Essay: Lev Tolstoy and England
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Lev Tolstoy thought that the best literature for children was English so he wanted his children to study English to read books in the original. He invited Hanna Tarsey to come from England to teach and bring up his children. Hanna’s sister worked as a governess at the Tolstoys friends. The sisters came to Jasnaya Polyana when Lev Nikolaevich was in Moscow. His wife Sofja Andreevna did not speak English and was greatly confused. In her letter to Lev Tolstoy she told about her feelings at that moment, that she was really at a loss and described the English girl: “ Very young, rather nice, even pretty but we both don’t know each other’s native languages and it’s horrible”.
Little Tanya needed time to make friends with Hanna. First she used to run to her old baby-sitter and show her how ”jenglichanka” spoke imitating the unknown words and laughing. The old baby-sitter laughed too. Sometimes the girl quarrelled with Hanna, cried and went to her mother, pouting. But it was not because the governess was cruel but because the child was tired of trying to understand her foreign speech. But little by little they began to understand each other and liked each other. Tatyana repeated English words after Hanna all days long and the teacher was pleased. The little girl used to repeat words so much that began to repeat Russian words after her mother.
The mother of the family, Sofja Andreevna tried to make Hanna’s life in Jasnaya Polyana pleasant and interesting. She organised a special driving in a sledge for the kids and their governess. It was warm…Hanna was very happy and jumped with joy saying “ so nice” explaining that she loved Russia, Sofja Andreevna and the kids and that she was very happy.
Hanna and her sister Jenny were the daughters of a gardener of Windsor Palace in London. They were very good and honest girls. They knew their mother tongue very well, spoke English and wrote it perfectly. They were very industrious and were not afraid of any kind of work. More over, they were sure that work was necessary to be happy.
When Hanna left England and came to Russia she was 19 years old. She didn’t speak Russian at all. Tolstoy’s children and wife couldn’t speak English at the same time. Tatyana was almost a baby and she could hardly speak her own native Russian language at the moment. To understand each other they used smiles, gestures and tears and kisses – they are the same for every nation and language.
After coming to the Tolstoys Hanna tried to devote all her life completely to that Russian family as if she had left all her previous life far away. She was always gay, cheerful with some needlework in her hands. In winter and in summer she wore a clean light cotton dress and an apron. She was never in low spirits, she never complained about extraneous conditions of life and tried to find pleasant moments even in hard situations. The kids couldn’t even imagine that being a young pretty girl she could find her life in the Russian village rather dull and maybe sometimes she dreamt of some company of young people of her own nation. But she was rather proud to show such feelings to anybody if there were any of the kind…
Hanna brought some English traditions into Tolstoy’s family. She decided that it would be very good for the kids to have baths every day. She ordered a special bath for Tolstoy’s children from England that is still kept in Jasnaya Polyana. Then she paid attention to the floors and found out that in Russia floor was cleaned in the wrong way. So she ordered some brushes from England and cleaned and washed the floor in the kids’ nursery herself. And the most pleasant thing for the children was that skates from England were delivered and she taught the kids to skate. The skates were made of wood and only the blade and the screw were made of steel.
The children began to believe that Hanna was doing everything to make them good and happy. They always tried to obey her, though Tatyana and Ilya were very naughty by nature.
Sometimes Tolstoy’s daughter Tatyana said lies and Hanna was very pained by the fact. She herself never said lies as well as Sergey, Tolstoy’s eldest son. But Tanya was quite different – her mind was full of fantasies and sometimes she did not want to believe they were not real. But when she became an old woman she still remembered the moment Hanna burst into tears after the little girl said a lie to her. The tears made a great impression on the child like nothing else. Tatyana did not forget it even when she was over 60 years old. It was Hanna’s desert that the child stopped saying lies in the long run.
There were some funny moments in their life. Once some guests came to Jasnaya Polyana. It was already time to go to bed for the children, so Hanna took them to the nursery room. It was a rule to have a bath before going to bed. The eldest child Sergey was the first to have it and Tanya was the next. Hanna put the girl into the bathtub and soaped the girl’s head, then she turned back to take a jug of water and found out that the girl had disappeared. She looked all round the room but in vain because the girl was upstairs in the living room standing quite naked covered with soap crying cheerfully: ”Here is Tanya!” Her mother Sofia Andreevna was shocked, she grabbed the girl and brought her to the governess who was looking for Tanya following her wet footprints.
The children and Hanna lived on the ground floor of the house. The room they lived in was called the Vaulted Room. In ancient times it was used as a pantry for keeping food. There are big iron rings in the ceiling, in old times huge pieces of ham, bags with dry mushrooms and fruit were hanging there. But then the room was rebuilt and was used as the children’s nursery. It was very pleasant to stay there in hot summer as it was rather cool. The room consisted of two parts - the big one and the small one. Hanna lived in the small part of the room and the children (Sergey, Tanya and Ilya) lived in the big one.
The eldest child was Sergey. He was quite, serious, trustful and truthful. He was kind and open-hearted. Sometimes he was ashamed of showing his tender feelings. But for Tanya it was much more interesting to play with gay Ilya who had lively imagination and could understand all Tanya’s inventions. Sergey preferred to play alone. He had a doll with glittering porcelain hair and painted blue eyes. He called her Jenny after Hanna’s sister whom he loved very much. So he played with his Jenny always alone speaking to her in a low voice. Sometimes Tanya and Ilya tried to overhear what he was speaking but when he noted it he got ashamed, stopped talking, put Jenny aside and pretended not to pay attention to her.
Tanya was a very lively, naughty and gay girl, sometimes a great inventor and even a pretender. When she was a baby her cousins amused themselves in the following way: they knocked the baby slightly with her head against the wall and she put her hands to her eyes and pretended to be hurt and to be crying. She was squeaking so funny that the cousins laughed. The play continued till they knocked her really hard and she really began to cry.
Ilya was 1 year and a half younger than Tatyana. He was a healthy plump boy. Ilya was gay and hot-tempered but rather lazy and couldn’t make himself do or not to do anything which was prohibited. While walking he was always going far behind the others whimpering:” You didn’t wait for me-e-e-e!”
Three years later after Ilya Lev was born followed by Masha. These two children lived upstairs with their own nurse and were called “ the little ones”.
Sometimes Hanna went to her sister or to Tula to her English friends whom Lev Tolstoy found for her not to feel lonely in Russia. Tolstoy’s children lived in Jasnaya Polyana in summer and in winter. They were very close to nature and learnt to love it. They enjoyed their childhood in the country and were really happy to find the first green sweet-scented grass under a birch after long cold winter. Hanna understood their feelings and helped the kids to learn the names of all the trees and flowers in English.
Once in spring when snow was melting the children went for a walk with Hanna. It was March, the sun was shining brightly, larks were singing gaily in the blue sky, the ground was smelling nicely and grass just began to grow with little yellow flowers hiding in it. Tanya and Ilya always had what Englishman call “animal spirits”, sometimes they even lost control of themselves. And that was just the thing, which happened on that day. They did not obey Hanna and were galloping like young colts all around. They did not see puddles on the ground. When they reached their park they saw a small river there full of large pieces of ice and snow. The children ran up to the river and stepped together into it. Then they went along the river-bed against the flow. The water sometimes reached their chins, blocks of ice hit their breasts but they did not feel pain or tiredness and continued their journey. Only when Tanya got out of the river she felt how heavy and cold her clothes were. Her high boots were full of water. The children did not caught cold but were punished for their bad behaviour: it was prohibited for them to go for a walk for three days. They stayed at home and enjoyed talking about their wonderful experience.
Hanna took part in preparations for Christmas party. Together with children she was cooking a very large plum-pudding and making toys for decorating the fir-tree. They covered walnuts with cherry glue then put some stripes of golden paper on them and when they were ready the children put a pink ribbon around them as a loop and hang them on the branches of the fir - tree. Besides they made little baskets, cups, pans and boxes decorated with stars. The children’s mother Sofia Andreevna usually bought a lot of little wooden dolls before Christmas, she bought 100 as a rule or even more. Every child who came to the Tolstoys’ house on Christmas got such doll as a present.
The dolls did not have any clothes and Sofja Andreevna brought a big bundle of many-coloured rags to make them dresses. Hanna and the kids turned the dolls into girls and boys, angels, kings and queens. They turned them into Russian peasant women, Scots and Italians.
Sitting at the Christmas table the children felt very proud that they had taken part in the preparation of the plum-pudding helping Hanna to clean raisins, to shell nuts and crush them.
At the end of the party Sofja Andreevna and Hanna took toys and ginger-breads, apples and golden nuts and candies from the fir-tree and presented all the children with them including the peasant children from the Jasnaya Polyana village.
The Tolstoy children got some funny scent-bottles which looked like piglets, geese and goats.
Some days later when it was time to begin lessons the children looked as if they were ill because there was rash all over their faces and hands. Their mother and Hanna worried very much and put them streight into bed. But the children themselves did not feel as if they were ill and enjoyed drinking tea with raspberry jam and not doing their lessons. But at the same time it was a bit dull to stay in bed instead of running and skating and they jumped in their beds and were so naughty that Hanna lost patience at some moments and tried to convince Sofja Andreevna that the children were not ill at all. But their mother thought that they had caught some infection at the party from other children, maybe measles. They decided to call for a doctor. The doctor came from Tula. He examined the children, took their temperature, counted their pulse and asked them to show their tongues. Then he said that the children did not have measles and that it was not any kind of infection but some strange substance, which had contacted their skin. At that moment Tanya cried that the piglets, geese and goats were guilty and began to laugh. In the long run everybody understood that the scents from the funny bottles with which the children rubbed their faces and hands were the reason of the rash. The doctor ordered to throw away all the “piglets, geese and goats” immediately.
In winter (1872) Hanna felt ill. She had got some sad messages from England before. She was informed that her elder sister had died and her husband was left alone with 2 little daughters. Then her relatives wrote to her that her father was seriously ill. Hanna did not know what to do. She was going to come back to England. Sofja Andreevna was afraid that the children would be depressed after her departure and she did not want to part with Hanna because she was not only a very good governess for her children but her own trustful friend as well. Soon a new message from England came informing Hanna that her father had died. She was in great sorrow crying much. The children also cried about that unknown gardener of Windsor Palace whose daughter they loved so much.
Then some more letters came and the Tolstoys felt at a loss and even cross because Hanna dead sister’s husband asked her to come to England and merry him. And Hanna’s relatives in their letters asked her to do the same and take care of the orphans.
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