(Any info without citation comes from The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories, Oxford University Press, Oxford, Great Britain, 1998. For other sources, see end of writeup.)
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy: the author of War and Peace, Anna Kerénina, and The Death of Iván Illých, and many other works of Russian literature. Leo Tolstoy's writings are known for putting the fundamentals of human nature on stage; making the big abstracts—-philosophy, death, sociology, religion-—a matter of character. He is also known for the great length of his novels. The first two books listed above contain hundreds of characters and span thousands of pages. His best-known fiction strove to withhold moral judgment, to allow the realistic action of his characters illuminate the raw human experience. In 1881, he had a Christian rebirth, and later writings tended to be Christian tales or political pamphlets that took a moralistic stance. For all of his adult life, Tolstoy was an active humanitarian. He despised doctors.
He was born into wealth in 1828, to Count Nikolay Tolstoy, at Yásnaya Polyána, in the province of Tula. His parents died when he was young, his mother when he was two, his father when Tolstoy was nine. Starting at age 16 he had a heck of a time studying Oriental Languages and Law at the University of Kazan, so quit without graduating, exhibiting a strongheadedness and a capricious temperament that pervades the rest of his life.
He went to the Caucasus with his older brother, who was in the army, and they raided an enemy village; the Russians were trying to conquer the region at that time. Leo Tolstoy soon joined the army officially. He fought along the Danube during the Crimean War. In 1854 he was commissioned as an officer,and posted at Sevastopol, a critical battleground. (The Russians lost decisively).
In 1854, he'd already published Boyhood and the two Sevastopol sketches, all to great acclaim. In 1856 he left the army and travelled Western Europe for several months. He returned to Yásnaya Polyána, the family manor, where he would spend most of his life and where he would write his greatest works and be buried (Batuman, 45).
For a while, beginning in 1859, he left literature and focussed more on teaching and charitable work. In the same year, he published Three Deaths and Family Happiness, and founded a school for peasant children . He made another visit to Europe for education research in 1861, and also took up a position called "Arbiter of the Peace." This represented quite a change from the sort of governmental work he'd done in the past. His job was to "negotiate land settlements after the Emancipation of the Serfs." In 1862, two of his brothers died. Tolstoy also got married in this year to Sophia Bears, a doctor's daughter, "Sonya" to her friends and family. Tolstoy would remain married to Sonya for the rest of his life, which must have made for a bit of friction with her dad. Tolstoy had a "lifelong hostility toward the medical profession" (Batuman, 51). Sonya would bear him thirteen children. The marriage was not entirely peaceful (see below).
In 1863, The Cossacks was published, and he began to write War and Peace. He published the first part of this monumental work in 1865 and 1866, under the title 1805. The final volumes would be published in 1869.
In 1872, he published Primer, a book for children, and A Prisoner in the Caucasus.
In 1873, he began writing Anna Kerénina. He also engaged in another humanitarian effort, that of publicizing the famine in the Russian state of Samara.
In 1878, Anna Kerénina was published.
In 1881 he had a Christian Rebirth (Batuman, 46), as evinced in his letter to Tsar Alexander III ("Peacemaker" says E2), in which he begged for clemency for the assassins of the previous Tsar, Alexander II ("Liberator" says E2). Tolstoy ended every diary entry with his plan for the following day. In this year, he began the ritual of finishing with the clause "If I am alive" (Batuman, 51).
In 1882, What Men Live By was published. In the same year he began work on The Death of Ivan Ilych.
In 1883, he made a disciple in Vladimir Chértkov, who would figure in vicious copyright arguments with Tolstoy's wife toward the end of the life of this great writer. It was with Chertkov's help that Tolstoy founded the magazine The Intermediary, which exulted Christain values and the way in which Tolstoy thought they should be promoted. At this time, he gave up hunting and became a vegetarian.
In 1886, The Death of Ivan Ilych was published.
In 1889, The Kreutzer Sonata
In 1891 -- 1829, he organized famine relief.
In 1893, The Kindgdom of God is Within You was published.
In 1899, Ressurection
In the following decade, Tolstoy was "excommunicated" from the Orthodox Church, which was not really in the excommunicating business. In these years Tolstoy clashed with the church because he did not feel that they did enough to help others. A man's chief reforming task was to reform himself, said the Orthodoxy--and by this time, Tolstoy had very nearly invented his own kind of Christianity, a way of being that focused on morality and charity more than any kind of religious stricture or dogmatism (This ¶: REALC).
In 1901, What is Religion was published.
In 1903, Tolstoy publicly denounced the Russian Pogroms.
In 1904, "Bethink Yourselves!," a Pamphlet on the Russo-Japanese War (he was against it)
In 1908, I Cannot Be Silent, an opposition to capital punishment.
In 1906, his daughter Masha died.
From about this time until his death, he fought with his wife, often over who would inherit his copyrights. The other person who vied for the rights to his work was Chértkov, who had become a chief disciple among other of Tolstoy's friends. (A clan of hangers-on was ubiquitous at the Tolstoy estate, "a shifting mass of philosophers, drifters, and desperados, collectively referred to by the domestic staff as 'the dark ones'" Batuman, 46). Chértkov sought, in his own words, the "moral destruction of Tolstoy's wife in order to get control of his manuscripts" (Batuman, 46). Chértkov would win out, along with Tolstoy's youngest daughter Sasha, another follower of idealogical Tolstoyanism. She favored charity and morality to the extent that her mother believed she'd leave the 'Stoy progeny completely in the lurch if she got her hands on the manuscripts. Tolstoy wrote up a secret will giving most of the copyrights to Chértkov.
Sonya caught wind of it. On October 28th, 1910, after an argument with her about just this subject, Tolstoy, 81 years old, who had been quite sick for a while, lit out for anywhere but Yásnaya Polyána, wanting to spend the last of his days with anyone but his wife. The trip took him to Shmardino, where his sister was a nurse. From there he headed to the Caucasus, where Sasha and his doctor thought he would be able to get better medical help, but stopped in a town called Astápovo when he took a turn for the worse. The master of the Russian novel died of respiratory failure on November 7th, 1910 (This whole last ¶: Batuman, 45-53).
Place in History
Tolstoy's novels "remain unsurpassed in Russian Literature," according to the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. The nineteenth century is known as the Golde Era of Russian literature, and Tolstoy is regarded by most as one of the finest writers of the era. Second perhaps only to Dostoevsky's work, "War and Peace" and "Anna Kerenina" are regarded as the supreme achievement in the Russian novel. In these books he orchestrated massive plots with hundreds of characters, to realize human powerlessness against the forces of love, hate, violence, birth, and death.
He was known for his use of defamiliarization (Cornwell, 102), a technique in which well-known subject matter is brought to the reader in a nearly unrecognizable way. The effect is that the subject can be experienced in a more immediate, lifelike way.
Many writers followed in his footstpes by favoring authorial objectivity, as opposed to taking an overt moral stance. Big names that often come up are James Joyce, Chekhov, Pushkin, and William Faulkner.
He was influential in his pacifist philosophy as well. Mahatma Gandhiwas among those with whom he communicated in reference to non-violence. Ghandi learned about Tolstoy's ideas and became a sort of "disciple" of Tolstoy ("Tracking..."). "Today, there remains a great interest in Tolstoy among Indian scholars and freedom fighters" ("Tracking ..."). He is also well documented as an influence on Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Wood).
- Batuman, Eli, "The Murder of Leo Tolstoy: A Forensic Investigation," Harper's Magazine, February 2009, 45-53.
- Emory University's Department of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures (REALC); http://realc.emory.edu/russian/ DOSTOEVSKY/tolstoy.html
- Cornwell, Neil. Routledge Companion to Russian Literature. Routledge. London, 2002.
- "Tracking Tolstoy's Influence." (Author = "Admin"). Scarlet, The news source for faculty and staff at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln<http://scarlet.unl.edu/?p=1672>
- Wood, Paul. "The Unbroken Chain." LASNews, Alumnimagazine for the college of liberal arts and Sciences at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Spring 2009. <http://www.las.illinois.edu/alumni/magazine/