Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina
The Death of Ivan Ilyich - Study Guide
The Long Exile
War and Peace


"All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (Anna Karenina)

Leo Tolstoy, whose full name was the most unwieldy Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, was born at Yasnaya Polyana near Tula in Russia on 28 August 1828. He was educated at home in Moscow between 1837 and 1841, in Kazou 1841-44 and at Kazou University 1844-7 although he left with no degree. At sixteen he was initiated into the worlds of both sex and the illicit sex trade when he lost his virginity to a prostitute. Allegedly he then sat at the end of the bed and cried. He married Sofia Andreevna Bers in 1862 and together they had thirteen children. He also had one illegitimate son. He was not always a writer nor sure that he should be one. He acted as an officer in the artillery battery in Caucasus 1851-5 and then travelled to Bucharest, France, Switzerland and Germany. His life is notable for the fact that after his initial success he discarded many of the comforts of his time to live as a simple hermit peasant although his wife had the good sense to sell the copyright of his early works to keep the family from starvation. Tolstoy himself felt purged and rejected his past.

Tolstoy is remembered as a novelist, although in reality he only wrote three full-length novels. These were War and Peace (1863-9), Anna Karenina (1873-7) and Resurrection (1899). The first of these, War and Peace, is regarded by many as the archetypal 'long' and therefore inaccessible novel. It is indeed long but it is also a fascinating vision of two families and their contrasting fates in a heroic Russia at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Its greatness in scale is matched by its comprehensiveness of outlook at the wholeness of life and the value of the family. Anna Karenina followed in the next decade, a story of troubled love with a famously sad ending. It is contemporary in its outlook and it depicts a society of restless and alienated people whose dreams are always frustrated. Tolstoy's other works are mostly novellas and short stories (such as The Sebastopol Sketches (1855-6), a fine early work and The Cossacks (1863)) although he also wrote certain dramatic works.

Tolstoy's works concern the search for moral codes and value and circle around his morbid fear of death and his love of life (in fact he lived into his eighties). In keeping with his drive towards a plainer mode of life is the quest in his works for a new and more simple version of Christianity that had him excommunicated from the Catholic church. However, there were often contradictions between his beliefs and the way he lived his life in other areas. One of the key differences between the vision of Russia offered by Tolstoy and that of Dostoyevsky is that the former tends to see only the aristocrats and the peasantry while the latter sees also the middle classes and the urban poor.

Under the Sun Extensive coverage of the author, with a biography, book reviews, the moral philosophy and last works
blackened.net Images of Leo Tolstoy and his anarchist work

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