A biography of Leo Tolstoy

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A Biography of Leo Tolstoy

Period 6

Biography of Leo Tolstoy

Born to a prominent family of the Russian aristocracy, Leo Tolstoy dedicated his life mainly to creating literary works that reflected upon his life, experiences, and thoughts on these experiences. His more famous works such as ‘’War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” started garnering the attention of the Russian and European masses almost immediately, bringing large sums of money and fame to Leo Tolstoy and his family. However, he soon found himself in a spiritual crisis. As a result, Tolstoy developed a set of beliefs embodying nonviolence and other beliefs. Leo Tolstoy kept these beliefs with him until his death. Many of the novels published in the last years of his life reflected a strong influence by Tolstoy’s newfound beliefs. Which later influenced other writers and activists such as Mahatma Ghandi, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Martin Luther King Jr.

On September 9, 1828, Tolstoy was born in the Tula Province of Russia on his family’s estate; Yasnaya Polyana. He was the youngest of four children born to née Princess Volkonskaya. Soon after his birth, his mother passed away and his father’s cousin came to keep watch over the children. Seven years after the death of Tolstoy’s mother, Leo’s father, Count Nikolay Tolstoy, passed away as well, leaving the children’s aunt as their legal guardian. Yet fate, in its unkind ways, determined the death of Tolstoy’s aunt, too. Leaving Leo Tolstoy and his siblings with their second aunt in Kazan, Russia. Despite the loss he experienced in his youth, Tolstoy managed to turn it into an inspiration for his literature.

As a child, Tolstoy was educated by private tutors until he enrolled in a foreign languages program at the University of Kazan. Since his grades were lower than required, Leo dropped out and transferred to a law school. Due to his excessive partying, however, he was again forced to drop out and find a new path. This time taking up farming back on his home estate. Tolstoy made an attempt at learning from and leading the serfs and farmhands, but ultimately, this too, failed, as he was absent on a regular basis on social trips to Tula and Moscow. Desperate for a job and money, Leo followed his brother Nikolay into the army. He was stationed down into the Caucasus Mountains and then transferred to Sevastapol, Ukraine to fight in the Crimean War from 1854-1855.

Life in the military gave Tolstoy enough free time to write an autobiography called “Childhood” which recounted the events of Leo’s youth. It was later published in a popular journal called “The Contemporary” as his first work. Tolstoy kept writing and published two more works, “Boyhood” a sequel to “Childhood” and “The Cossacks” a description of what it was like at the outpost. Soon following his experience in battle, he wrote a reflection of war named the “Sevastapol Tales” mainly focusing on how many aspects of war contradict each other. After the war came to a close, Leo Tolstoy left the army and returned to Russia. He found that his published works had grown in popularity and that many people demanded more. So Tolstoy published the third installment of his autobiography, “Youth”. Several years later in 1862, Leo Tolstoy married a woman named Sofya Andreyevna Bers. It was from this year on in which Tolstoy created his most famous masterpieces.

For the larger portion of the 1860’s, Leo Tolstoy worked on his novel “War and Peace”. He and his wife and children lived comfortably on Tolstoy’s childhood estate, Yasnaya Polyana. Because of the large amounts of royalties, no financial issues troubled Tolstoy. After the completion of “War and Peace” his wealth grew even more. With the novel’s combination of historic events and fictional characters, it captivated the public and remains, even today, a respected literary work. Shortly following Tolstoy’s successful novel, “War and Peace” came his runner-up in terms of lasting recognition, “Anna Karenina”.

Perhaps one of the most tumultuous periods of Leo Tolstoy’ life was when, even after achieving so much success, he still felt empty and depressed. A midlife crisis, of sorts. Tolstoy sought spiritual guidance, turning to the Russian Orthodox Church. However, they could not satisfy his needs, and so Tolstoy set out to create his own beliefs. He would later publish these personal beliefs in a book called “The Mediator”. The main focus of his beliefs were: do not give in to anger; do not give in to lust; do not take oaths; do not resist evil; and love your enemies. Due to his unorthodox, and therefore controversial, beliefs, Leo Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church and watched by the secret police, in addition, his belief also put a strain on his family relations.

In the final few decades of his life, his beliefs strongly influenced his novels. “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” describes a man’s struggle to come to terms with his impending death. Tolstoy continued to write novels with a firm reflection of his beliefs, influencing many people throughout Europe and the world. When the building family tension between Tolstoy and his wife over his new beliefs became unbearable, Leo Tolstoy went on a pilgrimage with his youngest daughter. Unfortunately, his health did not sustain through the trip and Tolstoy died in his sleep while resting at the station. He died on this day, November 20, in the year 1910. 103 years ago. Tolstoy was buried on his family estate and was survived by his wife and ten kids. Little did he know that his ideas and beliefs about nonviolence had inspired Mahatma Ghandi in his struggle for the British removal from India. And would later influence Martin Luther King Junior in his nonviolence struggle for civil rights in America. Tolstoy’s legacy lives on even today, as both a novelist and pacifist, continuing to influence our world for the better, more peaceful.


Leo Tolstoy." 2013. The Biography Channel website. Nov 19 2013, 05:52 http://www.biography.com/people/leo-tolstoy-9508518.
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