Leo Tolstoy Tolstoy on 23 May 1908 at Yasnaya Polyana, Lithograph print by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky Native name Лев Николаевич Толстой Born Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy 9 September 1828 Yasnaya Polyana, Tula Governorate, Russian Empire Died 20 November 1910 (aged 82) Astapovo, Ryazan Governorate, Russian Empire Resting place Yasnaya Polyana Occupation Novelist, short story writer ...
A Russian author of novels, short stories, plays, and philosophical essays, Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was born into an aristocratic family and is best known for the epic books War and Peace and Anna Karenina, regarded as two of the greatest works of Russian literature.
Leo Tolstoy is known primarily for having written the masterpieces War and Peace (1865–69) and Anna Karenina (1875–77), which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written. Exemplars of realistic fiction, they vividly embody a vision of human experience rooted in an appreciation of everyday life and prosaic virtues.
- Early Life
- Travels and Military Experience
- Early and Epic Novels
- Musings on Radical Christianity
- Political and Moral Essayist
- Literary Styles and Themes
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 b...
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...
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,...
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 o...
In his later years, Tolstoy wrotealmost 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 propertyand marriage. He hoped to continue spreading his teachings throughout Russia. For the last two decades of his life, Tolstoy largely focused on essay wr...
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...
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...
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 Peaceis 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.
- Who Was Leo Tolstoy?
- Early Life
- Early Works
- Philosophy, Religious Conversion
- Later Fiction
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 paren...
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 Talesbook, Tolstoy experim...
'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 rea...
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 Kareninafictionalized 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, ea...
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 Mediatorin 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.
'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 co...
- Tolstoy Was A Self-Improvement Junkie.
- Tolstoy’s Wife Helped Get “War and Peace” Over The Finish Line.
- The Russian Orthodox Church Excommunicated him.
- He Inspired A Cult—And Gandhi.
- Tolstoy and His Wife Had One of The Worst Marriages in Literary history.
Inspired in part by the 13 virtues Benjamin Franklin spelled out in his autobiography, Tolstoy created a seemingly endless list of rules by which he aspired to live. While some seem pretty accessible by today’s standards (in bed by 10 and up at 5, with no more than a 2-hour nap; eat moderately and avoid sweet foods), others offer insight into Tolstoy’s lifelong struggle with his personal demons; such as his desire to limit his brothel visits to just two a month, and his self-admonition over his youthful gambling habits. Beginning in his late teens, he would sporadically keep a “Journal of Daily Occupations,” minutely accounting for how he spent his day and clearly plotting out how he intended to spend the following day. As if that wasn’t enough, he also compiled an ever-growing list of his moral failures, and even found time to create guides governing everything from listening to music to playing cards while in Moscow.
In 1862, 34-year-old Tolstoy married 18-year-old Sophia Behrs, the daughter of a court physician, just weeks after the pair met. That same year, Tolstoy began work on what would become “War and Peace,” completing the first draft in 1865. Almost immediately, Tolstoy set about revising…and revising…and revising, with Sophia responsible for writing each version by hand (often using a magnifying glass to decipher Tolstoy’s scribbling on every bit of space on the page, including the margins). Over the next seven years, she rewrote the complete manuscript eight times (and some individual sections nearly 30 times), all while giving birth to four of the couple’s 13 children and managing their estate and business affairs.
Following the successful publication of “Anna Karenina” in the 1870s, Tolstoy, increasingly uncomfortable with his aristocratic background and ever-increasing wealth, underwent a series of emotional and spiritual crises that ultimately left him questioning his belief in the tenets of organized religion, which he saw as corrupt and at odds with his interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Tolstoy’s rejection of religious rituals—and his attacks on the role of the state and the concept of property rights—put him on a collision course with Russia’s two most powerful entities. Despite his aristocratic lineage, the czarist government put him under police surveillance, and the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him in 1901.
While Russia’s religious and royal leaders hoped to diminish Tolstoy’s popularity, he quickly began to attract adherents to his new faith, which mixed pacifism with Christian anarchism and advocated living a morally and physically ascetic lifestyle. Dozens of these new “Tolstoyans” moved onto the author’s estate to be nearer to their spiritual leader, while thousands of others established settlements in Russia and around the world. While many of these communes were short-lived, some remain operational to this day, including at least two in England. Among those influenced by Tolstoy’s social beliefs was Mahatma Gandhi, who established a cooperative colony named after Tolstoy in South Africa and corresponded with the author, crediting him with his own spiritual and philosophical evolution, particularly with regards to Tolstoy’s teachings on peaceful nonresistance to evil.
Despite the couple’s initial attraction and Sophia’s invaluable assistance to his work, the Tolstoy marriage was far from serene. Things got off to a rocky start when he forced her to read his diaries—chock full of his premarital sexual exploits—the night before their wedding. As Tolstoy’s interest in spiritual matters grew, his interest in his family waned, leaving Sophia to shoulder the burden of running their ever-increasing businesses and navigating Tolstoy’s ever-fluctuating moods. By the 1880s, with Tolstoy’s disciples living on the family estate and the author cobbling his own shoes and wearing peasant clothing, an increasingly angry Sophia demanded he sign over control of his publishing royalties, lest he bankrupt his family. By 1910, the deeply unhappy 82-year-old author had seen enough. He fled the family home in the middle of the night with one of his daughters, intending to settle on a small parcel of land owned by his sister. His disappearance caused a media sensation,...
- “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy.
- “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina.
- “If you look for perfection, you'll never be content.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.
- “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” ― Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata.
- Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. Leo Tolstoy. Love, Life, Reality.
- Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. Leo Tolstoy. Inspirational, Motivational, Change.
- Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it. Leo Tolstoy. Majority, Doe, Changing Your Life.
- If you make it a habit not to blame others, you will feel the growth of the ability to love in your soul, and you will see the growth of goodness in your life.
Contributed By Leo Tolstoy. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) has been hailed by other literary giants as one of the world’s greatest writers. He is best known for his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Learn More
- Leo Tolstoy 'A Confession and Other Religious Writings' Quotes
- What Is Religion and of What Does Its Essence Consist?
Leo Tolstoyis well known as a writer of fiction, with his classic works War and Peace and Anna Karenin (which he dismissed as meaningless in later life). Perhaps it is a surprise for some to know that Tolstoy also wrote very well on Religion and Theology, seeking to know God through truth and reason not faith nor intuition. As he writes; All the concepts we use to compare the finite to the infinite, and to arrive at an understanding of life, of the concepts of God, freedom and goodness, are put to the test of logic. But they fail to stand up to the critique of reason. (Leo Tolstoy, 1882) The culmination of Tolstoy's thoughts on religion can be found in 'A Confession and other Religious Writings' (1879 - 82). I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in philosophy and religion. Tolstoy's principles of True Religion, rationalism and the rejection of the church, state and private property earned him many followers but likewise much opposition and in 1901 he was excommunicated f...
In the experimental sphere I said to myself, ‘Everything develops, differentiates, moving towards complexity and refinement and there are laws governing this process. You are part of a whole. When you know as much as possible about the whole, and about the laws of its development, you will understand your place in the whole, and your own self.’ (Leo Tolstoy, Confessions, 1882) Rational knowledge, as presented by the learned and wise, negates the meaning of life, yet the vast masses - humanity as a whole - recognise that this meaning lies in irrational knowledge. And this irrational knowledge is faith, the very thing that I could not help rejecting. This God, one in three, the creation in six days, the devils and angels and all the rest that I could not accept without going mad. My position was terrible. I knew that I could find nothing along the path of rational knowledge, other than negation of life. While in faith I found nothing other than a negation of reason, which was even mor...
During certain periods in the existence of all human societies, a time has come when religion has first strayed from its basic meaning, and then digressed further and further until it has lost track of this meaning and eventually ossified in the already established forms, at which point it has come to have less and less influence on people’s lives. At these times the educated minority, no longer believing in the existing religious teaching, simply pretend to believe in it because they find it necessary for the purpose of holding the masses to the established order of life. Although the masses might cling to the established religious forms through inertia, their lives are no longer guided by religious demands, but simply by popular custom and state regulations. This has occurred many times in various human societies. But what is happening today in our Christian society has never happened before. Never before have the educated minority, those with the most influence on the masses, not...