Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (known in the West as Leo Tolstoy) (September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910]) was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time.
Count Leo Tolstoy was born on September 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia. Orphaned at nine, he was brought up by an elderly aunt and educated by French tutors until he matriculated at Kazan University in 1844. In 1847, he gave up his studies and, after several aimless years, volunteered for military duty in the army, serving as a junior officer in the Crimean War before retiring in 1857. In 1862, Tolstoy married Sophie Behrs, a marriage that was to become, for him, bitterly unhappy. His diary, started in 1847, was used for self-study and self-criticism; it served as the source from which he drew much of the material that appeared not only in his great novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), but also in his shorter works.
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. [...] The culmination of Tolstoy's thoughts on religion can be found in 'A Confession and other Religious Writings' (1879 - 82). [...] 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 from the Russian Holy Synod. Leo Tolstoy understood Religion is our True Connection to the Universe (What Exists, God).
The contradictions in Tolstoy’s works, views, doctrines, in his school, are indeed glaring. On the one hand, we have the great artist, the genius who has not only drawn incomparable pictures of Russian life but has made first-class contributions to world literature. On the other hand we have the landlord obsessed with Christ. [...] On the one hand, merciless criticism of capitalist exploitation, exposure of government outrages, the farcical courts and the state administration, and unmasking of the profound contradictions between the growth of wealth and achievements of civilisation and the growth of poverty, degradation and misery among the working masses. On the other, the crackpot preaching of submission, “resist not evil” with violence.
Tolstoy resolved to give away all his copyrights “to the people.” The decision pitted him in “a struggle to the death” against his wife, Sonya, who managed the household finances and who, over the years, bore Tolstoy a total of thirteen children. Tolstoy eventually ceded Sonya the copyrights for all his pre-1881 works but turned the rest over to [...] Vladi mir Chertkov, an aristocrat-turned- Tolstoyan
It is easy enough to lament [...] the great writer’s inattention to literary matters in the latter part of his life. It is also easy to laugh at the myriad ways in which he failed to practice what he preached, and at his gross vanity and monstrous ego. But countless people found inspiration in Tolstoy’s proselytism. The 25-year-old Mohandas Gandhi, a lawyer in South Africa, read his tract “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” and found there the courage of his own convictions. Ludwig Wittgenstein found in Tolstoy’s “Gospel in Brief” a lifeline that kept him sane through the First World War.
Tolstoy came to his anarchism by way of a mid-life crisis. For when he was around 50 Tolstoy began to seriously question the meaning of his life. The outcome was a series of books in which Tolstoy began to formulate his anarchist ideas, drawing on some of his earlier experiences [...] In 1894 Tolstoy published his major work on Christian anarchism The Kingdom of God Is Within You and for the rest of his life continued to write letters, essays and tracts on anarchism. But it is worth noting that because of the association of anarchism with violence and bomb-throwing Tolstoy never in fact came to describe himself as an anarchist.
Tolstoy said he was to be measured by his life, not by his writings, once belittling ''War and Peace'' as ''gossipy twaddle.'' Yasnaya Polyana [his estate] provides some measure of that life. For example, the elementary school he established to make learning less threatening for serf children survives as a government institution.
At the end of Tolstoy's first literary period, before his marriage and the beginning of 'war and peace', disillusionment with literature and art turned his thoughts to problems of education. A series of experiments resulted in a collection of educational writings that are both fascinating and important and all too frequently overlooked by students of Tolstoy. These publications, apart from their intrinsic value to progressive educational thinking, clearly anticipate in intellectual quality and style the much larger body of religious and philosophical works after his spiritual revelation, and they also have a real connection with later theorizing in his notable treatise, 'What Is Art?'
Tolstoy was peculiarly the product of [Russia]. He could not have written or lived as he did had he not been born in a particular time and place and situation. […] Though most Russian writes of the nineteenth century were technically of the gentry class […] Tolstoy was alone, among the great writers, in being born into the very highest social rank. […] His isolation, and the privilege of his birth, partly explain why, in the second half of his career, Tolstoy managed to get away with being such a trenchant and violent opponent of the Governmnet.
Philosophy, [Tolstoy] contends, is the science of life. Life is the striving for happiness and well-being. To satisfy this striving, man must not seek happiness in the world outside him, but in the education of himself. The purpose of philosophy is to show how man should educate himself and - since he lives in society - what his relations with other people should be.
Tolstoy was also synonymous with Russia in the eyes of many foreign admirers. 'He is as much part of Russia, as significant of Russian character, as prophetic of Russian development, as the Kremlin itself,' wrote the liberal British politician Sir Henry Norman soon after visiting Tolstoy in 1901. For the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, meanwhile, Tolstoy had 'no face of his own; he possesses the face of the Russian people, because in him the whole of Russia lives and breathes.'
When [Tolstoy] had recovered from his suicidal depression induced largely by the strain of producing his masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and, at fifty-one, composed the celebrated Confession, he presented himself as a changed man. In the course of that essay, describing the great change that had come over him, he said: "My mental condition presented itself to me in this way: my life is a stupid and malicious joke which someone has played on me. Although I did not acknowledge a 'someone' who had created me, that formula […] was the form of expression that came most naturally to me."
"No English novelist," wrote E. M. Forster, "is as great as Tolstoy - that is to say has given so complete a picture of man's life, both on its domestic and heroic side. No English novelist has explored man's soul as deeply as Dostoevsky." Forster judgment need not be restricted to English literature. It defines the relationship of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to the art of the novel as a whole.
The most tenacious critical tradition on War and Peace has been the use of binary critical and evaluative terms. […] The following is an example of such frequent binary criticism: "Tolstoy celebrates the intuition over the logic, the heart over the head, the sodom of experience over the pretensions of theory." But Tolstoy does not always celebrate the head over the heart; sometimes he has contempt for he heart: when it regrets, sentimentalizes, mourns; and sometimes he champions the head over the heart: Prince Andrey's "head" is seldom clouded by the heart and yet few characters have Tolstoy's approval as often as does Prince Andrey.