Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
Count Leo Tolstoy named in childhood as Lev Nikolayevich was born on September 9, 1828 in Yasnaya Polyana to Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy and Marya Nikolayena. The fourth son of his parents, Lev lost his mother in infancy. Thus, little Lev had very little memory of his mother but remembered his father with fondness. His father was the owner of a large estate and was good at litigation but loved inactivity. After spending many years of comfort and leisure, he enlisted in the army.
From childhood, Lev Tolstoy had a great love for literature. He could recite 180 lines of poetry without a hitch. French tutors administered his early education. When he was hardly nine, the Tolstoys shifted from the peaceful country site of Yasnaya Polyana to the bustling city of Moscow. The new surroundings affected the health of Nikolai Ilyich, as he developed throat hemorrhage. A few months later in June 1837, he died leaving Lev as an orphan of nine. Tatiana Alexandrovna who had been his motherís companion for eight years took charge of Lev and his brothers.
Lev enrolled himself at the university of Kazan, when he was sixteen. He pursued the study of Oriental languages and also law but these subjects did not hold his interest for long. His interests lay in literature and he read the books of Rousseau and Pushkin with avid interest. He passed his matriculation but left his studies in 1847 and devoted time on his estates. He also indulged in the dissipated pleasures of a wealthy man only to repent for his actions later.
Tolstoy resigned from the army in 1857. In the next few years, he kept travelling between Moscow, Yasnaya Polyana and Western Europe. Rousseau had always inspired him and in 1859, he incorporated the ideas of the famous French philosopher in the experimental school for peasant children that he had started in Yasnay Polyana. In 1862, at the age of thirty four, Leo Tolstoy married Sophia Behrs, a girl of eighteen. The years following his marriage were fruitful to him both in terms of his family life and creative life. Living in Yasnaya Polyana, he was happy rearing up their many children and writing masterpieces like War and Peace and the sub plot of Anna Karenina.
After enjoying blissful family life and producing classic works of fiction, Tolstoy got disillusioned with his marriage and life. He turned to the Russian Orthodox church for moral support, though he could not agree to many of its concepts. He evolved his own religion based on the interpretation of the Gospels. Tolstoyism professed belief in god and acceptance of the teachings of Christ, while defying its divinity. His beliefs find expression in A Confession written between 1878-79. Other writings which expound his philosophy are A Short Exposition of the Gospels in 1881, What I Believe In in 1884, Memoirs of a Madman in 1884, What Are We To Do? In 1886 and The Kingdom of God is Within You in 1893. Most of his later writings are didactic but simple in style.
Under the influence of his religious conversion, Tolstoy changed his way of life. He shed his luxuries and wore the clothes of a peasant. He practiced dignity of labor and gave up eating meat and smoking. He became charitable and planned to gift his entire property to the poor but his wife intervened and stopped him from doing such a thing. His attitude estranged him from his wife and he left his estate for an unknown destination. Thus, travelling aimlessly for several days, he contacted Pneumonia and died in 1910. After his death, the Russian peasants upheld his ideas and later, translated it into the Bourgeois revolution. Leo Tolstoy is remembered not only as a great writer but also as a zealous reformer.