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Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy Leo Tolstoy[1†]

Leo Tolstoy, born as Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy[1†], is often referred to as one of the greatest authors of all time[1†]. He was born into an aristocratic Russian family in 1828[1†]. His most notable works include the novels “War and Peace” (1869) and “Anna Karenina” (1878), which are frequently cited as pinnacles of realist fiction[1†][2†].

Tolstoy first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1852–1856), and Sevastopol Sketches (1855), based upon his experiences in the Crimean War[1†]. His fiction repertoire includes dozens of short stories and several novellas such as “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” (1886), “Family Happiness” (1859), and “Hadji Murad” (1912). He also wrote plays and essays that revolved around philosophical, moral, and religious themes[1†].

In the 1870s, Tolstoy underwent a profound moral crisis and spiritual awakening, which he outlined in his non-fiction work “A Confession” (1882). His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, led him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist[1†]. His ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in works like “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” (1894), had a profound impact on pivotal 20th-century figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr[1†].

Tolstoy was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906 and for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902, and 1909[1†]. Despite his aristocratic origins, Tolstoy became a vocal advocate of Georgism, the economic philosophy of Henry George, which he incorporated into his writing, particularly in his novel "Resurrection"[1†].

Early Years and Education

Leo Tolstoy was born on August 28, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Tula province, Russian Empire[2†][3†]. He was the scion of prominent aristocrats and spent much of his life at his family estate of Yasnaya Polyana[2†][3†].

Tolstoy’s education was primarily handled at home by German and French tutors[2†][4†]. He was not an exceptional student, but he was good at games[2†][4†]. In 1843, he entered Kazan University with the intention of embarking on a diplomatic career, and thus, he began his studies in the faculty of Oriental languages[2†][4†][5†]. However, he found these studies too demanding and switched to studying law two years later[2†][4†][5†]. Despite the academic challenges, he developed an interest in literature and ethics during his time at the university[2†][5†].

This period of his life, marked by a somewhat dissolute youth, was followed by his service in the army and travels in Europe before he returned home and started a school for peasant children[2†][3†].

Career Development and Achievements

Leo Tolstoy’s career as a writer spans over six decades, during which he wrote both fiction and non-fiction that have had a profound influence on literature[2†][6†][1†][7†].

Tolstoy first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, “Childhood”, “Boyhood”, and “Youth” (1852–1856), and “Sevastopol Sketches” (1855), based upon his experiences in the Crimean War[2†][1†]. These early works marked the beginning of his illustrious career and showcased his ability to vividly depict the realities of life.

His two most famous works, “War and Peace” (1865–69) and “Anna Karenina” (1875–77), are often cited as among the finest novels ever written[2†][6†][1†][7†]. “War and Peace” is a sweeping epic that intertwines the lives of five families against the backdrop of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. “Anna Karenina”, on the other hand, explores themes of love, faith, and duty through the tragic story of its eponymous heroine[2†][6†][1†][7†].

In addition to his novels, Tolstoy also wrote short stories, essays, plays, and novellas[2†][7†]. His later works, such as “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” (1886), “Family Happiness” (1859), and “Hadji Murad” (1912), continue to be celebrated for their insightful exploration of human nature[2†].

Despite his success as a novelist, Tolstoy underwent a profound moral crisis and spiritual awakening in the 1870s, which led him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist[2†]. His non-fiction work “A Confession” (1882) outlines this transformation, and his subsequent writings, such as “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” (1894), espouse his new-found beliefs[2†].

Tolstoy’s ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in these later works, had a profound impact on pivotal 20th-century figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr[2†]. Despite his aristocratic origins, Tolstoy became a vocal advocate of Georgism, the economic philosophy of Henry George, which he incorporated into his writing, particularly in his novel "Resurrection"[2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Leo Tolstoy’s literary career spans over six decades, during which he wrote both short stories and grand novels. His works are celebrated for their realistic depiction of Russian life, society, and individuals.

Tolstoy’s works have had a profound influence on world literature and continue to be widely read and studied. His keen observation of detail, his narrative skill, and his ability to depict life on a grand scale have earned him a place among the world’s greatest writers[1†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Leo Tolstoy is recognized as one of the undisputed titans of fiction[8†]. His works, including the epic novels “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”, are celebrated for their realistic depiction of Russian life, society, and individuals[8†]. His writing is Homeric in its epic sweep, clarity, freshness, and celebration of nature’s processes[8†].

Tolstoy’s greatest achievement as a writer is his ability to convey an insight into the living moment, rendering with unequaled verisimilitude the course of human passions and the pattern of ordinary actions[8†]. This enables him to present a comprehensive, coherent, and usually convincing sense of life[8†].

However, while most critical evaluations of Tolstoy’s writings are highly laudatory, he has been reproached by some interpreters for his disparagement of science, technology, and formal education, his hostility to aesthetics and the life of the mind, and most of all for his insistence, in his later works, on dictating programs of moral and religious belief to his readers[8†].

His influence, while not as pervasive as that of his rival Fyodor Dostoevski, is evident in the works of Maxim Gorky, D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Ignazio Silone, Isaac Babel, Mikhail Sholokhov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Boris Pasternak when he composed his novel, "Doctor Zhivago"[8†].

Personal Life

Leo Tolstoy’s personal life was marked by a series of tragic incidents. His parents died when he was a child, and he failed to complete his education[9†]. In 1860, the death of his brother, Nikolay, left him in despair, and the acute loneliness led him to marry[9†].

In his personal life, Tolstoy was a pacifist, education advocate, and Christian anarchist[9†][10†]. His legacy extends far beyond just the literary sphere, but his written contributions remain some of the most important works in literary history[9†][10†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Leo Tolstoy’s legacy is profound and enduring. He is regarded as a master of realistic fiction and one of the world’s greatest novelists[2†]. His two longest works, War and Peace (1865–69) and Anna Karenina (1875–77), are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written[2†].

In contrast to other psychological writers, such as Dostoyevsky, who specialized in unconscious processes, Tolstoy described conscious mental life with unparalleled mastery[2†][11†]. His name has become synonymous with an appreciation of contingency and of the value of everyday activity[2†][11†]. Oscillating between skepticism and dogmatism, Tolstoy explored the most diverse approaches to human experience[2†][11†].

After Tolstoy’s death in 1910, his controversial legacy as an idiosyncratic philosopher and religious thinker occasioned a heated debate among Russian intellectuals[2†][12†]. However, after the Bolshevik victory in 1917 this debate gradually subsided as the ruling party assumed ideological control over the humanities and set out to revise the national canon[2†][12†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Leo Tolstoy [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Leo Tolstoy: Russian writer [website] - link
  3. Britannica - Early life and works of Leo Tolstoy [website] - link
  4. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Leo Tolstoy Biography [website] - link
  5. Britannica Kids - Leo Tolstoy [website] - link
  6. Britannica - What are Leo Tolstoy’s achievements? [website] - link
  7. GradeSaver - Leo Tolstoy Biography [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Leo Tolstoy Analysis [website] - link
  9. Literary Devices - Leo Tolstoy [website] - link
  10. Vaia - Leo Tolstoy: Biography, Quotes, Famous Works [website] - link
  11. Britannica - Leo Tolstoy - Novelist, Philosopher, Pacifist [website] - link
  12. Springer Link - The Palgrave Handbook of Russian Thought - Chapter: Tolstoy’s Philosophy of Life [website] - link
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