RUSSOPHILES were treated last week to a new interpretation of one of that country's greatest novelists: Leo Tolstoy the vegetarian, writes Edward Pilkington.
The president of the Moscow Tolstoy Society, Anatoly Gorelov, on his first visit to Britain, gave a speech on Tolstoy and vegetarianism, arguing that the great man's eating habits provide a fresh insight into his life and work.
Mr Gorelov was visiting as guest of the Sixth International Vegan Festival, which ended in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, yesterday. He was one of 150 delegates from 17 countries who attended the festival to learn about such diverse topics as 'Veganism and Romanian Realities' and 'The Vegan Dilemmas of Musical Instruments'.
Similar events in the past have generated lively debate. A speaker at the annual meeting of the Vegan Society last autumn was shouted down when his leather shoes were spotted poking from the bottom of the podium. 'They're the only decent pair I have,' he protested.
Tolstoy's fascination with nature is evident even in his earliest short stories, such as Kholstomer, a satire on humans written from the point of view of a horse. Later he wrote that vegetarianism was 'the first step to perfection'.
His full conversion to a meatless existence followed a spiritual crisis in 1897 in which he vowed to live the life of a peasant. He abandoned smoking, made his own boots and maintained the life of a vegetarian hermit until his death in 1910, aged 82, and having fathered 13 children.
War and peas, the vegetarian version