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Count Leo Tolstoy Essay, Research Paper
Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer and moral philosopher. He was one of the world’s greatest novelists. His writings greatly influenced much of 20th-century literature, and his moral teachings helped shape the thinking of several important spiritual and political leaders.
Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy was born in 1828 into a family of aristocratic landowners at Yasnaya Polyana. His early education came from tutors at home, but after the deaths of his parents in the 1830s, his aunts raised him. He entered Kazan’ University when he was 16 but preferred to educate himself independently, and in 1847 he gave up his studies without finishing his degree.
His next 15 years were very troubled. Tolstoy returned to manage the family estate, with the determination to improve himself intellectually, morally, and physically. He wanted to better the lot of his peasant serfs. After less than two years, however, he abandoned rural life for the pleasures of Moscow. In 1851 Tolstoy traveled to the Caucasus, where his brother was serving in the army. He enlisted as a volunteer, serving with distinction in the Crimean War (1853-1856).
Tolstoy began his literary career during his army service, and his first work, the semi-autobiographical short novel Detstvo brought him praise. A series of other stories followed, and when he left the army in 1856 he was acknowledged as a rising new talent in literature. Tolstoy was never comfortable in the literary world, however, and in 1859 he returned to Yasnaya Polyana to manage the estate, set up a school for peasant children, and write about his progressive theories of education.
In 1862 Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs, the 18-year-old daughter of a Moscow physician. Married life at Yasnaya Polyana, a growing family, and his great interest in creating his finest literary work brought him stability for the next 15 years.
War and Peace in 1886, tells the story of the Pierre Bezukhov, and two aristocratic families, the Bolkonskys and the Rostovs, in the years leading up to and following French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia (1805-1815). The novel also includes an extended essay treating the question of what moves history. Here Tolstoy deflates the idea that history is made by great men such as Napoleon and argues that historical events can be understood only through the actions of extremely large numbers of ordinary people living their daily lives.
After a break of a few years, during which he turned again to educating peasant children, Tolstoy returned to literature with his second masterpiece, Anna Karenina (translated 1886). While not as huge as War and Peace, the novel still paints a broad and detailed picture of all levels of Russian life in the 1870s
While working on the later parts of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy began experiencing bouts of depression, which at times were so severe that he considered suicide. He was tormented by the need to find a meaning for his life that would not be destroyed by death.
In addition to his works of moral philosophy Tolstoy also wrote about urban poverty, aesthetics, vegetarianism, capital punishment, and the evils of alcohol. The ideas in many of these writings clashed with the dogmas of official religion (Eastern Orthodox Christianity) and were banned in Russia, but they were translated into many languages and became known around the world. Tolstoyan communities sprang up in Europe and the United States, and Yasnaya Polyana became a destination of pilgrimage for people from all walks of life.
Tolstoy eventually returned to writing fiction, but with a growing audience of less educated people in mind. Written in a simple but expressive style, they were intended to convey his idea of ethical Christianity. But he also produced powerful and refined pieces of fiction, which reflect his religious ideas.
Tolstoy himself tried to abide by his new beliefs, simplifying his life, living on his own labor, and giving up material possessions. His wife, however, did not share all of his beliefs, and their marriage suffered under severe strain during their last years together. The relations between them had grown so tense that Tolstoy decided to leave home for good. He contracted pneumonia while traveling and died at the small railway station of Astapovo in November 1910.
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