Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian author, essayist, and philosopher wrote the epic novel War and Peace (1865-69),
Told anonymously, the novel is set during the Napoleonic Wars, the era that forms the backdrop for Tolstoy’s meticulously detailed description of early 19th-century Czarist Russia under Alexander I: its archetypes and antiheroes. Through its masterful development of the characters Pierre, Andrew, Natasha, Nicholas, Mary, and the rest, War and Pace examines the absurdity, hypocrisy, and superficiality of war and aristocratic society. everything reaches its climax during the battle of borodino. initially tolstoy’s friends including ivan s. Turgenev and Gustave Flaubert decided that the “formlessness” of the novels weakened the overall potential for their success, but they were soon proven wrong. Almost a hundred years after his death, in January 2007, Anna Karenina (1878) and Tolstoy’s War and Peace were placed on the ten pages of the time magazine. best novels of all time, first and third place respectively.
childhood: idyll days, moscow and kazan university
lev nikolayevich tolstoy was born on august 28, 1828 into a long line of russian nobility. He was the fourth child of Countess Maria Volkonsky (whom Tolstoy does not remember, as she died after giving birth to her sister Mariya in 1830) and Count Nicolay Ilyich Tolstoy (1797-1837) a lieutenant colonel who received the order of st. Vladimir for his service. At the age of sixteen he had fathered a son with a servant girl, Leo’s half-brother, Mishenka. When Count Tolstoy resigned from his last post at the military orphanage, a marriage was arranged between him and Maria Volkonsky. After his death, the count’s distant cousin, Tatyana Aleksandrovna Yergolskaya, ‘Aunt Tatyana’, who already lived with them, helped him run the household, raise the children, and supervise his tutoring. Leo’s paternal grandfather, Count Ilya Andreyevich Tolstoy (died 1820), had been an overly generous and trusting man; By the time Leo was born, Tolstoy’s fortunes had declined and the newlyweds settled in the Volkonsky family estate ‘Yasnaya Polyana’ (meaning ‘clear clear’) located in the Tula region, Shchekino district in the center of russia Leo’s maternal great-grandfather, Prince Nikolas Sergeyevich Volkonsky, established it in the early 19th century; on his death it was inherited by his daughter, Countess Volkonsky. it is now preserved as a state monument and national reserve.
From Leo Tolstoy’s Introduction to Leo Tolstoy: Childhood and Youth (1906) by biographer Paul Birukoff, we compile the very clear and fond memories he has of his early years and his loved ones: my my father never humbled himself before anyone, nor did he alter his energetic, cheerful and often ironic tone. count tolstoy was a kind and calm man. quick to tell jokes, he was reluctant to inflict the corporal punishment that was so common at the time on the hundreds of serfs on his estate. he did not like wolf baiting and fox hunting, and he preferred to ride through the fields and woods, or walk with his sons and their pack of frolicking greyhounds. Leo recounts his outings with his brothers, his friends, and his paternal grandmother Pelageya Nikolayevna Tolstoy (died 1838) to pick hazelnuts; she seemed to him a magical dream figure. He sometimes spent the night in his bedroom while his blind narrator, Lev Stepanovich, narrated long and charming stories.
Leo greatly admired his older brother, Nikolay ‘Koko’ (1823-1860). Remembering his childhood, Leo revered him, along with his mother, as saints in his modesty, humility, and unwillingness to condemn or judge others. His other siblings were Sergey (b. 1826), Dmitriy (1827-1855), and Mariya (b. 1830). Tolstoy’s house was a bustling home, often with extended family members and friends visiting for dinner or staying for several days at a time. children and adults played patience, the piano, staged plays, sang Russian and Gypsy folk songs, and read stories and poetry aloud. Leo, a voracious reader, would visit his father in his study while he read and smoked his pipe. Sometimes the Count made the young Leo recite memorized passages from Alexander Pushkin. the family home still contains the library of more than twenty thousand books in more than thirty languages. When they weren’t indoors, there was no shortage of outdoor activities for the children: sledding in the winter, horseback riding, games in the orchards, woods, formal gardens, greenhouses, and bathing in the big pond that Leo loved to do every day. his life.
However, the days in the countryside were to come to an end when, in 1836, the Tolstoys moved to Moscow so that the children could attend school. The following summer Count Tolstoy died suddenly. he was buried in tula. Leo had a hard time accepting this inevitability of life; The loss of his father was a profound experience for such a young boy and as he watched his beloved grandmother Pelageya (who died two years later) suffer his grief, he had his first spiritual questions. their father’s sister countess aleksandra osten saken ‘aunt aline’ became the children’s guardian and nikolay and sergey stayed with her in moscow while leo and his sister mariya and dmitriy returned to yasnaya polyana to live with aunt Tatiana.
when aunt aline died in 1841, leo, now thirteen years old, traveled with his siblings to kazan, where his next guardians, aunt and uncle yushkof, lived. Despite the cloak, the loss of innocence and the changes in his life, Leo began preparations for the entrance exams to the University of Kazan, wanting to enter the Faculty of Oriental Languages. he studied Arabic, Turkish, Latin, German, English, and French, and geography, history, and religion. He also began to seriously study the literary works of English, Russian, and French authors, including Charles Dickens, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Laurence Sterne, Friedrich Schiller, and Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire.
childhood: military service and early writings
Back in Yasnya Polyana and for the next few years, Tolstoy agonized over what to do next with his life. he expressed his aspirations, confusions and disappointments in his diary and correspondence with his brothers and friends. He tried to put the affairs of the estates in order, but again found himself drawn into the life of a young nobleman, traveling between the estate and Moscow and St. Petersburg was addicted to gambling, racking up huge debts and having to sell assets to pay them off, including parts of his estate. He continued to drink to excess, associating with various disreputable characters that his aunt Tatyana repeatedly warned him about. to her and some other confidantes he often confessed her regret when he was sober and wrote in her diary; I am living a completely brutal life…I have given up almost all my occupations and have lost much of my spirit. (ibid., ch. vi) she took to wearing peasant clothing, including a style of blouse that it would later bear his name, ‘tolstovkas’. he reattempted university exams in hopes of obtaining a government job, but also considered the alternative of serving in the military.
When his brother Nikolay, who was now an officer in the Caucasian army, visited Yasnya Polyana for a short time, Tolstoy seized the opportunity to change his life. In the spring of 1851 they left for the Caucasus region in the far south of Russia. Their unglamorous nomadic life, traveling or staying in Cossack and Caucasian villages, meeting the simple people who populated them, taking in the mountain vistas, and meeting the strong souls who traversed and defended these regions left an indelible mark on Tolstoy. having corresponded for a long time with his aunts, he now turned his pen to writing fiction. The first novel in his autobiographical trilogy Childhood (1852) was published in the magazine Sovremennik which would serialize many more of his works. It was highly praised and Tolstoy was encouraged to continue with Adolescence (1854) and Youth (1857), although, after his religious conversion, he admitted that the series was insincere and an clumsy confusion of truth with fiction (ibid., introduction).
in 1854, during the crimean war, tolstoy transferred to wallachia to fight against the french, british and ottoman empire to defend sevastapol. The battle inspired Sketches of Sebastopol written between 1855 and 1856, published in three installments in The Contemporary magazine. in 1855 he left the army, the same year he learned about the illness of his brother dmitry. He came to his side just before he succumbed to tuberculosis, the same disease that killed his brother Nikolay on September 20, 1860. Again, Tolstoy was in limbo, torn between his “unbridled passions” and the elaboration of a realistic plan for your life. He had tried unsuccessfully to educate the hundreds of muzhiks or peasants who tended his fields, founding a school for the boys in the Kuzminsky house on the family estate, but it had proved frustrating and ultimately instance, without success. He undertook trips throughout Western Europe. By this time, Childhood had been translated into English, and Tolstoy was a well-known author, enjoying the life of a count as a bachelor. When he could not pay a 1,000 ruble gambling debt to the publisher Katkov, incurred while playing billiards with him, Tolstoy gave up his unfinished manuscript of The Cossacks which was printed as-is in the January issue of 1863 from the magazine the Russian messenger. Tolstoy again vacillated between bouts of sobriety and debauchery;
at times in these dark days he turned to the figure of his mother and all the good that she represented and to which he aspired, well;
but times were about to change and things would soon be fixed quickly: Tolstoy fell in love.
youth: marriage, children, war and peace and anna karenina
In September 1862, at the age of thirty-four, Tolstoy married the nineteen-year-old sister of one of his friends, Sofia ‘Sonya’ Andreyevna Behrs (b. 1844). Their children were: Sergey (b. 1863), Tatiana (b. 1864), Ilya (b. 1866), Leo (b. 1869), Marya ‘Masha’ (1871-1906), Petya (1872-1873), Nicholas (1874-1875), unnamed daughter who died shortly after birth in 1875, Andrey (b. 1877), Alexis (1881-1886), Alexandra ‘Sasha’ (b. 1884), and Ivan (1888-1895).
Wanting her to understand everything about him before they were married, Tolstoy had given Sonya his journals to read. even though she consented to the marriage, it took him some time to get over the initial shock of its content. however, the tension and jealousy that aroused between them never clearly dissipated. In other matters, Countess Tolstoy was helpful to her husband’s writing career: she organized preliminary notes, copied drafts, and helped him with his correspondence and the business affairs of her estate. Thus Tolstoy immersed himself in his writing: War and Peace began in 1862 and its six volumes were published between 1863 and 1869. Listless and depressed despite being enthusiastically received, Tolstoy traveled to Samara in the steppes where he bought land and built a farm where he could stay in the summer.
She began writing her next epic anna karenina with the first line grimly alluding to her own life happy families are all the same; Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way in 1873. The first chapters appeared in the Russian Herald in 1876. The same year it was published in its entirety, 1878, Count Tolstoy suffered the most intense bout of self-doubt and spiritual introspection yet; he became depressed and suicidal; his generally rational outlook on life became confused with what he thought was a morally upright life as a husband and father. he took a hard look at his motives and criticized himself for his selfish family concerns… preoccupation with increasing wealth, achieving literary success, and enjoying all kinds of pleasure ( ibid, intro.).
thus Tolstoy wrote his confessions (1879) and began the last period of my awakening to the truth that has given me the greatest well-being in life and a joyous peace with a view to approaching death. (ibid) followed several of his non-fiction articles and novels describing his ideology and harshly criticizing the government and the church, including “the census in moscow”, a critique of dogmatic theology (1880), a brief exposition of the gospels (1881), what I believe (1882), what shall we do then? (1886) ), and on life and death (1892). the death of ivan ilych (1886), his drama the power of darkness (1888), the kreutzer sonata (1890), Father Sergius (written between 1890-98), hadji murad (written between 1896 and 1904), the young tsar (1894), What is Art? (1897), The Counterfeit Coupon (1904), Alexander I’s Diary (1905), and The Law of Love and the law of violence (1908) were also written around this time. with the publication of resurrection (1901) tolstoy was excommunicated by the russian orthodox church; but his popularity with the public was unshakable. Tolstoy, the author now had a large following dedicated to “Tolstoyism”.
conversion and last years
Tolstoy’s main supporter was a wealthy army officer, Vladimir Chertkov (1854-1910). Ella Sonya would soon find herself locked in a bitter battle with him over her husband’s private journals. Having embraced the pacifist doctrine of non-resistance according to the teachings of Jesus outlined in the Gospels, Tolstoy gave up meat, tobacco, alcohol and preached chastity. he wrote the kingdom of god is within you (1893), titled according to the gospel of luke in the new testament. When Mahatma Gandhi read it, he was deeply moved and wrote to Tolstoy about the passive resistance movement. they began a correspondence and soon became friends. Tolstoy wrote “A Letter to a Hindu” in 1908. Admiring the ideals of a simple life of hard work, living off the land, and following the teachings of Jesus, Tolstoy offered his friendship and his moral and financial support to the Doukhobors. . A persecuted Christian sect in Russia, many Tolstoyans helped them in their mass emigration to Canada in 1899. Tolstoy was involved in many other causes, including appealing to the Tsar to avoid civil war at all costs. in 1902 he returned to yasnya polyana.
in January 1903, as he writes in his diary, tolstoy was still struggling with his identity: where he came from and who he had become;
the musings were sparked by his friend paul biryukov asking him to help write his biography. his literary executor chertkov would write the last days of leo tolstoy (1911). For as Tolstoy’s last days unfolded, he still sometimes agonized over his self-esteem and regretted his actions of decades prior. having relinquished her ancestral right to his property and all his worldly goods, everyone in his family except his youngest daughter, Alexandra, despised him. he intended to start a new life and he did so on october 28, 1910, arriving at the stationmaster’s house at astapovo railway station. Leo Tolstoy died there of pneumonia on November 20, 1910. Although he did not want any ceremony or ritual, thousands turned out to pay their respects to him. he was buried in a simple wooden coffin near the “place of the green stick” of nikolay by the ravine in the forest of starry zakaz in the estate yasnya polyana; he returned to that place of idylls where nikolay told him that one could find the secret of happiness and the end of all suffering.
biography written by c. d. Merriman for Jalic Inc. copyright jalic inc. 2007. All rights reserved.
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