Leo Tolstoy

A picture of the author Leo Tolstoy

The ionic Russian author Leo Tolstoy is an artists whose complicated persona could transcend his literary work. Toward the latter half of his career he found himself ousted by the Russian Orthodox Church and watched by the secret police.

Born September 9, 1828, he underwent lifelong changes in his spiritual, artistic and political life before passing away on November 20, 1910. An acclaimed 2009 biographical film, The Last Station details the final months of the artist’s life and provides some interesting insight into Tolstoy’s final years; when as a result of his spiritual conversion, he wished to give away his money over his wife’s objections.

Leo Tolstoy was born to a noble family but his parents died while he was your and he and his siblings were raised by relatives. He proved to be a poor student and was described by his teachers as, “unable and unwilling to learn.” After running up large gambling debts he and his brother joined the army in 1851. It was about this point in time that he began to write.

His stint in the army and two tours of Europe were profound influences on his life and his work. While in Paris, in 1857, Tolstoy witnessed a public execution. With that event, the blush came off The Rose of Authority. In a letter to a friend he wrote, “The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens . . . Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere.” His later political writings, emerging as he struggled to understand the meaning of life, are cited as influences on Martin Luther King and Mahandas (aka Mahatma) Ghandi.

While abroad in 1860 - 1861 Tolstoy met Victor Hugo who had recently published Les Miserables. Hugo’s influence can be observed in Tolstoy’s epic canon, War and Peace. Many people cite the epic as the greatest novel ever written. He is known in modern circles for his deft ability to describe the unconscious motives of his characters.

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