He was a loud, eccentric and legendary personality, always at the center of scandal. The most outlandish representative of the distinguished Tolstoy clan, he was the prototype for many literary characters. He evoked both horror and admiration.
An indefatigable duelist and expert shot, he killed eleven men in duels. A heavy drinker and glutton, a cheater at cards, and
a dangerous scandalmonger, Fyodor Ivanovich Tolstoy – dubbed “the American”
(1782-1846) – was also a patriot and war hero, a faithful and
self-effacing friend, and a man who earned the admiration of many outstanding figures of the Golden Age of Russian culture. All agreed that Fyodor Tolstoy was a startlingly vivid and oversized personality.
Even Tolstoy’s appearance exceeded expectations. “His exterior appearance was striking,” recalled the memoirist Filip Vigel. “Nature had curled thick black hair tightly on his head; his eyes, probably reddened by heat and dust, seemed filled with blood, and his almost melancholy expression and quiet speech seemed to my horrified friends like a threatening abyss.” Tolstoy was of average height, had broad shoulders and a heavy, corpulent trunk, and a round face with “brutal” sideburns the width of a palm. To his enemies, he seemed like an emissary of the devil.
“He was not the best of the Tolstoys,” one of his descendants later wrote, “but I like people who are not susceptible to outside pressures and who can never be yoked by the authorities.”
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