Leo Nikolayevitch Tolstoy (Ле́в Никола́евич Толсто́й) (September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910) was a Russian novelist, reformer, and moral thinker, notable for his influence on Russian literature and politics. As a count, Tolstoy was a member of the Russian nobility.
Tolstoy was one of the giants of 19th century Russian literature. His most famous works include the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and many shorter works, including the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Hajdi Murat.
His autobiographical novels, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, his first publications (1852–1856), tell of a rich landowner's son and his slow realization of the differences between him and his peasant playmates. Although in later life Tolstoy rejected these books as sentimental, a great deal of his own life is revealed, and the books still have relevance for their telling of the universal story of growing up.
Tolstoy served as a second lieutenant in the Russian Army during the Crimean War, recounted in his Sevastapol Sketches. His experiences in battle help develop his pacifism, and gave him material for realistic depiction of the horrors of war in his later work.
His fiction consistently attempts to convey realistically the Russian society in which he lived. Cossacks (1863) describes the Cossack life and people through a story of a Russian aristocrat in love with a Cossack girl. Anna Karenina (1867) tells parallel stories of a woman trapped by the conventions of society and of a philosophical landowner (much like Tolstoy), who works alongside his serfs in the fields and seeks to reform their lives.
Tolstoy not only drew from his experience of life but created characters in his own image, such as Pierre Bezukhov in War and Peace, Levin in Anna Karenina and to some extent, Prince Nekhlyudov in Resurrection.
War and Peace is generally thought to be one of greatest novels ever written, remarkable for its breadth and unity. Its vast canvas includes 580 characters, many historical, others fictional. The story moves from family life to the headquarters of Napoléon, from the court of Alexander to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. It was written with the purpose of exploring Tolstoy's theory of history, and in particular the insignificance of individuals such as Napoleon and Alexander I of Russia. Somewhat surprisingly, Tolstoy did not consider 'War and Peace' to be a novel (nor did he consider any of the great Russian fictions written up that time to be novels). This view becomes less surprising if one considers that Tolstoy was a novelist of the realist school who considered the novel to be a framework for the examination of social and political issues in middle class life. 'War and Peace' (which is really an epic in prose) obviously did not qualify. Tolstoy thought that Anna Karenina was his first true novel, and it is indeed one of the greatest of all realist novels.
After Anna Karenina, Tolstoy concentrated on Christian themes, and his later novels such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1884) and What Then Must We Do? develop a radical Christian philosophy which led to his excommunication from the Orthodox church
Tolstoy's private life is well known in Russia. He lived his entire life in Yasnaya Polyana. His marriage has been described by A.N.Wilson as one of the unhappiest in literary history, and was marked from the outset by Tolstoy on the eve of his marriage giving his diaries to his fiancee. These detailed Tolstoy's sexual relations with his serfs. His relationship with his wife further deteriorated as his beliefs became increasingly radical. His died of pneumonia at Astapovo station in 1910 after leaving home in the middle of winter at the age of 82.
Tolstoy's Christian beliefs were based on the Sermon on the Mount. Tolstoy believed that a Christian should look inside his own heart to find inner happiness rather than looking outward toward the state. His belief in non-violence when facing oppression is another distinct attribute of his philosophy. Tolstoy had a profound influence on the development of anarchist thought. Prince Peter Kropotkin wrote of him in the article on Anarchism in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica:
A letter Tolstoy wrote to an Indian newspaper entitled " " resulted in a long-running correspondence with Mohandas Gandhi, who was in South Africa at the time and was beginning to become an activist. The correspondence with Tolstoy strongly influenced Gandhi towards the concept of nonviolent resistance, a central part of Tolstoy's view of Christianity. Along with his growing idealism, he also became a major supporter of the Esperanto movement. Tolstoy was impressed by the pacifist beliefs of the Doukhobors and brought their persecution to the attention of the international community, after they burned their weapons in peaceful protest in 1895. He aided the Doukhobors in migrating to Canada.
Tolstoy was an extremely wealthy member of the Russian nobility. He came to believe that he was undeserving of his inherited wealth, and was renowned among the peasantry for his generosity. He would frequently return to his country estate with vagrants whom he felt needed a helping hand, and would often dispense large sums of money to street beggars while on trips to the city, much to his wife's chagrin. When he died in 1910, thousands of peasants turned out to line the streets at his funeral.
da:Leo Tolstoj de:Lew Nikolajewitsch Tolstoi es:León Tolstói eo:Lev TOLSTOJ fr:Léon Tolstoï [[ko:레프 톨스토이]] nl:Leo Tolstoj ja:レフ・トルストイ pl:Lew Tołstoj ru:Толстой, Лев Николаевич sr:Лав Николајевич Толстој fi:Leo Tolstoi sv:Lev Tolstoj zh:托爾斯泰