Russian literature has produced some of the world’s greatest authors, and one of its most renowned is Leo Tolstoy. Born in 1828, he is best known for his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, widely regarded as two of the greatest works of fiction ever written.
His work has influenced other authors such as Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf.
Tolstoy was more than just a great novelist; his philosophical views on religion, education, and politics were also influential and controversial across Europe. Let’s take a closer look at this prominent figure in Russian history.
Early Life: His Childhood and Education
Leo Tolstoy was born at Yasnaya Polyana, a family estate located not too far from Moscow, and he had four other siblings.
Tolstoy’s mother passed away when he was two and his father when he was nine. Tolstoy and his siblings were then taken in by relatives and in 1844, he began studying law and oriental languages at Kazan University.
His teachers found Tolstoy both unwilling and unable to learn properly so he left the university, giving up his studies and returned to his family home in Yasnaya Polyana. He led a leisurely lifestyle for some time going to Tula, Moscow, and St. Petersburg.
Successful Career: Writing and Politics
Tolstoy was particularly active in politics during his lifetime. He wrote political essays and pamphlets that called for reform and he supported anti-establishment stances.
In addition to his literary accomplishments and political activism, Tolstoy also founded several schools that would become well-known for educating children from all social classes.
The success Tolstoy achieved by combining writing with politics serves as a key example for others who wish to pursue similar goals in their own lives.
Impact on Literature: Influences in Russia and Beyond
Tolstoy’s influence as a writer has been far-reaching, not only in Russia but throughout the world. Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace is considered one of the greatest books ever written, a work that showed Tolstoy at the peak of his powers and proved to be vital for literature in Russia, Europe and beyond.
He was among many writers during the Golden Age of Russian Literature that set a standard for how stories were told and perceived. He also wrote several short stories and philosophical works which have been widely read and respected for their insightful messages.
Tolstoy’s works continue to school modern authors on craftsmanship, and his impact on global literature will live on forever.
Later Years: Struggles With Religion
In Tolstoy’s later years, his lifelong struggle with religion and faith intensified.
Leo Tolstoy had always rejected some of the more conventional aspects of Russia’s official Orthodox Church, but in later life, he developed an entirely unorthodox belief system based upon his interpretation of scripture that he called ‘Tolstoyanism’.
He argued for a radical faith that required living a moral life and holding to the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Tolstoy’s ideas about religion gained a lot of attention during his lifetime, but many in both the church and wider society felt that he was spreading dangerous ideas and undermining Russia’s religious tradition.
Tolstoy was increasingly seen as a heretic and he was consequently excommunicated from the church in 1901. Despite this censure, Tolstoy continued to strive for spiritual growth in his very public later years.
Legacy: An Enduring Classic Author
With novels such as War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy established himself as an enduring classic author with a unique style.
Growing up in 19th-century Russia, Tolstoy drew on years of writing experience to craft stories that felt rooted in reality and yet were timeless in their themes. His books addressed many social issues faced by society over the ages, such as death and spiritual searching, which made his stories great fodder for discussion even today.
Tolstoy’s ability to confront darkness while maintaining hope continues to inspire readers young and old. Despite living through tumultuous times, Tolstoy left behind a legacy of literature that will be remembered forever.
Leo Tolstoy’s Writing Career
Leo Tolstoy wrote prolifically throughout his life. His early works drew heavily from his own life experiences — such as his 1851 autobiographical novel, Childhood — which dealt with topics such as childhood innocence, love affairs, and death.
In addition to these longer works, he wrote short stories about peasant life including “The Death of Ivan Ilych” (1886) and “The Kreutzer Sonata” (1889).
His work Anna Karenina (1877), is often cited as one of the most powerful love stories ever told.
Leo Tolstoy’s Philosophy
In addition to writing great literature, Leo Tolstoy was also a philosopher whose views often made him stand out among intellectuals across Europe.
His 1899 book, “What Is Art?”, provoked debate. It explored why art was necessary and how it should be judged. His views on non-violent civil disobedience would later become one of the central tenants practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.
He even questioned traditional religious teachings by focusing on moral behavior over adherence to religious doctrine.
His stance on non-violence against oppressive governments led his work to be banned from Russia for several years during World War I. In 1917, a revolution broke out in Russia which some see as due largely to his influence among the people there.
Conclusion: Tolstoy’s Lasting Legacy
The legacy that Leo Tolstoy left behind cannot be understated; not only did he create some of the greatest works in Russian literature but he also contributed greatly to philosophy both inside Russia and abroad.
His 1899 book “What Is Art?” provoked debate with its exploration into why art was necessary while his views on non-violent civil disobedience would become fundamental tenets practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.
Even today, more than a century after his death in 1910, we are still learning from this great author’s writings and philosophy – making him an important influence in Russian history for generations to come.