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Leo Tolstory

June 5, 2014

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was born as Count Leo Nikolayevich (1828-1910), near Moscow and earned fame as philosopher and social reformer.

            Since his parents died when he was a child, he was brought up by relatives. At 16, he left the Kazan University and drifted between his estate and social whirl of Moscow before joining the army in 1852. Much of his leisure time he spent in writing his first published book Detstvo (Childhood), which is a delightful combination of autobiography and fiction of his own and those the knew well. He wrote a number of short stories. In 1862, at the age of 34, he married a girl of 18 and the next 15 years were the happiest of his life, during which time he fathered 13 children and completed The Cossacks (1863) besides his two masterpieces: War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

            War and Peace is acclaimed as one of the greatest novels ever written, which depicts the lives and interrelationships of five families against a background of Russian society, during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Most of the vibrant characters are based on members of his family or friends. While War and Peace is a life-loving optimistic novel, Anna Karenina, which deals with the Russian society, is pessimistic, depicting the inner conflicts, often unresolved and sometimes bringing human disaster.

            Though happily married, he soon became dissatisfied with himself and landed in a state of spiritual crisis. In Ispoved ( A Confession) he poignantly relates the moral and spiritual suffering he endured in his search for an answer to the meaning of life. At one point he contemplated suicide.

            He advocated chastity, renounced war, smoking, intoxicants and condemned violence and ownership of property. In 1901 he was excommunicated by the Church; he signed away his estate to his family and renounced the copyrights of his work. But his wife and children had little sympathy for his views and refused to surrender their luxurious life. The worsening domestic situation forced the aging Tolstoy to leave home stealthily one night, and a few days later, he died of pneumonia at the remote railway station of Astapovo.

            A glimpse of his writing from his story A Prisoner in the Caucasus tells how valid his words are today as they were then:

            “… very occasionally did one hear the clang of a heavy gun, the ring of bayonets clashing, restrained voices, or the snorting of a horse.

            “Nature seemed to breathe nothing but pacifying beauty and power.

            “Could it be that there was no room for all men to live in this wonderful world, under this fathomless, stormy sky? Was it really possible that in the midst of such natural splendour, feelings of hatred and vengeance, or the passion to destroy one’s fellows, could reside in the hearts of men?…”

 

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