Tolstoi, Lev (Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi)
TOLSTOI, Lev (Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi)
Nationality: Russian. Born: Iasnaia Poliana, near Tula, 28 August 1828. Education: Home, in Moscow, 1837-41, and in Kazan, 1841-44; Kazan University, 1844-47. Family: Married Sofiia Andreevna Bers in 1862; 13 children; also one son from another relationship. Military Service: Visited his brother's military unit in Caucasus, and joined artillery battery as noncommissioned officer, 1851-54, then transferred to a unit near Bucharest, 1854, and, as sub-lieutenant, in Sevastopol, 1854-55: resigned as lieutenant, 1855. Career: Landowner on his inherited estate, 1847-48; in Moscow, 1848-51; after some travel, a serious landowner: set up school, and edited the school journal Iasnaia Poliana, 1862-63 (and member of local educational committee, 1870s); social and religious views widely disseminated in last decades of his life, and religious views excluded him from church, 1901. Because of censorship, many of his works were first published abroad. Died: 7 November 1910.
Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. 90 vols., 1928-58.
Centenary Edition (in English). 21 vols., 1929-37.
I Cannot Be Silent: Selections from Tolstoy's Non-Fiction, edited by W. Gareth Jones. 1989.
Tolstoy's Short Fiction, edited by Michael R. Katz. 1991.
Sevastopolskie rasskazy. 1855-56; as Sebastopol, 1887; as The
Sebastopol Sketches, edited by David McDuff, 1986.
Kreitserova sonata. 1891; as The Kreutzer Sonata, 1890.
Khoziain i rabotnik (novella). 1895; as Master and Man, 1895.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, edited by Michael Beresford. 1962.
The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories, edited by David McDuff. 1985.
Semeinoe schast'e. 1859; as Katia, 1887; as Family Happiness, 1888; as My Husband and I, 1888; as The Romance of Marriage, 1890.
Kazaki. 1863; as The Cossacks, 1878.
Voina i mir. 1863-69; as War and Peace, 1886.
Anna Karenina. 1875-77; translated as Anna Karenina, 1886.
Voskresenie. 1899; as Resurrection, 1899.
Vlast' t'my (produced 1888). 1887; as The Dominion of Darkness, 1888.
Plody prosveshcheniia (produced 1889). 1889; as The Fruits of Enlightenment, 1891.
Detstvo, Otrochestvo, Iunost'. 3 vols., 1852-57; as Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, 1886.
Azbuka [An ABC Book]. 1872; revised edition, 1875; as The Lion and the Puppy and Other Stories (for children), 1986.
Ispoved'. 1884; as A Confession, 1885; as Confession, 1983; as My Confession, 1995.
V chom moia vera? 1884; as My Religion, 1885; as What I Believe, 1885.
Tak chto zhe nam delat'? 1902; as What to Do, 1887; uncensored edition, 1888.
The Long Exile and Other Stories for Children. 1888.
O zhizni. 1888; uncensored edition, 1891; as Life, 1888; as On Life, 1902.
Gospel Stories. 1890.
Kritika dogmaticheskogo bogosloviia. 1891; as God Sees the Truth But Waits, 1986.
Soedinenie i perevod chetyrekh evangelii. 3 vols., 1892-94; as The Four Gospels Harmonized and Translated, 1895-96; shortened version, 1890; as The Gospel in Brief, 1896; as The Gospel According to Tolstoy, edited by David Patterson, 1992.
Tsarstvo Bozhe vnutri vas. 2 vols., 1893-94; as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, 2 vols., 1894.
Pis'ma o Genre Dzhorzhe [Letters on Henry George]. 1897.
Kristianskoe uchenie. 1898; as The Christian Teaching, 1898.
Chto takoe iskusstvo? 1898; as What Is Art?, 1898.
Rabstvo nashego vremeni. 1900; as The Slavery of Our Times, 1900.
Letters, edited by R. F. Christian. 2 vols., 1978.
Diaries, edited by R. F. Christian. 2 vols., 1985; as Tolstoy's Diaries, 1994.
Mahatma Gandhi and Tolstoy Letters, edited by B. Srinivasa Murthy. 1987.
Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence (essays). 1987.
Tolstoi for Children: Stories, Fables, Tales, Epics, edited by Anne Zwerin. 1987.
The Lion and the Honeycomb: The Religious Writings, edited by A. N. Wilson. 1987.*
"Tolstoy Studies in Great Britain: A Bibliographical Survey" by Garth M. Terry, in New Essays on Tolstoy by Malcolm Jones, 1978.
Tolstoy: His Life and Works by John C. Kenworthy, 1902; The Life of Tolstoy by Aylmer Maude, 2 vols., 1910; Tolstoy, 1946, Introduction to Tolstoy's Writings, 1968, and Tolstoy, 1973, all by Ernest H. Simmons; The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History by Isaiah Berlin, 1953; Tolstoy or Dostoevsky by George Steiner, 1959; Tolstoy's "War and Peace," 1962, and Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction, 1969, both by R. F. Christian; Tolstoy by Henri Troyat, 1965, translated by Nancy Amphoux, 1967; Tolstoy and the Novel by John Bayley, 1966; Tolstoy: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by R. E. Matlaw, 1967; Tolstoy: A Critical Anthology edited by Henry Gifford, 1971, and Tolstoy by Gifford, 1982; Tolstoy and Chekhov by Logan Spiers, 1971; Tolstoy: The Making of a Novelist by Edward Crankshaw, 1974; Tolstoy: The Comprehensive Vision by E. B. Greenwood, 1975; Tolstoy by T. G. S. Cain, 1977; Tolstoy's Major Fiction by Edward Wasiolek, 1978; New Essays on Tolstoy by Malcolm Jones, 1978; Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger by Richard F. Gustafson, 1986; Lev and Sonya: The Story of the Tolstoy Marriage by Louise Smoluchowski, 1987; Tolstoy by A. N. Wilson, 1988; Tolstoy's Pierre Bezukhov: A Psychoanalytic Study by Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, 1993; The Death of Ivan Ilich: An Interpretation by Gary R. Jahn, 1993; Tolstoy and the Genius of War and Peace by Kathryn B. Feuer, 1996; Tolstoy, Women, and Death: A Study of War and Peace and Anna Karenina by David Holbrook, 1997.* * *
Lev Tolstoi's collected works fill 90 volumes in the standard Russian edition. Considered one of Russian literature's finest stylists and a master of psychological analysis and physical description, Tolstoi also possessed great moral vision. Not content with describing the wide sweep of Russian life, he burrowed beneath the surface to find out why we act the way we do, how we should be acting, and how we should face the fact of death. He tackled the problems of religion, war, relations between the sexes, and social injustice with fierce intelligence, compassion, and biting wit. His best effects are achieved through his habit of writing in small scenes, making his points through showing rather than telling. He usually strives to present the various aspects of an issue, rather than didactically presenting only one point of view.
In his long career Tolstoi wrote three novels, Voina i mir (War and Peace), Anna Karenina, and Voskresenie (Resurrection), and several long pieces that are often considered novels, such as the trilogy Detstvo, Otrochestvo, Iunost' (Childhood, Boyhood, Youth), "Hadji Murad," and Kazaki (The Cossacks). Among his short works, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," written in the 1880s, is the best known. The stories of the 1850s already contain many of the themes that point the way to the great novels of the following two decades. From the very beginning Tolstoi's stories are marked by careful style and word choice, clever construction, and descriptions using a few vivid and telling details. He is exceptionally good at creating characters of various types and at differentiating their speech by social class and personality. Drawing on his own experience and sparing himself nothing, he bares his—and our—inmost thoughts, often disjointed, inappropriate, and contradictory. He is able to capture on paper long streams of thought, showing how the important is mixed up with the inconsequential, the noble with the trivial. Always he seeks for meaning.
Particularly successful among the early stories are the three Sebastopol tales, "Sebastopol in December," "Sebastopol in May," and "Sebastopol in August." The first story is addressed directly to "you" and is set in Sebastopol during the Crimean War, so that we experience as closely as possible the sights, sounds, and emotions in that place during the siege. We visit the living, the wounded, and the dying and experience the mingled pride, pleasure, and fear of those times. In the second story an extraordinary passage sets down the thoughts of a soldier as he is wounded and dies. In this story Tolstoi describes the horror of war and the bloodshed, and he questions why Christians don't fall down repentant at what they have done. The third story describes the feeling of shame, anger, and despair at the fall of Sebastopol. Taken together, these stories are a powerful indictment of war.
In "Sebastopol in May" Tolstoi uses contrast, one of his favorite devices, to show the difference in attitude between an eager, reckless new soldier and a cautious, more experienced soldier. In another early story, "Albert," Tolstoi uses contrast to explore the power of art (in this case, music) and the nature of genius. Tolstoi compares the weak-willed but talented artist with the pedestrian gentleman who wants to save him, to show that genius is not necessarily accompanied by high morals or by a strong personality. In "Two Hussars" the impetuous, passionate, loose-living father is seen to advantage compared to his cold son who wins money from his hostess at cards and pursues her daughter. In "Three Deaths" Tolstoi contrasts the death of a querulous rich woman with the death of a peasant, whose passing causes much less fuss. The death of a tree cut down for a grave marker, described in a stunningly beautiful passage, is the most natural and least disruptive death of all.
Even as Tolstoi delineates the differences in people, he also is interested in the idea of the oneness of humanity. He explores what cuts people off from others and what draws them together. In "Snowstorm," one of Tolstoi's most beautiful and subtle stories, a character lost in a snowstorm is led on a journey to self-knowledge by his contacts with others and by his dreams. He learns that to submit to what we fear (death) brings release from that fear, and he also learns that all humans are one.
No one is a stranger to Tolstoi, not the rich, nor peasant, nor soldier—not even animals. In "Polikushka," which details the effects forced army service has on peasant families, he features a peasant who hangs himself after accidentally losing money he was entrusted with. In "Family Happiness," a study of how married people can grow apart and of how the nature of love changes in a marriage, Tolstoi probes the woman's viewpoint. In "Strider" Tolstoi writes most of the story from the horse's viewpoint.
Among Tolstoi's later works are some didactic stories like "God Sees the Truth but Waits," which describes how a prisoner is moved to confess to an old crime and ask forgiveness of the man who was unjustly convicted for it. Another example is "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" We learn that he needs only six feet when he falls dead after greedily racing around a huge area to claim ownership.
In the period after Anna Karenina the themes of death and sex dominate several of the best-known stories. Khoziain i rabotnik (Master and Man) returns to the theme of death and the oneness of all humans. The master, lost in a snowstorm, lies down on his servant's body to keep him warm and alive. Though the master dies, he lives on because his servant survives. "The Devil," a study of the destructive force of passion, tells how a married man kills himself when he is unable to handle his attraction to a former mistress. In "Father Sergius," the character keeps his feelings under control by cutting off his finger. "Kreutzer Sonata," the most famous of these stories of passion, examines the whole concept of physical love and marriage and poses the idea that both men and women would be better off without sex. In the story the jealous husband kills his wife and only then remorsefully can see her as a fellow human.
Tolstoi examines the fundamental problems facing us as humans: how are we to live, how are we to face death, how are we to handle war and sex. His profound understanding of our myriad emotions and quirks, his joy in the beauty of the physical world, and the gracefulness of his prose, all combine to create some of the best stories in world literature.
See the essay on "The Death of Ivan Ilyich."