The artistic work of Leo Tolstoy has been described as “nothing less than one tremendous diary kept for over fifty years.” This particular “diary” begins with Tolstoy’s first published work,CHILDHOOD, which was written when he was only 23. A semi-autobiographical work, it recounts two days in the childhood of 10-year-old Nikolai Irtenev, recreating vivid impressions of people, place and events with the exuberant perspective of a child enriched by the ironic retrospective understandng of an adult.
On the 12th of August, 18— (just three days after my tenth birthday, when I had been given such wonderful presents), I was awakened at seven o’clock in the morning by Karl Ivanitch slapping the wall close to my head with a fly–flap made of sugar paper and a stick. He did this so roughly that he hit the image of my patron saint suspended to the oaken back of my bed, and the dead fly fell down on my curls. I peeped out from under the coverlet, steadied the still shaking image with my hand, flicked the dead fly on to the floor, and gazed at Karl Ivanitch with sleepy, wrathful eyes. He, in a parti–coloured wadded dressing–gown fastened about the waist with a wide belt of the same material, a red knitted cap adorned with a tassel, and soft slippers of goat skin, went on walking round the walls and taking aim at, and slapping, flies.
“Suppose,” I thought to myself, “that I am only a small boy, yet why should he disturb me? Why does he not go killing flies around Woloda’s bed? No; Woloda is older than I, and I am the youngest of the family, so he torments me. That is what he thinks of all day long—how to tease me. He knows very well that he has woken me up and frightened me, but he pretends not to notice it. Disgusting brute! And his dressing–gown and cap and tassel too—they are all of them disgusting.”
While I was thus inwardly venting my wrath upon Karl Ivanitch, he had passed to his own bedstead, looked at his watch (which hung suspended in a little shoe sewn with bugles), and deposited the fly–flap on a nail, then, evidently in the most cheerful mood possible, he turned round to us.