Tolstoy

Return to Michael 1989 Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian author, whose classic novels include War and Peace (1863-69) and Anna Karenina (1875-77).

Leo Tolstoy was born on August 28, 1828 at Yasnya Polyana, in Tula Province, the fourth of five children. His parents died when he was a child, and he was brought up by relatives. In 1844 Tolstoy started his studies of law and oriental languages at Kazan University, but he never took a degree. Dissatisfied with the standard of education, he returned in the middle of his studies back to Yasnya Polyana, and then spent much of his time in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Tolstoy was treated for venereal disease in 1847, and for most of the rest of his life was troubled by his tendency to debauch himself on a grand scale. After contracting heavy gambling debts, Tolstoy accompanied his elder brother to the Caucasus in 1851, and joined an artillery regiment. In the 1850s Tolstoy also began his literary career, publishing the autobiographical trilogy Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854), and Youth (1857).

In 1857 Tolstoy visited France, Switzerland, and Germany to learn more about society and how to reform it. After his travels Tolstoy settled in Yasnya Polyana, where he started a school for peasant children. He believed that the secret of changing the world lay in education. He investigated educational theory and practice, and published magazines and textbooks on the subject. In 1862 he married Sonya Andreyevna Behrs (1844-1919) who bore him 13 children. Sonya also acted as her husband's devoted secretary.

Tolstoy's fiction grew originally out of his diaries, in which he tried to understand his own feelings and actions so as to control them. Tolstoy's major work, War and Peace , appeared between the years 1865 and 1869. The epic tale depicted the story of five families against the background of Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

Tolstoy's other masterpiece, Anna Karenina (1873-77), told a tragic story of a married woman, who follows her lover, but finally commits suicide. Tolstoy juxtaposed in the work crises of family life with the quest for the meaning of life.

After finishing Anna Karenina Tolstoy renounced all his earlier works and wrote Conversion (1879) to explain his doctrines. Voskresenia (1899, Resurrection) was Tolstoy's last major novel.

By this time, Tolstoy started to see himself more as a sage and moral leader than an artist. In 1901 the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated the author. Tolstoy became seriously ill and he recuperated in Crimea.

After leaving his estate to his disciple Vladimir Chertkov so as to follow the urge to live as a wandering ascetic, Tolstoy died of pneumonia on November 20, 1910, at a remote railway junction. His collected works, which were published in the Soviet Union in 1928-58, consists of 90 volumes.