Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Everybody loves Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, possibly because there are so many of him. S. Frederick Starr, secretary of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, ran down a partial list Thursday night at the Smithsonian: "Egoist, humanitarian, provocateur, revolutionary, escapist, anarchist, pacifist, believer, debunker - above all, artist and moralist."
He might have added vegetarian and teetotaler, except that he was the host at a cocktail party, followed by a chicken dinner, marking the 150th anniversary of Tolstoy's birth.
"Many of us are perhaps grateful," remarked Slavic scholar Kathryn Feuer, "that we did not have a Tolstoyan meal tonight - fruit, milk, nuts and berries."
"Tolstoy didn't become a vegetarian until after he had written 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina,'" Starr explained privately. "He had quite a riotous youth, and that is what we commemorated in the eating and drinking part of the evening."
He explained that the underlying motif of the party was to expose people to the full reality of Tolstoy, the variety and complexity of his life and work, the tension between the older and the younger man, between his early search for beauty and his later search for truth. To make a Tolstoy out of material available in English in this century, you would have to wrap up a whole bundle of writers in one package - beginning, perhaps, with Norman Mailer and George Bernard Shaw and adding others liberally.
If there were tensions in the evening (and no doubt there were), they were lost from sight in a genial cloud of detente. People from the Soviet Embassy chatted amiably (in Russian - most of the evening's conversations were in Russian) with emigres, including one of special distinction: Teymuraz Bagration, director of the Tolstoy Foundation and descendant of the Gen. Andrei Bagration, whose death at the Battle of Borodino is chronicled in "War and Peace."
Bagration is also a descendant of the family that ruled Georgia from the year 862 until the Revolution and the current pretender to the royal throne of Soviet Georgia, but cultural counselor Anatoly Dyuzhev of the Soviet Embassy beamed detente in his company. "The embassy sent people who they knew would be comfortable chatting with emigres," an anonymous guest remarked.
There also seemed to be a spirit of detente among the members of the Tolstoy family who were present: Vera Tolstoy, granddaughter of the writer and her son, Sergei, representing one branch of the family, Vladimir Tolstoy of the U.S. Naval Academy representing another. "Vladimir is a very remote relative," a guest explained. "His name was originally hyphenated, but he thought it was too long so he just dropped the last part and kept Tolstoy. Vera gets furious when he shows up at events related to the family."
Vera, seeming not at all furious, applauded warmly when Starr introduced Vladimir, saying that it would not have been possible to get all the guests together (they were a very diverse group of scholars, diplomats, political and cultural figures) without his assistance. Perhaps she was happy because Starr had just mentioned that through her Voice of America broadcast "her voice is known all over Russia, and people ask American visitors about her."
The evening opened with a recording of Tolstoy's 94-year-old daughter Alexandra, who was unable to come down from New York, reminiscing about her father, and included a recording made by Tolstoy in 1908 on a machine given to him by Edison. It was advice to a group of school children: "I am glad when you study well. Only please don't be naughty . . . You will remember this when I am gone - that the old man told you something good."