Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoy


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Tolstoy, Aleksei Nikolaevich

 

Born Dec. 29, 1882 (Jan. 10, 1883), in the city of Nikolaevsk, now the city of Puga-chev, Saratov Oblast; died Feb. 23,1945, in Moscow. Soviet Russian writer and public figure. Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1939).

Tolstoy’s father was Count N. A. Tolstoi, and his mother was the children’s writer A. L. Bostrom, née Turgeneva. Tolstoy’s childhood on a steppe farmstead near Samara, as well as his mother’s moral code and her love of the people, were instrumental in shaping his personality. He studied at the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology from 1901 to 1907 and took part in student demonstrations. In 1905 he published his first poems; the poetry collection Lyrics (1907) was influenced by the symbolists. In the collection of prose works Magpie Fairy Tales (1910) and the book of poetry Beyond Blue Rivers (1911), he drew on folk motifs. Tolstoy won fame with The Transvolga Region (1909–11), a cycle of realistic short stories and novellas about the declining landed dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry), and the closely related novels The Eccentrics (Two Lives, 1911) and The Lame Master (1912), which won high praise from M. Gorky.

From 1914 to 1916, Tolstoy was at the front several times as a war correspondent for the newspaper Russkie vedomosti. He spent time in England and France and published a series of sketches and short stories about the war, including On the Mountain (1915) and The Beautiful Lady (1916). He criticized the Russian bourgeoisie and gentry in the play The Swallow (1916) and the comedies The Devil (1916) and The Obscurantists (1917), three of the 42 dramatic works he was to write during his life. Tolstoy was at first hostile to the October Revolution of 1917. In 1919 he emigrated to France and later lived in Germany; he subsequently broke with emigré circles, returning to the USSR in 1923.

Tolstoy’s love of the motherland and of the Russian language were reflected in the lyric novella Nikita’s Childhood (1919–20; separate edition, 1922), one of his best-structured and most appealing works. Tolstoy’s works of the 1920’s and early 1930’s were critical of capitalism, as seen in the short stories “Black Friday” (1924) and “The Alliance of the Five” (1925), the satiric novel Nevzorov’s Adventures, or Ibycus (1924), and the science-fiction novel Engineer Garin’s Hyperboloid (1925–27). The novel Black Gold (1931; later entitled The Emigres) unmasked the attempts of imperialists to destroy the new Soviet republic. Tolstoy dealt with contemporary Soviet life in the science-fiction novel Aelita (1922–23) and the short stories “Azure Cities” (1925) and “The Viper” (1928).

The central theme of Tolstoy’s work was the interrelationship between the life of the individual and the course of national history; this theme gained new depth and breadth when Tolstoy adopted the principles of socialist realism. The loss and regaining of the motherland is the theme of the outstanding trilogy Road to Calvary (State Prize of the USSR, 1943), consisting of the novels The Sisters (1922; new edition, 1925), The Year Eighteen (1927–28), and A Gloomy Morning (1940–41). The work, which depicts a stormy epoch and the intense drama of its social conflicts, reveals the interrelationship between the heroes’ inner evolution and the crucial events taking place in the life of the people. The trilogy’s heroes—the intellectuals Dasha, Katia, Telegin, and Roshchin—travel different paths to eventually accept the rejuvenated socialist motherland. The novella Bread (1937) is thematically related to the trilogy.

One of Tolstoy’s most important works was the historical novel Peter the Great (State Prize of the USSR, 1941; book 1,1929–30; book 2,1933–34; book 3 [unfinished], 1944–45). Tolstoy’s earlier works dealing with Peter I the Great, the short story “Peter’s Day” (1918) and the play Ready for the Charge (1929), had presented a one-sided picture of the epoch of Peter I. In contrast, Peter the Great is a panoramic epic about the destiny of the Russian nation at one of its historical turning points. The impressive portrayals of Peter I and the other heroes, the staunchly patriotic depiction of the growing might of the Russian state, the vivid recreation of the atmosphere of the past, and the colloquial language, which skillfully renders the spirit of that epoch—all these qualities make the novel an outstanding work of Soviet literature. Two versions of the play Peter I (1934 and 1938) and the motion-picture screenplay of the same name are closely related to the novel.

In 1936, Tolstoy published the children’s book The Little Golden Key, or Buratino’s Adventures, based on an Italian novella. In 1937 he visited republican Spain and addressed international antifascist congresses in Paris, London, and Madrid. Patriotism is the theme of all of Tolstoy’s works written during the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), and in particular, of his impassioned publicist writings. Ivan Sudarev’s Stories (1942–44) depicted the remarkable qualities displayed by the Soviet people during the war’s grim tribulations. The two-part drama Ivan the Terrible, consisting of The Eagle and the She-eagle (1942) and The Difficult Years (1943; State Prize of the USSR, 1946), revealed “the marvelous power of resistance of the Russian people” to their enemies, although the tsar and the oprichnina (the tsar’s internal policies) were to a certain extent overidealized.

Tolstoy’s works have been translated into many national languages of the USSR and into foreign languages. Tolstoy was a deputy to the first convocation of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. He was awarded the Order of Lenin, two other orders, and several medals.

WORKS

Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–15. Moscow, 1946–53.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–10. [Introductory article by V. Shcherbina.] Moscow, 1958–61.

REFERENCES

Shcherbina, V. R. A. N. Tolstoi: Tvorcheskii put’. Moscow, 1956.
Alpatov, A. V. Aleksei Tolstoimaster istoricheskogo romana. Moscow, 1958.
Krestinskii, Iu. A. A. N. Tolstoi: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo. Moscow, 1960.
Rozhdestvenskaia, I. S., and A. G. Khodiuk. A. N. Tolstoi: Seminarii. Leningrad, 1962.
Poliak, L. Aleksei Tolstoi—khudozhnik. Moscow, 1964.
Baranov, V. I. Revoliutsiia i sud’ba khudozhnika: A. Tolstoi i ego put’ k sotsialisticheskomu realizmu. Moscow, 1967.
Smirnova, G. M. Trilogiia A. N. Tolstogo “Khozhdeniepo mukam.” Leningrad, 1969.
Oklianskii, Iu. M. Shumnoe zakholust’e: Iz zhizni dvukh pisatelei, 2nd ed. Kuibyshev, 1969.
Russkie sovetskie pisateli-prozaiki: Biobibliograficheskii ukazatel’, vol. 5. Moscow, 1968.
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