Leo Tolstoy(redirected from Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi)
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(Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi). Born Aug. 28 (Sept. 9), 1828, at Iasnaia Poliana, now in Shchekino Raion, Tula Oblast; died Nov. 7 (20), 1910, at the Astapovo station on the Ria-zan’-Ural’sk railroad line, now Leo Tolstoy Station, Lipetsk Oblast; buried at Iasnaia Poliana. Russian writer; count.
Tolstoy’s father, Count Nikolai Il’ich Tolstoi (1794–1837), fought in the Patriotic War of 1812; Tolstoy’s mother was Mania Nikolaevna (1790–1830), née Volkonskaia. Tolstoy received his early schooling at home. From 1844 to 1847 he studied at the University of Kazan, but he did not complete his course of studies. In 1851 he went to the Caucasus, to the stanitsa (large cossack village) of Starogladkovskaia, where his brother, N. N. Tolstoi, was in military service. Tolstoy’s first literary projects are outlined in his diary for 1851, which included such writings as “A History of Yesterday.” His diary, which he kept from 1847 to the end of his life, contained his first literary exercises. In writing his diary he followed a practice of scrupulous self-observation, seeking to record in detail his own inner development and prescribing strict rules of morality for himself. The autobiographic quality that is characteristic of Tolstoy had its origin in his diary.
Tolstoy considered his two years of solitary life in the Caucasus to be of great significance in his spiritual development. His novella Childhood, written there, was Tolstoy’s first work to appear in print; it was published under the initials L. N. in Sovremennik (The Contemporary; 1852, no. 9). Together with Boyhood (1852–54) and Youth (1855–57), the subsequent parts of his semi-autobiographic trilogy, Childhood was to constitute part of a four-part autobiographic novel, Four Periods of Development, but the last part, Young Manhood, was never written.
In these early semiautobiographic novellas, Tolstoy used the realistic principles of the natural school of the 1840’s—objectivity, precision, and detailed description—to study the psychology of a small boy, an adolescent, and a youth. He stated that he was an analyst of human nature who sought to understand the hidden laws of the consciousness. The hero of Childhood, Nikolen’ka Irten’ev, learns to discern every shade of falseness and insincerity, whether in himself or in others. In the second and third parts of the trilogy, the hero’s self-dissatisfaction increases, as do his reflectiveness and self-analysis, his vague sense of life’s contradictions, and his longing for moral perfection. The study of a young boy’s inner world was Tolstoy’s first sketch for his later analyses of the “natural man” who was alien to class privileges.
From 1851 to 1853, Tolstoy saw action in battle in the Caucasus, first as a volunteer and then as an artillery officer. In 1854 he joined the Danube forces. Soon after the Crimean War began, he was transferred to Sevastopol’ at his own request; in the besieged city he fought at the renowned Fourth Bastion. Army life and episodes from the war provided Tolstoy with material for the short stories “A Raid” (1853) and “The Woodfelling” (1853–55), as well as for the sketches “Sevastopol’ in December 1854, ” “Sevastopol’ in May 1855, ” and “Sevastopol’ in August 1855.” All these works were published in Sovremennik in 1855 and 1856. The last three, known as the Sevastopol’ Sketches, boldly combined documentary reporting with narration; they made a strong impression on the Russian public. The sketches depicted war as hideous carnage, inimical to human nature. The concluding words of one of the sketches, asserting that the author’s only hero was the truth, became the guiding principle for all of Tolstoy’s later work. Attempting to define the unique nature of this truth, N. G. Chernyshevskii pinpointed two of Tolstoy’s typical traits: his depiction of the “dialectics of the soul” as a special type of psychological analysis, arid “the absolute purity of his moral sense” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 3,1947, pp. 423,428).
In 1855, Tolstoy arrived in St. Petersburg and became closely associated with the circle of authors writing for Sovremennik, including N. A. Nekrasov, I. S. Turgenev, I. A. Goncharov, and Chernyshevskii. Between 1856 and 1859, Tolstoy attempted to adjust to this unfamiliar literary milieu, to feel at ease with a circle of professional writers, and to assert his own views as an author; this took place at a time of creative experiments and false starts in his own writing.
In 1856, Tolstoy published the short story “A Landowner’s Morning, ” a fragment of the projected Novel of a Russian Landowner, which was never completed. Writing about this work, Chernyshevskii was the first to perceive Tolstoy’s “peasant” viewpoint (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 4,1948, p. 682). The novella Albert (1857–58), influenced by A. V. Druzhinin’s circle, expressed the idea of the artist as one of the elect and a recipient of sacred fire from on high.
Tolstoy’s short story “Lucerne” (1857) reflected his first trip to Western Europe in 1857. The author’s attacks on bourgeois hypocrisy and heartlessness and on social injustice anticipated similar critiques in Resurrection (1899) and in Tolstoy’s late publicist treatises. The novel Family Happiness (1858–59) portrayed the destruction of the ideal of an insular, happy world of marriage. The novel’s conclusion expressed for the first time the later Tolstoyan concept of a wife’s duties, her virtue, and her self-sacrifice in marriage. The publication of Family Happiness in M. N. Katkov’s Russkii vestnik (Russian Herald) marked Tolstoy’s departure from Sovremennik. The work was not a success with readers.
Tolstoy’s novella The Cossacks (1853–63) drew on folk themes and was written in an epic style. In the Caucasus, amid majestic scenery and simple, pure-hearted people, the hero becomes aware of the falseness of high society and abandons the lie he had previously been living. Tolstoy showed that genuineness in relations with others comes from nature itself and from the consciousness of the person who is so close to nature that he almost merges with it.
Dissatisfied with his writing and disenchanted with society and literary circles, Tolstoy decided in the late 1860’s to abandon literature and settle down in the countryside. Between 1859 and 1862 he devoted much time and effort to a school for peasant children that he founded at Iasnaia Poliana. He studied pedagogy in Russia and during a trip he took abroad in 1860–61. He also published the pedagogical journal Iasnaia Poliana (1862), which advocated a nontraditional system of education and upbringing that was free of rigid curricula and formal discipline.
In 1862, Tolstoy married Sofia Andreevna Behrs (1844–1919) and lived an insular life on his estate as the head of an increasingly large family. During the peasant reform, he served as the mirovoi posrednik (mediator of the peace) of Krapivna District, resolving lawsuits between landowners and peasants, generally in favor of the peasants.
Tolstoy at this time adhered to an unusual combination of democratic ideas and views typical of those members of the old aristocracy who had nothing to do with the court but lived by concepts of class honor. Like other members of the “conscience-stricken” gentry, Tolstoy held himself apart from the bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy, and the urban middle class but showed sympathy for the peasant.
An aristocrat by upbringing and family tradition, Tolstoy found a way out of his spiritual crisis of the late 1850’s by drawing close to the common people’s interests and needs. In 1860–61 he began a novel, The Decembrists, whose first part was published in 1884. In this work, Tolstoy drew on history in his efforts to understand contemporary life. He depicted ordinary peasants in the short story “Polikushka” (1861–63). These new approaches, combined with the epic manner he had used in The Cossacks, reached their culmination in the epic novel War and Peace.
The 1860’s was the period of Tolstoy’s greatest literary creativity. His years of study and travel behind him, he lived a settled, moderate life, devoting himself to intensive writing. He worked independently and belonged to no literary group, but his originality and power as a writer led to a new level of development in Russian literature.
War and Peace, which Tolstoy wrote between 1863 and 1869, was published beginning in 1865. The work is unique in Russian and world literature, combining epic scope with the depth of a psychological novel. Tolstoy’s novel answered the needs of literature during the 1860’s, which were to clarify the course of historical development and to depict the common people’s role at decisive periods of the nation’s life. Tolstoy dealt with the heroic year of 1812, when Russians of different classes united in resisting foreign invasion. At the same time, Tolstoy’s elation over the national communal spirit is supported by his utopianism, which is evident in his loving re-creation of the life of the landowning dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) of the early 19th century. Tolstoy considered the main drawback of the illusory life of high society and the court in St. Petersburg to be its alienation from the common people during a time of terrible trials for the nation. In contrast, the patriotism of the Rostovs is presented as part of the people’s elemental life.
War and Peace expressed Tolstoy’s most important thoughts and feelings. The first stage of man’s self-awareness as an individual is considered to be his self-liberation from the fetters of class, caste, and social circles, as seen in the indifference of Andrei Bolkonskii and Pierre Bezukhov to the court and the Scherer salon. The second stage of man’s self-awareness is the merging of his individual consciousness with the larger world beyond the individual, a merging with and an imbibing of the truth of the common people. The spiritual quests of Bolkonskii and Bezukhov are filled with contradictions, but both heroes evolve toward overcoming their egotism and class insularity; they develop from prideful subjectivity to an awareness of their involvement with others and with the common people. A similar course of development is followed by Levin and Nekhliudov, the heroes of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1873–77) and Resurrection, respectively.
In War and Peace, Tolstoy regards as national Russian characteristics the “secret warmth of patriotism” (Sobr. soch., vol. 6, 1951, p. 214), a revulsion for showy heroics, a calm faith in justice, and the modest dignity and courage displayed by ordinary soldiers, by Timokhin, and by Captain Tushin. The folk wisdom of Kutuzov is in clear contrast to the superficial pomp of Napoleon, whose outward appearance is satirized. The historic personages that Tolstoy depicted with artistic freedom do not occupy a central position in the novel. Tolstoy believed that the destinies of the common people and the nation are molded by the objective forces of history. Russia’s war against Napoleon’s army is depicted as a war of the entire people. In Tolstoy’s words, the Russians raised “the bludgeon of a people’s war” and “pounded at the French until the entire invasion perished” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 12,1933, pp. 120–21).
The epic style of War and Peace is marked by comprehensive, masterful depiction, the development of complex interrelationships among the characters, and incomparable portrayals of the Russian landscape. The concepts of fate and destiny that formed the basis of the classical epic are replaced by the concept of a spontaneous movement and overflow of life. Tolstoy rejected the traditional idea of the hero: his hero is life itself, both private and public, a living “swarm.” He depicts life’s unhurried course, its joys and sorrows, the simple but eternal moments of birth, love, and death, and the triumph of life’s continuous renewal.
In War and Peace, the inner life of man is as important as the outward events of life. Tolstoy’s heroes are continually absorbed by complex inner struggles, unexpected disillusionments and discoveries, and new insights and doubts. The author creates an illusion of a continuously flowing psychic process based on a striving for truth and justice. The quest continues despite life’s inertia, the mores of a negative environment, and momentary self-defeating moods.
War and Peace also revealed certain inconsistencies in Tolstoy’s thinking, for example, his distrust of theoretical knowledge and his idealization of the patriarchal viewpoint, as exemplified in the figure of Piaton Karataev. Tolstoy’s opinion on freedom and necessity and on the motivating forces of the historical process are essentially fatalistic. Freedom is viewed as an instinctive life force independent of reason. However, Tolstoy did seek to comprehend and elucidate the processes of life. He examined the dialectical correlation between freedom and necessity, and generalized the manifestations of the will of innumerable individuals. Consequently, he was superior to such contemporary bourgeois historians as A. Thiers, who often asserted that the (allegedly) free actions of exceptional individuals were the forces that moved history.
Early in the 1870’s, Tolstoy again became involved in pedagogical concerns. He wrote A Primer (1871–72) and later A New Primer (1874–75), composing for them original short stories and adaptations of fairy tales and fables. These stories and adaptations also formed the content of Tolstoy’s four Russian Readers. For a time, Tolstoy again taught at the Iasnaia Poliana school. However, he soon began undergoing an inner crisis. Owing to a lifelong habit of skeptical analysis, he had little faith in traditional religion. Now, his belief in personal immortality seemed about to collapse as well. His awareness of the social crisis of the 1870’s that was caused by Russia’s transition to a bourgeois path of development intensified his own moral and philosophical crisis.
A spirit of sorrowful meditation and a negative view of contemporary life characterize much of Tolstoy’s principal work of the 1870’s, the novel Anna Karenina (1873–77, published 1876–77). Like the novels of I. S. Turgenev and F. M. Dostoev-sky written during the same period, Anna Karenina is a topical work, to the extent that it draws on events recorded in contemporary newspapers.
Tolstoy was clearly losing faith in the possibility of a reconciliation between the interests of the peasantry and those of the conscience-stricken dvorianstvo. The widespread public disillusionment with the bourgeois reforms of the 1860’s, which had not brought about a hoped-for public tranquillity and well-being, convinced Tolstoy of the uselessness of abrupt social changes. With growing anxiety he observed the collapse of the remnants of the patriarchal order under the impact of bourgeois progress. He saw that bourgeois progress led to the lowering of morals, the weakening of family ties, and the decline of such aristocrats as the impractical and eccentric Oblonskiis, who sold their hereditary forests and farmlands at less than their value to the rich Riabinins.
His historical optimism lost, Tolstoy increasingly sought support and refuge in patriarchal mores and in the family. All the efforts of Konstantin Levin, the hero of Anna Karenina, to find a meaning in life and to comprehend the foundations of the economy and the social system led him into an impasse. The only firm supports remaining after all his personal crises were his family happiness and the naive faith of the old peasant Fokanych, who “followed the promptings of his soul and remembered god.”
The story of Levin is intricately interrelated with that of Anna. Anna Karenina gave herself up to her own feelings; she disdained the bonds of marriage and consequently had to stand before the highest court, referred to by the author in the epigraph: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” However, in her trial before this court, Anna’s personality, as well as her social milieu, must be taken into consideration. The civil and ecclesiastical law codes, as well as the innumerable unwritten conventions of high society’s morality, protected the alleged sanctity of marriage, but they often disregarded genuine feelings. Anna’s longing for life had no outlet and clashed with society’s hypocrisy. This conflict cast upon her, imperceptibly at first and then more and more clearly, a shadow of tragic doom.
The scope of Anna Karenina is narrower than that of War and Peace, and the later novel’s characters are more complex. They manifest a greater sensitivity, as well as an inner tension and anxiety that reflect the novel’s overall atmosphere of life’s uncertainty and instability. The portrayals of the characters’ inner lives are even more refined and complex than those in War and Peace. In earlier works, Tolstoy had already used the device of the inner monologue—a conflict within the hero’s soul—and the device of conveying psychological states with the aid of seemingly irrelevant details. These devices were used in Anna Karenina to express refined nuances of love, disillusionment, jealousy, despair, and spiritual enlightenment.
To a great extent, Anna Karenina was an autobiographic novel. In writing it, Tolstoy clarified to himself his views of his times and of his own life. His concern with the problems treated in the novel led Tolstoy to his own ideological crisis of the late 1870’s and to his eventual advocacy of the viewpoint of the patriarchal peasantry.
Tolstoy’s new world view was fully expressed in A Confession (1879–80, published 1884) and What I Believe (1882–84). He came to the conclusion that the life of the higher strata of society, with which he was linked by origin and upbringing, was essentially false. Tolstoy’s new awareness of life’s vanity, especially in the face of inevitable death, intensified his adherence to religious beliefs. His conclusions about the life of society were equally decisive. Formerly, he had criticized the materialist and positivist theories of progress and had defended the naivete of consciousness. Now he attacked the state and the state-sponsored church, as well as the privileges and way of life of his own class, which had been reared in the traditions of serfdom and distorted by materialism and bureaucratism.
Tolstoy’s new views of society were linked with his moral and religious philosophy. His works An Examination of Dogmatic Theology (1879–80) and A Unification and Translation of theFour Gospels (1880–81) laid the foundation for the religious aspect of the Tolstoyan doctrine. According to Tolstoy, Christianity in its renewed form must be purified of age-old distortions and crude church rituals in order to unite people in a spirit of love and universal mutual forgiveness. Although he criticized social abuses, Tolstoy advocated passive nonresistance to evil. He believed that evil should not be combatted with force but by exposure to public view and by passive disobedience to the authorities. It was Tolstoy’s conviction that both individual man and all mankind would eventually become renewed through the efforts of innumerable individuals to achieve moral and spiritual perfection. Consequently, he denied the value of political struggle and revolutionary outbreaks.
In the 1880’s, Tolstoy rejected literary creativity and repudiated his earlier novels and tales as aristocratic playthings. Stressing the importance of simple physical labor, he plowed in the fields and made his own boots; he also became a vegetarian. At the same time, he was increasingly dissatisfied with his family’s way of life. In the publicist works What Then Must We Do? (1882–86) and The Slavery of Our Time (1899–1900), Tolstoy sharply criticized the vices of modern civilization, but he offered as a solution only a Utopian appeal for moral and religious self-improvement.
Tolstoy’s literary works written after 1880 were marked by topicality and moral exhortation. He attacked unjust courts, contemporary marriage, landowning, and the church, appealing passionately to his readers’ conscience, reason, and sense of self-respect.
Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Wich (1884–86) recounted the story of an ordinary man who on the threshold of death became aware of the meaninglessness of his previous life. The illumination of the dying man’s soul—a symbolic light of self-awareness that emerged during Ivan Il’ich’s last few moments of life—represented Tolstoy’s concept of religious salvation. These illusions were overcome, however, by the novella’s sober psychological realism. Tolstoy’s closely related novellas The Kreutzer Sonata (1887–89, published 1891) and The Devil (1889–90, published 1911) dealt with sensual love and the struggle against the flesh, a struggle that could be won only by practicing the Christian principle of selfless love.
Tolstoy took seriously to playwriting after 1880. The drama The Power of Darkness (1886) and the comedy The Fruits of Enlightenment (1886–90, published 1891) represent two aspects of contemporary problems confronted by the author. The Power of Darkness revealed the evil influence of urban civilization on the countryside, making outstanding use of colloquial speech and stark realism in depicting the life of the village. The Fruits of Enlightenment brilliantly portrayed another aspect of contemporary life: the morality of a manor house and the whims and superficial pastimes of its idle masters; these caprices and pastimes were shown to be absurd and insulting in light of the peasants’ poverty and misfortunes.
Tolstoy became convinced that he must write in a simpler and more accessible manner in order to reach a readership among the common people. In the 1880’s he embodied this manner in a number of folklike tales written in the form of parables, including “What Men Live By, ” “The Candle, ” “Two Old Men, ” and “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” The short story “Master and Man” (1894–95) was thematically closely related to these tales.
In the 1890’s, Tolstoy attempted to provide a theoretical foundation for his views on art. He contrasted decadent art to art that had serious content and lofty moral and religious aims. In the treatise What Is Art? (1897–98), Tolstoy developed his theory of infection through art, that is, the communication of an author’s or artist’s own feelings by means of lines, colors, sounds, or images. He viewed this infection as the basis of the emotional experience undergone by the reader, viewer, or hearer. “The chief importance of art, ” wrote Tolstoy, “is that it unites people” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 57,1952, p. 132).
Tolstoy supported the Posrednik publishing house, which was founded in 1884 on his initiative and was directed by his followers and friends V. G. Chertkov and 1.1. Gorbunov-Posadov. Posred-nik’s aim was to provide the common people with books serving the cause of enlightenment and adhering to the Tolstoyan doctrine. Owing to the prevailing censorship, many of Tolstoy’s books were printed in Geneva. Other works were later published in London, where Chertkov founded the Svobodnoe Slovo publishing house.
In 1891, 1893, and 1898, Tolstoy helped organize relief to peasants in famine-stricken provinces of Russia; he also issued appeals and wrote articles on ways to combat famine. Between 1895 and 1899 he provided extensive aid to such religious sectarians as the Molokans and the Dukhobors and contributed the funds needed for the Dukhobors to emigrate to Canada. In letters to Alexander III and later to Nicholas II, Tolstoy protested against autocratic repression and arbitrariness. People from all parts of Russia and from other countries made pilgrimages to Iasnaia Poliana, especially in the 1890’s; the estate was also visited by many cultural figures, both Russian and foreign.
Tolstoy’s main fictional work of the 1890’s was the novel Resurrection (1889–99), whose plot was based on an actual court case. A young aristocrat who had once seduced a peasant girl being brought up in a manor house is now a juror at her trial. This striking coincidence represented to Tolstoy all the senselessness of life based on social injustice. An innovation for Tolstoy was the story of the inner resurrection of the heroine, Katiusha Maslova. The novel’s hero, Prince Nekhliudov, experiences a moral rebirth as well. Resurrection was a new type of novel, a social panorama depicting characters of different social classes, from St. Petersburg court figures and wealthy individuals to village beggars and prisoners on the way to exile.
In Resurrection, Tolstoy scathingly criticized the government, the courts, the church, the privileges of the dvorianstvo, private ownership of land, money, prisons, and prostitution. The novel satirically depicts the rich and powerful while expressing sympathy for the toiling lower classes. In his protrayals of the common people—peasants, revolutionaries, and exiled convicts—Tolstoy emphasized the oppression and lack of rights that paralyzed the spiritual forces of the common people. Tolstoy’s attack on church ritual in Resurrection was one of the factors causing the Holy Synod to excommunicate him from the Orthodox Church in 1901.
At this time, the alienation that Tolstoy observed in contemporary society intensified his concern with personal, moral responsibility. This concern was accompanied by torments of conscience, periods of illumination, moral crises, and, finally, a break with his own milieu. Typical of the structure of his works written during this period was the use of a chain of events to encompass varied areas of life and new types of heroes. The plot as such was of secondary importance, and strong causal relationships between characters and events revealed the consequences of crucial actions. Characteristic examples were Resurrection, Hadji Murad (1896–1904, published 1912), The False Coupon (1902–04, published 1911), and the unfinished tale There Are No Guilty Persons (published 1911).
Other works written by Tolstoy at this time had a plot involving an act of repudiation, an abrupt, radical personal crisis, and a turning to a new faith. Examples were “Father Sergius” (1890–98, published 1912), The Living Corpse (1900, published 1911), “After the Ball” (1903, published 1911), and “The Posthumous Notes of the Elder Fedor Kuzmich” (1905, published 1912).
Important works written by Tolstoy during the last years of his life included the novella Hadji Murad and the drama The Living Corpse. In Hadji Murad, Tolstoy criticized the despotism of Shamil, a Caucasian leader, and that of Nicholas I with equal force. As in his early novella The Cossacks, Tolstoy extolled the purity of the natural, well-integrated man. Contradicting his own doctrine of passive nonresistance, he glorified in the novella the virtues of courageous struggle and resistance, as well as of love for life. The innovative play The Living Corpse focused on Fedia Protasov’s abandonment of his family and of his milieu, in which he is ashamed to live. The play has similarities to Chekhov’s dramas in its subtextual psychological level and its polyphonic dialogue.
During the last decade of his life, Tolstoy was the acknowledged master of Russian literature, upholding literary realism and attacking the current trend of decadence. He was on close personal terms with such writers as V. G. Korolenko, A. P. Chekhov, and M. Gorky. Tolstoy also continued his publicist activities, issuing appeals, writing articles, and working on the book A Reading Circle. At this time, when Tolstoyism was becoming a widely known doctrine, Tolstoy himself began to doubt its validity. The events leading to the Revolution of 1905–07 severely tested his patriarchal ideals. His article “I Cannot Remain Silent” (1908), an ardent protest against capital punishment, became world-famous.
In the last years of his life at Iasnaia Poliana, Tolstoy underwent constant inner sufferings owing to the atmosphere of intrigue and discord existing between the Tolstoyans on one side and his wife on the other. Seeking to harmonize his way of life with his convictions and tiring of his life on an estate, Tolstoy secretly left Iasnaia Poliana on Oct. 28 (Nov. 10), 1910. On the journey he became ill with a cold; he died in the home of the stationmaster of the Astapovo railroad station.
Tolstoy’s death was a shock for Russia. V. I. Lenin noted at this time that Tolstoy had “succeeded in raising so many great problems and succeeded in rising to such heights of artistic power that his works rank among the greatest in world literature” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 20, p. 19).
Tolstoy’s works marked a new stage in the development of literary realism in Russia and abroad, and constituted a link between the traditional 19th-century novel and the literature of the 20th century. The unique spontaneity and directness of Tolstoy’s realism were powerful forces for revealing social contradictions. Tolstoy’s immediate emotional appeal and ability to depict the flesh and blood of life itself are combined with subtle, penetrating intellectual power and profound psychological analysis. His full-blooded realism seeks to combine analysis and synthesis and to achieve an integrated understanding of the world and the laws that govern man’s life.
|Table 1. Itineraries of Tolstoy’s two trips abroad|
|Montreux||Dresden||Gières (near Nice)||Antwerp|
Tolstoy had no faith in existing opinions and prejudices but attempted to examine all aspects of life anew and in his own way. Rejecting literary stereotypes, he depicted only what he himself saw, understood, and intuitively perceived. He had the ability to understand people’s inner lives, their strivings, and their pangs of conscience. Tolstoy’s realism also involved the creation of original, living characters, as well as the vivid depiction of daily life and of scenes drawn from history.
Tolstoy’s realism was nourished by Russian national traditions, which it in turn helped reinforce, but it has a universal scope as well. His realism had a strong influence on early Soviet literature, and to this day has constituted for Soviet writers one of the most important and vital aspects of the Russian literary heritage.
Tolstoy also had an immense influence on the development of European humanism and of realism in world literature. Foreign authors influenced by Tolstoy have included R. Rolland, F. Mauriac, and R. Martin du Gard (France), E. Hemingway and T. Wolfe (USA), J. Galsworthy and G. B. Shaw (Great Britain), T. Mann and A. Seghers (Germany), A. Strindberg and A. Lundkvist (Sweden), R. M. Rilke (Austria), E. Orzeszkowa, B. Prus, and J. Iwaszkiewicz (Poland), M. Pujmanová (Czechoslovakia), Lao She (China), and Tokutomi Roka (Japan). Tolstoy’s influence on M. Gandhi and on India’s culture was also great. Many of Tolstoy’s works have been adapted for the screen and the stage in the USSR and abroad, and his plays have become part of the world’s stage repertoire.
Literary studies on Tolstoy were written in Russia and abroad even during his lifetime. Important early analyses of his works included articles by G. V. Plekhanov and V. G. Korolenko and M. Gorky’s sketch “Leo Tolstoy” (1919). After the October Revolution of 1917, interest in Tolstoy’s heritage greatly increased.
V. I. Lenin’s articles on Tolstoy (1908–11), first collected together in 1924, had a decisive influence on Tolstoyan studies in the USSR. Lenin revealed the close connection that the inconsistencies in Tolstoy’s doctrine and works had with the inconsistent mentality of the Russian postreform peasantry, which was becoming aware of historical reality. In this sense, Lenin emphasized Tolstoy’s importance as “a mirror of the Russian Revolution.” According to Lenin, “the contradictions in Tolstoy’s views and doctrines are not accidental; they express the contradictory conditions of Russian life in the last third of the 19th century. . . . Tolstoy is great as the spokesman of the ideas and sentiments that emerged among the millions of Russian peasants at the time the bourgeois revolution was approaching in Russia” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 17, p. 210). Lenin later wrote: “The epoch of preparation for revolution in one of the countries under the heel of the serf-owners became, thanks to its brilliant illumination by Tolstoy, a step forward in the artistic development of humanity as a whole” (ibid., vol. 20, p. 19). Lenin’s theory that Tolstoy’s works reflected contemporary Russian reality, in addition to the Marxist view of the source of Tolstoy’s contradictions, became the foundations for Soviet studies on Tolstoy.
Tolstoy’s Complete Collected Works was published in an anniversary edition of 90 volumes between 1928 and 1958. The edition includes many previously unpublished works of fiction, as well as letters and diaries. Soviet literary scholars have published and continue to publish major studies on all aspects of Tolstoy’s life and works.
A chronology of Tolstoy’s places of residence in Russia and travels within Russia follows.
1828–37. Lived at Iasnaia Poliana.
1837–41. Lived in Moscow; later visited Moscow a number of times and lived there for extended periods.
1841–48. Lived in Kazan.
February–May 1849. First visit to St. Petersburg; later spent the winter of 1855–56 there and visited the city every year between 1857 and 1861.
1849–. Periodic visits to Iasnaia Poliana.
1851. Trip to the Caucasus; traveled on the Volga as far as Astrakhan and then journeyed by land to the Starogladkovskaia stanitsa by way of Kizliar.
October 1851. Journey to Tbilisi along the Georgian Military Highway by way of Vladikavkaz.
1852–53. Visited the Groznaia fortress; underwent treatment at the health resort of Piatigorsk; visited Zheleznovodsk, Kislovodsk, and Essentuki.
1854. Served with the Danube forces at Bucharest; on the way to Bucharest visited Kursk, Poltava, and Kishinev. Fought at Sevastopol’.
1855. Visited Bakhchisarai and Simferopol’.
1862–. Lived permanently at Iasnaia Poliana, often visiting the nearby gubernia (province) capital of Tula.
1862. Took the kumys (mare’s milk) cure at the village of Karalyk in Bashkiria; on the way to Karalyk visited Tver’, Samara, and Ural’sk. Visited Kazan.
1867. Visited Mozhaisk and Borodino while working on War and Peace.
1869. Traveled to Penza Province by way of Nizhny Novgorod, Arzamas, and Saransk.
1876. Traveled to Samara and Orenburg to buy horses. Visited Kazan.
1877, 1890. Traveled to Optina Pustyn’, near the city of Kozel’sk, by way of Kaluga.
1878. Visited St. Petersburg.
1879. Visited Kiev.
1882. Bought a house in Moscow, on Dolgokhamovnicheskii Lane; his family usually spent the winters here.
1891–93. Spent considerable time in Begichevka, in Riazan’ Province, while involved in famine relief.
1897. Last visit to St. Petersburg.
1898. Visited the prison at Orel while conducting research for Resurrection.
September 1901–June 1902. Lived in Gaspra; visited Yalta, Alupka, Simeiz, Oreanda, and other places on the Crimean coast.
1901–02. Visited Sevastopol’.
September 1909. Last visit to Moscow.
1910. Visits to the monasteries at Optina Pustyn’ and Shamordino.
The itineraries of Tolstoy’s two trips abroad are given in Table 1.
Tolstoy museums include Tolstoy’s former estate of Iasnaia Poliana, now the State Museum-Estate in Shchekino Raion, Tula Oblast; the State Museum in Moscow at 11 Kropotkin Street; and the museum at the Leo Tolstoy railroad station, formerly the Astapovo railroad station. The Tolstoy Museum-Estate in Moscow at 21 Leo Tolstoy Street is the house on Dolgokhamovnicheskii Lane where Tolstoy and his family lived during the winters of 1882 to 1901.
WORKSPoln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–90 (anniversary edition). Moscow-Leningrad, 1928–58.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–20. Moscow, 1960–65.
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V. IA. LAKSHIN