To misquote Wordsworth: ‘He dwelt among Tolstoyan ways,/Vladimir G Chertkov,/A man whom there were none to praise,/And very few to love.’ Among those very few were Chertkov’s mother, wife and children, at various times two of Tolstoy’s daughters and, above all, Leo Tolstoy himself. Alexandra Popoff, however, is not among them: the very words of the title, ‘false disciple’, and the repeated mentions of Tartufe, Uriah Heep and Judas Iscariot in her text and epigraphs make that only too clear. This is not her first attack on Chertkov, though it is her most comprehensive: in Sophia Tolstoy (2010) Chertkov plays a demonic role; he also makes a brief appearance in The Wives (2012), a fine study of six Russian women who endured the tribulations of being great writers’ wives and widows.
Friends, enemies and literary critics all agree that Chertkov shared not just his master Tolstoy’s late-found religious convictions, but also his defects – inconsistency, callousness, excessive demands – and that to these he added some of his own. As an editor and publisher, he was ruthless with copyright and payments;