Tolstoy, Nikolai, Count 1935–
Tolstoy, Nikolai, Count 1935–
(Nikolai Dimitrievich Tolstoy Miloslavsky, Nikolai Dimitrievich Tolstoy-Miloslavsky)
PERSONAL: Born June 23, 1935, in Maidstone, England; son of Dimitri Mihailovich (a barrister) and Mary O'Brian Tolstoy-Miloslavky; married Georgina Katherine Brown, October 9, 1971; children: Alexandra, Anastasia, Dimitri, Xenia. Education: Attended Wellington College; Royal Military Academy, 1954; Trinity College (Dublin), M.A. (honors), 1961. Politics: "Monarchist (legitimist and Jacobite)." Religion: Russian Orthodox.
ADDRESSES: Home—Court Close, Southmoor near Abingdon, Berkshire OX13 5HS, England. Agent—Anthony Sheil Ltd., 43 Doughty St., London WC1N 2LF, England.
CAREER: Writer, 1968–. Military service: British Army, 1953–54.
The Foundling of Evil Hold School (juvenile), W.H. Allen (London, England), 1968.
The Coming of the King: The First Book of Merlin, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Victims of Yalta, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1977, published as The Secret Betrayal, 1944–1947, Scribner (New York, NY), 1978.
The Half-Mad Lord: Thomas Pitt (biography), J. Cape (London, England), 1978, Holt (New York, NY), 1979.
Stalin's Secret War, J. Cape (London, England), 1981, Holt (New York, NY), 1982.
The Tolstoys: Twenty-Four Generations of Russian History, H. Hamilton (London, England), 1983, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.
The Quest for Merlin, H. Hamilton (London, England), 1985, Little Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.
The Minister and the Massacres, Century Hutchinson (New York, NY), 1986.
Trial and Error: Canada's Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals and the Soviets, Justinian Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.
Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist, 1914–1949, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies and Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.
SIDELIGHTS: Count Nikolai Tolstoy once told CA: "My prime interest has always been in history of all periods and in the widest sense." With publications ranging from scholarly works on the Stalinist era to fantasy novels that trace the legend of Merlin, Tolstoy's writing bears this assertion out.
While writing his first work of historical analysis, The Secret Betrayal, 1944–1947, Tolstoy told CA he had been "spurred on through many difficult years by a determination to honor and vindicate the memory of so many of my unfortunate compatriots who suffered appalling barbarities and indignities" under Stalin between 1944 and 1947. In The Secret Betrayal, 1944–1947 Tolstoy records not only that suffering, but the role played in it by both the British and American governments as well.
Tolstoy's next historical exploration was a more personal one; in The Tolstoys: Twenty-Four Generations of Russian History, he traces the lives of his aristocratic ancestors—including famed author Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai's great-granduncle—over six centuries. A "fascinating and complicated" story, according to New York Times Book Review critic Harlow Robinson, The Tolstoys is "for the most part" told "with authority, grace and good humor."
Delving even further into the past, Tolstoy's The Quest for Merlin is Tolstoy's attempt, after several years of research, to establish the legendary Merlin, not as a fanciful appendage to King Arthur's Camelot but rather as an actual historical figure who lived in the sixth-century Scottish Lowlands.
In his preface Tolstoy apologizes to his wife "who patiently suffered two years and more of Merlin-mania." Elena Brunet, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, described The Quest for Merlin as "a passionate work of scholarship," while Los Angeles Times reviewer Charles Champlin noted the comparison drawn by Tolstoy between Merlin and Christ, stating: "Readers may stop short of the parallel, yet Tolstoy conducts an engrossing search of the mythic past." Times Literary Supplement critic Charles Thomas added that, in spite of the oddness of some of Tolstoy's theories, The Quest for Merlin is "an interesting and worthwhile book" some of whose "findings ought to stand."
The Coming of the King: The First Book of Merlin is the fictional counterpart to The Quest for Merlin. Favorably likened by a critic in Publishers Weekly to The Iliad and Beowulf for its "classic heroic style" and "poetry in the bardic tradition," The Coming of the King is the first book of a proposed trilogy on the life of Merlin. Based on the information Tolstoy had gathered for The Quest for Merlin, every character in this novel bears the name of a real historical person. The Publishers Weekly reviewer praised The Coming of the King as "an epic with the complex quality of nectar: not easily described, nor for every taste, but once tasted, never forgotten."
In Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist, 1914–1949, Tolstoy offers a detailed biography of the writer O'Brian, author of numerous volumes of naval stories featuring Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin, including Master and Commander. O'Brian was also Tolstoy's stepfather. Tolstoy knew O'Brian for nearly fifty years, and upon the author's death, inherited a voluminous collection of his personal and professional papers. Using this combination of personal acquaintance and documentary resources, Tolstoy presents an "engaging, thorough, and objective history of the reclusive author," noted a reviewer in Reference & Research Book News. O'Brian was something of a prodigy, a largely self-educated doctor's son whose original family name was Russ. His first novel, Caesar, was published when he was twelve years old, and a solitary, unhappy childhood drove him to retreat into the study of natural history and the eighteenth century, noted reviewer Mary Ellen Quinn in Booklist. Voluminous and wide-ranging reading developed him intellectually, while his sharp mind and deep imagination drove his literary works. As he matured, O'Brian became intensely protective of his privacy, and sometimes his own accounts of his life and background proved to be fabricated. Still, Tolstoy thoroughly mines available materials, including diaries, letters, and autobiographical elements found in O'Brian's early novels, to create a biography intended to "protect [O'Brian's] memory from misrepresentation," noted Richard Ollard in History Today. Ollard concluded that Tolstoy's biography of O'Brian is "fundamental for any true understanding of Patrick's life and character, but the novels themselves are his best memorial." Quinn called the book a "detailed and thoughtful account" of O'Brian's life and work.
More recently, Tolstoy told CA: "Concern with the existing crisis in civilization leads me to write about what I regard as some of the critical issues." Motivated by this concern as well as by his great interest in history, he continues to write both scholarly nonfiction and novels. Tolstoy summarizes his work with the following: "My aim is to amuse and, I hope, enlighten."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2005, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist, 1914–1949, p. 1984.
History Today, February, 2005, Richard Ollard, review of Patrick O'Brian, p. 57.
Library Journal, August 1, 2005, Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., review of Patrick O'Brian, p. 87.
Los Angeles Times, December 9, 1985, Charles Champlin, "An Engrossing Search for Merlin in the Mythic Past," review of The Quest for Merlin, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 28, 1988, Elena Brunet, review of The Quest for Merlin, p. 14.
New York Times Book Review, May 9, 1982, Marshall D. Schulman, review of Stalin's Secret War, p. 8; November 6, 1983, Harlow Robinson, review of The Tolstoys: Twenty-Four Generations of Russian History, p. 3; September 7, 1986, Patricia T. O'Connor, review of The Tolstoys, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, February 24, 1989, review of The Coming of the King: The First Book of Merlin, p. 225.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2005, review of Patrick O'Brian.
Times Literary Supplement, January 22, 1982, review of Stalin's Secret War, p. 89; April 5, 1985, Charles Thomas, review of The Quest for Merlin, p. 387.