Bondarev Timofei Mikhailovich
(1820 - 1898)

Andrew  Donskov

[Page 68, Figure] I-10: Title page of Timofej Bondarev's (1906) Torzhestvo zemledel'tsa ili Trudoljubie i Tunejadstvo [The Triumph of the Landtiller, or Industry and Idleness]. The words printed beneth the actual title read: "COMPOSITION / of the peasant T. BONDAREV /  with a foreward by / Lev Nik. TOLSTOY /  Posrednik Edition / No. 597 / 1906

More about this book:

Book Review: Andrew Donskov. Leo Tolstoy and the Canadian Doukhobors: an historic relationship, by Koozma J. Tarasoff. Ottawa, Ontario. February 2006

Excerpt: "
What Lev N. Tolstoy means to me and the Doukhobors" (pages 233-237), by Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Excerpt: "Molokans
mentioned 61 times on 27 pages in Leo Tolstoy and the Canadian Doukhobors by Andrew Donskov" -- to be posted.

Bondarev and Tolstoy

Excerpts from: Leo Tolstoy and the Canadian Doukhobors: an historical relationship, by Andrew Donskov, 2005.
Donskov is a Distinquished Professor and Director of the Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa, Canada

Pages 47-48:

...Especially noteworthy are his [Tolstoy's] exchanges of letters with Sabbatarian Timofej Bondarev (Donskov 1996c), Molokan writer Fedor Zheltov (Donskov 2001) and radical dissident Mikhail Novikov (Donskov 1996a). The text of Tolstoy's treatise Tak chto zhe nam delat'? [What then must be done?] (1886) suggests two powerful role models for his (and, by extension, others') moral regeneration. He wrote (PSS 25: 386):

Over my whole lifetime two Russian thinking people had a profound moral influence on me; they enriched my thought and clarified my worldview. These people were not Russian poets, scholars or preachers they were two remarkable men who are still alive today, having lived their whole lives by the sweat of their brow the peasants Sjutaev and Bondarev.

This paragraph reveals several important features in Tolstoy's thought. It begins with a reference to his lifelong preoccupation with moral questions. It suggests the exclusion of any contribution from his own class or from the clergy to his Weltanschauung, [world view] which drew upon the solid moral fibre of ordinary Russian peasants, whose life derived its meaning from working 'by the sweat of their brow'. They had not only enriched, but actually clarified (ujasnili) his thought for him. This was an extremely important point for him in his socalled 'postconversion period' (following the completion of Anna Karenina in the late 1870s) and is of utmost importance in any discussion of Tolstoy and the peasantry.

It is also significant that the two peasants mentioned were both sectarians: Vasilij K. Sjutaev (1820-1892) was well known to Tolstoy and contemporary writers, while Timofej M. Bondarev (1820-1898), who belonged to the Sabbatarians; (a splinter group of the Molokans, which had earlier broken away from the Doukhobors) carried on an extensive correspondence with Tolstoy from 1885 until his death in 1898.(12)
  1. Regarding Bondarev's writings on religious utopias, see my essay in Donskov 1996b: 1-15. For more on Bondarev and Sjutaev, see: Bondarev (1890, 1906), Donskov (1996b, 1997), Gastev (1912), Kosovanov (1958), Shesterikov (1928) and Unknown author (1913).

Pages 52-54:

Sectarian Timofej Bondarev

Throughout his correspondence with Bondarev (see Donskov 1996b), Tolstoy applied a religious perspective to the question of landless peasants. The letters are marked with frequent repetitions of his tenet that physical landtilling labour is a necessary precondition for a moral, happy and joyful life on earth. Bondarev, for his part, kept insisting that field labour is a fundamental religious law of life. Bondarev comes across as a colourful figure, a Russian peasant who, though unshakeable in his convictions, is not at one with his milieu because of the penetrating insight of his sharp analytical mind and the logic of his conclusions.

In his correspondence with Bondarev, Tolstoy makes particular reference to Bondarev's work Torzhestvo zemledel'tsa ili Trudoljubie i Tunejadstvo [The Triumph of the Landtiller, or Industry and Idleness] [cover in left sidebar] a work which Tolstoy helped get published. Written in the late 1870s and early 1880s, it is largely based on the Biblical decree in Genesis (3:19): "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken..." Bondarev argues that people sin because they do not obey this rule, which he takes literally. Tolstoy shared Bondarev's criticism of militarism and the noble classes, as well as his condemnation not only of the corruption rampant in the civil service but also the narrowness and intolerance of the church hierarchy.

Over and over again in his subsequent works Tolstoy returns to Bondarev's ideas.(20) In working out his Cycle of readings in 1904, he included in his 'Monthly readings' section an excerpt from Bondarev's book, with an accompanying article he had penned in 1895. He also mentions Bondarev in a diary entry in 1906 (PSS 55: 212):

It has become quite clear to me of late that the life of the landtiller is not just one of the various types of life, but is life itself, just as the Bible is life itself, the only life of mankind, and it is only through such a life that the higher human qualities can be manifested. The chief mistake in the organisation of human societies a mistake that removes the opportunity for any kind of intelligent lifestructure is that people wish to set up their society either without any landtilling activity or whereby such activity is only one and the most demeaning way of life. How right is Bondarev!

All this testifies to the existence of a complementary or even symbiotic relationship between society and the tilling of the land, a hypothesis confirmed in Tolstoy's letter to Bondarev of 26 March 1886:

I read your long manuscript and addendum. Both are very good and true... I am in agreement with everything said in the manuscript and shall only mention a couple of points where I see things differently. The first law is "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread", but in order for this law to avoid being violated, one must also obey a second law: "Resist not evil".(21)

And later on Tolstoy acknowledges frankly: "I have found in you a strong helper in this cause. I hope you have found a helper in me. Our cause is one and the same." (Donskov 1996b: 34).

It is worth noting that Bondarev's work proved very timely for Tolstoy, appearing at the very moment when the latter was particularly concerned over questions of the peasantry (especially the suffering and maltreatment experienced by the Doukhobors), hard labour, the simplicity of peasant life etc. Such questions grew out of the deep dissatisfaction thi writer felt toward his social class, and even more toward himself. Bon darev's ideas were a source of enrichment to Tolstoy's own views on life and gave a religious perspective to the whole issue of peasant labour tha was a lifetime concern of Tolstoy's.
  1. Abbreviated variants of Bondarev's work are known to us from their publication in the weekly "Russkoe Delo" (1888, no. 1213), with an Afterword by Tolstoy. In 1890, thanks to Tolstoy's cooperation, a French translation was published: "Le'on Tolstoi et Timothe' Bondareff. Le travail". Traduit du russe par V. Tseytline et A. Pages (Paris, 1890). Interestingly, the English version published the same year was based not on the Russian but on the French translation by Tseytline and Pages see: "The suppressed book of the peasant Bondareff. Labour: the divine command. Made known, augmented and edited by Count Lyof Tolstoy". Trans. Mary Cruger (Toronto, 1890). Bondarev repeatedly complained both to Tolstoy and to G. I. Uspenskij about the poor translation of his work (a reverse translation into Russian was done by a local translator at his request), as well as about the many abridgements. The manuscript ran approximately 200 sheets. "The triumph of the landtiller, or Industry and Idleness" was also published in condensed form by Posrednik in 1906 (Bondarev 1906). See also Illustration 10 below.

  2. Donskov 1996b: 33-34. Tolstoy concluded the letter by reaffirming the importance of physical labour: "I shall soon be 60 years old and have had millions of torments, but over the past few years I have been both reaping and ploughing, and hope to do so again this year. And joy and health and inner peace I find most of all in this work."


Donskov Andrew 1996b. L.N. Tolstoj i T.M. Bondarev: perepiska. Munich: Verlag Otto Sagner, 1996. [ISBN: 3-87690-635-0 / Dewey: 891.7]

Donskov Andrew 1997. "Pis'ma Bondareva k L.N. Tolstomu". Russkaja literartura no. 1 (1997): 163-81.

Gastev, Petr 1912. "Vospominanija o Vasilii Kirilloviche Sjuteve". Vegetarianskoe obozrenie no.1 (1912): 24-28 & no.2 (1912):66-72.

Kosovanov, Natalia 1983. "The Doukhobors". In Tamara F. Jeletsky (ed.) Russian Canadians: their past and present. Ottawa: Borealis, 1983: 11-47.

Shesterikov, S. 1928. "Zametka Leskova o Sjutaeve". In: N.N. Gusev (ed.), Lev Tolstoj. Jubilejnyj sbornik. Moskva i Leningrad: Gozidat [Khudozhdestvennoj literatury], 1928:329-31.

Unknown author 1913. "Sjutaev and Bondarev". Tolstovskij ezhegodnik. S.-Petersburg & Moskva:Izd. Tolstovskogo muzeja v Sankt-Peterburge i Tolstovskogo obshchestva v Moskve, 1913:1-44.
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