Aleksei Tolstoy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tolstoy, Aleksei Konstantinovich


Born Aug. 24 (Sept. 5), 1817, in St. Petersburg; died Sept. 28 (Oct. 10), 1875, in Krasnyi Rog, in what is now Pochep Raion, Briansk Oblast. Russian writer; count.

In 1836, Tolstoy passed the graduation examinations at the department of philology at Moscow University. Beginning in 1834 he worked in the Moscow Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; he later held diplomatic and military posts. He held various court appointments beginning in 1843.

Tolstoy’s first lyrics and ballads were written in the 1840’s. His many lyrics published in the 1850’s and 1860’s made him widely popular; examples were “Bellflowers mine, ” “You know the land where abundance reigns, ” and “Where the vines bend over the pond.” Tolstoy’s first important published work was a novella based on fantasy, The Vampire (1841, under the pen name Kras-norogskii); it was praised by V. G. Belinskii. Beginning in 1854, Tolstoy published in Sovremennik (The Contemporary) poems and literary parodies under the pen name of the fictitious author Koz’ma Prutkov; also collaborating in writing “Prutkov’s” works were A. M. Zhemchuzhnikov and V. M. Zhemchuzhnikov. In the late 1850’s, Tolstoy contributed to the Slavophile journal Russkaia beseda (Russian Conversation), and later to Russkii vestnik (Russian Herald) and Vestnik Evropy (Messenger of Europe).

In 1861, Tolstoy left his court post and devoted himself to literature. He published the dramatic narrative poem Don Juan (1862), the historical novel Prince Serebriany (1863), and a historical trilogy consisting of the tragedies The Death of Ivan the Terrible (1866), Tsar Fedor loannovich (1868), and Tsar Boris (1870). The first edition of Tolstoy’s collected poems was published in 1867. In the last decade of his life, Tolstoy wrote ballads, including “Roman Galitskii, ” “Borivoi, ” “Il’ia Muromets, ” and “Sadko, ” as well as lyrics and narrative poems.

Tolstoy’s works reflect his individual political and aesthetic views. An opponent of political oppression and the entrenched bureaucracy, he caustically satirized the government’s policies and its attempts to conceal its reactionary nature with a pretense of liberalism. These views of Tolstoy are reflected in the verse satires “History of the Russian State From Gostomysl to Timashev” (1868, published 1883) and “The Dream of Popov” (1873, published 1882). However, Tolstoy was not in sympathy with revolutionary ideas, and he rejected the aesthetics of the revolutionary democrats, as seen in the ballads “Hero Potok” and “In the happy Maytime.”

The chief merits of Tolstoy’s novel Prince Serebriany are its absorbing narrative and its vivid portrayal of resourceful persons resisting oppression. Tolstoy’s historical dramatic trilogy depicts the tragedy of three reigns of the late 16th and early 17th centuries; the trilogy also reveals the destructive effect of unlimited autocratic power on government figures and on those governed. The importance of the historical conflicts depicted, the wide variety of characters portrayed, and the remarkable, psychologically subtle characterization of Tsar Fedor have made the trilogy a favorite of Russian stage directors and actors. The first play performed by the Moscow Art Theater (1898) was Tsar Fedor loannovich, and the trilogy’s first two plays are an integral part of the Soviet theater repertory.

Tolstoy’s lyrics are simple and moving. Many of them are like psychological short stories in verse, for example, “In the midst of a noisy ball, by accident” and “It was in the early springtime.” Tolstoy introduced elements of folk poetry into his lyrics, which are often similar to songs. More than 70 of his poems have been set to music by such Russian composers as N. A. Rimsky-Korsa-kov, P. I. Tchaikovsky, M. P. Mussorgsky, A. G. Rubinstein, and S. I. Taneev.

Tolstoy was also an accomplished translator of such writers as J. W. von Goethe.


Sobr. soch., vols. 1–4. [Introductory article and notes by I. Iampol’skii.] Moscow, 1969.


Belinskii, V. G. Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1954.
Stafeev, G. I. Serdise polno vdokhnoven’ia: Zhizri i tvorchestvo A. K. Tolstogo. Tula, 1973.
Stafeev, G. I. A. K. Tolstoi: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Briansk, 1969.
Iampol’skii, I. Seredina veka. Leningrad, 1974.
Lirondelle, A. Le Poète Alexis Tolstoi. Paris, 1912.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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