, most likely Tolstoy’s wife, is either picking flowers or stuffing fruits in her bag. Either way, she certainly looks suspicious. Tolstoy married Sofia Behrs, who was 16 years his junior, and the couple had eight children. As if having so many kids to take care of wasn’t enough, Sofia also aided her husband with his writing; she copied all 1225 pages of War and Peace by hand, and did so seven times. However, Sofia’s dedication faltered when Tolstoy turned away from material possessions, and toward religion.

Tolstoy’s 80th birthday party was almost certainly the event of the year in 1908. We should all scold ourselves for not attending it.