Leo Tolstoy A life

A young Tolstoy

Life

Tolstoy was born on September 9, 1828, 130 miles away from Moscow, a large cultural center in Russia at the time. His mother and father died before he was ten, and his next guardians, his grandmother and aunt, died in quick succession. Despite the spectre of death looming over him, Tolstoy persevered. He was educated by tutors and continued his education at the University of Kazan. While at university, he was greatly influenced by the works of Charles Dickens, Lawrence Sterne, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In 1851, after leaving university without a degree, he joined his older brother to fight in the army during the Crimean War. In the 1870's, Tolstoy underwent a profound religious awakening, causing him to become a Christian anarchist and a pacifist, who's Christian works would influnce such figures as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gahndi. Tolstoy died in 1910. His life is furthered explored below.

Early writings

In 1847, the year he left his university, Tolstoy began making regular entries in a journal. Tolstoy continued to keep journals for the duration of his life, providing a key insight into his beliefs. Tolstoy would make rules for social and moral behavior, fail to uphold them, and create new rules designed to prevent himself from circumventing his moral standards again. Tolstoy's failure to regulate himself leads into the beliefs that he would incorporate into his writing. Tolstoy believed that the nature of life was complex and ever-changing, and that trying to make it conform to rules or philosophical beliefs would be futile. Tolstoy first garnered critical attention for his three sketches about the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. After the Crimean War, Tolstoy returned to St. Petersburg to universal adoration. However, his vanity, dismissal of all schools of thought and introverted tendencies caused him be disliked.

The Great Novels (1863-77)

A painting of Tolstoy during this period

War and Peace

War and Peace, often considered one of the greatest works of literature, was Tolstoy's master work. Following two central characters, Andrey Bolkonsky and Pierre Bezukhov, the book tells a story through historical narration, biographies of fictional characters, and essays on the nature of history. The historical narration begins with Napoleon's victory over the combined Russian and Austrian forces during the Battle of Austerlitz, and continues with Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia in 1812. These scenes reflect Tolstoy's personal belief that "In war as in life, no system or model can come close to accounting for the infinite complexity of human behavior" (Leo Tolstoy). In the fictional sections of the book, characters undergo transformations that reflect the emptiness of legacy. Prince Andrey comes to realize that the glory he sought in war is petty and fleeting, and Pierre realizes that the worth of life is determined by prosaic, everyday deeds. The essays satirize the attempt to find common cause in history, and argue Tolstoy's belief that "causes of historical events are infinitely varied and forever unknowable, and so historical writing, which claims to explain the past, necessarily falsifies it" (Leo Tolstoy).

Anna Karenina

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy applied these ideas to the family life. The first sentence of the novel has become one of the most iconic lines in all of literature: "All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (Leo Tolstoy). Anna Karenina argued the concept that ethics can never be applied universally, and that the abstract is much less preferable to particulars.

Tolstoy's wife, Sonya, looking into the window of the Astapovo train station, where Tolstoy lay dying.

Tolstoy in Current Society

As an artist, Tolstoy's writings endure to this day. War and Peace is secured within the literary canon, and continues to inspire artistic works. Tolstoy's world view also is relevant in life today. In this society, where we are facing challenges on moral, ethical, and politcal fronts, the likes of which have never been seen before, Tolstoy's belief that history is unremittingly chaotic and formless rings true. And in the face of these challenges, the ideology that life is defined by the mundane and simple good that can be done is important to keep at heart. The world was and is unpredictable, but if one can live a good life, maybe that will be enough.

Works Cited

Beard, Mary. "Facing Death with Tolstoy." The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 16 July 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/facing-death-with-tolstoy>.

King, Charles. "How the Horrors of Crimea Shaped Tolstoy." New Republic. New Republic, 23 Mar. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <https://newrepublic.com/article/117102/tolstoy-crimea>.

"Leo Tolstoy." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ed. Gary Saul Morson. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 July 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leo-Tolstoy>.

Photos

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