From Russia With Love
Tolstoy Does “Oprah”
"Last week, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina was announced as the Oprah's Book Club summer selection. This week, it’s No. 1 on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list.”—USA TODAY, June 9, 2004
Oprah: Now let's visit with our special guest today. He's a big-time novelist, the man who brought you our favorite, Anna Karenina, and blockbusters like War and Peace. He's here to promote his Confessions and his latest heretical pamphlets on art and Christianity. Please welcome Count Leo Tolstoy! [Tolstoy walks in, and he and Oprah hug. They sit.]
Oprah: I love your boots.
Tolstoy: Thank you. I made them.
Oprah: You made those boots?
Tolstoy: Yes, let no man be above the peasant. I used discarded pieces of cloth and bits of Russian squirrel.
Oprah: Amazing—and the tunic too?
Tolstoy: No, my troika driver Timofey wore this every hour for 22 years straight, until the night of the wolves. I carry on in his memory.
Oprah: That's so beautiful. So, last time you were here it was all about Anna Karenina, which we loved. [Applause] What's new?
Tolstoy: I have forsworn women, drink and all animal foods. And all my previous works. Elite trash.
Oprah: Right, so this must be the new radical Lev Nikolayevich everyone's talking about.
Tolstoy: Let them talk.
OPRAH: OK then. Let's get on to Confessions.
Oprah: There is some wild stuff here. You’ve said your younger days were pretty much full of—am I getting this right?—"vulgar licentiousness." What do you mean by that?
Tolstoy: This would not be fitting for national television, but I can say it involved distilled spirits and debauchery. Plus cards. And firearms. Occasionally bears.
Oprah: Right. Now about your gambling: you write that you "lost at cards" and "squandered the fruits of peasants' toil."
Tolstoy: I did. I loved cards, loved faro. Got in over my head with whist.
Oprah: But you’re out of debt?
Tolstoy: Yeah, I sold off two dozen serfs, and I haven't gambled in over 20 years.
Oprah: Twenty years, people. [Applause] Wow. You just went cold turkey?
Tolstoy: I did. But I found great solace in fallen women.
Oprah: I see.
Tolstoy: You take it one day at a time.
Oprah: Now, you were in the army a while too—in the Caucasus. Were the Russians as brutal as they say?
Tolstoy: Well, on their own, Russians are actually pretty careful about pillaging. I mean, they'll at least aim for enemy villages. But you throw in one Cossack...
Oprah: Really. You said nice things about Cossacks in your book.
Tolstoy: Who wouldn't? I'm no fool.
Oprah: You've been married a long time, right?
Tolstoy: Over 40 years. [Applause]
Oprah: Now your amazing wife, Sonya Andreyevna, is in the audience. I'm looking and—where did she go?
Tolstoy: I think she stepped out to give birth, but she should be back for the rest of the show.
Oprah: That's wonderful. [Applause] Will this be number 12, 13?
Tolstoy: Something like that. In wedlock, out of wedlock, whatever—I'm not a numbers man.
Oprah: But you do feel strongly about education, I understand. You even started a school for peasants on your estate?
Oprah: Wow, that must have been hard.
Tolstoy: Yes, serfs are suspicious and greedy.
Tolstoy: And forget about homework. It was always "the village idiot ate it."
Oprah: If you had a ruble for every time, right? Now before we go, what are you working on these days?
Tolstoy: Well, I'm mainly trying to dress in rags, give away my copyrights and land, and espouse radical Christianity.
Oprah: Well, that's just great. [Applause] Best of luck to you, Leo. We'll be right back with our next segment, when we'll be talking to Sophocles, author of Oedipus the King, about his thoughts on parents, kids and working through misunderstandings. [Applause and cut to commercial]