Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy


Who Was Leo Tolstoy?

In the 1860s, Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote his first great novel, War and Peace . In 1873, Tolstoy set to work on the second of his best-known novels, Anna Karenina . He continued to write fiction throughout the 1880s and 1890s. One of his most successful later works was The Death of Ivan Ilyich .

On September 9, 1828, writer Leo Tolstoy was born at his family's estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula Province of Russia. He was the youngest of four boys. When Tolstoy's mother died in 1830, his father's cousin took over caring for the children. When their father, Count Nikolay Tolstoy, died just seven years later, their aunt was appointed their legal guardian. When the aunt passed away, Tolstoy and his siblings moved in with a second aunt, in Kazan, Russia. Although Tolstoy experienced a lot of loss at an early age, he would later idealize his childhood memories in his writing.

Tolstoy received his primary education at home, at the hands of French and German tutors. In 1843, he enrolled in an Oriental languages program at the University of Kazan. There, Tolstoy failed to excel as a student. His low grades forced him to transfer to an easier law program. Prone to partying in excess, Tolstoy ultimately left the University of Kazan in 1847, without a degree. He returned to his parents' estate, where he made a go at becoming a farmer. He attempted to lead the serfs, or farmhands, in their work, but he was too often absent on social visits to Tula and Moscow. His stab at becoming the perfect farmer soon proved to be a failure. He did, however, succeed in pouring his energies into keeping a journal — the beginning of a lifelong habit that would inspire much of his fiction.

As Tolstoy was flailing on the farm, his older brother, Nikolay, came to visit while on military leave. Nikolay convinced Tolstoy to join the Army as a junker, south in the Caucasus Mountains, where Nikolay himself was stationed. Following his stint as a junker, Tolstoy transferred to Sevastopol in Ukraine in November 1854, where he fought in the Crimean War through August 1855.

Early Works

During quiet periods while Tolstoy was a junker in the Army, he worked on an autobiographical story called Childhood . In it, he wrote of his fondest childhood memories. In 1852, Tolstoy submitted the sketch to The Contemporary , the most popular journal of the time. The story was eagerly accepted and became Tolstoy's very first published work.

After completing Childhood , Tolstoy started writing about his day-to-day life at the Army outpost in the Caucasus. However, he did not complete the work, entitled The Cossacks , until 1862, after he had already left the Army.

Tolstoy still managed to continue writing while at battle during the Crimean War. During that time, he composed Boyhood (1854), a sequel to Childhood , the second book in what was to become Tolstoy's autobiographical trilogy. In the midst of the Crimean War, Tolstoy also expressed his views on the striking contradictions of war through a three-part series, Sevastopol Tales . In the second Sevastopol Tales book, Tolstoy experimented with a relatively new writing technique: Part of the story is presented in the form of a soldier's stream of consciousness.

Once the Crimean War ended and Tolstoy left the Army, he returned to Russia. Back home, the burgeoning author found himself in high demand on the St. Petersburg literary scene. Stubborn and arrogant, Tolstoy refused to ally himself with any particular intellectual school of thought. Declaring himself an anarchist, he made off to Paris in 1857. Once there, he gambled away all of his money and was forced to return home to Russia. He also managed to publish Youth , the third part of his autobiographical trilogy, in 1857.

Back in Russia in 1862, Tolstoy produced the first of a 12 issue-installment of the journal Yasnaya Polyana , marrying a doctor's daughter named Sofya Andreyevna Bers that same year.

'War and Peace'

Residing at Yasnaya Polyana with his wife and children, Tolstoy spent the better part of the 1860s toiling over his first great novel, War and Peace . A portion of the novel was first published in the Russian Messenger in 1865, under the title "The Year 1805." By 1868, he had released three more chapters and a year later, the novel was complete. Both critics and the public were buzzing about the novel's historical accounts of the Napoleonic Wars, combined with its thoughtful development of realistic yet fictional characters. The novel also uniquely incorporated three long essays satirizing the laws of history. Among the ideas that Tolstoy extols in War and Peace is the belief that the quality and meaning of one's life is mainly derived from his day-to-day activities.

'Anna Karenina'

Following the success of War and Peace , in 1873, Tolstoy set to work on the second of his best-known novels, Anna Karenina . Like War and Peace , Anna Karenina fictionalized some biographical events from Tolstoy's life, as was particularly evident in the romance of the characters Kitty and Levin, whose relationship is said to resemble Tolstoy's courtship with his own wife.

The first sentence of Anna Karenina is among the most famous lines of the book: "All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Anna Karenina was published in installments from 1873 to 1877, to critical and public acclaim. The royalties that Tolstoy earned from the novel contributed to his rapidly growing wealth.

Philosophy, Religious Conversion

Despite the success of Anna Karenina , following the novel's completion, Tolstoy suffered a spiritual crisis and grew depressed. Struggling to uncover the meaning of life, Tolstoy first went to the Russian Orthodox Church but did not find the answers he sought there. He came to believe that Christian churches were corrupt and, in lieu of organized religion, developed his own beliefs. He decided to express those beliefs by founding a new publication called The Mediator in 1883.

As a consequence of espousing his unconventional — and therefore controversial — spiritual beliefs, Tolstoy was ousted by the Russian Orthodox Church. He was even watched by the secret police. When Tolstoy's new beliefs prompted his desire to give away his money, his wife strongly objected. The disagreement put a strain on the couple's marriage until Tolstoy begrudgingly agreed to a compromise: He conceded to granting his wife the copyrights — and presumably the royalties — to all of his writing predating 1881.

Later Fiction

'the death of ivan ilyich'.

In addition to his religious tracts, Tolstoy continued to write fiction throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Among his later works' genres were moral tales and realistic fiction. One of his most successful later works was the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich , written in 1886. In Ivan Ilyich , the main character struggles to come to grips with his impending death. The title character, Ivan Ilyich, comes to the jarring realization that he has wasted his life on trivial matters, but the realization comes too late.

In 1898, Tolstoy wrote Father Sergius , a work of fiction in which he seems to criticize the beliefs that he developed following his spiritual conversion. The following year, he wrote his third lengthy novel, Resurrection . While the work received some praise, it hardly matched the success and acclaim of his previous novels. Tolstoy's other late works include essays on art, a satirical play called The Living Corpse that he wrote in 1890, and a novella called Hadji-Murad (written in 1904), which was discovered and published after his death.

Elder Years

Also during his later years, Tolstoy reaped the rewards of international acclaim. Yet he still struggled to reconcile his spiritual beliefs with the tensions they created in his home life. His wife not only disagreed with his teachings, but she also disapproved of his disciples, who regularly visited Tolstoy at the family estate. Their troubled marriage took on an air of notoriety in the press. Anxious to escape his wife's growing resentment, in October 1910, Tolstoy, his daughter, Aleksandra, and his physician, Dr. Dushan P. Makovitski, embarked on a pilgrimage. Valuing their privacy, they traveled incognito, hoping to dodge the press, to no avail.

Death and Legacy

Unfortunately, the pilgrimage proved too arduous for the aging novelist. In November 1910, the stationmaster of a train depot in Astapovo, Russia opened his home to Tolstoy, allowing the ailing writer to rest. Tolstoy died there shortly after, on November 20, 1910. He was buried at the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in Tula Province, where Tolstoy had lost so many loved ones yet had managed to build such fond and lasting memories of his childhood. Tolstoy was survived by his wife and their brood of 8 children. (The couple had spawned 13 children in all, but only 10 had survived past infancy.)

To this day, Tolstoy's novels are considered among the finest achievements of literary work. War and Peace is, in fact, frequently cited as the greatest novel ever written. In contemporary academia, Tolstoy is still widely acknowledged as having possessed a gift for describing characters' unconscious motives. He is also championed for his finesse in underscoring the role of people's everyday actions in defining their character and purpose.


  • Name: Leo Tolstoy
  • Birth Year: 1828
  • Birth date: September 9, 1828
  • Birth City: Tula Province (Yasnaya Polyana)
  • Birth Country: Russia
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote the acclaimed novels 'War and Peace,' 'Anna Karenina' and 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich,' and ranks among the world's top writers.
  • Fiction and Poetry
  • Astrological Sign: Virgo
  • University of Kazan
  • Death Year: 1910
  • Death date: November 20, 1910
  • Death City: Astapovo
  • Death Country: Russia

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  • Article Title: Leo Tolstoy Biography
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  • Last Updated: November 14, 2019
  • Original Published Date: September 9, 2014
  • I put men to death in war, I fought duels to slay others. I lost at cards, wasted the substance wrung from the sweat of peasants, punished the latter cruelly, rioted with loose women, and deceived men. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, and murder, all were committed by me, not one crime omitted, and yet I was not the less considered by my equals to be a comparatively moral man. Such was my life for ten years.

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Biography of Leo Tolstoy, Influential Russian Writer

The great Russian novelist and philosophical writer

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Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828-November 20, 1910) was a Russian writer, best known for his epic novels . Born into an aristocratic Russian family, Tolstoy wrote realist fiction and semi-autobiographical novels before shifting into more moral and spiritual works.

Fast Facts: Leo Tolstoy

  • Full Name: Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
  • Known For: Russian novelist and writer of philosophical and moral texts
  • Born : September 9, 1828 in Yasnaya Polyana, Russian Empire
  • Parents:  Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy and Countess Mariya Tolstoya
  • Died:  November 20, 1910 in Astapovo, Russian Empire
  • Education: Kazan University (began at age 16; did not complete his studies)
  • Selected Works:   War and Peace (1869), Anna Karenina (1878), A Confession (1880), The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), Resurrection (1899)
  • Spouse:  Sophia Behrs (m. 1862)
  • Children:  13, including Count Sergei Lvovich Tolstoy, Countess Tatiana Lvona Tolstoya, Count Ilya Lvovich Tolstoy, Count Lev Lvovich Tolstoy, and Countess Alexandra Lvona Tolstoya
  • Notable Quote: “There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself."

Tolstoy was born into a very old Russian aristocratic family whose lineage was, quite literally, the stuff of Russian legend. According to family history, they could trace their family tree back to a legendary nobleman named Indris, who had left the Mediterranean region and arrived in Chernigov, Ukraine, in 1353 with his two sons and an entourage of approximately 3,000 people. His descendant then was nicknamed “Tolstiy,” meaning “fat,” by Vasily II of Moscow , which inspired the family name. Other historians trace the family’s origins to 14th or 16th-century Lithuania, with a founder named Pyotr Tolstoy.

He was born on the family’s estate, the fourth of five children born to Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy and his wife, the Countess Maria Tolstoya. Because of the conventions of Russian noble titles, Tolstoy also bore the title of “count” despite not being his father’s eldest son. His mother died when he was 2 years old, and his father when he was 9, so he and his siblings were largely brought up by other relatives. In 1844, at age 16, he began studying law and languages at Kazan University, but was apparently a very poor student and soon left to return to a life of leisure.

Tolstoy did not marry until his thirties, after the death of one of his brothers hit him hard. On September 23, 1862, he married Sophia Andreevna Behrs (known as Sonya), who was only 18 at the time (16 years younger than him) and was the daughter of a doctor at court. Between 1863 and 1888, the couple had 13 children; eight survived to adulthood. The marriage was, reportedly, happy and passionate in the early days, despite Sonya’s discomfort with her husband’s wild past, but as time went on, their relationship deteriorated into deep unhappiness.

Travels and Military Experience

Tolstoy’s journey from dissolute aristocrat to socially agitating writer was shaped heavily by a few experiences in his youth; namely, his military service and his travels in Europe. In 1851, after running up significant debts from gambling, he went with his brother to join the army. During the Crimean War , from 1853 to 1856 , Tolstoy was an artillery officer and served in Sevastopol during the famous 11-month siege of the city between 1854 and 1855.

Although he was commended for his bravery and promoted to lieutenant, Tolstoy did not like his military service. The gruesome violence and heavy death toll in the war horrified him, and he left the army as soon as possible after the war ended. Along with some of his compatriots, he embarked on tours of Europe: one in 1857, and one from 1860 to 1861.

During his 1857 tour, Tolstoy was in Paris when he witnessed a public execution. The traumatic memory of that experience shifted something in him permanently, and he developed a deep loathing and mistrust of government in general. He came to believe that there was no such thing as good government, only an apparatus to exploit and corrupt its citizens, and he became a vocal advocate of non-violence. In fact, he corresponded with Mahatma Gandhi about the practical and theoretical applications of non-violence.

A later visit to Paris, in 1860 and 1861, produced further effects in Tolstoy which would come to fruition in some of his most famous works. Soon after reading Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Miserables , Tolstoy met Hugo himself. His War and Peace was heavily influenced by Hugo, particularly in its treatment of war and military scenes. Similarly, his visit to the exiled anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon gave Tolstoy the idea for his novel’s title and shaped his views on education. In 1862, he put those ideals to work, founding 13 schools for Russian peasant children in the aftermath of Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs. His schools were among the first to run on the ideals of democratic education—education which advocates democratic ideals and runs according to them–but were short-lived due to the enmity of the royalist secret police.

Early and Epic Novels (1852-1877)

  • Childhood  (1852)
  • Boyhood  (1854)
  • Youth  (1856)
  • "Sevastopol Sketches" (1855–1856)
  • The Cossacks  (1863)
  • War and Peace  (1869)
  • Anna Karenina  (1877)

Between 1852 and 1856, Tolstoy focused on a trio of autobiographical novels: Childhood , Boyhood , and Youth . Later in his career, Tolstoy criticized these novels as being overly sentimental and unsophisticated, but they’re quite insightful about his own early life. The novels are not direct autobiographies, but instead tell the story of a rich man’s son who grows up and slowly realizes that there is an insurmountable gap between him and the peasants who live on the land owned by his father. He also wrote a trio of semi-autobiographical short stories, Sevastopol Sketches , which depicted his time as an army officer during the Crimean War .

For the most part, Tolstoy wrote in the realist style, attempting to accurately (and with detail) convey the lives of the Russians he knew and observed. His 1863 novella, The Cossacks , provided a close look at the Cossack people in a story about a Russian aristocrat who falls in love with a Cossack girl. Tolstoy’s magnum opus was 1869’s War and Peace , a massive and sprawling narrative encompassing nearly 600 characters (including several historical figures and several characters strongly based on real people Tolstoy knew). The epic story deals with Tolstoy’s theories about history, spanning many years and moving through wars , family complications, romantic intrigues, and court life, and ultimately intended as an exploration of the eventual causes of the 1825 Decembrist revolt . Interestingly, Tolstoy did not consider War and Peace to be his first “real” novel; he considered it a prose epic, not a true novel .

Tolstoy believed his first true novel to be Anna Karenina , published in 1877. The novel follows two major plotlines which intersect: an unhappily married aristocratic woman’s doomed affair with a cavalry officer, and a wealthy landowner who has a philosophical awakening and wants to improve the peasantry’s way of life. It covers personal themes of morality and betrayal, as well as larger social questions of the changing social order, contrasts between city and rural life, and class divisions. Stylistically, it lies at the juncture of realism and modernism.

Musings on Radical Christianity (1878-1890)

  • A Confession  (1879)
  • Church and State  (1882)
  • What I Believe  (1884)
  • What Is to Be Done?   (1886)
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich  (1886)
  • On Life  (1887)
  • The Love of God and of One's Neighbour  (1889)
  • The Kreutzer Sonata  (1889)

After Anna Karenina , Tolstoy began further developing the seeds of moral and religious ideas in his earlier works into the center of his later work. He actually criticized his own earlier works, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina , as not being properly realistic. Instead, he began developing a radical, anarcho-pacifist, Christian worldview that explicitly rejected both violence and the rule of the state.

Between 1871 and 1874, Tolstoy tried his hand at poetry, branching out from his usual prose writings. He wrote poems about his military service, compiling them with some fairy tales in his Russian Book for Reading , a four-volume publication of shorter works that was intended for an audience of schoolchildren. Ultimately, he disliked and dismissed poetry.

Two more books during this period, the novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and the non-fiction text What Is to Be Done? (1886), continued developing Tolstoy’s radical and religious views, with harsh critiques of the state of Russian society. His Confession (1880) and What I Believe (1884) declared his Christian beliefs, his support of pacifism and complete non-violence, and his choice of voluntary poverty and asceticism.

Political and Moral Essayist (1890-1910)

  • The Kingdom of God Is Within You  (1893)
  • Christianity and Patriotism  (1894)
  • The Deception of the Church  (1896)
  • Resurrection  (1899)
  • What Is Religion and What is its Essence?  (1902)
  • The Law of Love and the Law of Violence  (1908)

In his later years, Tolstoy wrote almost solely about his moral, political, and religious beliefs. He developed a firm belief that the best way to live was to strive for personal perfection by following the commandment to love God and love one’s neighbor, rather than following the rules set by any church or government on earth. His thoughts eventually garnered a following, the Tolstoyans, who were a Christian anarchist group devoted to living out and spreading Tolstoy’s teachings.

By 1901, Tolstoy’s radical views led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church , but he was unperturbed. In 1899, he had written Resurrection , his final novel, which critiqued the human-run church and state and attempted to expose their hypocrisy. His criticism extended to many of the foundations of society at the time, including private property and marriage. He hoped to continue spreading his teachings throughout Russia.

For the last two decades of his life, Tolstoy largely focused on essay writing. He continued advocating for his anarchist beliefs while also cautioning against the violent revolution espoused by many anarchists . One of his books, The Kingdom of God Is Within You , was one of the formative influences on Mahatma Gandhi’s theory of nonviolent protest, and the two men actually corresponded for a year, between 1909 and 1910. Tolstoy also wrote significantly in favor of the economic theory of Georgism, which posited that individuals should own the value they produce, but society should share in the value derived from the land itself.

Literary Styles and Themes

In his earlier works, Tolstoy was largely concerned with depicting what he saw around him in the world, particularly at the intersection of the public and private spheres. War and Peace and Anna Karenina , for instance, both told epic stories with serious philosophical underpinnings. War and Peace spent significant time criticizing the telling of history, arguing that it’s the smaller events that make history, not the huge events and famous heroes. Anna Karenina , meanwhile, centers on personal themes such as betrayal, love, lust and jealousy, as well as turning a close eye on the structures of Russian society, both in the upper echelons of the aristocracy and among the peasantry.

Later in life, Tolstoy’s writings took a turn into the explicitly religious, moral, and political. He wrote at length about his theories of pacifism and anarchism, which tied into his highly individualistic interpretation of Christianity as well. Tolstoy’s texts from his later eras were no longer novels with intellectual themes, but straightforward essays, treatises, and other non-fiction work. Asceticism and the work of inner perfection were among the things Tolstoy advocated for in his writings.

Tolstoy did, however, get politically involved, or at least publicly expressed his opinions on major issues and conflicts of the day. He wrote in support of the Boxer rebels during the Boxer Rebellion in China, condemning the violence of the Russian, American, German, and Japanese troops. He wrote on revolution, but he considered it an internal battle to be fought within individual souls, rather than a violent overthrow of the state.

Over the course of his life, Tolstoy wrote in a wide variety of styles. His most famous novels contained sweeping prose somewhere between the realist and modernist styles, as well as a particular style of seamlessly sweeping from quasi-cinematic, detailed but massive descriptions to the specifics of characters’ perspectives. Later, as he shifted away from fiction into non-fiction, his language became more overtly moral and philosophical.

By the end of his life, Tolstoy had reached a breaking point with his beliefs, his family, and his health. He finally decided to separate from his wife Sonya, who vehemently opposed many of the ideas and was intensely jealous of the attention he gave his followers over her. In order to escape with the least amount of conflict, he slipped away secretively, leaving home in the middle of the night during the cold winter.

His health had been declining, and he had renounced the luxuries of his aristocratic lifestyle. After spending a day traveling by train, his destination somewhere in the south, he collapsed due to pneumonia at the Astapovo railway station. Despite the summoning of his personal doctors, he died that day, on November 20, 1910. When his funeral procession went through the streets, police tried to limit access, but they were unable to stop thousands of peasants from lining the streets—although some were there not because of devotion to Tolstoy, but merely out of curiosity about a nobleman who had died.

In many ways, Tolstoy’s legacy cannot be overstated. His moral and philosophical writings inspired Gandhi, which means that Tolstoy’s influence can be felt in contemporary movements of non-violent resistance. War and Peace is a staple on countless lists of the best novels ever written, and it has remained highly praised by the literary establishment since its publication.

Tolstoy’s personal life, with its origins in the aristocracy and his eventual renunciation of his privileged existence, continues to fascinate readers and biographer, and the man himself is as famous as his works. Some of his descendants left Russia in the early 20th century, and many of them continue to make names for themselves in their chosen professions to this day. Tolstoy left behind a literary legacy of epic prose, carefully drawn characters, and a fiercely felt moral philosophy, making him an unusually colorful and influential author across the years.

  • Feuer, Kathryn B.  Tolstoy and the Genesis of War and Peace . Cornell University Press, 1996.
  • Troyat, Henri. Tolstoy . New York: Grove Press, 2001.
  • Wilson, A.N. Tolstoy: A Biography . W. W. Norton Company, 1988.
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  • World Biography

Leo Tolstoy Biography

Born: August 28, 1828 Tula Province, Russia Died: November 9, 1910 Astapovo, Russia Russian novelist

The Russian novelist and moral philosopher (person who studies good and bad in relation to human life) Leo Tolstoy ranks as one of the world's great writers, and his War and Peace has been called the greatest novel ever written.

Early years

Leo (Lev Nikolayevich) Tolstoy was born at Yasnaya Polyana, his family's estate, on August 28, 1828, in Russia's Tula Province, the youngest of four sons. His mother died when he was two years old, whereupon his father's distant cousin Tatyana Ergolsky took charge of the children. In 1837 Tolstoy's father died, and an aunt, Alexandra Osten-Saken, became legal guardian of the children. Her religious dedication was an important early influence on Tolstoy. When she died in 1840, the children were sent to Kazan, Russia, to another sister of their father, Pelageya Yushkov.

Tolstoy was educated at home by German and French tutors. He was not a particularly exceptional student but he was good at games. In 1843 he entered Kazan University. Planning on a diplomatic career, he entered the faculty of Oriental languages. Finding these studies too demanding, he switched two years later to studying law. Tolstoy left the university in 1847 without taking his degree.

Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana, determined to become a model farmer and a "father" to his serfs (unpaid farmhands). His charity failed because of his foolishness in dealing with the peasants (poor, working class) and because he spent too much time socializing in Tula and Moscow. During this time he first began making amazingly honest diary entries, a practice he maintained until his death. These entries provided much material for his fiction, and in a very real sense the collection is one long autobiography.

Army life and early literary career

Leo Tolstoy. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

From November 1854 to August 1855 Tolstoy served in the battered fortress at Sevastopol in southern Ukraine. He had requested transfer to this area, a sight of one of the bloodiest battles of the Crimean War (1853–1956; when Russia battled England and France over land). As he directed fire from the Fourth Bastion, the hottest area in the conflict for a long while, Tolstoy managed to write Youth, the second part of his autobiographical trilogy. He also wrote the three Sevastopol Tales at this time, revealing the distinctive Tolstoyan vision of war as a place of unparalleled confusion and heroism, a special space where men, viewed from the author's neutral, godlike point of view, were at their best and worst.

When the city fell, Tolstoy was asked to make a study of the artillery action during the final assault and to report with it to the authorities in St. Petersburg, Russia. His reception in the capital was a triumphant success. Because of his name, he was welcomed into the most brilliant society. Because of his stories, he was treated as a celebrity by the cream of literary society.

Golden years

In September 1862, Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevna Bers (or Behrs), a woman sixteen years younger than himself. Daughter of a prominent Moscow doctor, Bers was beautiful, intelligent, and, as the years would show, strong-willed. The first decade of their marriage brought Tolstoy the greatest happiness; never before or after was his creative life so rich or his personal life so full. In June 1863 his wife had the first of their thirteen children.

The first portion of War and Peace was published in 1865 (in the Russian Messenger ) as "The Year 1805." In 1868 three more chapters appeared, and in 1869 he completed the novel. His new novel created a fantastic out-pouring of popular and critical reaction.

Tolstoy's War and Peace represents a high point in the history of world literature, but it was also the peak of Tolstoy's personal life. His characters represent almost everyone he had ever met, including all of his relations on both sides of his family. Balls and battles, birth and death, all were described in amazing detail. In this book the European realistic novel, with its attention to social structures, exact description, and psychological rendering, found its most complete expression.

From 1873 to 1877 Tolstoy worked on the second of his masterworks, Anna Karenina, which also created a sensation upon its publication. The concluding section of the novel was written during another of Russia's seemingly endless wars with Turkey. The novel was based partly on events that had occurred on a neighboring estate, where a nobleman's rejected mistress had thrown herself under a train. It again contained great chunks of disguised biography, especially in the scenes describing the courtship and marriage of Kitty and Levin. Tolstoy's family continued to grow, and his royalties (money earned from sales) were making him an extremely rich man.

Spiritual crisis

The ethical quest that had begun when Tolstoy was a child and that had tormented him throughout his younger years now drove him to abandon all else in order to seek an ultimate meaning in life. At first he turned to the Russian Orthodox Church, visiting the Optina-Pustyn monastery in 1877. But he found no answer.

In 1883 Tolstoy met V. G. Chertkov, a wealthy guard officer who soon became the moving force behind an attempt to start a movement in Tolstoy's name. In the next few years a new publication was founded (the Mediator ) in order to spread Tolstoy's word in tract (pamphlets) and fiction, as well as to make good reading available to the poor. In six years almost twenty million copies were distributed. Tolstoy had long been watched by the secret police, and in 1884 copies of What I Believe were seized from the printer.

During this time Tolstoy's relations with his family were becoming increasingly strained. The more of a saint he became in the eyes of the world, the more of a devil he seemed to his wife. He wanted to give his wealth away, but she would not hear of it. An unhappy compromise was reached in 1884, when Tolstoy assigned to his wife the copyright to all his works before 1881.

Tolstoy's final years were filled with worldwide acclaim and great unhappiness, as he was caught in the strife between his beliefs, his followers, and his family. The Holy Synod (the church leaders) excommunicated (kicked him out) him in 1901. Unable to endure the quarrels at home he set out on his last pilgrimage (religious journey) in October 1910, accompanied by his youngest daughter, Alexandra, and his doctor. The trip proved too much, and he died in the home of the stationmaster of the small depot at Astapovo, Russia, on November 9, 1910. He was buried at Yasnaya Polyana.

For More Information

Rancour-Laferriere, Daniel. Tolstoy on the Couch: Misogyny, Masochism, and the Absent Mother. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Troyat, Henri. Tolstoy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967. Reprint, New York: Grove Press, 2001.

Wilson, A. N. Tolstoy. London: H. Hamilton, 1988.

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Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian author best known for his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina which are considered to be the greatest novels of realist fiction. Tolstoy is also regarded as world’s best novelist by many. In addition to writing novels, Tolstoy also authored short stories, essays and plays. Also a moral thinker and a social reformer, Tolstoy held severe moralistic views. In later life, he became a fervent Christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist. His non-violent resistance approach towards life has been expressed in his works such as The Kingdom of God is Within You, which is known to have a profound effect on important 20th century figures, particularly, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi.

Born in Yasnaya Polyana on September 9, 1828, Leo Tolstoy belonged to a well known noble Russian family. He was the fourth among five children of Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy and Countess Mariya Tolstaya, both of whom died leaving their children to be raised by relatives. Wanting to enter the faculty of Oriental languages at Kazan University, Tolstoy prepared for the entry examination by studying Arabic, Turkish, Latin, German, English, and French, also geography, history, and religion. In 1844, Tolstoy was accepted into Kazan University. Unable to graduate beyond the second year, Tolstoy returned to Yasnava Polyana and then spent time travelling between Moscow and St. Petersburg. With some working knowledge of several languages, he became a polyglot. The newly found youth attracted Tolstoy towards drinking, visiting brothels and most of all gambling which left him in heavy debt and agony but Tolstoy soon realized he was living a brutish life and once again attempted university exams in the hope that he would obtain a position with the government, but ended but up in Caucusus serving in the army following in the footsteps of his elder brother. It was during this time that Tolstoy began writing.

In 1862, Leo Tolstoy married Sophia Andreevna Behrs, mostly called Sonya, who was 16 years younger than him. The couple had thirteen children, of which, five died at an early age. Sonya acted as Tolstoy’s secretary, proof-reader and financial manager while he composed two of his greatest works. Their early married life was filled with contentment. However, Tolstoy’s relationship with his wife deteriorated as his beliefs became increasingly radical to the extent of disowning his inherited and earned wealth.

Tolstoy began writing his masterpiece, War and Peace in 1862. The six volumes of the work were published between 1863 and 1869. With 580 characters fetched from history and others created by Tolstoy, this great novel takes on exploring the theory of history and the insignificance of noted figures such as Alexander and Napoleon. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s next epic was started in 1873 and published completely in 1878. Among his earliest publications are autobiographical works such as Childhood, Boyhood and Youth (1852-1856). Although they are works of fiction, the novels reveal aspects of Leo’s own life and experiences. Tolstoy was a master of writing about the Russian society, evidence of which is displayed in The Cossacks (1863). His later works such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and What Is to Be Done? (1901) focus on Christian themes.

In his late years, Tolstoy became increasingly inclined towards ascetic morality and believed sternly in the Sermon on the Mount and non violent resistance. On November 20, 1910, Leo Tolstoy died at the age of 82 due to pneumonia.

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Leo Tolstoy Biography

Leo Tolstoy was one of the world’s pre-eminent writers becoming famous through his epic novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina . War and Peace has been ranked as one of the greatest novels of all time, for its rich characterisation and sweeping view of Russian society. Tolstoy also became a leading critic of injustice, formal religion and the inequality of Tsarist Russia. While critical of the church, he believed in the essence of gospels and espoused a form of primitive Christianity. In politics, his exposition of pacifism and non-violence had a profound influence on others – most notably Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

“The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the power of my soul, whom I have tried to portray in all his beauty, who has been, is, and will be beautiful, is Truth.”

– Leo Tolstoy

Short Bio – Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

In his early life, he struggled with his studies and drifted through life ending up with large gambling debts. Fed up with his aimless and empty life he volunteered to serve in the Russian army. However, these experiences as a soldier led him to become a pacifist in later life. He wrote his battlefield observations in Sevastopol Sketches , and this raised his profile as a leading Russian writer, gaining the attention even of the current Tsar. Later, looking back on these years (in his Confessions 1882), he bitterly regretted his misspent years

“I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain. I killed people in war, challenged men to duels with the purpose of killing them, and lost at cards; I squandered the fruits of the peasants’ toil and then had them executed; I was a fornicator and a cheat. Lying, stealing, promiscuity of every kind, drunkenness, violence, murder — there was not a crime I did not commit… Thus I lived for ten years.” – Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy had a deep interest in seeking a greater understanding and justification of life. He travelled widely through Europe but became increasingly disenchanted with the materialism of the European Bourgeoisie. He could be argumentative with those he disagreed with such as Turgenev (widely considered the greatest Russian writer of his generation). He also developed an increasing sympathy with peasants, the poor, and those downtrodden from society. He went out of his way to help and serve them.

Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is breathtaking in its scope, realism and sense of history. Some characters were real historical people; others were invented. It tells a narrative of two families set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. Tolstoy never saw it as a novel but an epic. Amongst other themes, it suggests the necessity of making the best of life, whatever your situation.

“Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.”

– Leo Tolstoy from War and Peace

Religious views of Tolstoy

After writing War and Peace and Anna Karenina , Tolstoy underwent a change of religious and philosophical attitude. Influenced by Buddhism and Jesus Christ’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ he developed a belief in spiritual renewal based on service to the poor and direct relationship with God. He noted his attitudes in ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you’ and ‘Confessions’.

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity by contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God, which can only be done by the recognition and profession of the truth by every man.”

Leo Tolstoy , The Kingdom of Heaven is within You. 

His religious views could be described as an early form of Christianity – based on the direct teachings of Jesus Christ, but without the external edifice of religious institutions and ‘myths’ such as the Holy Trinity and Eucharist. Tolstoy felt the power and influence of the church diluted the spiritual essence of religion. Due to his criticism of the Orthodox Church, he was ex-communicated from the church but his legacy as a writer and unique thinker was enhanced throughout the world. His philosophy began to attract disciples, and idealistic Tolstoy communes began to form.

Political views

His religious views also had a direct impact on his political views. He was critical of injustice, greed and the inequality that tended to dominate Tsarist Russia. He developed a pacifist/anarchist philosophy, and became supportive of civil disobedience to improve the welfare of the oppressed. However, his criticism of the Tsar and Russian class system meant the government started to spy on Tolstoy. He was too internationally famous to directly challenge him, but Tolstoy’s strident criticism of the aristocracy was worrying for the authorities.

Life and death

Tolstoy was interested in the meaning of life and death. During his own life, he witnessed the painful death of his brother from tuberculosis, multiple deaths in the Crimean War and a public guillotining in Paris (which contributed to his rejection of the death penalty). He wrote on this theme of death in his short novel Death of Ivan Ilyich. He completed the book in 1882, but it fell foul of Russian censorship and it was not published until 1886. It is written after his religious conversion and touches on the distinction between what gives life value – sympathy, concern and love – and the ‘artificial life’ of social climbing and outer material displays. It is also critical of the attitudes of his former colleagues and friends who are embarrassed by the inconvenience of his fatal illness, but in the novel, he praises the selfless action of a peasant (Gerasim) who turns out to be Ivan’s greatest friend in his painful moments of dying.

Friendship with Gandhi

In the evening of his life, he developed a close relationship with a young Mahatma Gandhi . Tolstoy had written an article supporting Indian independence and Gandhi requested permission to republish it in a South African newspaper. This led to a long correspondence where the two wrote to each other on religious and political matters. Tolstoy wrote to Gandhi.

“Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills, and in it you too have the only method of saving your people from enslavement… Love, and forcible resistance to evil-doers, involve such a mutual contradiction as to destroy utterly the whole sense and meaning of the conception of love.” – Letters One from Tolstoy to Gandhi

Gandhi was very impressed with Tolstoy’s belief in non-violent resistance, vegetarianism and brand of ‘anarchist Christianity’. Gandhi later became a pre-eminent proponent of non-violent resistance and credited Tolstoy with being a major inspiration in his religious and political outlook.

Death of Tolstoy

On 28 October 1910, Tolstoy left his family home outside Moscow, leaving a note to his wife saying:

“I am doing what old men of my age usually do: leaving worldly life to spend the last days of my life in solitude and quiet,”

However a few days, later he was taken ill on a train passing through a remote Russian village called Astapovo. Suffering from pneumonia, Tolstoy was taken off the train and looked after at the station master’s house. His final days created worldwide media interest with media outlets sending reporters to cover whether Tolstoy would recover. However, his condition steadily worsened and he began slipping in and out of consciousness. On 7 November 1910, he passed away.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan . “ Biography of Leo Tolstoy ”, Oxford, UK www.biographyonline.net . Last updated 4 March 2020.  Originally published 22nd Jan. 2009.

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Quotes on Tolstoy

Gandhi said of Tolstoy “the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced”

Virginia Woolf went on to declare him “greatest of all novelists”

James Joyce said of Tolstoy “He is never dull, never stupid, never tired, never pedantic, never theatrical”

Fyodor Dostoevsky thought him the greatest of all living writers

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Leo Tolstoy

  • Literature Notes
  • Leo Tolstoy Biography
  • Book Summary
  • Character List
  • Summary and Analysis
  • Book I: Chapters 1–6
  • Book I: Chapters 7–21
  • Book I: Chapters 22–25
  • Book II: Chapters 1–8
  • Book II: Chapters 9–21
  • Book III: Chapters 1–5
  • Book III: Chapters 6–8
  • Book III: Chapters 9–19
  • Book IV: Chapters 1–6
  • Book IV: Chapters 7–9
  • Book IV: Chapters 10–16
  • Book V: Chapters 1–14
  • Book V: Chapters 15–22
  • Book VI: Chapters 1–10
  • Book VI: Chapters 11–26
  • Book VIII: Chapters 1–5
  • Book VIII: Chapters 6–22
  • Book IX: Chapters 1–7
  • Book IX: Chapters 8–15
  • Book IX: Chapters 16–23
  • Book X: Chapters 1–14
  • Book X: Chapters 15–25
  • Book X: Chapters 26–39
  • Book XI: Chapters 1–12
  • Book XI: Chapters 13–29
  • Book XI: Chapters 30–34
  • Book XII: Chapters 1–13
  • Book XII: Chapters 14–16
  • Book XV: Chapters 1–3
  • Book XV: Chapters 4–11
  • Book XV: Chapters 12–20
  • First Epilogue
  • Second Epilogue
  • Character Analysis
  • Pierre Bezuhov
  • Prince Andrey Bolkonsky
  • Natasha Rostov
  • Nikolay Rostov
  • Historical Figures
  • Critical Essays
  • Structure of War and Peace
  • Themes in War and Peace
  • Technical Devices Used in War and Peace
  • Essay Questions
  • Cite this Literature Note

Leo Nicolaevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) was the next to youngest of five children, descending from one of the oldest and best families in Russia. His youthful surroundings were of the upper-class gentry of the last period of serfdom. Though his life spanned the westernization of Russia, his early intellectual and cultural education was the traditional 18th-century training. Lyovochka (as he was called) was a tender, affection-seeking child who liked to do things"out of the ordinary." Self-consciousness was one of his youthful attributes, and this process of self-scrutiny continued all his life. Indeed, Tolstoy's life is one of the best documented accounts we have of any writer, for the diaries he began at 17 he continued through old age.

In 1844 Leo attended the University of Kazan, then one of the great seats of learning east of Berlin. He early showed a contempt for academic learning but became interested enough at the faculty of jurisprudence (the easiest course of study) to attend classes with some regularity. Kazan, next to St. Petersburg and Moscow, was a great social center for the upper class. An eligible, titled young bachelor, Tolstoy devoted his energies to engage in the brilliant social life of his set. But his homely peasant face was a constant source of embarrassment and Tolstoy took refuge in queer and original behavior. His contemporaries called him"Lyovochka the bear," for he was always stiff and awkward.

Before his second-year examinations, Tolstoy left Kazan to settle at his ancestral estate, Yasnaya Polyana (Bright Meadow), which was his share of the inheritance. Intending to farm and devote himself to improve the lot of his peasants, Tolstoy's youthful idealism soon vanished as he confronted the insurmountable distrust of the peasantry. He set off for Moscow in 1848 and for two years lived the irregular and dissipated life led by young men of his class. The diaries of this period reveal the critical self-scrutiny with which he regarded all his actions, and he itemized each deviation from his code of perfect behavior. Carnal lust and gambling were those passions most difficult for him to exorcise. As he closely observed the life around him in Moscow, Tolstoy experienced an irresistible urge to write. This time was the birth of the creative artist, and the following year saw the publication of his first story, Childhood.

Tolstoy began his army career in 1852, joining his brother Nicolai in the Caucasus. Garrisoned among a string of Cossack outposts on the borders of Georgia, Tolstoy participated in occasional expeditions against the fierce Chechenians, the Tartar natives rebelling against Russian rule. He spent the rest of his time gambling, hunting, fornicating.

Torn amidst his inner struggle between his bad and good impulses, Tolstoy arrived at a sincere belief in God, though not in the formalized sense of the Eastern Church. The wild primitive environment of the Caucasus satisfied Tolstoy's intense physical and spiritual needs. Admiring the free, passionate, natural life of the mountain natives, he wished to turn his back forever on sophisticated society with its falseness and superficiality.

Soon after receiving his commission, Tolstoy fought among the defenders at Sevastopol against the Turks. In his Sevastopol sketches he describes with objectivity and compassion the matter-of-fact bravery of the Russian officers and soldiers during the siege.

By now he was a writer of nationwide reputation, and when he resigned from the army and went to Petersburg, Turgenev offered him hospitality. With the leader of the capital's literary world as sponsor, Tolstoy became an intimate member of the circle of important writers and editors. But he failed to get on with these litterateurs: He had no respect for their ideal of European progress, and their intellectual arrogance appalled him. His lifelong antagonism with Turgenev typified this relationship.

His travels abroad in 1857 started Tolstoy toward his lifelong revolt against the whole organization of modern civilization. To promote the growth of individual freedom and self-awareness, he started a unique village school at Yasnaya Polyana based on futuristic progressive principles. The peasant children"brought only themselves, their receptive natures, and the certainty that it would be as jolly in school today as yesterday." But the news of his brother's illness interrupted his work. Traveling to join Nicolai in France, he first made a tour of inspection throughout the German school system. He was at his brother's side when Nicolai died at the spa near Marseilles, and this death affected him deeply. Only his work saved him from the worst depressions and sense of futility he felt toward life.

The fundamental aim of Tolstoy's nature was a search for truth, for the meaning of life, for the ultimate aims of art, for family happiness, for God. In marriage his soul found a release from this never-ending quest, and once approaching his ideal of family happiness, Tolstoy entered upon the greatest creative period of his life.

In the first 15 years of his marriage to Sonya (Sofya Andreyevna Bers) the great inner crisis he later experienced in his"conversion" was procrastinated, lulled by the triumph of spontaneous life over questioning reason. While his nine children grew up, his life was happy, almost idyllic, despite the differences which arose between him and the wife 16 years his junior. As an inexperienced bride of 18, the city-bred Sonya had many difficult adjustments to make. She was the mistress of a country estate as well as the helpmate of a man whose previous life she had not shared. Her constant pregnancies and boredom and loneliness marred the great love she and Tolstoy shared. In this exhilarating period of his growing family, Tolstoy created the epic novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina while Sonya, rejoicing at his creative genius, faithfully turned his rough drafts into fair copy.

Toward the end of 1866, while writing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy entered on the prolonged and fateful crisis which resulted in his conversion. He recorded part of this spiritual struggle in Anna Karenina. The meaning of life consists in living according to one's"inner goodness," he concluded. Only through emotional and religious commitment can one discover this natural truth. Uniquely interpreting the Gospels, Tolstoy discovered Christ's entire message was contained in the idea"that ye resist not evil." This doctrine of"non-resistance" became the foundation of Tolstoyism, where one lived according to nature, renouncing the artificial refinements of society. Self-gratification, Tolstoy believed, perverted man's inherent goodness. Therefore property rights — ownership by one person of"things that belong to all" — is a chief source of evil. Carnal lust, ornamental clothing, and fancy food are other symptoms of the corrupting influence of civilization. In accordance with his beliefs, Tolstoy renounced all copyrights to his works since 1881, divided his property among his family members, dressed in peasant homespun, ate only vegetables, gave up liquor and tobacco, engaged in manual work, and even learned to cobble his own boots. Renouncing creative art on account of its corrupt refinements, Tolstoy wrote polemic tracts and short stories which embodied his new faith.

But the incongruity of his ideals and his actual environment grieved Tolstoy. With his family, he lived in affluence. His wife and children (except for Alexandra) disapproved of his philosophy. As they became more estranged and embittered by their differences, Sonya's increasing hysteria made his latter years a torment for Tolstoy.

All three stages of Tolstoy's life and writings (pre-conversion, conversion, effects of conversion) reflect the single quest of his career: to find the ultimate truth of human existence. After finding this truth, his life was a series of struggles to practice his preachings. He became a public figure both as a sage and an artist during his lifetime, and Yasnaya Polyana became a mecca for a never-ceasing stream of pilgrims. The intensity and heroic scale of his life have been preserved for us from the memoirs of friends and family and wisdom-seeking visitors. Though Tolstoy expressed his philosophy and theory of history with the same thoroughness and lucidity he devoted to his novels, he is known today chiefly for his important contributions to literature. Although his artistic influence is wide and still pervasive, few writers have achieved the personal stature with which to emulate his epic style.

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Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was born Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy on the 9 th of September in 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russian Empire. He was a bright son of Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy, a doctor, while his mother, Mariya Tolstaya, was a housewife. His childhood was filled with darkness as his mother died when he was only two years old, and his father passed away when he was nine. Thus, Tolstoy, along with his siblings, was raised by his relatives.

Leo Tolstoy started studying law in 1844 at the Kazan University, where he was disliked by his teachers. He left the university without completing his degree and traveled to Polyana, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Tula leading a leisurely lifestyle. It was during that time, he started expressing his ideas and published his first novel , Childhood, in 1862.

Personal Life

Leo Tolstoy’s personal life was marred by a series of tragic incidents; first, his parents died when he was a child, later, he failed to complete his education. In 1860, the death of his brother, Nikolay, left him in despair and the acute loneliness led him to marry. Therefore, he married, Sophia Andreevna Behrs on the 23 rd of September in 1862. The couple had thirteen children but only eight survived.

Some Important Facts of His Life.

  • He established himself as a moral and religious leader in the last years of his life and many great religious figures including Mahatma Gandhi said to have been influenced by him.
  • Among his most successful and famous works were, War and Peace, and, The Death of Ivan Illich.
  • He was excommunicated by the Russian Church because he disagreed with certain principles of the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • He died of pneumonia at the age of eighty-two in 1910.

Leo Tolstoy is considered one of the greatest authors of Russian literature who started writing at a young age and touched pinnacles of success in his life. Among his best novels and novellas were, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Hadji Murad, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich . His earlier attempts of writings were primarily autobiographical such as; Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth. His writing talent was further polished with his war experiences. During Crimean War, he served as a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment and his experiences of war helped stir his subsequent pacifism and provided him with a ground for a realistic and horrific description of the war in his later writing attempts.

Throughout his life, Leo Tolstoy consistently attempted to talk about Russian society. For example, The Cossacks, speaks about the Cossack people and life through the love story of a Russian aristocrat and a Cossack girl. Moreover, Anna Karenina narrates stories of an adulterous woman trapped by a philosophical landowner and falsities of the society. Similarly, his novel , Resurrection, attempts to expose the corruption and injustices of the hypocrisy of the institutionalized church and man-made laws.

After establishing his career as a writer, Leo Tolstoy earned a lot of success in life. He gained immense popularity on account of his thoughtful ideas and unique style . Using his pen to create events and characters , Tolstoy has shed light on the horrors of warfare, religion, feminism, and various other topics. His writings are characterized by careful construction, uncomplicated style, and deep insight into human nature. By applying techniques like irony , contrast , and autobiographical details, he talks about the emotions people experience in life. His works deal with simple yet complex diction to enhance the unique perspective presented to the readers. He intentionally used this distinct style to separate himself from other writers. The recurring thematic strands in most of the writings are love, war, and the irrationality of human motives, and the limits of leadership. Regarding literary devices , he often turns to metaphors , foreshadowing , imagery , and similes to create a unique style.

Some Important Works of Leo Tolstoy

  • Best Novels: He was an outstanding writer. Some of his best books include Boyhood, Resurrection, The Forged Coupon, Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, The Cossacks, and The Kreutzer Sonata.
  • Other Works: Besides writing novels, he tried his hands in other areas too. Some of them include The Light Shines in the Darkness, The Fruits of Enlightenment, The Gospel in Brief, The Power of Darkness, “Wisdom of Children”, “What Men Live By and “The Prisoner of the Caucasus.”

Leo Tolstoy’s Impacts on Future Literature

Leo Tolstoy started his writing career at his young age and became highly popular during his lifetime. His unique writing style and literary qualities of his masterpieces brought notable changes in global literature. His distinctive writing approach and unique way of expression made him stand among the best writers of the world. Also, he had a significant influence on a diverse range of writers and critics, and other influential figures. He expressed his thoughts and ideas in his literary pieces so well that even today writers tend to imitate his style, considering him a role model for producing fiction and nonfiction.

Famous Quotes

  • “I think… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” (Anna Karenina)
  • “A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor — such is my idea of happiness.” (Family Happiness)
  • “I always loved you, and if one loves anyone, one loves the whole person, just as they are and not as one would like them to be. -Dolly” (Anna Karenina)
  • “If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.” (War and Peace)
  • “The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.” (War and Peace)

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Leo Tolstoy Biography

by Janice Campbell · Published May 27, 2021 · Updated May 19, 2021

Leo Tolstoy  (or Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy), 1828-1910, was a Russian novelist and social reformer, born on the 9th of September (August 28) 1828, in the home of his fathers – Yasnaya Polyana, near Toula – a large country house (not the present one) built in a severely formal style, with Doric pillars and architraves, standing solitarily in a typical Russian landscape. The Tolstoy family, to whom it had belonged for several generations, was originally of German extraction, and had settled in Russia in the days of Peter the Great.

Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy in peasant garb by Ilya Repin. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The first ancestor of distinction was Petr Andreevich Tolstoy. His descendant Nicholas (the father of the great author) was born in 1797. After serving for a short time in the army he retired in 1824, and led the life of a Russian boyar. By his marriage with the princess Maria Volkonsky, Count Nicholas in a great measure rebuilt the family fortunes, which had fallen into decay during the two previous decades. Count Leo Tolstoy was the youngest but one of the five children of this marriage, and lost his mother when he was barely three years old. Six years later his father died also, at the age of forty-one.

As a child, Tolstoy, though observant and thoughtful, showed no marked talent. He was plain and very sensitive on the point, suffering keenly for want of notice and affection. This sensitiveness led him as he grew older to hide himself away from his playmates and spend hours in lonely brooding. He describes in Childhood how, one day, it dawned suddenly upon his mind that Death was ever lying in wait, and that to be happy one must enjoy the present, unconcerned with the future. Whereupon the youthful Epicurean flung aside his books and pencils, and, stretched on his bed, fell to munching sweetmeats and reading romances. But Tolstoy’s childhood was not without its share of wholesome pleasure. Hunting and shooting, the delight of the Russian noble, occupied much of his father’s leisure, and from his earliest years the boy was wont to accompany his parent. At other times he was quite happy sitting beside his father’s coachman on an expedition to one of the neighbouring towns, or with his brothers running in and out of the stables and coach-houses.

The tedium of the schoolroom and the reproofs of his tutor made a reverse side to the picture, but did not prevent this fund of early memories from being, as he writes, ” ever to be treasured, and fondled again and again, serving as a well-spring from which to draw my choicest treasures.” After his father’s death at Moscow, in 1837, Tolstoy and his brothers were placed under the guardianship of his aunt, the countess Osten-Sacken, and in the care of Mme Ergolskaya, a distant relative. The former died, however, in 1840, and the charge devolved on another aunt, Mme Jushkov, who lived in Kazan. Mme Jushkov was a typical Russian lady of her class. Keeping open house, fond of gaiety and society, her ideas on moral questions were liberal in the extreme. Tolstoy was eleven years old when he became subject to her influence – an influence which he subsequently regarded as having been the reverse of beneficial. A French tutor was engaged for him and his brothers, prior to their entrance into the university of Kazan. Outside the hours of study Tolstoy spent his days either in solitary rambles, during which he reflected on the problems of life, or in violent exercise at the gymnasium (the only form of athletics enjoyed by boys of his position in Russia). Thus the physical and philosophical impulses of his nature were developed in equal measure, and these two conflicting forces began their lifelong duel. Only in later years has the philosopher sometimes seemed to outweigh the man of action in Tolstoy’s vigorous personality.

In 1843, at the age of fifteen, he entered the university of Kazan, and gained with his college cap and uniform what he College. prized most, his independence. The lax rule of the At un i versity – which was of no high scholastic repute, giving ready admittance to the sons of the rich and noble – enabled him at the same time to enter the world of society and study its complex problems at leisure. Kazan was in those days a real paradise for such as sought happiness in social excitement, dining and dancing. No city in Russia was so given up to the pursuit of pleasure. Among these scenes of luxury and licence the students played a prominent part. Amid such influences the boy soon ripened into the man. The constant succession of balls, picnics and parties wearied and disgusted him. The pages of Youth are eloquent of deadly ennui. He is for ever seeking ” Her,” engaged in an undefined ” pursuit of the Well-beloved,” with a half spiritual, half physical longing. At intervals in this quest of the unknown he devoured the novelists of his day, chiefly Dumas and Eugene Sue. He already thought deeply on the object of existence; forming new ideals, aspiring to noble deeds, seeing himself in imagination now a passionate lover, now a leader of men. He was always trying to be original, and to tread unbeaten tracks. Partly in consequence of this feeling, he determined to enter the school of Eastern languages. His first attempt was unsuccessful, but finally passing in through the medium of a supplemental examination, he took up Arabic and Turkish. These studies, however, proved uncongenial to his versatile nature, and failing to distinguish himself in them, he turned his attention in 1845 to the school of law. Here he met with equal discouragement. The professors – all Germans, and many of them not knowing enough Russian to make themselves understood – were favourite butts for the students’ wit. There was practically no serious teaching, nor any personal interest shown in the pupils. Tolstoy’s evil genius had once more cast him in stony places and left him to work out his own salvation. History, religion and law now claimed his attention in his final efforts to gain the university diploma. In religion his opinions had undergone a great change. From the child’s unthinking acquiescence in a hereditary faith had sprung absolute unbelief. History he held a useless form of knowledge. ” Of what avail,” he said, ” to know what happened a thousand years ago ? ” Hence he neglected the lectures on these subjects, absented himself from the examinations, was confined in the university gaol for irregular attendance, and ended by coming out but moderately well in the yearly examination. The conviction that he was wasting his time forced itself upon him. An idle, dissipated life had told upon his health, and early in 1847 Tolstoy asked permission to go down, ” on account of ill health and private reasons.” Thus ended his college life, which from an educational point of view he had treated as a jest. Somewhat of an enigma as he was to his companions, with his alternate fits of feverish gaiety and melancholy abstraction, aristocratic hauteur and liberal views, there was yet found a little band of students to accompany him on the first stage of his journey homewards. While probably admiring the original bent of his mind, they little dreamed their late comrade would one day be acclaimed as Russia’s greatest thinker and novelist.

Tolstoy went back to his estates with fresh hope and energy, determined to ameliorate the condition of his peasantry and fulfil The the duties of a landlord. Rumours had reached Youthful him at Kazan from time to time of the recurring Reformer. famines, revolts and miseries of the serfs. In 5847, as often before, the crops failed to suffice for the needs of the starving people, and whole districts set forth to petition the tsar for food. Here was a vital problem requiring prompt solution. In the course of desultory reading at the university he had studied the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and the Frenchman’s plea for Nature, honest work and simplicity of life, had impressed him greatly. Fired with enthusiasm, he now entered heart and soul on the task of realizing this ideal. Unfortunately, he was as yet without sufficient moral stamina to withstand recurring disappointments and to combat the suspicions of the serfs. The youthful reformer lacked the patience necessary to deal with the deep-rooted mistrust engendered by years of oppression and neglect. After six months of struggle with this discouraging state of things he temporarily gave up the attempt, and we find him in St Petersburg taking up for a time the broken threads of his education. But with the restlessness of transition strong upon him he soon returned to country life, and in company with his brother Sergius gave himself up to hunting, gambling, carousing with Zigani dancers, and throwing all serious thoughts to the winds. The Landlord’s Morning may be taken as a picture of this stage of Tolstoy’s life. The inevitable reaction soon came. Oppressed by debts and difficulties, in the spring of 1851 he betook himself to the Caucasus, where his eldest brother Nicholas was stationed with his regiment. At Pyatigorsk, at the foot of the mountains, he rented a cottage for about twelve shillings a month, and lived there with the utmost frugality.

Finally his brother’s persuasions, aided by the influence of relations in high places, led him to enter the army. He passed the necessary examination at Tiflis, and joined the artillery in the autumn of the year. Enters the J Y Y Army. At that time Russia was much disturbed by the lawlessness of the Caucasian races. Bands of Circassians were constantly on the move, plundering and looting. The punitive expeditions in which Tolstoy took part were his first taste of warfare. Neither his military duties nor his love of sport entirely absorbed him, however. The great power which had hitherto lain dormant now awoke. He began to write, and within the next few years produced some of his finest works. Nekrassov, the editor of the Russian Contemporary, accepted Childhood, the young author’s maiden effort. In accordance with the common practice, he received nothing for the MSS. Publication of a first attempt was considered ample payment in those days. Tolstoy was now twenty-four years of age. Childhood was followed by The Landlord’s Morning, Boyhood and Youth, in quick succession. His early aspirations were revived in these pages, which reflect the doctrines of Rousseau. ” You neither know what happiness is nor what life is,” he writes to expostulating friends. ” Once taste life in all its natural beauty, happiness will consist in being with Nature, seeing her, communing with her.” His philosophy notwithstanding, Tolstoy felt a pardonable desire for promotion, which was slow in coming to him. Some verses ascribed to him (an authorship never denied) making fun of the general during the siege of Sebastopol, which appeared in print, may possibly have had something to answer for. Be that as it may, the spirit of unrest and dissatisfaction was moving Tolstoy to return home, when rumours of hostilities arose, and the Crimean War burst into flame. He promptly volunteered for active service, and asked to be allowed to join the army on the Danube, under the command of Prince Gortchakov.

In the early part of 1854 we find him encamped before the walls of Silistria, a town of Bulgaria, which Gortchakov had invested. At the very height of the bombardment, however, Austrian intervention prevailed, and the siege was raised. The din of battle was hushed and revelry took its place. At the ball which promptly celebrated the event Tolstoy felt ill at ease. The joyous music and babel of tongues jarred on his sensitive ear, fresh from the moans of the wounded and dying. He went up to the prince and asked leave to start for Sebastopol. Permission being granted, he hastened from the ballroom, and left Silistria without delay.

He now exchanged the offensive for the defensive. Shot and shell fell like hailstones on the bastions of Sebastopol. Courage, fortitude, presence of mind were at every moment demanded, while assault followed assault, until at last the overwhelming strength of the allies compelled the Russians to retreat. Throughout that trying time Tolstoy cheered his companions, whiling away many a weary hour with jest and story. Amid this ” wrackful siege of battering days ” he wrote those Tales from Sebastopol which earned him instant literary celebrity, and caused the emperor Nicholas to issue special orders that he should be removed from a post of danger. An official despatch recounting the events of the siege was next written by Tolstoy at the command of his superior officer, and with the charge of this document he was shortly afterwards sent to St Petersburg. He was never again on the field of battle.

Tolstoy returned home with new impressions. Sad at heart and sick of the horrors of war, he came back with a feeling of brotherly love for the common soldiers, whom he and devotion, fighting for their country without hope of reward, without fear of death. He contrasted them with the more self-seeking nobles, and felt their superiority. The stirring scenes through which he had passed, the simple faith of his men, all had helped to renew his belief in God. Preceded by the fame of his descriptions of Sebastopol and the Caucasus, he arrived in St Petersburg to find himself the object of a general ovation.

The Sovremennik (Contemporary), in which Tolstoy’s first work, Childhood, had appeared, numbered among its contributors the foremost writers of the day. To be admitted to their ranks was considered by them an honour equivalent to the award of a fauteuil in the French Academy. They welcomed Tolstoy with open arms, the veteran novelist, Turgeniev, in particular hastening to greet him on his arrival, and begging him to make his house his home. Society was equally eager to open its doors to the young soldier-author. His vivid and dramatic pictures of the war had been widely read and had created a profound sensation.

The great official world of St Petersburg proceeded to offer him a brilliant series of entertainments in which he found himself the central figure. It is not surprising that this combined adulation from literary men and society overcame for a time the growing asceticism of his character. Yet it also in a measure hastened its development. Even while borne swiftly on the current of pleasure, his strenuous nature gradually reasserted itself. In the pages of My Confession, Tolstoy describes the phases of this mental unrest. The narrowness of a literary clique soon became irksome to his dominant character. His passionate desire for truth brought him into frequent conflict with those who paid more regard to convention. With Turgeniev especially he found himself constantly at variance. A friendship between natures so diametrically opposite, between two men who might be described as leaders respectively of the old and the new school of thought, could not long subsist. Mutual admiration does not imply sympathy. Turgeniev presently wrote to a friend, ” I regret I cannot draw nearer to Tolstoy, our views are so opposed, the one to the other.” And these differences of opinion gradually led to a complete estrangement. On the other hand, in Fet, the poet, he found a lifelong friend. Others of his intimates were Nekrassov, the editor of the Contemporary, already mentioned; Katkov, the celebrated journalist; Droushinine, Grigorovitch, Fet, and Ostrovski, the dramatist.

While Tolstoy was thus waking to a sense of distaste for his environment, a great event was pending. With the accession of Alexander II. in 1855 a wave of progressive policy – set in motion by the tsar himself – stirred the Movement. bureaucratic circles of Russia, and while fiercely resisted by some of the nobility, met generally with cordial encouragement. The emancipation of the serfs became the burning question. ” The People ! ” and ” Progress ! ” were the cries quickly caught up by the press of Russia and of Germany also. It was in Germany, indeed, that the novel of humble life sprang into being, Gotthelf leading the way with his tales, Uli the Serf and Uli the Tenant. Auerbach followed with his village stories, which opened a new world of thought; Stifter and a host of others brought up the rear.

This new impulse in literature soon spread to Russia. Turgeniev in his Sportsman’s Tales , Grigorovitch in The Village and Anton Goremika, showed their sympathy with the moujik. But above all others, Tolstoy was most deeply and lastingly affected. Awakened by this echo from without of his own inmost yearnings, he realized at last the true bent of his mind. ” The People ” became his watchword. One increasing purpose henceforth ruled his life, and gradually brought into harmony the inequalities and contradictions of his character. Roused from the inertia which had been caused by nerves and hypochondria, he wrote Polikoushka , a painful story dealing with the ills of serfdom. His active brain then turned to considering the meaning and scope of the catchword ” Progress,” and fully to do this he determined to go abroad and study the educational and municipal systems of other countries. He finally started for Germany in January 1857.

Tolstoy only three times crossed the Russian frontier, and these journeys were all between 1857 and 1861. On his first trip, Germany and Italy were hurriedly visited. He also made a short stay in Paris, which had attractions for him in the society of several Russian friends, among whom were Nekrassov and Turgeniev. With the latter he had not yet come to open rupture. From Paris he went to Lucerne. An incident which occurred there, and is reproduced in his semi-autobiographical Lucerne, shows the workings of his spirit. He tells how a wandering musician stood one day in the hotel courtyard, and after his performance asked in vain for alms from the convivial crowd assembled. Tolstoy, in the person of the hero, then indignantly came to the rescue, brought the poor minstrel into the hotel, and, moved to wrath with the churlish waiters who were unwilling to serve him, ordered a private room where he himself supplied his guest’s wants, and sent him away happy with a double lining to his pockets.

Of his successive journeys westwards, the third alone was of long duration and of corresponding importance in its results. Prior to this last visit to foreign parts, his time was spent between Yasnaya Polyana and Moscow, often in the company of his friend Fet. On a bear-hunt together, Tolstoy narrowly escaped death, an incident which he graphically describes in his Fourth Reading-book for Children (zoth ed., 1900, &c.). Fet also mentions it in his Reminiscences. His departure was finally hastened by the serious illness of his brother Nicholas, who had gone to France to recruit his failing health. Tolstoy, after halting in Berlin and Dresden, joined him, but only to endure the grief of witnessing his end. Nicholas died on the zoth of September 1860, and Tolstoy’s letters of that period show how deeply he was affected by the death of his brother. It gave a yet more serious turn to his thoughts. In a letter to Fet he reverts to his old trouble, the enigma of life. ” In truth,” he writes, ” the position in which we stand is terrible.” This mental gloom probably still hung over him during his wanderings through Italy. There is no record of his impressions of Rome, Naples, Florence. Turning his footsteps northwards, however, he began to take renewed interest in social conditions, elementary and monastic education, and the general subject of his quest. From Paris (where his friend spoke of him as ” singular indeed, but subdued and kindly “) he went to London in 1861, no noteworthy incident marking his brief visit.

The spring of 1861 found him once more at Yasnaya Polyana, where some little time before he had forestalled the Emancipa tion Act by freeing all the serfs on that estate. He now began digesting the mass of information he Experi- had acquired abroad, eager to put his ideas into meats. practice. The feelings with which he reviewed his experiences were largely those of disappointment. Of the educational systems of Italy, France and Germany, that of the last-named country alone earned his partial approval. While there he visited the universities, prisons and working-men’s clubs. He made the acquaintance of Auerbach, and was greatly influenced by his ideas on village schools. He was also much impressed by the novel institution of the kindergarten, to which Frdbel, the great educationist, was devoting all his energies. Determined to follow these lines, he sought and obtained permission to open a school. In his zeal he also started an educational journal called Yasnaya Polyana.

This journal now only exists as a literary curiosity, but the essays published in it have all been reprinted in his collected works. The time for opening the school was well chosen. The liberal spirits of Russia had gained the day and won a great victory. Just two months previously the decree of emancipation (February 1861) had been sent forth. The air was rife with schemes for the betterment of the peasantry. A new era seemed to have begun.

Tolstoy’s school was essentially ” free.” ” Everything that savours of compulsion is harmful,” he said, ” and proves either that the method is indifferent or the teaching bad.” So that not only were no fees paid, but the children came and went as they pleased, learned what they pleased, and were subjected to no sort of punishment. It was the duty of the teacher to fix the pupils’ attention, and his the blame if they failed to learn. ” The student,” said Tolstoy ” must have the right to refuse those forms of education which do not satisfy his instincts. Freedom is the only criterion. We of the older generation do not and cannot know what is necessary for the younger.”

On these principles the Yasnaya Polyana school was started in a house near that of Tolstoy. He himself taught drawing, singing and Bible history. The Old Testament was his handbook; he held it as indispensable in any course of instruction, a model for all books. Doubts and fears sometimes assailed him, still for a year all went well. Other schools were opened on the same lines in the district, and success seemed assured. But the eyes of the government inspectors had long been suspiciously fixed on them, and a correspondence on the subject presently ensued between the ministry of education and the home department. The verdict passed by the former was free from overt animus. ” The activity of Count Tolstoy deserves respect and should win co-operation from the educational department, although it cannot agree with all his ideas; ideas which he will in all probability abandon on due consideration ” (October 1862). Yet there was a subtle threat conveyed in these last words which was probably not without effect. Signs of discouragement grew visible. We find the enthusiast complaining that his masters desert him, his pupils fall away. The plague of inquisitive visitors annoys him. At the end of the second year the schools were closed, the journal discontinued, and Tolstoy, disheartened and sick, ” more,” as he writes, ” in mind than body,” betook himself to the healthful quiet of the steppes, to breathe fresh air, to drink koumiss and to vegetate. This was the end of his educational experiment, the aim of which was rather to develop the character than to educate in the ordinary sense of the term. When later he asked leave from the authorities to reopen the schools, it was peremptorily refused.

His socialistic theories were now fully unfolded. In his view the people were everything, the higher classes nothing. The latter had misinterpreted the meaning of ” progress,” imagining it to be synonymous with education; and hence compulsory teaching had been resorted to, with harmful results. Reading and writing played but a small part in forming a man’s mind and fitting him for life. They merely rendered him more articulate. These questions should be left to the people themselves. Their demands were very clearly expressed. They knew what they wanted, and were thoroughly convinced that ” in the great question of their spiritual development they would neither take a wrong step nor accept that which was false.”

Such was in substance Tolstoy’s doctrine. ” The people,” he affirms, ” are stronger, more independent, more just, more human, and, above all, more necessary than the upper class. It is not they who should come to our schools; we should learn of them.” This desire to subvert society is akin to the philosophy of Rousseau, as expressed in Emile (livre iv.):

“C’est le peuple qui compose le genre humain; ce qui n’est pas peuple est si peu de chose, que ce n’est pas la peine de le compter. L’homme est le meme dans tous les etats; si cela est, les etats les plus nombreux meritent le plus de respect. Devant celui qui pense, toutes les distinctions civiles disparaissent: it voit les memes passions, les memes sentiments dans le goujat et dans l’homme illustre; it n’y, discerne que leur langage, qu’un coloris plus ou moms apprete…. Etudiez les gens de cet ordre, vous verrez que, sous un autre langage, ils ont autant d’esprit et plus de bon sens que vous. Respectez donc votre espece; songez qu’elle est composee essentiellement de la collection des peuples; que quand tous les rois et tous les philosopher en seraient otes, it n’y paraitrait gunre, et que les choses n’en iraient pas plus mal.”

While Tolstoy’s theories were thus in course of practical solution, his literary powers suffered eclipse. Turgeniev, who lived near him in the country, writes in disgust that he ” has grown a long beard, leaves his hair to fall in curls over his ears, holds newspapers in detestation, and has no soul for anything but his property.” Indeed, his time was fully taken up, for while still occupied in supporting the school, he had allowed himself to be nominated to the position of ” Arbitrator.,” which he held for a year and some months (1861-1862).

This was an arduous post. The arbitrators were with the appointed under the Law of Emancipation to supervise the distribution of land, to adjust the taxes, define the conditions of purchase, and decide all matters in this connexion. These duties were after his own heart, and he went to work with a will. Every day he had difficult points to deal with, deputations of peasants coming to see him, the new law and the rights it bestowed on them having to be explained. The hardest of all Tolstoy’s tasks was to remove the suspicion and mistrust felt by the serf towards the landlord. On the other hand, he had to contend with the nobility of the district, who were well aware of the side on which his sympathies placed him. For a year and a half he tried energetically to do his duty, but this experience led him eventually to regard the Emancipation Law as a not unmixed blessing. It had come too soon, and been granted unasked. The condition of the peasantry was worse than before. A noble impulse, inspired by love of the people, impelled Tolstoy to become their champion and interpreter.

A tragic incident occurring about this period (1866) forcibly illustrates Tolstoy’s character as a defender of the helpless. A regiment had recently been stationed near Yasnaya Polyana, in consequence of some five hundred convicts being at work upon the railway. In this regiment was a certain Captain N., a strict disciplinarian, who led a solitary life and was much disliked by his brother officers and his men. For trifling faults he would condemn his soldiers to unheard-of punishments.

One of his orderlies in particular, a young man of some education – who had voluntarily taken the place of a comrade to free him from military service – was constantly getting into trouble, until, for some slight clerical error in a report, Captain N. ordered him to be degraded and flogged. This was too much for the poor volunteer. He followed the officer as he was leaving the orderlyroom, and struck him a blow on the face. He was immediately placed under arrest, and the details of the occurrence quickly spread through the neighbouring villages.

Two officers of the regiment brought the story to Tolstoy and begged him to undertake the soldier’s defence. He consented readily, and no opposition being made by the military authorities, at once prepared for the court-martial. A few days afterwards the court assembled. Warned by the president of the severity of military law, Tolstoy made answer that he was come to defend not a criminal but a man compelled to crime by force of circumstances outside his will. The plea he set up was that the prisoner was not in full possession of his senses; but this defence was not allowed to stand. The soldier was condemned to be shot, in spite of the utmost intercession Tolstoy could make. The emotion of the crowded assembly stirred by his appeal, the mute quiescence of the soldier (persuaded that death was better than the living agony of exile), the closing tragedy – all this, added to the many scenes of war and bloodshed which he had previously witnessed, made a lasting impression and caused him to raise his voice yet louder in the cause of universal love and peace.

During the preceding period of ethical experiment he published only two books, but these stand high among his works. They were Three Deaths (1859) and The Cossacks (1863) – the latter written ten years before, its leading idea being that culture is the enemy of happiness. At the conclusion of his arbitratorship, seeing his efforts partially nullified, and feeling himself overstrained and overworked, he determined to exile himself for a time to Samara, a south-eastern province. He halted on his way in Moscow, and here one night’s high play cost him the MSS. of The Cossacks, which he sold to the editor of the Russian Messenger for boo to pay his debts of honour. A pleasanter feature of this visit to Moscow lay in the renewal of his intimacy with the Behrs family, Sophia, the younger daughter of the house, being his special attraction. He finally reached Samara in the spring of 1862, and went through a “koumiss cure,” revelling in what he called “the life of a beast of the field.”

By the month of July he felt completely restored to health, and returned to Yasnaya Polyana , where his sister Maria and his aunt, Mme Ergolskaya, were looking after the property. The house in which he now lived was comparatively new. The one in which he was born was sold to pay some earlier gambling debts, and had been removed bodily to the Dolgoe estate some 30 m. distant. He now felt a sense of something wanting in his home – a feeling of incompleteness took possession of him. He wanted to see Sophia Behrs, and accordingly left almost immediately for Moscow. Sophia’s father. was a fashionable Russian doctor, born and bred in Moscow, and a graduate of that university. He had three daughters, of whom Sophia was the second. The friendship between the Behrs and the Tolstoy families was of old standing, Countess Maria Tolstoy having been a school companion of Mrs Behrs.

Marriage and Family Life

It was now the height of summer, and every one of consequence was leaving the city for their country seats. The Behrs family were going on a visit to their grandfather, whose estate lay not more than 40 m. from Yasnaya Polyana. Here they accordingly broke’; their journey, and during the pleasant days that followed Tolstoy’s attachment deepened. Not long after their departure his impulse took shape, and mounting his horse, he set out for Twicy, where they were staying. His errand was a definite one; and he lost no time in fulfilling it. At first. Dr Behrs demurred, unwilling to allow his second daughter to marry before her elder sister, but his objections were presently overruled. On the 23rd of September 1862 the marriage took place, and Tolstoy installed his bride at Yasnaya Polyana with the conviction that calm and contentment were his at last.

Two weeks later he wrote to his friend Fet, saying that he was now happy and felt quite a new man. In his Confession some years later he writes: ” The new conditions of a happy family circle led me away from my researches into the meaning of life. My whole mind became concentrated on the family – on the mother, the children, and the anxiety to provide due means of subsistence. The effort after perfection resolved itself into the effort to ensure the happiness of my offspring.” Tolstoy thereupon settled down to country life, and though to the young countess this exile from her town friends and relations must have been somewhat of a trial, they remained on their estates for the following eighteen years, with very short intervals of absence. They had thirteen children, of whom the eldest was born in June 1863.

In the bringing up and instruction of his family Tolstoy conformed in essentials to the requirements of his position. No experiments were attempted. English and German governesses were engaged, and their educational methods followed the usual routine. Both father and mother devoted a considerable amount of time to their children. Punishment was rare. It consisted in a strict ” boycott ” of the offender, which was not relaxed until a frank confession of fault was made – no light penalty to a sensitive child. The theory of free option in study was dropped by Tolstoy in the case of his children, but he was for ever joining in their games, taking them on his shooting expeditions and sharing in their gymnastic exercises. Manual labour was always congenial to the great writer, and formed a natural concomitant to his pastoral existence. It was a common thing for him to mow the lawns, hoe and rake the garden beds, or when out walking to take the scythe from a labourer and wield it lustily.

War and Peace and Anna Karenina , Tolstoy’s two most widely known and finest novels, date their commencement from this period. These two novels were received Literary with scant favour by both the Liberals and Con- Work. servatives in Russia. Katkov, the editor who was publishing Anna Karenina in his periodical, introduced so many changes into the MSS. that the publication was not continued. It was due to N. Strachov, the literary critic, that public opinion was brought to recognize the merits of these novels. Every day Tolstoy retired to his room for a certain number of hours, and whether in the humour or not, sat at his table and wrote. “Inspiration comes with writing,” he used to say. Authorship he avowedly despised, yet confessed the temptation of public applause and heavy gains was too great to resist. The reading world has reason to be glad of this touch of inconsistency. Despite his genius for characterization, the task of novel-writing cost him a severe and determined effort. The technique of literary composition irked him exceedingly. “You cannot conceive,” he writes in 1864 to his friend Fet, “how hard is this preliminary labour of ploughing the field in which I am compelled to sow. To consider and reconsider all that may happen to all the characters beforehand, and to think over the million of possible combinations, and to choose one out of a hundred thousand, is very difficult.”

In the course of this correspondence interesting sidelights are thrown on Tolstoy as landowner and farmer. Not long after his marriage he wrote, ” I have made an important discovery, of which I hasten to tell you. Agents, stewards and overseers are only so many hindrances to farming! Dismiss them all and lie abed till so o’clock, and you will see things will certainly go none the worse. I have made the experiment, and am quite satisfied. Now to business. When you are in Orel buy me 20 poods of various kinds of string, &c., and send them to me if it does not cost more than two roubles thirty kopecks a pood with the carriage “; and in this vein he enters into manifold rural matters, the progress of crops, the illness of a favourite horse or the calving of a valuable cow. Again the philosopher rises to the surface, and he questions Fet as to the workings of his mind.

“I don’t mean in the Zemstvo nor in agriculture; these are occupations for active men, with which we employ ourselves in a perfunctory fashion, much like ants engaged in hollowing out a clod of earth – work of which the result is neither good nor bad. But what are you doing with your thoughts; how is the inner mechanism working? Is the secret spring trying to show itself, making its presence felt? Has it forgotten how to work? that is the all-important question.” At another time he pays a well-earned tribute to his wife’s helpful sympathy. ” She is by no means a trifler,” he writes, ” but is an earnest helpmeet to me.” In literary matters he valued above everything the opinions of Fet and of Turgeniev (notwithstanding his saying of the latter, ” the older I grow the less I love him “). Fet, indeed, was an intimate and devoted friend, constantly interchanging visits with the Tolstoy family. To him the scenes of War and Peace were first unfolded as Tolstoy read them aloud in the quiet evenings.

It was at Fet’s house (in 1864) that the violent quarrel took place between Turgeniev and Tolstoy which nearly culminated in a duel. Many inaccurate accounts of it have been given, but the history of the rupture as re- with corded by Fet may be looked on as trustworthy. It seems that Turgeniev in rather a boasting spirit was praising his daughter’s English governess – how she had desired him to name the precise sum his daughter might spend in charity, and how, at her instigation, the young lady made a practice of mending the clothes of some of the poorest peasants. Tolstoy, who was always against the artificial ” philanthropy ” of the wealthy, said brusquely that he thought it was theatrical and poseuse for a daintily-dressed girl to sit sewing at filthy, evil-smelling garments in the name of charity. Turgeniev thereupon rose, furious, from the table. ” Stop saying such things ! ” he cried, ” or I will force you to silence, with insults if need be.” Peace was with difficulty restored by M and Mme Fet. The letters which subsequently passed between them only served to fan the flame, so that even the amiable Fet was involved in the dispute and for a short time estranged from Tolstoy. Finally, after a lengthy and acrimonious correspondence, the threatened resort to arms was averted through the interposition of friends; but fourteen years were allowed to pass before a reconciliation took place. In 1878 Tolstoy, believing himself to be in a dying state, at length made overtures of peace to his brother author; overtures which Turgeniev met cordially in the following terms:

“Dear Leo Nikolaevitch,-I received your letter to-day which you sent to me poste restante. I was delighted and much moved by it. With the greatest pleasure I am ready to renew our former friendship and to press your proffered hand. You are quite right in thinking I harbour no feelings of enmity towards you. If they ever did exist they have long since disappeared, and no remembrance of you now remains save that of a man to whom I am sincerely devoted, and of a writer whose first step it was my great privilege to be one of the earliest to welcome; whose every new work has always aroused in me the greatest interest. I rejoice from my heart that our misunderstanding has come to an end. I hope to be in the province of Orel this summer, and then we shall meet. I send you my best wishes, and once more grasp your hand in friendship.”

Meanwhile Tolstoy had pursued literary labours with relentless ardour and with ever-increasing fame. Prince Andre (the hero of War and Peace) and Anna Karenina in turn occupied all his thoughts. Several years were given to the perfecting of these remarkable character-paintings. When the publication (1864-1869) of War and Peace had been succeeded by that of Anna Karenina, he set himself to write yet another great novel, dealing with the times of Peter the Great, but after working at it for some months he suddenly abandoned the scheme. One of the few excursions made during these years of tranquillity was undertaken in 1866 to the battlefield of Borodino, the scene of the famous fight in 1812. For two days Tolstoy wandered over the plain, investigating and taking notes, and there he drew a plan of the battle, which was afterwards published as a frontispiece to War and Peace. But the continued pressure of severe nervous and mental strain was bound to affect a man of his calibre; health and spirits gradually sank, so that in 1870 Countess Tolstoy induced him once more to seek the healthful air of Samara, and subject himself to the ” koumiss cure ” in practice there. A strange At Samara. feature of this ” treatment ” lay in the avoidance of meal and vegetables, the diet being strictly confined to meat. Tolstoy pitched his tent in the village of Karalieck, where the primitive life among the Bashkir nomads exactly suited his habits and disposition. He had a faculty for making himself at home with peasant folk, and was a great favourite among them. In this district there was a large community of Molochans, a sect whose tenets differ considerably from those of the Orthodox religion of Russia. They acknowledge no guide save the Bible, and reject all the rites and ceremonies of the Greek Church. Their honesty, industry and temperance made them an example to all the country round, and caused Tolstoy to study them with special interest. So delighted was the count with this visit to Samara, that he shortly afterwards purchased an estate of over 2000 acres in the district. But his pleasure was short-lived, for not long afterwards (1872-1873) the crops failed and a serious famine broke out. He thereupon opened a subscription fund for the starving population, and went from village to village taking a quantity of grain with him, and making what provision was possible in the circumstances.

Tolstoy was now making up for lost time, learning what he had failed to learn at the university. Greek was his great attraction. ” Without Greek,” he exclaims, ” there Studies in i s no culture.” He also became enamoured of the writings of Schopenhauer, and for the greater part of a year (1869) devoted himself to the study of that philosopher. ” Never,” he says,. “have I experienced such spiritual joys.” Enthusiastic in everything he takes up, he assures his friends that Schopenhauer is the greatest genius he has met with. He sets himself to translate his works, and tries to enrol Fet as a co-translator. Philosophy at this stage of his life went hand in hand with sport and agricultural interests. He contemplated buying an estate in the province of Penza, but on the 21st of October 1869 he writes: “The purchase of the estate in Penza has not come to anything. I have now finished the sixth volume (War and Peace), and I hope it will be published on the 1st of November. There are a lot of snipe. I have shot four brace, and to-day found two brace and killed one bird.”

After a period of comparative rest and ease, the shadows of war and death once more encompassed Tolstoy. Two of his children died in 1873, and their loss was followed by that of his much-loved aunt, Mme Ergolskaya. A mental restlessness and uneasiness came over Tolstoy, and also a desire for the exercise of a wider philanthropy. The Russo-Turkish War put the crowning touch to these feelings. God and death, war and the intricacies of life were now the constant subjects of his letters. ” You will not believe what joy your last letter has given me,” he writes in 1877 to his dear friend Fet. “When you speak of the existence of the Deity, I agree with everything you say, and I would wish to write much, but time fails me and it is difficult in a letter. For the first time you write to me on the Divinity of God. I have been thinking about it for a long time. Don’t say that we must not think about it. Not only we must, but we ought. In all ages the best people, the true people, have thought about it.” Tolstoy now resumed the study of the Bible, and took special delight in the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. He treats them as a new discovery, and recommends them to his friends as having much in common with the teaching of Schopenhauer ! This revived interest in religious questions was accompanied and perhaps deepened by a state of extreme depression. It was then he reconciled himself with Turgeniev, and in December 1878 we find the latter staying with him on a visit of three days’ duration. Turgeniev writes that he finds him ” very silent, but much developed.” s The count on his side feels the same want of mutual sympathy as of old, and confesses that no real friendship seems possible between them.

Tolstoy now entered on the third phase of his life. He himself thus describes the stages of his mental growth. In the first phase he lived only for his own lusts and pleasures. This came to an end at the age of thirty-four. Then came the interest in the welfare of humanity, which married life cooled and obscured for a while. The striving for the welfare of mankind was mingled with the striving for personal well-being. But the third and highest phase was reached when the service of God became the motive power of his existence. All other aims grew subservient to this, and interest in the merely personal life had begun to disappear. He had passed through every imaginable grade of religious thought. As a child he had gone to church and confession unquestioningly. As a student and young man he had scorned and ridiculed religion. Later in life he became a pious and devoutly orthodox Greek Churchman, until one day during the Russo-Turkish War he was filled with a spirit of revolt at hearing the priests pray for the destruction of the enemy, beseeching the Almighty to help them to kill their hundreds and thousands. His whole being recoiled from the un-Christianity of these prayers, and he then and there renounced the orthodox faith. For three years he had exceeded the priests themselves in the regularity of his attendance. Now he felt there was something vitally amiss, and he flung it all to the winds.

The novelist was rapidly being hidden in the philosopher’s cloak, to the dismay of literary Europe. So early as 1859 Turgeniev had exclaimed, ” If only Tolstoy would not philosophize, all might yet be well.” His brilliant contemporaries, Gogol, Dostoievski and others, had all in different ways been seized in turn by what may be called the. fever of religion. Tolstoy was to suffer from it too. Like the flickering of a dying lamp, his imagination again shone out in The Death of Ivan Ilyitch and The Power of Darkness. Subsequently, with rare exceptions, his writings were overloaded with ethical reasonings. He was now fifty. While leading a life outwardly calm and peaceful, he had passed through innumerable mental struggles and vicissitudes. Of these he speaks with simple candour in My Confession, an autobiographical sketch which appeared in print at intervals between the years 1879 and 1882. In the orthodoxy of the Greek Church, with fastings, prayers and rigid observances of her rites, he vainly sought an answer to his doubts; finally he broke away from a ceremonial which had become empty and lifeless to him, and built up a religion of his own. Impressed with the conviction that the peasant’s mental ease was the result of his life of physical toil, Tolstoy tried to adopt the same habits, and for some ten years (dating from about 1880) he renounced the life of his own class as completely as it was possible for him to do. He rose early and went to work in the fields, ploughing, cutting the corn, working for the widow and orphan, and helping them to gather in the crops. He also learnt boot and shoe making, and enjoyed being praised for his skill. Thus he laboured late and early, and in these simple physical acts found the best cure for his attacks of despondency. ” Simplicity ! Simplicity ! Simplicity ! ” His food and drink, his pleasures and personal indulgences, were curtailed. Meat was given up and replaced by a vegetarian diet. Field sports – equivalents for cruelty and lust of blood – were abandoned, and his gun hidden away to rot and rust. Even tobacco was renounced as luxurious and unhealthy.

But with all his straining towards simplicity, it was in the nature of things impossible for Tolstoy absolutely to lead the life of a peasant. Labour though he might throughout the day, there was his well-appointed house to return to. He could not cut himself off from his wife and children. Friends and acquaintances could not be wholly ignored by the would-be Diogenes. Circumstances in this respect were too strong for his views and wishes. The renunciation was still only a partial one. But as the strain of a great surrender is greatest while it is still incomplete, so Tolstoy felt more and more impelled to emancipate himself from worldly concerns. The break in the long spell of country life which presently occurred only served to deepen this desire. In 1881 his eldest son went to the university, and the two next in seniority soon followed him. It became necessary for the family to be in Moscow a great deal, for the sake of the children’s education. The eldest daughter had come out into society, and friends were continually calling, obliging Tolstoy to sit and talk with them. All the elements of town life were distasteful to him. Money was an evil thing in his sight, and he gave up carrying it about with him, or even making use of it. “What makes a man good is having but few wants,” he said, and he accordingly set himself to limit his wishes rigidly, and to detach his heart from all treasured objects.

The year 1880 was the census year in Russia. The government, as usual, called for volunteers to help to carry it out. Tolstoy became one of the enumerators, whose duties afforded an excellent opportunity for seeing the conditions under which the poor lived. The misery of it made him often wish to surrender all his property and have nothing more to do with lands and money, but the government and family circumstances prevented him. In the pamphlet, What are we to do ? he graphically narrates his census experiences. Again and again he attempted to carry his theories into effect. At last, calling his wife into his room, he explained to her that property and many possessions had become irksome to him. Wealth he now regarded as a sin. He wished to be rid of all personal ownership. In 1888 Tolstoy renounced all claim to his estates; everything was made over to his wife and children, the countess acting as trustee. True, this renunciation made little difference in his manner of life. He lived under the same roof as before, ate at the same table, wrote and read in the same study. The change was mental rather than material. He cared no longer for the growth or improvement of his estates, but gave himself up to ethical questions, and endeavoured day by day to bind himself more closely to the people. He now began to write specially for their benefit a number of simple tales which have been widely read, tales directed mostly against crying evils – the peasant’s love of vodka, and like themes. He found willing fellow workers in the firm of Russian publishers known under the name of Posrednik (V. Tchertkoff, and a group of friends). John the Fool, which was published in 1886 in the ” Posrednik Series,” is generally considered the best of these stories. The Power of Darkness (1885) also appeared in this series, and was written with the same object in view. Unfortunately, the popularity of these stories aroused the attention of the government, and led to many of them being forbidden on account of their Socialistic tendencies.

The terrible famine of 1891-1892 added fresh lustre to Tolstoy’s name. He and his family worked unceasingly in soup-kitchens and barns, distributing food and clothes. No true leader lacks a following. Every oppressed sect or individual turned instinctively to Tolstoy for sympathy and support, the most important case in point being that of the sect of the Doukhobors. Early in 1891 rumours began to reach headquarters of social and religious excitement fermenting among the inhabitants of the Caucasus, and especially among the Doukhobors (q.v.). This people, numbering from fifteen to sixteen thousand, shared their goods and property in common, and made The Doukhobors. laws of conduct for themselves, based on a simple form of religion unobscured by ceremonies or ritual. In these matters, and especially in refusing to serve as soldiers, they defied the governors of the Caucasian provinces, so that,”as their numbers and strength of opposition to authority grew formidable, severe measures were put in practice for their suppression. Several of their leaders were exiled, and in 1895 some hundred of them were condemned to be enrolled for three years in the so-called ” disciplinary regiment.”

It was in that year that Tolstoy came in contact with them personally, and became deeply interested in them. He promptly identified himself with the agitation in their favour, and by his endeavours aroused sympathy for them in other countries, especially in England. After many rebuffs from the government, and many unavailing efforts to reach the kindly ear of the Tsar, the persecution of the Doukhobors at length ceased, and they were allowed to emigrate. It was in aid of these people that Tolstoy wrote and published Resurrection . The attack on the Orthodox Church in this novel was probably the chief cause which led to his formal excommunication by decree dated the 22nd of February 1901. In later years Tolstoy maintained all his interests, but old age gradually told on his strength. He died on the 10th of November 1910 at Astapovo, where he Death. was stricken with pneumonia when carrying out a sudden decision to leave Yasnaya Polyana and end his days in retirement.

Tolstoy’s Religious Ideas

No account of Tolstoy can pretend to any measure of completeness which does not refer to his views on religion. Tolstoy himself attributes so much importance to them that he has written several books with the sole object of telling the Tolstoy’s world what he considers truth. In My Confession he describes the various stages of religious experience through which he has passed. He begins with a graphic picture of the religious state of the society in which he was brought up. There, although people were nominally orthodox, actually they believed in nothing. Indeed so inconsistent were the ideals of that society with any real belief in the Orthodox Church that at sixteen Tolstoy practically renounced Christianity and became a sceptic. During the whole of this period he felt unhappy and dissatisfied, for he had no theory which enabled him to solve the riddle of life. He found no solution to the c(uestion he often put to himself – Why do I live? nor to the other which depended on the first – How ought I to live?

It seemed to him that the men he met dealt with these questions in four ways. Some ignored them and treated life as if it were a meaningless jumble of vanity and evil. Others, recognizing the difficulty of satisfactorily solving these questions, simply shut their eyes and made the best of life as they understood it without thinking of the future. A third group answered these questions by regarding life as an evil and foolish thing and by putting an end to it. Fourthly, there were those who considered it a stupid and ridiculous farce and yet continued to live on, making the best of it.

Tolstoy himself took up the last position, although it failed to meet his spiritual needs. He felt that the millions who accepted the religious theory of life had somehow a better answer to the problem, notwithstanding that their solution was based on an absurd hypothesis. Although faith was unreasonable it alone gave meaning to life, faith being understood as the theory which linked man’s finite life with the infinite. Having arrived at this conclusion Tolstoy was ready to accept any faith which did not require a direct denial of reason, and for this purpose studied Buddhism, Mahommedanism and Christianity. The only persons he felt whe were happy and found a meaning in life were the poor, and the only life that could be lived in accordance with reason was life under simple conditions such as animals lived. Only man must labour, not as the animals, each for itself, but for all. The search after God was not an act of reason but of feeling. To live after God’s word we must renounce all the material pleasures of life and be humble and charitable to all men.

This belief he found in the churches, but mixed up with other things which he could not understand and which repelled him, viz. sacraments, fasts, bowing before relics and images. The church festivals, as commemorating miracles or alleged facts of Christ’s life, were repugnant to. him. Communion he explained to himself as an action done in remembrance of Christ and as signifying a cleansing from sin and an acceptance of Christ’s teaching. When asked by the priest to repeat before receiving the elements that he believed that what he was about to receive were the real Body and Blood, he repeated the formula but found that no wish to believe could make him believe it. The attitude of the various Christian churches towards one another also alienated his sympathy; it had no resemblance to a union of love. He thought that there should be mutual concessions where beliefs had so much in common, but was told that any compromise involved an admission that the clergy had altered the primitive faith and that it was their duty to hand on the faith inviolate. He was also very much repelled by the attitude of the Church towards war and capital punishment. Tracing the happiness of the peasantry to their faith, he became convinced that there were certain elements of truth in Christianity. The Christian churches and the Greek Orthodox Church in particular had in his view combined to obscure the basis of truth in Christ’s teaching.

Tolstoy therefore set himself to endeavour to eliminate what he thought the false doctrines and superstitious elements which had grown up round. Christianity, and to discover the verities contained in it. Tolstoy started with the premise that Christ’s teaching was communicated to unlettered persons and only put down in writing long after his death. ” It may be assumed,” he says, ” that the Church in accepting the three synoptic gospels had accepted much that was inaccurate.” Tolstoy argues that it should be remembered that the gospels must have gone through many changes and that he is therefore at liberty to deal with them critically. He sees in Christianity not an exclusively divine revelation, nor a mere historical phenomenon, but a teaching which gives meaning to life. The churches, he considered, were substituting a teaching which was not Christ’s, but was a strained and contorted version of what Jesus taught. The sectarianism of Christianity had its root in the idea that the gospels are to be understood not by taking them by themselves, but by interpreting them in such a manner as to make them agree not only with the other sacred writings but with the traditions of the Church,which were themselves obscure. Tolstoy maintained that it was the foreign elements foisted upon Christ’s teaching which have alienated the best minds from Christianity. Anyone taking Christ’s teaching alone will see that it has no admixture of elements that contradict common sense. It has no sympathy with superstitions, contains no ” dregs,” has no ” darknesses,” but is the strictest and fullest system of ethics.

The substance of Christianity seems to Tolstoy the inculcation of love, humility, self-denial and the duty of returning good for evil, and these essential principles attracted him throughout his life, even when he was a sceptic. The Greek Orthodox Church treated these principles rather as accessory to the teaching of Jesus than of its essence, and the Church considered dogma of more importance. The rule of the Orthodox Church concerning dogmas, sacraments, fasts, prayers, seemed not only unnecessary but were not based on anything in Christ’s teaching. The Sermon on the Mount as reported in Saint Matthew contains, according to Tolstoy, the essence of Christ’s teaching which Christians should carry out entirely. The key to the sermon is contained in the words ” Resist not evil,” this injunction meaning that not only should Christians never repay evil with evil but also that they should not oppose it with physical force. Any physical resistance of evil is contrary to the law of love. This command he regards as the central point of the doctrine of Jesus and as really easy to obey, for which view he quotes Christ’s statement, ” My yoke is easy.” The whole teaching of the churches was contrary to Christ’s teaching when they gave their sanction and approval to armies and the enforcement of the criminal law by the executive powers of a government. Christian society not only ignored Christ’s injunction not to resist evil but was actually based on a denial of its truth. The words ” Judge not that ye be not judged “Tolstoy treats as an expansion or rather as a logical result of the command ” Resist not evil.” Jesus denied the possibility of human justice, demonstrating in the case of the woman taken in adultery that man could not judge his fellow man, since he himself was also guilty. Jesus’ declaration amounted to saying, ” You believe that your laws reform criminals; as a matter of fact they only make more criminals. There is only one way to suppress evil, that is to return good for evil without respect of persons.” The whole social fabric of modern so-called ” Christian ” society was founded upon principles disapproved of by Christ. Its prison cells, factories and houses of infamy, its state church, its culture, science, art and civilization were all based on coercion and violence. People pretended that Christ did not abolish the Mosaic law, but that the law of Christ and the law of Moses harmonized. But Christians acted on the principle of ” an eye for an eye,” discarding the law of Christ and following that of Moses.

Tolstoy goes through the gospel for the purpose of finding out what Christ’s teaching really is. In doing so, he puts aside the miraculous events of Christ’s birth and all other miracles as irrelevant to his inquiry, and also impossible of belief. The result is that he finds that Christ laid down five ” entirely new ” commandments, the first commandment being ” Live in peace with all men,” which was the interpretation put upon the words ” Ye have heard it ever said by the men of old time that thou shalt not kill and that whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment, but I say unto you whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment.” The words ” without cause,” Tolstoy rejects, as does also the Revised Version. He considers these words open the door to the evasion of the commandment. Tolstoy interprets the next words, ” and whoever shall say to his brother ` rata ‘ shall be in danger of the council, but whosoever shall say ` thou fool ‘ shall be in danger of hell fire ” to mean that one must never look upon a human being as worthless and as a fool. Not only must Christians refrain from anger, but it is the duty of a follower of Jesus to live in peace with all men. They should not regard anger as justifiable in any circumstances.

The second commandment of Jesus Tolstoy declares to be, “Thou shalt not be united physically to any woman except the one whom thou hast originally known sexually. You commit a sin if you ever abandon that woman. Marriage is marriage, whether there have or have not been any legal or ecclesiastical formalities, once there has been physical union.”

The third commandment as Tolstoy understands it is ” Swear not at all.” This commandment applies not merely to profane swearing but to all kinds of oaths, whether taken by witnesses in courts of law, by soldiers when being sworn in, by magistrates in pursuance of their office, oaths of fidelity and the like. All the oaths are imposed for an evil purpose and are entirely wrong.

The fourth commandment is ” Resist not evil.” Christ’s followers were never meant to act as judges, citizens, policemen or in any other capacity in which it would be their duty to resist evil. Christians should do good in the sense of living virtuously. To abolish evil they should avoid the commission of evil, and never under any circumstances resist wrongs by force. They should never return violence by violence. Christ taught ” If any one strike you, suffer it; if any one would deprive you of anything, yield it up to him; if any one would force you to work for him, go and work for him; if any one would take away your property, abandon it to him.”

The fifth commandment is laid down in Matt. v. 43-48. After calling the attention of his readers to the fact that the words which introduce the injunction to ” Love your enemies,” &c., read, ” Ye have heard it said of old that thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy,” Tolstoy points out that these words must be understood as meaning ” Thou shalt love thy fellow countryman and hate the foreigner.” But when Christ taught in opposition to this maxim ” Love your enemies, bless them that curse you,” He meant ” You have heard it laid down of old that you must love those of your own race and hate foreigners, but I say to you, love every one without distinction of nationality.” It is difficult to love your personal enemy, but it is perfectly possible to love citizens of a foreign nation equally with your own. Tolstoy admits that it is difficult to conceive that everything that is considered essential and natural – what is thought noble and grand – love of country, defence of one’s own country, its glory, fighting against one’s country’s enemies – is not only an infraction of the law of Christ but directly denounced by Him. People might here retort ” If it is true that Jesus really meant this He would have said so plainly.” To this objection he replies ” We must not forget that Jesus did not foresee that men having faith in His doctrine of humility, love and fraternity could ever with calmness and premeditation organize themselves for the murder of their brethren. Christ not foreseeing this did not in so many words forbid Christians to participate in war.” To make good this point Tolstoy shows by quotations from the Fathers that none of the early Christians ever contemplated fighting with any thing but spiritual weapons.

The doctrines of original sin, of the Atonement, of the Trinity, of the Resurrection, are, according to Tolstoy, all without foundation and contrary to Christ’s teaching. Man is conscious, he writes, of a spiritual essence which exists in an imperfect form not only within himself but also in all other living creatures. The perfect spiritual essence is what we call God. It is the indwelling of this spiritual essence in man which creates the desire for communion with God and with those who possess the spirit imperfectly. The true life of man consists in fulfilling the needs of the spirit; and everything that helps to free it from the influence of the body which is antagonistic, tends to encourage the growth of that immortal part. When death comes the spirit is emancipated from the body and returns to God, where possibly, says Tolstoy, it ceases to have an individual existence. The spirit in man is not subject to the limitations of time and space. The life of the individual, however, is essentially bounded by time and space. With the destruction of the body this life ceases to exist, but the divine spiritual life remains. Death is therefore not annihilation but merely the emancipation of the spirit, its introduction to a new and unknown state of existence, to another form of manifestation of the divine spiritual essence. The more a man endeavours to live the life of the spirit the nearer his approach to the eternal and the less the significance of death. But it is impossible for the human intellect to conceive any form of existence outside space and time. So far therefore as immortality implies a resurrection of the body Tolstoy denies it; so far as it implies an individual consciousness of the soul he states we can predicate nothing of it. There are two doctrines of life. One of these doctrines, the source of all error, consists in believing that the personal life of man is one of his essential attributes. The other doctrine, that taught by Jesus, is that the whole purpose of our personal life lies in the fulfilment of the will of God.

Literary Legacy

Before attempting to define the powers and position of an author, it is best to pass in review the works which have led to his present as a reputation. Tolstoy the writer is a guide of unusual Tolstoy Writer. fa i thfulness to Tolstoy the man. The gradual evolu tion of the reformer and preacher out of the brilliant novelist is described in no pages so clearly as in his own. Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1855-1857) – Tolstoy’s first literary efforts – may be regarded as semi-autobiographical studies; if not in detail, at least in the wider sense that all his books contain pictures, more or less accurate, of himself and his own experiences. No plot runs through them; they simply analyse and describe with extraordinary minuteness the feelings of a nervous and morbid boy, a male Marie Bashkirtseff. They are tales rather of the development of the thoughts than of the life of a child, with a pale background of men and events. The distinct charm lies in the sincerity with which this development is represented. We are introduced by the child, Nicholas Irtenyev, to a number of characters one after the other – father, mother, grandmother, tutor, servants and serfs; and are led by him from the father’s study to the morningroom, and so on to the kitchen and the housekeeper’s closet; and we catch, as in a magic crystal, the lifelike scenes on his waking – in the schoolroom – at his mother’s side. But the apparently unconscious change of the child’s mind into that of the youth – his budding thoughts, hopes, fears – form the true drama of the story. The Cossacks (1863), written round the theory that culture is an enemy to happiness, was followed by War and Peace (1864-1869), which has been justly. called a Russian epic. Within its pages Tolstoy has marshalled a panoramic array of kings, princes and nobles as they lived and moved during the times of the great Napoleonic wars. There are so many figures in the picture, so much kaleidoscope colour and movement, that the spectator often finds it difficult to follow the thread of the narrative. The leading characters principally belong to the highest Russian society, whose circle – with its inflexible code of laws and customs, and a vitiated moral atmosphere affecting each member of it in a greater or less degree – links them together. The interest centres not so much in any single person as in the groups formed by four leading families of the ” grand monde ” – the Rostovs, Bezouchovs, Volkonskys and the Kouragines – all bound together by common aims and interests. The men are eager to make a name and enjoy life; the women seek pleasure in gossip and romance. Peter Bezouchov and Prince Andre, with natures essentially different but united by a love of truth, are the exceptions to this rule. Peter Bezouchov is one of Tolstoy’s finest characterizations, drawn with a masterly hand. He is the embodiment of all that is good and bad in the Russian temperament. On the one side there is the striving after an ideal and a capacity for self-sacrifice, on the other an absence of firmness and balance. Like Tolstoy himself, he is always in doubt as to what is right and what is wrong, as to the meaning of life and death, and, like Tolstoy at that time, can as yet find no answer to these riddles. While Peter Bezouchov is a typical Russian, a very Tolstoy, Prince Andre if a less striking, is a more lovable personality. Upright and noble-minded, he yet is unable to cast off the chains of custom which have held him from childhood. He too is constantly seeking mental rest and finding none. The lovestory of Andre and Natasha Rostov, which runs through the novel, is a poem in itself. Natasha is almost the only heroine Tolstoy has given us who wins our affections; but even she, after many transitions, sinks to the level of the Hausfrau, with no aim beyond the propagation and nurture of the race. It must be borne in mind that in War and Peace Tolstoy winged his shafts not at men generally but at that particular section of society to which he himself by birth and association belonged.

A long period of silence followed the publication of this novel, during which the world heard little of him. At length in 1873 he issued the first parts of Anna Karenina . It is without  doubt his greatest literary production. The area of time and space in it, as in the preceding book, is large, but it has more continuity of action, and the principal characters are kept well in the foreground. It is a study of modern Russian life, in which the normal passivity of unsympathetic conjugal relations is sharply contrasted with the transient omnipotence of passion and deep love. The hero and heroine are Count Wronsky, a young soldier in a crack regiment, and Anna Karenina, the wife of an important official in the political world of St Petersburg. The parts of secondary heroine and hero are filled by Kitty Cherbatzky and her lover and ultimate husband, Levine.

The central figure is of course Anna herself, an elegant and fascinating ” mondaine.” She is honest, frank and well endowed by nature, and has an innate striving after truth and beauty in art and in life, but her early marriage with Karenina (who is double her age, reserved and taciturn), while socially advantageous, has dulled and stunted her ideals. Ignorant of the meaning of love, she despises it, and it is not till she meets Wronsky that she realizes to the full the emptiness of her existence. Wronsky, young, handsome, impassioned, recognizing no principle but his own desires, offers her the rich wine of life at a draught. She tastes it, after scant hesitation; and then, flinging away her worldly position, deserting her husband and child, she drains it to the dregs, only to find that poison lies in the cup. Anna and Wronsky have no true ideal to cling to. He, as their passion cools, finds the tie irksome and a hindrance to his career. She grieves for her lost and dearly-loved son, and frets as she sees that Wronsky’s devotion is waning, recognizing too late that he loved her chiefly for vanity’s sake, that they are slipping daily asunder, and growing displeasing to each other. Her past life is closed to her, the future opens like an abyss.

The crisis has come, and swiftly obeying the impulse of her despair she seizes on death as her only weapon for wounding Wronsky and cutting the hopeless knot of her life. This pitiful end is led up to step by step with microscopic truth and insight, into the springs of human action. In the married life of Kitty and Levine, on the other hand, Tolstoy describes a state of happiness of a material nature – disagreements easily bridged over, and mutual interest in their children and the pleasures of the country. Levine is the Tolstoy of fiction. The improvement and development of his estates, the life of a country squire, fail to satisfy him. The death of his brother, the birth of his child, awaken his mind to the problems of existence, and he is plunged in melancholy. Finally, relief comes to him with the words of a peasant who bids him ” live for his soul and for his God.” Thereupon Levine exclaims, ” I have discovered nothing. I have simply opened my eyes to what I knew already; I have come to the recognition of that power which formerly gave me life and which renews life in me to-day. I am freed from error; I recognize my master.” And the novel ends with the effacing of the intellect in a cloud of happy mysticism.

The Kreutzer Sonata , published in 1890, created a profound impression. Many who were previously unacquainted with Tolstoy’s work read this story of love, jealousy and revenge, and “Kreutzer were dumbfounded by its boldness. It is a startling advance upon Family Happiness , published thirty years earlier. Society generally, and Russian society in particular, is ruthlessly condemned for its views on marriage and its attitude towards the vexed question of the relations between man and woman. Marriage, Tolstoy says, can only be condoned if spiritual sympathy exists, and then only as the means to the continuance of the race; otherwise it is a breach of true morality. The ” motive ” of the Sonata is that the ideal we should strive after is a life where the spiritual penetrates and pervades everything, and where all that is carnal is eliminated. But in the “Sequel ” to the Sonata Tolstoy adds that great ideals are always unattainable, and affirms that no man can know, whilst yet striving, how nearly he approaches them. He is only conscious of his deviations.

The views of culture forming the basis of The Cossacks are yet further elaborated in What is Art? (1898), a sweeping criticism of the philosophy of aesthetics, to which he had devoted fifteen years of thought. He dismisses as inadequate Art the theories which define art as the pursuit of beauty, whether beauty be regarded with Shelley and Hegel as an approximation to archetypal perfection, and thus allied to God and goodness, or with Kant as that which gives disinterested pleasure. Tolstoy sets forth his own view that art is a human activity which aims at the transmission of emotion. He proceeds to demand that the emotion shall be actually felt and shall belong to the highest feelings to which men can rise. True art must appeal to the religious perception of the brotherhood of man, and it must find universal response. He asserts that exclusive art is bad art, and that such subjects as sexual love, patriotism and religious devotion should be avoided.

This brief Tolstoy biography was written by Charles Theodore Hagberg Wright and adapted by Excellence in Literature. 

  • For a charmingly descriptive article about Tolstoy and his country home, read “ Count Tolstoy at Home” from an 1891 edition of The Atlantic magazine.

Tolstoy’s best-known works include

  • War and Peace
  • Anna Karenina
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich

You might also his enjoy one of his short stories, “Three Questions.”

EIL 5.7 Russia Context

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No Sweat Shakespeare

Leo Tolstoy: A Biography

Leo tolstoy (1828-1910).

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian novelist. There is a large degree of consensus that his two great novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina stand on the summit of realist fiction. He has been mentioned again and again as the greatest novelist who ever wrote, and so he wins a place in this list of great writers. He is one of the two giants of Russian literature. The other giant, Dostoyevsky, spoke of him as the greatest of all living novelists.

The French giant, Gustave Flaubert , on reading War and Peace , exclaimed, ‘What an artist and what a psychologist!’ Matthew Arnold, the British poet and man of letters, wrote: ‘a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life.’

War and Peace is generally considered to be one of the greatest – if not the greatest – novels ever written. Its dramatic breadth and unity is breathtaking. It is a huge canvas that includes 580 characters, some historical, like Napoleon and Alexander I of Russia, and others fictional. The story is set in the homes of families, the camp of Napoleon, the Russian royal court and the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. The novel explores the insignificance of individuals such as Napoleon and Alexander.


Portrait of Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy attempts in his novels realistically to depict the Russian society in which he lived and he draws from all its sectors. The Cossacks describes Cossack life in a story of a Russian aristocrat who falls in love with a Cossack girl. Anna Karenina is the story of an adulterous woman trapped by the conventions and falsities of society and of a philosophical landowner who works alongside the peasants in the fields and seeks to transform their lives.

It goes without saying that Toystoy’s influence on subsequent writers has been immense. Apart from that, though, he has even influenced the course of history. In 1908, he wrote A Letter to a Hindu outlining his belief in non-violence as a means for India to gain independence from British colonial rule. Gandhi read a copy of the letter when he was working as a lawyer in South Africa and just becoming an activist. Tolstoy’s letter was most significant for him. He wrote Tolstoy and that led to further correspondence between them. It was Tolstoy’s influence that led to Gandhi to espouse nonviolent resistance, the approach that won independence for India.

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biography of leo tolstoy in english

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time. A writer of Realism, Tolstoy’s novels Anna Karenina (1868) and War and Peace (1869) have stood the test of time and remain two of the most famous works of Russian literature. In his personal life, Tolstoy was a pacifist, education advocate, and…

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Save the explanation now and read when you’ve got time to spare.

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Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time. A writer of Realism, Tolstoy’s novels Anna Karenina (1868) and War and Peace (1869) have stood the test of time and remain two of the most famous works of Russian literature. In his personal life, Tolstoy was a pacifist, education advocate, and Christian anarchist. Tolstoy’s legacy extends far beyond just the literary sphere, but his written contributions remain some of the most important works in literary history.

Leo Tolstoy Biography

Leo Tolstoy, Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Repin Vaia

Leo Tolstoy was born Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy in 1828 at Yasnaya Polyana near Tula, Russia. He grew up in an aristocratic Russian family with four siblings. By the time Tolstoy turned 10, both of his parents had passed away. He attended a Russian university but did not finish his degree. He and his brother fought in the Crimean war (1853-1856); Tolstoy’s horror at what he witnessed during the war would lead to a lifelong passion for nonviolence.

Following his release from the army, Tolstoy traveled around Europe. During his travels, he adopted the moral positions that would guide his life’s work and his writing—nonviolence, the importance of education, and a disdain for the aristocracy.

Upon his return to Russia, Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevena Bers; the couple had 13 children, three of whom died in infancy. In the period after he married Sofya (commonly referred to by the Russian diminutive, Sonya) and raised his children, Tolstoy wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina , his two masterpieces.

Did you know that Sonya hand-wrote the entire manuscript of War and Peace eight times? She was tasked with copying the new version of the novel each time Tolstoy revised it. When it was first published it had about 1,200 pages—that's almost 10,000 handwritten pages.

In his later years, Tolstoy became more interested in morality and religion. He rejected many of his earlier works, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as being unrealistic, and he wrote treatises on religion and politics. He was particularly interested in nonviolence and pacificism, which he derived from Christian teachings.

Tolstoy was opposed to private land ownership and espoused the economic beliefs of Georgism. He was a strong believer in education and founded 13 schools where he grew up, specifically for the children of Russian peasants.

Toward the end of his life, Tolstoy was dedicated to giving away his wealth and the money he earned from his books. He sought to totally reject the aristocratic way of life in Russia. He worked the fields of his estate alongside Russian peasants and volunteered to help feed those in need during the famine of 1891.

In an effort to reject monetary gains, Tolstoy gave up the copyright to many of the famous novels that he no longer felt represented his beliefs. His approach to money often caused disagreements with his wife Sonya, with whom he was often at odds.

How did Tolstoy die?

Tolstoy died of pneumonia at a train station in 1910. He was 82 at the time of his death. He had left home, as he and his wife were arguing over his religious and political beliefs. Following his death, the procession of his funeral cavalcade was attended by thousands of Russian peasants along the streets.

Famous Works by Leo Tolstoy

Throughout his lifetime, Tolstoy wrote numerous books, novellas, short stories, and essays. His extensive bibliography shows Tolstoy’s own philosophical transformations over time.

Novels & Books by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy wrote three fictional novels during his career. Each represents a different stage in his life and has cemented his place in the literary halls of fame.

War and Peace (1869)

Originally published serially, and then together in 1869, War and Peace is considered one of Tolstoy’s crowning literary achievements. This Realist novel chronicles the lives of five different Russian aristocratic families during the Napoleonic Wars. Tolstoy conducted extensive historical research to accurately portray the events. He included philosophical essays in the book, in addition to the fictional narratives.

Leo Tolstoy St. Petersburg Russia Vaia

Anna Karenina (1877)

Tolstoy himself considered Anna Karenina to be his first true novel. Like War and Peace , it was originally published serially before it was published as a complete novel in 1877. This massive novel explores themes of love, infidelity, social norms, and religion as well as political themes examining Russia’s feudal system, the Orthodox Church, and the Russian government.

Resurrection (1899)

With Resurrection , the last full novel Tolstoy penned before his death, Tolstoy leveled a critique at Russian society and the Orthodox Church. He details the economic theory with which he became fascinated in his final years, intending to write a novel that would examine every level of Russian society. The release of the novel was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church, and Tolstoy was subsequently excommunicated.

Why would the Church take notice of a novel by an author such as Tolstoy? What reason would they have for excommunicating Tolstoy for his writing?

Short Stories & Novellas by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy penned many short stories and novellas throughout his storied career. The first of his writing to bring fame was a series of three novellas about a fictionalized version of his own childhood and adolescence— Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854), and Youth (1856). One of his most famous novellas, and often considered one of the finest examples of a novella, is The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886). In addition to those mentioned here, Tolstoy wrote many other novellas and short stories throughout his lifetime.

Quotes by Leo Tolstoy

Given that he is considered one of the greatest writers to ever put pen to paper, Tolstoy’s works are often quoted. The quotes gathered here provide an insight into Tolstoy's philosophy.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 1

One of the most famous first lines in literary history, Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with this quote. The book follows the plight of Anna and Levin as one destroys her family and the other creates his. Though a seeming indictment of unhappy families, this quote can also be read as stating that happy families are all alike and thus all uniform and unexciting.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” 2

Here Tolstoy elucidates on the nature of philanthropy and change. He notes that the most important and perhaps most effective changes are those we can make within ourselves. It is difficult to go out and enact change and promote goodness in the world without first doing so within oneself.

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” 3

This quotation distills Tolstoy's philosophy into one sentence. From War and Peace , it echoes Tolstoy's nonviolent, pacifist sentiments.

“Everything I know, I know because of love.” 4

Similar to the previous quote, this expands upon Tolstoy's central philosophy. War and Peace was written before his spiritual awakening in his later years, but his belief in the power of love and goodness endured.

“I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself.” 5

Here, Tolstoy shows the effect that fighting in the Crimean War had on his philosophical outlook. Following the devastation and violence he witnessed man commit against fellow man, Tolstoy became a lifelong advocate of nonviolence.

“One may deal with things without love...but you cannot deal with men without it...It cannot be otherwise, because natural love is the fundamental law of human life.” 6

Again, this reiterates Tolstoy's foundational belief. He believed in the importance of loving one's fellow man and living a godly lifestyle in the image of God's love toward humanity.

Common Themes in Tolstoy’s Works

Tolstoy’s prolific writing career spanned many different themes and historical periods. The most common themes in his work concerned 19th-century Russian society, theology, morality, and familial relationships.

Each of his major novels explored themes of familial relationships that included romantic love, platonic love, and infidelity. Each novel was also set in a specific period in 19th-century Russian history, whether it was the Napoleonic Wars before his time or the reign of the Russian aristocracy and Imperial rule that Tolstoy lived through. His eventual religious transformation is also reflected in his novels. Both before and after his rejection of organized religion, Tolstoy wrote about religious meaning and morality, and his characters often struggled to come to terms with Christianity and God in their lives.

Tolstoy’s later writings and nonfiction dealt mainly with his philosophical and political beliefs. He wrote about educational reform, nonviolence, and the power of love as the most important guiding force of life. Following his death and the Russian Revolution, many of his works that had previously been censored in Russia were published in full for the first time.

Leo Tolstoy’s Writing Style

Tolstoy is often credited as a writer in the Realist style. His novels were acclaimed for their realistic portrayals of life as part of the Russian aristocracy. His goal as a writer was to represent truth in his works. Rather than create characters that embody the ‘heroic’ trope of earlier Romantic literature styles, Tolstoy instead wrote in a way that created characters that could have been real people (and occasionally were based upon real people!).

His major novels were also often a mix between character-driven familial stories and historical stories. Rather than write historical novels that followed a usual format—linear, concerned with only the big battles and victories—Tolstoy instead vacillated between the personal and the societal. He wrote about the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in War and Peace while also expanding upon the lives of five different aristocratic families in Russia at the time. His stories were often nonlinear and concerned with characters that represented the realities of humans, rather than black and white literary versions that could easily fall into a category of ‘good’ or ‘evil.’

Realism is a movement in literature where authors attempt to write in a way that is as true-to-life or matter-of-fact as possible.

Tolstoy’s Legacy

Tolstoy is a giant of literature and his works have endured as some of the most important and widely-read novels and short stories of the 19th century. Beyond literature, Tolstoy’s philosophical writings and moral standpoints inspired movements and leaders after his death. The Tolstoyan movement, which arose after his death, was supported by those who believed in Tolstoy's moral and philosophical teachings about nonviolence, his religious views, and state opposition. His birthday was celebrated by the Soviet government throughout Russia, and various Russian leaders after Tolstoy wrote extensively about his philosophies, including Lenin and Stalin.

While still alive, Tolstoy communicated with Mahatma Gandhi, who found Tolstoy’s beliefs in nonviolence and religion to be inspiring and led to the formation of many of Gandhi’s own beliefs and actions in his campaign for the liberation of India from British rule.

Leo Tolstoy - Key takeaways

  • Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is considered one of the greatest writers of all time.
  • His most famous novels are War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), both of which are considered two of the most important works of literature of all time.
  • Tolstoy additionally wrote many short stories and novellas throughout his lifetime.
  • In addition to his fictional works, Tolstoy wrote many essays and treatises on his moral and philosophical ideals.
  • Tolstoy believed in nonviolence, opposition to the state, Christian anarchism, and the importance of love as a guiding principle in life.
  • He wrote in a realist style that meant to prepare characters that were akin to real-life people, not caricatures meant to uphold one singular trope or archetype.

1. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina , 1877.

2. Leo Tolstoy, "Three Methods of Reform," 1900.

3. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace , 1869.

4. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace , 1869.

5. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace , 1869.

6. Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection , 1899.

Frequently Asked Questions about Leo Tolstoy

--> who is leo tolstoy.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author, considered one of the greatest writers to ever have lived. He was born and raised in Russia; as a young adult, he fought in the Crimean war and traveled throughout Europe. His time in the war and his subsequent travels helped shape Tolstoy’s life philosophies, and he became an advocate for nonviolence, education, and rejected organized religion in favor of Christian anarchism.

--> What is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy about?

Anna Karenina (1877) is a Russian novel by Tolstoy that deals with social themes surrounding familial relationships, infidelity, love, and the social norms of the Russian aristocracy. He also delves into political themes, such as the Russian government and politics, the feudal system in Russia, and the influence of the Church.

--> How many books did Leo Tolstoy write?

Tolstoy wrote three full-length fictional books in his lifetime. These books are War and Peace (1869), Anna Karenina (1877), and Resurrection (1899). Tolstoy also wrote many novellas and short stories, as well as non-fiction essays and philosophical treatises.

--> What are some common themes in Leo Tolstoy's works?

Common themes in Leo Tolstoy’s works concern familial relationships, which include romantic love, platonic love, infidelity, and relations amongst family members. He also wrote extensively about the political realities of life in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars and during the Imperial reign in the 19th century. He often wrote about the realities of aristocratic life in Russia. He also frequently wrote about religion; Tolstoy was a Christian anarchist and he wrote about the power of love as a guiding force in life and how it stems from the love of God.

--> What is Leo Tolstoy’s style of writing?

Tolstoy’s style of writing is Realist. He sought to describe characters who existed in morally grey areas, who could not be described in black or white terms. He also mixed the idea of the historical novel with that of a familial story, and his long fiction books often functioned as both of these two genres at once. 

Final Leo Tolstoy Quiz

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Who is Leo Tolstoy?

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Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author, considered one of the greatest writers to ever have lived. He was born and raised in Russia, and spent time fighting in the Crimean war and traveling Europe. His time in the war and subsequent travels helped shape Tolstoy’s life philosophies, and he became an advocate for nonviolence, education, and rejected organized religion in favor of Christian anarchism.

Show question

What did Tolstoy write?

Leo Tolstoy wrote many novels, novellas, short stories, nonfiction essays, and treatises. His most famous works of literature are his novels War and Peace  (1869) and Anna Karenina  (1878). His novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich  (1886) is also very well-known.

What are some common themes in Leo Tolstoy's works?

Common themes in Leo Tolstoy’s works include familial relationships, this means romantic love, platonic love, infidelity, and the relations amongst family members. He also wrote extensively about the political realities of life in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars and during the Imperial reign in the 19th century. He wrote often about the realities of aristocratic life in Russia. He also often wrote about religion; Tolstoy was a Christian anarchist and he wrote about the power of love as a guiding force in life and how it stems from the love of God.

What is Leo Tolstoy’s style of writing?

Tolstoy’s style of writing is Realist. He sought to describe characters who existed in morally grey areas, who could not be described in black or white terms. He also mixed the idea of the historical novel with that of a familial story, and his long fiction books often functioned as both of these two genres at once.

How did Leo Tolstoy die?

Tolstoy died of pneumonia at a train station in 1910. He was 82 at the time of his death. He had left home as he and his wife were arguing over his religious and political beliefs. Following his death, his funeral cavalcade was watched by thousands of peasants.

Leo Tolstoy wrote great heroic characters in the style of Romantic authors in the 19th century.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is the opening line of which of Tolstoy's works?

War and Peace

What is Tolstoy's legacy?

Tolstoy is known as one of the greatest writers in history. His novels War and Peace  (1869) and Anna Karenina  (1878) are still celebrated today as masterpieces of realistic, historical writing. Outside of the literary world, Tolstoy's writings and philosophy on nonviolence, state opposition, and education were formative in Russia and to leaders across the world.

Which war did Tolstoy fight in?

Franco-Austrian War

What is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy about?

Anna Karenina (1878) is a Russian novel by Tolstoy that deals with social themes surrounding familial relationships, infidelity, love, and the social norms of the Russian aristocracy. He also delves into political themes, such as Russian government and politics, the feudal system in Russia, and the influence of the Church.

What is Anna Karenina about?

Anna Karenina is about a Russian aristocrat, the titular Anna, who embarks on a doomed love affair with a younger military man. Her infidelity leads Anna toward paranoia and anxiety, and at the end of the novel, the consequences of her decisions and rejection from society lead Anna to suicide. A simultaneous story shows the love between Kitty, a young socialite, and Levin, a wealthy landowner. The two find solace in an agrarian lifestyle far from the corruption of the Russian cities.

Who wrote Anna Karenina ?

Anna Karenina (1877) was written by Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy is considered to be one of the greatest authors of all time. He wrote Anna Karenina while he was living at home in Russia with his wife, engaged in the raising of their children.

What are the main points in Anna Karenina ?

The main points of Anna Karenina concern infidelity, familial relationships, and societal transformation. Anna’s storyline sees her shunned from society for her infidelity while Vronsky does not experience the same suffering. She descends further into paranoia and jealous as the story progresses due to her affair. While Anna’s family is torn apart, Levin builds a family with Kitty. All this occurs against the backdrop of societal transformation—new agriculture technologies, new modes of transformation, and new progressive ideals come to Russia.

What do the trains symbolize in  Anna Karenina ?

In Anna Karenina,  Tolstoy uses the trains to show the ushering in of progress in contrast to traditional values and ways of doing things in Russia. Simultaneously, the trains foreshadow Anna's eventual death, as when she and Vronsky first meet at a train station they witness a worker fall to his death between the wheels of a train.

How is  Anna Karenina  a realist novel?

Anna Karenina  is a realist novel because Tolstoy wrote it in a way that it was meant to be as true to life as possible. He did so by using matter of fact diction and by utilizing the characters' inner monologues in order to portray exactly what they were thinking and feeling.

How is infidelity as a theme used in the novel?

Infidelity is a major theme. Anna's infidelity to Karenin leads to her downfall as she embarks on an affair with Vronsky. While it is understood that many of the upper class engage in affairs, such as Princess Betsy, Anna was shunned for her blatant, obvious affair with Vronsky. The novel even opens with the Oblonsky family in uproar after Dolly discovered Stiva's infidelity, Anna arrives and convinces Dolly that Stiva still loves her.

What event forces Anna to reveal the affair to Karenin?

After Anna makes a scene at the horse racing when she is concerned for Vronsky, she finally tells Karenin about the affair. She also reveals that she is pregnant with Vronsky's child.

What event causes Karenin to state his forgiveness of Anna and Vronsky's actions?

When Anna gives birth to her baby daughter, she becomes gravely ill and they believe she will die. Karenin forgives Vronsky and Anna in this moment.

Nikolai is the brother of which character?

What happens at the train station the first time Vronsky and Anna meet?

A worker falls to his death between the wheels of a train. This foreshadows Anna's eventual suicide at the train station where she throws herself between the wheels of a train.

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Andrei Zorin's Biography 'Leo Tolstoy' is Essential Reading

This slim but rich volume is impossible to put down..

biography of leo tolstoy in english

Leo Tolstoy’s life and works are copiously documented in editions of his writings in dozens of languages, new translations, biographies, critical studies, diaries and memoirs written by Tolstoy himself, his family, and his friends. If you already have several shelves bending under all these Tolstoys and about-Tolstoys, do you need another biography?

If it’s Andrei Zorin’s “Leo Tolstoy,” the answer is yes. Written first in English and then translated by the author into Russian, this slim volume — less than 200 pages — takes you through Tolstoy’s life and work with a light touch but remarkable breadth of knowledge. It consists of  four chapters that represent blocks of time, work and focus and to some extent the roles that Tolstoy played: An Ambitious Orphan, A Married Genius, A Lonely Leader, and A Fugitive Celebrity. But, as Zorin shows us, despite different incarnations — from an army officer to an ardent pacifist, from drinking tea in aristocratic drawing rooms to pulling a plough in peasant garb, from brothels and dalliances with servants to a close-knit family life (however dysfunctional) — Tolstoy was remarkably consistent, if sometimes he was consistent in his internal war of conflicting beliefs and desires.

Behavior that troubled him in life became the subject of his fiction. In “Childhood,” Zorin writes, “…Tolstoy shifted to the reconstruction of the thoughts, feelings and perceptions of a ten-year-old boy, one of the first such endeavors in world literature. Placing his book on the thin borderline between the autobiographical and fictional, he managed to present his personal experience as universal without losing a feeling of total authenticity. Later this technique would become the unmistakable trademark of Tolstoy’s narratives.”

He used his family and friends as models for his fictional characters. “‘I took Tanya [his sister-in-law], added Sonya [his wife], stirred it up and got Natasha’ once said Tolstoy listing the ingredients of his most charming female character..."

But then, as Tolstoy wrote and “edited” — which was actually waves of rewriting — the characters took on lives of their own.

For example, in an early version of "Anna Karenina," Zorin writes that Anna "is a lascivious animal, not so much morally corrupt as inherently immoral. The other characters see her as possessed by a ‘devil, ’an evil force or, in Schopenhauerian terms, the will to live. When she gets pregnant by Udashev (Vronsky ), Anna’s wet eyes shine with happiness. As was by now his custom, Tolstoy made things more subtle and less straightforward as he rewrote the novel. If the ‘will to live’ or ‘force of life,’ as Tolstoy called it in the epigraph to one of the chapters, is irresistible, how could one possibly blame Anna?”

Zorin, who is a cultural historian and chair of Russian at Oxford University, brings his rich knowledge of Russia’s political life and personalities, philosophical, social and religious trends to his task. He places Tolstoy’s anarchism in context, writing “Tolstoy was a contemporary and a compatriot of such leading figures in the history of European anarchism as Mikhail Bakunin and Piotr Kropotkin. All three of them were aristocratic intellectuals who looked for ideals in the life of Russian peasant communes, in the stubborn resistance of sectarians and Old Believers to the official Church and central authorities, in Cossack settlements providing military support to the crown, but defying state bureaucracy in their way of life. No less important for Tolstoy were the numberless wanderers, pilgrims and beggars who left their homes and villages to search for God. The utopian vision of life without a state, masters or an official Church is no less important for Russian intellectual tradition and popular aspirations than its antithesis: unswerving trust in the secular and spiritual authorities.Tolstoy and Dostoevsky represented the two trends.”

And so we follow Tolstoy, dipping into his novels and other writing — Zorin’s serious treatment of his treatises and educational materials is particularly interesting — pausing for some help understanding the political situation or Russian cultural values, as he heads inexorably to the train station in Astapovo. There in his flight from his family and all that tethered him to everyday life, he becomes ill and is taken into the little station house where he inadvertently gives the world its first glimpse of the cult of celebrity in the future. “Within a day,” Zorin writes, “the little railway station became the main provider of breaking news to the whole world from Japan to Argentina. Reporters, photographers, cameramen, government officials, police agents, admirers and gawpers started swarming to Astapovo. Tolstoy’s flight brought him further into the limelight. Trying to evade the advance of modernity, he had contributed to its triumph by creating one of the first global media events.”

He would have hated it, had he known.

biography of leo tolstoy in english

Excerpt from "Leo Tolstoy"

Chapter 4: a fugitive celebrity.

Since the time he suddenly left university at the age of eighteen, Tolstoy’s life had been full of forced breaks and abrupt departures. He resigned from the army, stopped teaching at his school and gave up managing his estate. He rejected the dissolute life he had led in his youth and then the respectable lifestyle of a rich landowner. He abandoned the Orthodox Church and the social class into which he had been born. He also made several attempts to break up with literature, but each time he had returned to writing.

In October 1864 Tolstoy fell from his horse and broke his arm while hunting. After an unsuccessful intervention by local doctors, the bone started to heal in the wrong way and it became clear that a new operation would be necessary. This was performed in Moscow at the house of his father-in-law, who made sure to engage the best surgeons in the country. According to the memoirs of Tatiana Kuzminskaya, having received the first dose of anaesthetic, Tolstoy ‘jumped up from the armchair with wide-open staring eyes, threw away the sachet of chloroform and shouted loudly: “My friends, one can’t live like this . . . I think . . . I have decided . . .”. He was given another dose, calmed down and the operation went successfully.

Whatever Tolstoy had ‘decided’ in his delirium, the urge to liberate himself from something he cherished always lived inside him. The stronger the bonds were, the more desperate he was to break them, however painful it was – particularly if it was painful. There was nothing in the world he valued more than family. In spite of or because of this, even during the happiest periods of his life he could not rid himself of a yearning to escape. In the early 1880s, when he renounced the Church, money, property, authorship, meat, tobacco, alcohol, hunting and so on, these thoughts became obsessive. ‘He cried today loudly that his most passionate thought was to leave the family,’ wrote Sofia in her diary on 26 August 1882. ‘Even on my deathbed I will not forget the sincerity of his exclamation; it was as if my heart had been cut from inside me’.

Tolstoy was experiencing an almost physiological need to leave behind his ‘position as a famous writer’ and a comfortable life and to join the thousands of homeless wanderers who lived off nothing more than the fruits of their daily labour and alms. One of his younger disciples once asked him where a true follower of Tolstoy’s religion was supposed to dine. ‘Don’t be worried,’ came the mentor’s answer, ‘whoever needs you, will feed you.’1 He was unable to perceive Sofia’s attitude towards him as love, and he wrote in his diary on 5 May 1884: ‘Dreamed that my wife loved me. How simple and clear everything became! Nothing like that in real life. And that’s what is ruining my life . . . It would be good to die’. Several weeks later, after an argument with Sofia, who had accused him of financial recklessness, he packed his bag and left home. He ‘wanted to leave for good’, but her advanced pregnancy made him ‘turn back halfway to Tula’.

The next morning their last daughter, Alexandra, was born. His urge to leave did not recede. Late in 1885 Sofia wrote to her sister Tatiana that Leo had told her he wanted to divorce her and go to Paris or America, as ‘he can’t bear to live like this.’ By the end of the row that followed, according to Sofia, Leo was sobbing hysterically: ‘Can you imagine, Levochka shaking and twitching from sobs. Twelve years later, in the midst of the family crisis over Sofia’s infatuation with Taneyev, Tolstoy wrote her a farewell letter:

Dear Sonya, I have been long tormented by the incongruity between my heart and my beliefs. I have not been able to make you change your life or your habits, to which I have myself accustomed you and up to now I haven’t been able to leave you . . . Neither was I able to continue living any longer the way I have been living for the last sixteen years, now struggling and irritating you; now yielding to the temptations to which I was accustomed and by which I was surrounded, and I have now decided to do what I have long wished to do – to go away.

Tolstoy did not deliver this letter and did not leave either. He believed the Gospels compelled him to leave his family and everyone he held dear in order to follow his calling, but he was also convinced that universal love could manifest itself only through love to those who are close by. It was, after all, a sudden feeling of compassion towards his wife and son that had allowed Ivan Ilyich to renounce his animal egotism and die peacefully.

Tolstoy’s enemies and followers alike accused him of hypocrisy. He was pained by these reproaches, but able to withstand them because he knew them to be false. The pleasures derived from everyday comforts would never be able to influence his decisions. He was less sure about the temptations of lust and earthly fame. His struggle with both of these is evident in Father Sergius, a piece in which the intensity of contained passion is breathtaking even by the standards of Tolstoy’s prose. Tolstoy spent most of the 1890s devising and writing this story before it was completed in 1898. It was never published in his lifetime. The story starts with a description of the sensational disappearance of a highly successful person:

In Petersburg in the eighteen-forties a surprising event occurred. An officer of the Cuirassier Life Guards, a handsome prince who everyone predicted would become aide-de-camp to Emperor Nicholas I and have a brilliant career, left the service, broke off his engagement to a beautiful maid of honour, a favourite of the Empress’s, gave his small estate to his sister and retired to a monastery to become a monk.

Prince Stepan Kasatsky changes his life so dramatically because his bride confesses to him that, before their engagement, she had been a mistress of the emperor. This discovery turns Kasatsky’s love into a sham and exposes the futility of his ambitious aspirations. Religious beliefs he has preserved from his childhood save him and guide him to a monastery where he takes holy orders as Father Sergius. From there he retires to a remote cell where he leads an ascetic life of prayer and abstinence. His solitude is, however, marred by recurrent doubts about his choice and by carnal desires. In one of his worst moments he is tempted by an eccentric aristocratic beauty, who comes to his cell specially intending to seduce the handsome hermit. Father Sergius manages to resist the temptation only by cutting off one of his fingers.

This incident, which soon becomes public knowledge, makes the recluse immensely popular and gives rise to rumours about his healing powers. More and more people flocked to him and less and less time was left him for prayer and for renewing his spiritual strength . . . He knew he would hear nothing new from these folk, that they would arouse no religious emotion in him, but he liked to see the crowd to which his blessing and advice was necessary and precious, so while that crowd oppressed him, it also pleased him.

Tolstoy was thinking of himself, his newly acquired status as a prophet and of the crowds of people who came to seek his advice. His son remembers that, after the departure of a particularly annoying guest, Leo would start jumping wildly through the rooms of his house followed by a line of hilarious children. They used to call this silent ritual of liberation ‘Numidian cavalry’. His daughter Tatiana once asked him about a strangely clad man in his room. ‘He is a young member of what’s to me the world’s most strange and incomprehensible sect,’ responded her father, ‘the tolstoyans.’

In May 1893 he noted in his diary that ‘as soon as a person is able to free himself a little from the sin of lust, he immediately stumbles and falls into the worse pit of human fame’. Thus it was necessary not ‘to destroy existing bad reputation, but to value it as a means to avoid the greatest temptation . . . I need to elaborate on this topic in “Father Sergius”. It is worth it’.

The limits of Father Sergius’s pretended saintliness are laid bare by a plump, imbecilic and sexually voracious merchant’s daughter, who makes him succumb to the desires of the flesh. The world of the hermit and his faith are ruined. ‘As usual at moments of despair, he felt a need of prayer. But there was no one to pray to. There was no God’. Tolstoy initially planned to make the hermit kill the girl, but that would have made the story a second version of his earlier novella, The Devil.

Instead Tolstoy transformed the story of sex and murder into one of escape. In a trademark paradox, ugly sin liberates Father Sergius from the slavery of earthly fame and enables him to serve God by serving people. The hermit leaves his cell and is saved from utter destitution by a hapless old childhood friend, who lives a life of self-sacrifice supporting her desperate daughter, sickly and useless son-in-law and two grandchildren, without ever thinking that she is doing anything good or moral. Father Sergius becomes a wandering beggar, is arrested and exiled to Siberia. There he settles down, working in the kitchen garden of a well-to-do peasant, teaching his children and attending to the sick.

This ending seems to have been borrowed from another escape story Tolstoy considered writing in the 1890s. Posthumous Notes of the Elder Fyodor Kuzmich were based on a popular legend about Alexander I, according to which the emperor, known as a mystic and visionary, did not die in 1825, as had been officially announced, but escaped and lived under the assumed name of Fyodor Kuzmich. Fyodor was a real person. Like Father Sergius, he had wandered around Russia and been arrested for vagrancy and exiled. In his old age he lived in Siberia working in the kitchen garden of a merchant and teaching peasant children in return for meals – the old man never took money. Fyodor died in 1864, leaving behind some encoded papers. His identity was never revealed.

Tolstoy was inclined to believe the legend, but he did not write the story. He had too many other commitments in the 1890s to be able to bury himself in the documents and achieve the historical accuracy and sense of truthfulness he required. The themes of sudden escape, downturn in lifestyle, arrest and manual labour in a Siberian kitchen garden were transferred to Father Sergius…

Excerpted from “Leo Tolstoy” (Critical Lives) by Andrei Zorin, published by Reaktion Books. Copyright © Andrei Zorin 2020. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Footnotes have been removed to ease reading. For more information about Andrei Zorin and his book, see his publisher’s site here . 

“Leo Tolstoy” has been shortlisted for the 2021 Pushkin House Book Prize.

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novelist. The one of the legacies of the poet is the culmination of the Realist Fiction that he achieved with the publication of his two masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina. In his later life, Leo explored many talents and emerged as an essayist, education reformer and an excellent dramatist and gained reverence as the most influential member of the noble Tolstoy family. His ideas on non-violence made him a devoted Christian anarchist and pacifist and he renounced the authority of Orthodox Church in 1901. Though he never called himself an anarchist, his later teachings can be classified as Christian anarchism. His much acclaimed book

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biography of leo tolstoy in english

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Алексеева, Г. В. Американские диалоги Льва Толстого (по материалам личной библиотеки писателя). Тула: “ ”, 2010. G. V. Alekseyeva investigates Tolstoy’s perception of American literature, philosophy, and religion at different periods of his life (mainly in the last three decades) and at all levels (historical, social, cultural, spiritual, and personal). The final nine chapters reconstruct a “Tolstoyan” America for the reader. The work includes a large bibliography and index.

Faruk Arslan

It is a best-seller book in Turkey, sold near half a million copies. This is only English version. Description The well-known writer Tolstoy’s treatise about Muhammad (PBUH) has lots of characteristics. His passion in Truth and disregard of secular values approached him to religious truth. We do not think Leo Tolstoy will amaze anybody, especially the Canadian and American readers who are cultured and knowledgeable in religion and are forerunners in the contemporary world with his treatise, which is the result of his admiration toward Muhammad (PBUH) and religion Islam. “Muhammad has always been standing higher than the Christianity. He does not consider god as a human being and never makes himself equal to God. Muslims worship nothing except God and Muhammad is his Messenger. There is no any mystery and secret in it.” Leo Nikolayevich TOLSTOY $2.99 Available on iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Category: Religion & Spirituality Published:Jun 17, 2011 Publisher: Lulu.com Seller: Lulu Enterprises, Inc. Print Length: 101 Pages Language: English CLICK ON AND DOWNLOAD http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/tolstoy-treatise-famous-russian/id444971184?mt=11 ORDER HARD COPY IN PRINT BOOK Price: $7.99 Ships in 3–5 business days http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/tolstoy-the-treatise-of-famous-russian-writer-about-the-messenger-of-islam-muhammad-%28pbuh%29-hidden-book/15719183

arsheel iqbal

BJPscyh Advances

jeremy holmes

SummaryTolstoy's life and work illustrate resilience, the transcendence of trauma and the enduring impact of childhood loss. I have chosen the famous oak tree passage from War and Peace to illustrate recovery from the self-preoccupation of depression and the theme of ‘eco-spirituality’ – the idea that post-depressive connectedness and love apply not just to significant others but also to nature and the environment.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Daniel Moulin

Tolstoy was one of the most prolific religious figures of his time. Yet his religious thought and its influence have seldom been explored by Church historians. Drawing upon themes within his literature, non-fiction and previously unconsidered primary sources, this paper considers Tolstoy's religious position in relation to other similar nineteenth-century religious movements. It exposes Tolstoy's links with British Unitarians and also considers Tolstoy's influence upon the founder of Britain's first interfaith organisation, The world congress of faiths. It is argued that Tolstoy provides a paradigmatic example by which to examine the relationship between the legacy of the enlightenment and changing attitudes towards non-Christian religions.

Social Sciences

Ilya Bendersky

It makes sense to look at the conditions that offered Tolstoy an opportunity to convey ‘the story of God’s love that is coming to be in this world’ through the narrative of ‘a journey of discovery’… in Master and Man, the story of two wayfarers who lost their way at night during a snowstorm, Tolstoy managed to encompass within one artistic statement almost the entire landscape of his life and creative path. However, how does this narrative structure, which combines personal experience, an artistic image and religious revelation, frame the space of the author’s encounter with the reader? How did Tolstoy structure the interaction between the created artistic world and the reality that he experienced and portrayed?

Tolstoy and his problems: views from the twenty-first century edited by Inessa Medzhibovskaya (Northwestern University Press)

Charles E . Peck Jr.

Brief Sketch of the Life and Times of Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy Tolstoy's midlife crisis wasn't that unusual. Studies show that after professionals like doctors put in tremendous efforts in achieving their goal of becoming doctors, they often feel a let down when they reach their goal. They put in long hours at hospitals as interns as well as tedious hours studying and all that - but when they become established and successful as doctors, they often have let downs, become depressed or spiral into mid-life cycles. The conclusion that many psychologists come to is that it is the striving that makes people happy much more than reaching a goal. That is when people reach a goal, they ask themselves, is this all there is to life? Tolstoy, after he achieved amazing fame and recognition after publishing War and Peace, got depressed and went into an identity-spiritual crisis. What made his historical was first his fame as a writer, second that he was Russian aristocracy who rejected the aristocratic way of life, and third his unique way of resolving a spiritual struggle that lasted for many long years. The life and development of Lev Tolstoy, the novelist and radical Christian was woven into the fabric of Russian Culture and History. After Tolstoy published his epic novel War and Peace and gained wealth and fame, Tolstoy experienced a severe identity-spiritual crisis. He became despondent and suicidal. Tolstoy was perhaps the ultimate rational and logical individual. He concluded that the petty desires of greed, lust, and fame were reprehensible and meaningless. He proceeded to rationally analyze meaning and concluded that rationalism does not in and of itself generate meaning. He finally reached the conclusion that through faith alone does one find true meaning. In his book, Confessions, which is an account of his personal spiritual struggles, Tolstoy observes, “Thus in addition to rational knowledge, which I had hitherto thought to be the only knowledge, I was inevitably led to acknowledge that there does exist another kind of knowledge – an irrational one – possessed by humanity as a whole: faith, which affords the possibility of living.” (Conf p. 53) As a result of his identity-spiritual crisis and his incredibly intense personal search for the meaning of life, Lev Tolstoy became not just a Christina – but a radical Christian – which eventually gave birth to the what is called the Tolstoyan Movement which was a radical “Christian” movement of the times.

Ирина Гордеева

Leo Tolstoy bibliography

Bibliography of russian author leo tolstoy / from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, dear wikiwand ai, let's keep it short by simply answering these key questions:.

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This is a list of works by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), including his novels, novellas, short stories, fables and parables, plays, and nonfiction.


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  5. Leo Tolstoy 'The Russian Man' biography

  6. Leo Tolstoy


  1. Leo Tolstoy

    Life and career. Leo Tolstoy at age 20, c. 1848. Tolstoy was born at Yasnaya Polyana, a family estate 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) southwest of Tula, and 200 kilometres (120 mi) south of Moscow.

  2. Leo Tolstoy

    Leo Tolstoy, Russian author, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world's greatest novelists. Tolstoy is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace (1865-69) and Anna Karenina (1875-77), which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written. War and Peace in.

  3. Leo Tolstoy

    Famous Authors & Writers. Leo Tolstoy. Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote the acclaimed novels 'War and Peace,' 'Anna Karenina' and 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich,' and ranks among the world's top...

  4. Biography of Leo Tolstoy, Russian Writer

    Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828-November 20, 1910) was a Russian writer, best known for his epic novels. Born into an aristocratic Russian family, Tolstoy wrote realist fiction and semi-autobiographical novels before shifting into more moral and spiritual works. Fast Facts: Leo Tolstoy. Full Name: Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy.

  5. Leo Tolstoy

    Tolstoy at age 20, circa 1848 Leo Tolstoy (1887). Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (9 September 1828 - 20 November 1910) was a Russian novelist and anarchist, famous for writing the books War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and many other works.He was a Christian and believed in non-violence and practiced simple living.His work The Kingdom of God is within you has influenced people like Mahatma ...

  6. Leo Tolstoy Biography

    Born: August 28, 1828. Tula Province, Russia. Died: November 9, 1910. Astapovo, Russia. Russian novelist. The Russian novelist and moral philosopher (person who studies good and bad in relation to human life) Leo Tolstoy ranks as one of the world's great writers, and his War and Peace has been called the greatest novel ever written. Early years.

  7. Leo Tolstoy

    Born in Yasnaya Polyana on September 9, 1828, Leo Tolstoy belonged to a well known noble Russian family. He was the fourth among five children of Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy and Countess Mariya Tolstaya, both of whom died leaving their children to be raised by relatives.

  8. Leo Tolstoy Biography -Biography Online

    Born in 1828, Leo Tolstoy came from an aristocratic Russian family with links to some of the most powerful Russian families. He was the fourth cousin of Alexander Pushkin. In his early life, he struggled with his studies and drifted through life ending up with large gambling debts.

  9. Leo Tolstoy

    Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy ɪvʲɪtɕ tɐlˈstoj] i; 9 September 1828 - 20 November 1910), usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time.

  10. Leo Tolstoy Biography

    Literature Notes. War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy Biography. Leo Nicolaevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) was the next to youngest of five children, descending from one of the oldest and best families in Russia. His youthful surroundings were of the upper-class gentry of the last period of serfdom.

  11. Count Leo Tolstoy

    Literature and the Arts. Russian and Eastern European Literature: Biographies. Count Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy, Leo. views 2,046,970 updated May 23 2018. Tolstoy, Leo. Personal.

  12. Leo Tolstoy

    Leo Tolstoy was born Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy on the 9 th of September in 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russian Empire. He was a bright son of Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy, a doctor, while his mother, Mariya Tolstaya, was a housewife.

  13. Leo Tolstoy Biography

    Leo Tolstoy (or Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy), 1828-1910, was a Russian novelist and social reformer, born on the 9th of September (August 28) 1828, in the home of his fathers - Yasnaya Polyana, near Toula - a large country house (not the present one) built in a severely formal style, with Doric pillars and architraves, standing solitarily in ...

  14. Tolstoy Overview: A Biography Of Leo Tolstoy

    Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian novelist. There is a large degree of consensus that his two great novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina stand on the summit of realist fiction. He has been mentioned again and again as the greatest novelist who ever wrote, and so he wins a place in this list of great writers.

  15. Anna Karenina

    Tools. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the novel by Tolstoy. For other uses, see Anna Karenina (disambiguation). Not to be confused with Anna Karina, the actress. Anna Karenina (Russian: «Анна Каренина», IPA: [ˈanːə kɐˈrʲenʲɪnə]) [1] is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in book form in 1878.

  16. Leo Tolstoy bibliography

    Leo Tolstoy. bibliography. Leo Tolstoy in his later years; early-20th century. References and footnotes. This is a list of works by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), including his novels, novellas, short stories, fables and parables, plays, and nonfiction. Prose fiction. Novels. War and Peace (Война и мир [ Voyna i mir ], 1869)

  17. Leo Tolstoy: Biography, Quotes, Famous Works

    Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time. A writer of Realism, Tolstoy's novels Anna Karenina (1868) and War and Peace (1869) have stood the test of time and remain two of the most famous works of Russian literature. In his personal life, Tolstoy was a pacifist, education advocate ...

  18. Leo Tolstoy

    Leo Tolstoy. Table of Contents. Leo Tolstoy - Novelist, War & Peace, Anna Karenina: Concealing his identity, Tolstoy submitted Childhood for publication in Sovremennik ("The Contemporary"), a prominent journal edited by the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. Nekrasov was enthusiastic, and the pseudonymously published work was widely praised.

  19. War and Peace

    War and Peace - Wikipedia. War and Peace [a] is a literary work by Russian author Leo Tolstoy. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the work mixes fictional narrative with chapters discussing history and philosophy. First published serially beginning in 1865, the work was rewritten and published in its entirety in 1869.

  20. Andrei Zorin's Biography 'Leo Tolstoy' is Essential Reading

    Sep. 26, 2021. Author Andrei Zorin Open Russia. Leo Tolstoy's life and works are copiously documented in editions of his writings in dozens of languages, new translations, biographies, critical...


    Alekseyeva investigates Tolstoy's perception of American literature, philosophy, and religion at different periods of his life (mainly in the last three decades) and at all levels (historical, social, cultural, spiritual, and personal). The final nine chapters reconstruct a "Tolstoyan" America for the reader.

  22. Leo Tolstoy bibliography

    SHOW ALL QUESTIONS. This is a list of works by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), including his novels, novellas, short stories, fables and parables, plays, and nonfiction. Leo Tolstoy. bibliography. Leo Tolstoy in his later years; early-20th century. References and footnotes. Oops something went wrong: 403. Enjoying Wikiwand?

  23. Aleksey Nikolayevich, Count Tolstoy

    Aleksey Nikolayevich, Count Tolstoy, novelist and short-story writer, a former nobleman and "White" Russian émigré who became a supporter of the Soviet regime and an honoured artist of the Soviet Union. The son of a count distantly related to the great 19th-century novelist Leo Tolstoy, he studied.