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«УДК 82.091 L. Moore FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE: TOLSTOY, GANDHI AND ISABELLA FYVIE MAYO1 This article explores the activities of I.F. Mayo in the light ...»

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УДК 82.091

L. Moore



This article explores the activities of I.F. Mayo in the light of her relations with Leo

Tolstoy and M. Ghandi.

Key words: I.F. Mayo, L. Tolstoy, M. Gandhi, V. Chertkov, Tolstoy’s ethicalreligious teaching, Tolstoyans.

B y the end of the nineteenth century Count Leo Tolstoy was

probably the most famous living author in the world. He wrote and received thousands of letters2 and, as is well known, in 1909 and 1910 his correspondents included Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from South Africa [2. Vol. 9. P. 444–446, 528–29, 593. Vol. 10. P. 210, 306– 307, 505, 511– 514]. This chapter follows the activities of a Scottish woman, Isabella Fyvie Mayo, who was in contact with both men and was one of the first to write about the ideological rapport between them.

Isabella Fyvie Mayo (1843–1914) was an evangelical Christian Socialist. From the mid-1860s onwards she wrote slight novels, short stories and articles for the religious press and respectable family and children’s periodicals, such as the Girls’ Own Paper, The Quiver and The Sunday Magazine, often published under the pseudonym “Edward Garrett”3. From an early age she was greatly influenced by the maverick art critic and social reformer, John Ruskin, whom she described, in 1881, as the prophet of the present age4 [7]. Then, in autumn 1887, when she was forty-four, she discovered Leo Tolstoy’s writings while on a visit to Oxford. Like many of the people who were most strongly influenced by Tolstoy, her experience did not follow a typical ‘conversion’ trajectory5, With thanks to Richard Davies, University of Leeds Russian Archive, and the late Dr James Hunt, Shaw University N.C., and Jane Hunt.

The Tolstoy archives in Moscow contain over 9,000 letters from about 6,000 foreign correspondents: [1. P. 185–215].

For additional biographical and bibliographical information see: [3–5] and [6] (this useful introduction unfortunately contains some uncorrected errors due to the late Dr James Hunt’s illness).

Both Tolstoy and Gandhi were also influenced by Ruskin’s work, especially Unto this Last.

Charlotte Alston suggests many Tolstoyan ‘converts’ had an untypical conversion experience compared with other religious converts [8].

From Russia with Love: Tolstoy, Gandhi and Isabella Fyvie Mayo 57 but nevertheless she later recalled the occasion in the language of

religious revelation:

The first piece of his work I was thus destined to read was the exquisite fragment, “Lucerne”. When I laid down the book [A Russian Proprietor and Other Stories], I felt I had encountered a mind under whose sway I realised and understood my own thoughts and feelings as never before. I was conscious of a new light upon all life – a light rising within myself, though kindled by Tolstoy’s words [9. P. 153].

Over the next three years Isabella Fyvie Mayo sought every publication she could find written by Tolstoy. In 1890 she attempted to record these in chronological order and forwarded her list to everyone she knew of who was interested in Tolstoy’s philosophy. She did this so that she could make sense of his writings and the development of his beliefs.

Twenty years later, she still believed in the importance of placing his ideas within the chronological context of his experiences and ideological influences. ‘[W]hat he has written he has first lived’, she commented [9.

P. 153], [10]. Although War and Peace had been published in Russia in 1869 and Anna Karenina in 1877, virtually none of Tolstoy’s works were published in English before 1885. Thereafter his writings, literary and polemical, religious, social and political, old and new, began arriving in indiscriminate order in Britain, so that her self-imposed task was not easy.

Tolstoy’s influence became apparent in Mrs Fyvie Mayo’s nonfiction writing almost immediately, as she slipped passing references to him into articles about authors as diverse as Jane Austen, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Alexander Pushkin1 [11–13]. In 1891 she contributed a series of articles on social issues to The Leisure Hour, a journal published by The Religious Tract Society, which contained popular articles and fiction written from a Christian viewpoint. The articles, substantially flavoured with Christian Socialism, included several unattributed references to, or quotations by, Tolstoy. When considering social schemes one should not ask will a scheme ‘do any good’, but rather, what is it right for us to do, she argued in one article [14. P. 203]. In another she inserted a quotation from My Religion/What I Believe into a fictionalised dialogue [15. P. 541]. Fyvie Mayo referred to Tolstoy variously as ‘‘one of the Fyvie Mayo was one of only a handful of British writers to commemorate the anniversary of Pushkin’s birth.

L. Moore greatest of living thinkers’, a ‘renowned writer of this century’ and ‘a great living moralist’ in her various articles, but did not name him, which suggests there were objections in contemporary conventional religious circles to Tolstoy’s version of Christianity. When the Leisure Hour editor bravely accepted an article giving a sympathetic summary of Tolstoy’s literature and philosophy from another contributor in 1889, he added an editorial caveat which indicates the general attitude Fyvie Mayo faced

from the mainstream British religious readership:

With a life and experience so peculiar, and a nature so intense as that of Count Tolstoi, there cannot fail to be much in a narrative setting forth the great motive thoughts of his life which must excite question and even opposition, But no true impression could be given of the man without stating as conscientiously as possible his peculiar ideas. So far as they are erroneous, or represent rather the struggle of a soul after truth than its complete attainment… [16. P. 167] Virtually unknown in Great Britain before the mid-1880s, during the late 1880s and 1890s a flood of literary references to Tolstoy and his writings appeared in the English language press; one bibliography listed 346 books and articles published up to about 1902, and this excluded items in the daily and weekly press [17]1. Most of the periodical items described Tolstoy and his home life. A few described or analysed his literary writings, but almost none seriously discussed his religious philosophy. The Leisure Hour article mentioned above was one of the exceptions, and in early 1892 Isabella Fyvie Mayo used the contemporary interest aroused by Tolstoy’s efforts to alleviate the Russian famine and a sympathetic editor, to write a similar, simpler biographical article for The Victorian Magazine, in which she summarised Tolstoy’s life and explained the development of his beliefs as illustrated in his writing [20].

This, and the various surreptitious references Fyvie Mayo incorporated, are interesting in a cultural context because rather than appearing in either the mainstream literary reviews or the in-house publications of various Tolstoyan followers which are normally researched for responses and reactions to new ideas amongst the British intellectual heavyweights, they appeared in periodicals which may be described as ‘below the cannon’, unashamedly popularist middle-class magazines such as The Argosy, Atalanta, The Leisure Hour, The Sun and The Victorian Magazine. From the For aspects of Tolstoy’s influence on Britain and the reciprocal impact see: [18–19].

From Russia with Love: Tolstoy, Gandhi and Isabella Fyvie Mayo 59 start she wanted to rouse the sympathies of the British public so that it would not blindly commit its judgment of the character and teaching of such a man to the pert verdict of the narrower section of the more “cultured,”– few of whom have cared even to try to find out the proper sequence of his work, so that they may study it in its living development!

[20. P. 316].

Tolstoy’s religious understanding of the New Testament was based on a moral rather than a miraculous reading. He interpreted God as love, and believed each individual had the divine spirit of love within them. In 1894 he published The Kingdom of God is Within You, which was banned in Russia. He argued that Christians had failed to recognise that having a love for everyone required that evil should not be resisted by violence, particularly in the form of war or legalized state coercion. He contrasted the teachings of Jesus with the dogma and ritual of the Church(es) on these issues, and called for each individual to make a personal commitment to the truth, to resolve this. The precept Isabella Fyvie Mayo took most strongly to heart was the importance of following one’s conscience, regardless of the consequence. She interpreted this that she should speak out both verbally and in her writing, in situations where previously social convention and politeness to others had led her to remain silent. Many

years later she wrote:

Tolstoy has given me my true self – has shown me that where I surrendered my own consciousness of right to conventionality and to the opinions of others, I have done wrong and have suffered loss for so doing. He has given me a new and better world [21. P. 181–182].


Since Tolstoy had waived his copyright on his later writings, many cheaply produced and poorly translated versions of his works poured onto the market. In some of these Tolstoy’s complicated reasoning was almost unintelligible. At some point Fyvie Mayo must have contacted Tolstoy’s formally-designated agent, Vladimir Grigor'evich Chertkov, and offered to help produce more readable versions. Chertkov, though much younger than Tolstoy, was his closest friend and intellectual colleague, and he was absolutely, perhaps obsessively, committed to both publicizing and preL. Moore serving every word and idea expressed by Tolstoy1. Banished from Russia for his support for the Dukhobors, Chertkov came to England in 1897, where in 1900 he set up Izdatel’stvo Svobodnago Slova (Free Word Press) to produce and publish Tolstoy’s writings in Russian and then the Free Age Press [FAP] to produce cheap editions of Tolstoy’s works in English for an international readership [26]. Chertkov’s presence made England an important centre of Tolstoyan publishing activity. Isabella Fyvie Mayo became involved in this milieu involving people of diverse nationalities, political viewpoints and cultural interests united by their enthusiasm for Tolstoy’s philosophy2. She worked briefly while Arthur Fifield was manager at the FAP, but much of her work was with Chertkov himself, especially after Fifield left and Chertkov and the principal Tolstoyan translator Aylmer Maude fell out. Different drafts with amendments and queries were sent back and forth between Aberdeen in north-east Scotland and Tuckton House at Christchurch in the south of England. Chertkov was extremely difficult to work with, and it may have been the geographical separation, as well as a shared sense of urgency and belief in the importance of Tolstoy’s precept of non-resistance to evil, that enabled Isabella Fyvie Mayo to collaborate with him so effectively. She debated non-resistance with Aylmer Maude in the Humane Review and considered that Aylmer Maude’s rejection of Tolstoy’s philosophy of non-resistance to evil by violence should have disqualified him from being Tolstoy’s biographer3 [21, 25, 27], [6. P. 51].

The description of Isabella Fyvie Mayo as a co-translator of various FAP publications has misled some scholars into assuming she could speak Russian. A publication which she was probably not personally involved with, described the process more accurately as being ‘translated, englished and conformed to the original’ [29]. Chertkov described the procedure that he and Isabella Fyvie Mayo had used. A Russian speaker (often himself) made a first translation. This was then sent to Fyvie Mayo who revised it into a more standard, flowing English and added any queries about interpretation, clarity or need for referencing that occurred to her, before returning it for a final careful check against the Russian origiOn Chertkov see: [19, 22–25].

There is insufficient space here to consider Fyvie Mayo’s interaction with other British Tolstoyans.

Isabella Fyvie Mayo, letter to Vladimir Grigor’evich Chertkov, 17 January 1914, quoted in [28].

From Russia with Love: Tolstoy, Gandhi and Isabella Fyvie Mayo 61 nal to ensure than no mutilations of meaning had crept in [30]. This method of combining two linguistic amateurs was a common procedure for foreign translations at a time when there were few trained translators [31] and, moreover, at the FAP they were either being paid very little or provided their service free. However Aylmer Maude, a fluent Russian speaker, was highly critical of these FAP translations. Chertkov was insistent that translations of Tolstoy’s work should be as literal as possible, preserving the style and peculiarities of Tolstoy’s composition which often deliberately broke literary conventions. He noted in particular the tendency of translators to use synonyms where Tolstoy had repeated the same word in the original. Tolstoy used literature and language transparently and simply, concentrating on telling people what to do with their lives, rather than becoming involved in the angst of considering whether it was possible to express oneself accurately through language1. Fyvie Mayo approved of Tolstoy’s use of plain words to describe activities for which most people used euphemisms and Chertkov was confident that she would closely follow the sense of the passages. It is ironic perhaps that Isabella Fyvie Mayo’s own prose style was often flowery and opaque.

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