Vladimir Chertkov was the most important figure among the Tolstoyans, and the one person who had the most influence over Tolstoy in the last years of his life. He met Tolstoy in 1883, and became not only a devoted follower, but also the writer’s closest confidante, usurping the role that Sophia Andreevna had played up to that point.
Chertkov was the son of an influential military advisor to Tsar’s Alexander II and III, and had himself served with distinction in the army. His family home was visited by both Tsars (and there is a rumor that he might have been the illegitimate son of Alexander II). His mother maintained a high level of influence among the highest circles in Petersburg.
Chertkov initially followed in his father’s footsteps, but eventually became disenchanted with his life and embarked on a religious search much like Tolstoy’s. In many respects he accomplished what Tolstoy had wished to achieve in his own life. This was a master narrative for Tolstoy--a wealthy, privileged aristocrat renouncing his position in society to take up a life of service--one that he wrote into several of his literary works (such as Father Sergius) and which he aspired to fulfill in his own life.
Where Tolstoy’s wife had rejected his newfound views, Chertkov’s wife Anna Konstantinovna (Dietеrichs) fully supported her husband and became an active participant in his work. She is pictured below (in white) among a group of associates of the publishing house Free Word, which Chertkov established in England during his exile as a means to distribute the work of Tolstoy and other like-minded writers.
In the summer of 1910 Chertkov was allowed to return to the Tula District, and began living at Telyatniki, the property of Aleksandra L’vovona. The house below served as a Tolstoyan center, and in the eyes of Sofia Andreevna became the enemy camp. It was from here that Chertkov arranged visits with Tolstoy that drove Sophia Andreevna to new heights of despair.
Chertkov reading to a group of Tolstoyans at Telyatniki, 1910. The house was a functioning Tolstoyan commune, where no distinction was made between servants and nobility, and everyone ate at the same table.
For more pictures of Chertkov and his family see the wonderful site by Leo Finegold: http://www.linguadex.com/tolstoy/album.html