My Elder Brother by Leo Tolstoy

Following text is from autobiographical novel "Boyhood" originally written in Russian, translation by C.J. Haqar

I was only a year and some months younger than Valodya; we grew up, studied and played together. No distinction of elder and younger was made between us. But just about the time I am speaking of I began to realize that I was no companion for him, either in age, in interests or in ability. It even seemed to me that Valodya himself was aware of his superiority and was proud of it.

This idea (it may have been a wrong one) was inspired by my vanity which suffered every time I came in contact with him. He was better than me in everything; at lessons, in arguments and in manners, and all this took me farther from him and caused me moral anguish which I could not understand. When Valodya was given a tucked linen shirt for the first time I was unhappy for not having a shirt like that. I am sure I would have felt happier if I was convinced that every time he arranged his collar it was not done to annoy me.

What tormented me most was that it sometimes seemed to me Valodya understood what was going on inside me but tried to hide it. But perhaps my sensitiveness and tendency to analyse deceived me in this case. It may be Valodya did not feel at all as I did. He was impulsive and his enthusiasm in different hobbies did not last long.

He would suddenly develop a passion for pictures, himself take up painting, spend all his money buying them and beg them of his drawing-master, of papa and of grandmamma. Then it would be a craze for curios to decorate his table, collecting them from every room in the house, or a mania for novels which he obtained on the sly and read all day and night. I could not help being impressed by his hobbies but I was too proud to imitate him and too young and not independent enough to choose a hobby for myself. But there was nothing I envied so much as Valodya’s happy large heartedness which showed itself most strikingly when we quarreled. I always felt that he was behaving well but I could not do likewise.

Once when his passion of ornaments was at its height, I went up to his table and accidentally broke an empty bright-coloured little scent bottle.

“Who asked you to touch my things?” demanded Valodya coming into the room and seeing how I had upset the symmetry of the different treasures on his table. “And where is the scent bottle? You must have ……..”

“I knocked it over by accident and it broke. What does it matter?”

“Do me the favour-never dare touch my things again”, he said, putting the pieces of broken flask together and looking at them sorrowfully.

“And you please don’t issue orders” I retorted, “that’s all.”

And I smiled, though I did not feel in the least like smiling.

“Yes, its nothing to you but it does matter to me,” pursued Valodya, jerking his shoulder, a gesture he had inherited from papa. “He goes and breaks it and then laughs, the nasty little brat!”

“I am a little brat; and you’re big but you’re stupid.”

“I am not going to quarrel with you,” said Valodya, giving me a slight push, “go away.”

“Don’t push!”

“Get away!”

“Don’t push, I tell you!”

Valodya took my word and tried to drag me away from the table; but I was beside myself by now; I got hold of the leg of the table and tipped it over. “There now!” And all his china and glass ornaments crashed to the floor.

“You disgusting little boy!” cried Valodya, trying to save some of his falling treasures.

“Well, now it is all over between us,” I thought as I left the room,

“we have quarreled for good.”

As soon as afternoon lessons were over I left the room. I was too scared, uncomfortable and ashamed to be alone with my brother. After our history lesson in the evening I took my exercise books and started towards the door. As I passed Valodya, though I wanted to go up to him and make friends I scowled and put on an angry expression. At that moment Valodya raised his head and, with a meaningful smile, looked me full in the face. Our eyes met and I knew that he understood me; but some irresistible feeling made me turn away.

“Nicky!” he said in a most natural voice without a scrap of pathos. “Don’t be cross any more. Forgive me if I offended you.” And he held out his hand.

Something that came higher and higher seemed to be pressing my chest and stopping my breath but this only lasted a second; tears came to my eyes and I felt better.

“Forgive … m-me, Val-dya,” I stammered, squeezing his hand. Valodya looked at me as if he could not make out at all why there should be tears in my eyes.


'My Elder Brother' is a story about two brothers, their relationship with each other characterised by feelings of love, jealousy, etc. and a change that comes in their behaviour towards the end.

Vadolya and Nicky grew up together in a happy environment. They grew up like friends studying and playing together despite their age difference. But after a few years Nicky started developing a complex. He compared himself with his brother and felt he was nowhere compared to Vadolya in terms of age, interests, ability and even studies. He felt Vadolya was proud because he believed he was better.

Nicky was even more hurt when he realised that Vadolya knew what disturbed him mentally but did not understand him. Nicky resented Vadolya’s ability to have different hobbies and was jealous of his large heartedness. Although Nicky somewhere felt that he may be wrong in assessing his brother’s love for him, his own vanity made him feel even more inferior.

One day Nicky broke a bottle of scent which Valodya treasured greatly. He knew how important that bottle was for his brother, but he pretended to smile to show him that he was not bothered. Instead of feeling sorry, he behaved casually. Later, both brothers had a fight and declared they had quarelled for good. After the incident, Vadolya was composed and behaved normally but Nicky remained disturbed and uncomfortable.

Vadolya being elder and more responsible, took the initiative of asking Nicky for forgiveness. Nicky realised then that his brother understood him and was touched. Both the brothers shook hands and embraced each other.