Religious and Philosophical Writings
(Full name Count Leo [Lev Nikolaevich] Tolstoy. Also transliterated as Lyof; also Nikolayevich; also Tolstoi, Tolstoj, Tolstoï). Russian novelist, short story and novella writer, essayist, dramatist, and critic. See also Smert Ivana Ilyicha Criticism, The Kreutzer Sonata Criticism, and Khozyain I rabotnik Criticism.
Tolstoy is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in the history of world literature. His Voina i mir (War and Peace) and Anna Karenina are almost universally acknowledged as all-encompassing documents of human existence and supreme examples of the realistic novel. Tolstoy is also considered a major religious and philosophic thinker, germs of which can be seen in his earlier fiction, but which ultimately came to fruition after the spiritual crisis he underwent beginning with deep depression in 1875. Characterized chiefly by his devotion to a close and literal reading of the Gospels of Christ, Tolstoy's religious convictions led him to a life of personal asceticism and social action that influenced Christian thinking around the world, and had a major impact on the thought and works of such social activists as Mohandas K. Gandhi in India and Jane Addams in the United States.
Tolstoy was born in 1828 to a wealthy family who resided just outside of Moscow. After his mother died in 1830 and his father in 1837, Tolstoy's upbringing and education fell into the hands of relatives, who hired private tutors for him. In 1844 he entered Kazan University, but failed to earn a degree. He returned to the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in 1847 to manage the affairs there. Dissatisfied, Tolstoy joined the army in 1851, seeing active service in the Caucasus and in the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, which he later wrote about in his Sevastopolskiye rasskazy (Sevastopol Sketches). While in the army, Tolstoy began to write and publish fiction, which met with much success. He left the army in 1856 and traveled through Europe before returning to Yasnaya Polyana, where he lived for the rest of his life. At this point, he became interested in social reform, focusing his efforts on educational and philanthropic work with the peasants around his estate. In 1862 he married Sonya Andreyevna Behrs, and began working on his two greatest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Beginning around 1875, Tolstoy was plagued by depression and an obsession with death that lasted until his final spiritual crisis-a "conversion" to the orthodoxy of his youth-in 1878. Concentrating for the next several years on intensive study of theology and the Christian scriptures, Tolstoy developed his own interpretation of Christianity based on an ethical foundation of universal love and brotherhood, which eventually led to his renunciation of the aristocratic lifestyle. Rather than enter the secluded monastic life he admired, Tolstoy chose to remain at his estate and devote himself to public service, wearing peasants' clothing, doing manual labor, and practicing a strict regimen of pacifism, vegetarianism, and sexual abstinence. He turned away from writing the kind of novels that had won him worldwide fame and concentrated instead on writing philosophical and religious works, many designed to educate the masses. While several of Tolstoy's thirteen children sympathized with him, his spiritual rigor created tension in the family, especially with his wife. Government harassment and excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901 increased tensions in the family, and Tolstoy found that by 1905 his stance of pacifism and nonresistance were running counter to the realities of poverty and government-sanctioned slaughter of early Russian revolutionaries, many of them strongly influenced by Tolstoy's own banned writings. Beset by family problems, and overwhelmed by the responsibility of upholding his teachings in the face of massive social upheaval, Tolstoy fled from his home in 1910, dying in a railway station in Astapovo.
In Ispoved (A Confession), Tolstoy outlined the spiritual upheaval that caused him to question the basis of his existence. The piece is considered among the great literary works of personal conversion that include St. Augustine's Confession and Rousseau's Confessions. Tolstoy's attempt at a solution to this crisis took the form of a radical Christianity whose doctrines ultimately included pacifism, vegetarianism, and sexual abstinence. At this point in his career, Tolstoy was concerned with producing two types of fiction: simple tales written in a folk tradition for uneducated readers and more literary works focusing on his moral preoccupations of this period. The folktales, such as "Brazhe iepko, a bozhe krepko" ("Evil Allures but Good Endures"), were designed as examples of "universal art" and have often been praised for delivering their didactic point in an artful manner. Much the same estimation has been accorded Tolstoy's literary fiction of this time, including Smert Ivana Ilyicha (The Death of Ivan Ilitch) and Kreitserova sonata (The Kreutzer Sonata). If the moral stance of these fictional tracts on death and sex has been criticized as simplistic or severe, the two works have also been considered among the best examples of Tolstoy's art of storytelling. However, Tolstoy's longest work of his post-conversion period and his last major novel, Voskresenie (Resurrection), is considered far less successful than his early masterpieces. Although Tolstoy's genius for description and characterization are still evident in this work, the intrusion of social and moral issues is regarded as detrimental to the novel's artistic value. Among the later novels, Khadzhi Murat (Hadji Murad) is more often viewed as the work that shows the extent and endurance of Tolstoy's narrative power. During his later period Tolstoy also produced a number of dramatic works in an attempt to express his post-conversion ideas in a genre outside fiction. Like many of his other works, these dramas are often highly regarded for their vivid and compelling sense of realism, and for the sincere and sometimes overwhelming urgency of the author's concerns. The chief work among these plays is Vlast tmy (The Power of Darkness). The somber action of the drama-including adultery, murder, and religious torment-culminates in the redeeming vision of Christian faith that was a spiritual focus of the older Tolstoy. In the social comedy Plody prosvesh cheniya (The Fruits of Enlightenment), the object of Tolstoy's criticism is aristocratic society, and in the unfinished drama I svet vo tme svetit (The Light That Shines in Darkness), it is the author's own life. The latter play is of particular interest for Tolstoy's view of his sprirtual conversion and its effect on the people around him. The artistic repercussions of his conversion are spelled out in Chto takoe iskusstvo (What Is Art?). The major concern of this essay is to distinguish bogus art, which he called an elitist celebration of aesthetics, from universal art, which successfully "infects" its recipient with the highest sentiment an artist can transmit-that of religious feeling. This conception of art led Tolstoy to dismiss most of history's greatest artists, including William Shakespeare and Richard Wagner, and to repudiate all of his own previous work save for two short stories. During this period Tolstoy also wrote his many moral and theological tracts, for which he was eventually excommunicated. His pamphleteering on social, political, and economic subjects also resulted in the censorship of his work by the government.
As a religious and ethical thinker Tolstoy has been criticized for the extremism, and sometimes the absurdity, of his ideas. Many critics have also found it difficult to reconcile Tolstoy's lifestyle with his profession of such an extreme ethical code. Tolstoy himself was acutely aware of the contradiction between his aristocratic upbringing and his later renunciation of elitism, and some critics have speculated that this is the reason for his doctrine of often excessive asceticism. However, he has also been admired for the gigantism of his ambition to discover absolute laws governing humanity's ethical and spiritual obligations amid the psychological and social complexities of the world. Whatever form Tolstoy's doctrines took, they were always founded on his expansive humanitarianism and based on one of the most intensive quests for wisdom in human history. Although Tolstoy ultimately believed that art should serve a religious and ethical code, he himself serves primarily as a model of the consummate artist, and his greatest works are exemplary of the nature and traditions of modern literature.
Detstvo [Childhood] (novel) 1852
Otrochestvo [Boyhood] (novel) 1854
Sevastopolskiye rasskazy [Sevastopol Sketches]. 2 vols. (sketches) 1855-56
Yunost [Youth] (novel) 1857
Semeinoe schaste [Family Happiness] (novel) 1859
Kazaki [The Cossacks] (novel) 1863
Polikushka (novel) 1863
Voina i mir [War and Peace] (novel) 1869
Anna Karenina (novel) 1877
Ispoved [A Confession] (essay) 1882
V chiom moya vera [What I Believe] (essay) 1884
Smert Ivana Ilyicha [The Death of Ivan Ilitch] (novella) 1886
Vlast tmy [The Power of Darkness] (drama) 1888
Plody prosvesh cheniya [The Fruits of Enlightment] (drama) 1889
Kreitserova sonata [The Kreutzer Sonata] (novella) 1890
Khozyain i rabotnik [Master and Man] (novella) 1895
Chto takoe iskusstvo [What Is Art?] (essay) 1898
Otetz sergii [Father Sergius] (novella) 1898
The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi. 22 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, dramas, essays, and sketches) 1899-1902
Voskresenie [Resurrection] (novel) 1899...
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SOURCE: "The Confession of Count Tolstoi," in The Dial, Vol. 8, No. 90, October, 1887, pp. 125-27.
[In the following review of Confession, Hubbard praises Tolstoy's genuine religious faith and honesty, but laments that his religious epiphany may have cut short his career as a fiction writer.]
The inner history of any strong personal experience is instructive; more deeply so when it is that of a man of ardent feeling, of earnest aspiration, and fine intellect. The life of Count Tolstoi, as it has been revealed in his writings, has excited universal interest. His genius was first made known through his earlier works of fiction; and immediately upon the enthusiasm which this created there came intimations of curiously eccentric conduct induced largely by intense and peculiar religious convictions. The novelist's own account of the singular tenets which have become the rule of his life, cutting short, as it is judged, a brilliant literary career, is given in the volume entitled My Religion. A supplement to this work—or, more properly speaking, the prelude to it—now appears under the title of My Confession. It was written in 1879, and in the right order of sequence should precede the book which it follows as an appendix. It is the simple avowal of a heart utterly intent on the service of truth and unmindful of the praise or censure of men.
Count Tolstoï was...
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SOURCE: "Count Leo Tolstoi," in The Forum, Vol. VI, No. 2, October, 1888, pp. 109-24.
[In the following essay, Farrar assesses Tolstoy's religious convictions as sincere and worthy of consideration, but believes Tolstoy exaggerated the degree to which the Christian world has misinterpreted its own fundamental tenets.]
There are men who make a deeper impression upon their contemporaries by the force or charm of their personality than by their genius or other gifts; and such a man is Count Leo Tolstoi, though his genius and his gifts are undeniable. He has written much and well; yet his extraordinary popularity, not only in Russia but in France, England, and other countries, cannot be accounted for only by the excellence of his writings. It is especially during the last few years that he has attracted an unusual amount of interest and attention, and this has been due in large measure to that revolution in his views, aims, and character to which the religious world gives the name of "conversion." Of this inward revolution he has, in various forms, published an account, and he has proved the depth of his sincerity by a total change in his manner of life. The realistic novelist has become a religious reformer. He now makes it his one aim to prove to the Christian world that, partly through ignorance, but more from insincerity, it has entirely mistaken the character and travestied the institutions of the faith...
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SOURCE: "Count Leo Tolstoi," in Social and Present Day Questions, Bradley & Woodruff, 1891, pp. 343-54.
[In the following essay, Farrar examines the events leading up to Tolstoy's religious conversion.]
But few men have ventured to publish to the world the full confession of their inmost lives, to lay bare to the gaze of millions the naked heart as it lies open before the eyes of God. It is right that there should have been this reluctance. Reserve and the dignity of reticence are bulwarks which God Himself has reared in our being, and no one with impunity can break them down. The sacredness of our individuality is the awful solitude into which no human foot should intrude, and in that holy solitude we are alone with God. Whatever good may have been done by the confessions of the few who have torn away the veils woven by nature, it is doubtful whether there may not have been a deeper harm. There have been partial confessions, like Bunyan's "Grace Abounding" and Goethe's "Truth and Poetry." But two names stand out conspicuous, and almost alone, as those of men who have told to the world the utter truth about themselves: they are the names of St. Augustine and Rousseau.
St. Augustine has told us of his stormy and unhallowed youth; of the dreary period of his Manichean heresy; of the dishonourable bonds in which he was long fettered; of the turbulent passions with which he did not...
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SOURCE: "Tolstoy," in My Literary Passions, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1895, pp. 250-58.
[Howells was an American novelist and essayist. In the following essay, he discusses the influence of Tolstoy's religious and philosophical writings on his own works and thought.]
I come now, though not quite in the order of time, to the noblest of all these enthusiasms, namely, my devotion for the writings of Lyof Tolstoy. I should wish to speak of him with his own incomparable truth, yet I do not know how to give a notion of his influence without the effect of exaggeration. As much as one merely human being can help another I believe that he has helped me; he has not influenced me in aesthetics only, but in ethics, too, so that I can never again see life in the way I saw it before I knew him. Tolstoy awakens in his reader the will to be a man; not effectively, not spectacularly, but simply, really. He leads you back to the only true ideal, away from that false standard of the gentleman, to the Man who sought not to be distinguished from other men, but identified with them, to that Presence in which the finest gentleman shows his alloy of vanity, and the greatest genius shrinks to the measure of his miserable egotism. I learned from Tolstoy to try character and motive by no other test, and though I am perpetually false to that sublime ideal myself, still the ideal remains with me, to make me ashamed that I am...
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SOURCE: "Tolstoy's Teaching," in Tolstoy and His Problems, Grant Richards, 1902, pp. 25-36.
[In the following essay, Maude provides an overview of Tolstoy's religious and philosophical works.]
From his boyhood upwards, both when he listened to the still, small voice within, and when he observed things outside himself, Tolstoy felt, though not always with equal clearness, that life has a meaning and that man has power to progress towards what is good. The intervals of doubt and hesitation through which he passed, served to clarify and shape his certainty that morality is in the nature of things. Beginning with his earliest stories, and through all his writings, the reader may notice how Tolstoy's strenuous observation of things around him, and especially of what went on in his own consciousness, led him towards an understanding of life different from that of people whose creed is a matter of geography, and who have not worked at it themselves. He could not be content with a second-hand belief prepared and expressed for him by professional expounders.
In trying to give a brief outline of his present views, it will be convenient to confine the survey to works written since Anna Karénina was finished—say since 1878. And no more will here be attempted than to mention the chief subjects he has written about during the last twenty-five years, and to give a rough sketch of certain...
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SOURCE: "The Sick Soul," in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Longmans, Green and Co., 1902, pp. 149-57.
[James was an American philosopher best known for his philosophy of pragmatism. In the following essay, he examines the emotional crisis that led to Tolstoy's revelations as recounted in his Confession.]
Tolstoy has left us, in his book called My Confession, a wonderful account of the attack of melancholy which led him to his own religious conclusions. The latter in some respects are peculiar; but the melancholy presents two characters which make it a typical document for our present purpose. First it is a well-marked case of anhedonia, of passive loss of appetite for all life's values; and second, it shows how the altered and estranged aspect which the world assumed in consequence of this stimulated Tolstoy's intellect to a gnawing, carking questioning and effort for philosophic relief. I mean to quote Tolstoy at some length; but before doing so, I will make a general remark on each of these two points.
First on our spiritual judgments and the sense of value in general.
It is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional comments, since the same fact will inspire entirely different feelings in different persons, and at different times in the same person; and there is no rationally deducible connection between any...
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SOURCE: "Tolstoi as Prophet," in Gospels of Anarchy and Other Contemporary Studies, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908, pp. 105-31.
[In the following essay, Lee examines the major tenets of Tolstoy's philosophy and the ways in which it exemplifies his asceticism.]
In his religious and philosophical writings, Count Tolstoi would seem to represent the prophetic temperament in such incarnation as is likely to become the commonest, indeed perhaps the only possible, one in the near future. For, in the gradual disruption of dogmatic creeds, the man born to the prophetic quality and function tends more and more to be a heretic and an anarchist; to practise an exegesis backed by no authority; and to benefit or harass mankind, to exhibit to mankind the spectacle of prophecy, more and more obviously without any inspiration save the unquestioned one of his own individual constitution. The Prophet, being a type of humanity, represents certain impulses for good and evil existing in numbers of his fellow-creatures, is infact a specimen of a human force of the universe; and he not only displays in crudest isolation special tendencies making for life's greater fruitfulness or sterility, but also directs the scathing light of almost monomaniacal perception on matters which the average routine of existence neglects to our disadvantage. The Prophet is useful as a teacher; but still more useful as a lesson. It is in this double capacity...
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SOURCE: "Tolstoy's Confessions," in Pilgrims of the Lonely Road, Books for Libraries Press, Inc., 1913, pp. 281-334.
[In the following essay, Atkins provides a biographical and critical analysis of Tolstoy's Confession.]
The choice of some one representative figure in whom these studies may terminate is a wholly debatable matter. We are far, far past the time when any one man is great enough to speak for his entire age. We are in the midst of a smothering spiritual confusion and may indeed doubt whether any one will ever be able to speak for long periods and vast movements as Dante spoke for the mediaeval mind, Bunyan for the Puritan, or the Imitation of Christ for monastic gentleness and devotion. If we were considering solely the literature of lonely confession without reference to the fructifying and transforming influence of such confession we might well end with Amiel, for without doubt the Journal Intime of Amiel is, in the range, delicacy and haunting wonder of it, one of the very greatest of confessions. In its literary charm it stands quite apart and it is, moreover, a true revelation of a temper wholly distinctive of our own time. It voicesour own new sense of the wonder and mystery of life.
We have shifted our sense of emphasis: life is no longer secondary; it is supreme. We do not subordinate it to theologies, we are unwilling to postpone its consummations and...
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SOURCE: "The Root of Religion," in The Sackbut, Vol. VII, No. II, June, 1927, pp. 314-16.
[In the following essay, Maude briefly discusses the impact of Tolstoy's Confession immediately following the book's publication.]
Few books have created so much surprise when they were produced, or influenced so wide a circle the world over, as Tolstoy's Confession. The reason of this was threefold.
First, the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina frankly exposed to every one the workings of his reason and conscience and the motives actuating his life in the past and in the present. This autobiographical interest by itself sufficed to secure widespread attention for the work.
Secondly, the book showed that the author's power of infecting his readers with his feelings operated as powerfully when he wrote of fundamental problems as it had done when he wrote fiction, and critics who began by bewailing that the 'great writer of our Russian land' was 'abandoning art', had gradually to realize that Tolstoy did not cease to be an artist when he had a weighty message to convey, and that the world then listened to his message more eagerly than ever.
Thirdly, Tolstoy was an exceptionally thoughtful writer, and he tackled basic problems with a childlike simplicity and as though no one had ever dealt with them before. He wrestled with them...
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SOURCE: "Tolstoy," in The Dial, Vol. 85, December, 1928, pp. 453-57.
[Mann was a German novelist and short story writer. In the following essay, he records his impressions of Tolstoy's philosophy.]
He had the stature of the nineteenth century, this giant, who bore epic burdens, under which our quick-breathing and more fragile generation would sink. How great was this period, in all its sombreness, its materialism, its scientific inflexibility and asceticism; how great was that race of writers to which Tolstoy belonged, whose creations dominate the five decades before 1900. Does any cosmic insight that we may have, or are beginning to have, does our yet timid dream of a gladder and more confident humanity, justify us in underestimating, as is now our habit, that earlier time; since after all it would be difficult to deny that from the moral stand-point we have fallen far below its level? In striking contrast with it, our detachment and complacent undervaluing of thought and human dignity would not have been tolerated by the "fatalistic" nineteenth century; and while the war was raging, I often reflected that it would not have had the temerity to break out if in 1914 the sharp penetrating grey eyes of the old man of Yasnaya Polyana had still been upon us. A childish thought, perhaps. At any rate, history had ordained it; he was gone and left no one like him. The reins of Europe fell slack with no hand to...
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SOURCE: "The Testimony of Tolstoy," in Poets and Pundits: Essays and Addresses, Jonathan Cape, 1947, pp. 13-30.
[In the following essay, Fausset examines evidence of Tolstoy's philosophical convictions in his fiction.]
During the War a writer in a Sunday paper declared that 'we're all Tolstoyans now'. He was referring, of course, to the carefully expurgated Tolstoy whose novel War and Peace had been broadcast, and not to the Tolstoy who denounced the barbarity of war and preached the way of peace. But the real Tolstoy can no more be contained in the pocket of the doctrinaire pacifist than in the clever hands of the propagandist exploiting the historical parallels between Napoleon's and Hitler's invasion of Russia.
The title which he gave to his great novel, he might have given to his own life. It was a life in which peace had to be incessantly won from war, which is to say that he was deeply rooted in human existence. So, to understand his views on anything, those views which he strove to define in his later didactic works, we need to know what he was, the forces and ideas which possessed him and which he struggled to reconcile in himself, and something even less definable than this, something which we can only experience in the astonishing sweep and simplicity and naturalness of his writing, when we do not try to explain it.
For great as was Tolstoy's reasoning...
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SOURCE: "Tolstoy: The Green Twig and the Black Trunk," in Image and Idea: Fourteen Essays on Literary Themes, New Directions, 1949, pp. 71-85.
[In the following essay, Rahv assesses existentialism in Tolstoy's works, noting that Tolstoy was "the last of the unalienated artists. "]
The art of Tolstoy is of such irresistible simplicity and truth, is at once so intense and so transparent in all of its effects, that the need is seldom felt to analyze the means by which it becomes what it is, that is to say, its method or sum of techniques. In the bracing Tolstoyan air, the critic, however addicted to analysis, cannot help doubting his own task, sensing that there is something presumptuous and even unnatural, which requires an almost artificial deliberateness of intention, in the attempt to dissect an art so wonderfully integrated that, coming under its sway, we grasp it as a whole long before we are able to summon sufficient consciousness to examine the arrangement and interaction of its component parts.
Tolstoy is the exact opposite of those writers, typical of the modern age, whose works are to be understood only in terms of their creative strategies and design. The most self-observant of men, whose books are scarcely conceivable apart from the ceaseless introspection of which they are the embodiment, Tolstoy was least self-conscious in his use of the literary medium. That ischiefly...
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SOURCE: "A Portrait of Tolstoy as Alceste," in The Phoenix and The Spider: A Book of Essays about Some Russian Writers and Their View of the Self, Harvard University Press, 1957, pp. 49-108.
[In the following essay, Poggioli compares Tolstoy's character and philosophical views with those of the character Alceste in Molière's play The Misanthrope.]
It is well known that George Orwell drew a parallel between Tolstoy in his old age and King Lear. He did so in a brilliant essay, where he tried to explain the motives that led the Russian writer to single out King Lear in his indiscriminate indictment of the Bard.1 According to Orwell, Tolstoy's extreme dislike for the story of King Lear was due to its strange similarity to the history of his own life:
There is a general resemblance which one can hardly avoid seeing, because the most impressive event in Tolstoy's life, as in Lear's, was a huge and gratuitous act of renunciation. . . . But the deeper resemblance lies in the fact that Tolstoy, like Lear, acted on mistaken motives and failed to get the results he had hoped for. . . . Tolstoy renounced the world under the expectation that this would make him happier. But if there is one thing certain about his later years, it is that he was not happy. On the contrary, he was driven almost to the edge of madness by the...
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SOURCE: "The Religious Tragedy of Tolstoy," in The Russian Review, Vol. 19, No. 2, April, 1960, pp. 157-70.
[In the following essay, Stepun discusses the effects of religious conversion on Tolstoy's personal life.]
Anyone undertaking a discussion of Tolstoy should bear in mind the words of his wife, who eight years after his death, said to one of his biographers: "For forty-eight years I lived by the side of Lev Nikolaevich and to this day do not know what sort of person he was." The enigmatic character of the great novelist, religious thinker, and social reformer may principally be explained through the bewildering number of contradictions in his nature and by his untoward tendency to make dogmatic generalizations about his multifarious probings into the spheres of life and the human spirit. It would be simple to extract characteristic quotations from his many writings and to group them in such a way that they could give completely different portraits—each one resembling the great man yet each mutually irreconcilable.
The two-fold fame of Tolstoy, the fame of an artist and that of a "social prophet," as he was often called, was unique in his own time. During his lifetime there were few relatively cultivated persons who did not know of his Christianity that deprecated culture, and spurned the State, the judiciary, and private property. Not only in Europe, but all over the world his...
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SOURCE: "Suicide and Sacrifice in Tolstoy's Ethics," in The Russian Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, April, 1963, pp. 157-67.
[In the following essay, Spence argues that at the time of his conversion, Tolstoy was caughtbetween the extremes of suicide and asceticism to resolve his existential dilemmas.]
Tolstoy's ideals of non-resistance and of complete celibacy are both derived from the same two beliefs, one of which is positive—that God exists; and the other negative—that we need to renounce the welfare of the personality.1 He himself had already renounced the welfare of his personality before he came to believe in God (he was going to kill himself), and this fact is fundamental to his understanding of Christianity and his formulation of an ethical code. For this code, when expressed in a concrete form applicable to life, is negative. The five commandments of the Sermon on the Mount, which for him constitute the essence of Christ's teaching, he interprets negatively: "Do not be angry, do not lust, do not take oaths, do not go to law, do not fight." According to him, only a man anxious for his own personal welfare or for that of those he loved would seek to justify himself in breaking any of these rules. For a man who recognizes the impossibility of individual happiness, and who knows that the pursuit of it merely causes further suffering to oneself and others, it is illogical to break them....
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SOURCE: "Count Leo Tolstoy," in Autobiographies of Ten Religious Leaders: Alternatives in Christian Experience, Trinity University Press, 1968, pp. 201-29.
[In the following essay, Tsanoff considers Tolstoy as a significant Christian leader in twentieth-century thought.]
The conventional, the ordinary, produces slight impression on us, nor do we feel drawn towards the entirely respectable; but the unusual personality is likely to engage our attention, especially if it is in some ways negative. Men have repeatedly been stirred by those who have defied "the establishment." The sophisticated days of Athenian culture and Corinthian luxury were just right for Diogenes of Sinope. He spat at the Hellenic amenities as artificial barriers to unbound self-expression. Spurning all social honor and conformity as empty, he found his satisfaction in suiting his own passing mood, fareing on garlic and lodging in his proverbial tub. Yet he commanded the respect of those whose proprieties he scorned. Even so the rich sensuous Florentines of the Renaissance were gripped by the scathing sermons of Savonarola. The formal conventional eighteenth century was similarly shocked and engrossed by Rousseau's romantic plea for a return to primitive nature. Coming closer home, we may note the spreading renown of Thoreau, who shrugged off New England respectabilities, to worship the Goddess of Sincerity and live his own simple life...
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SOURCE: "Religious, Moral, and Didactic Writings," in Introduction to Tolstoy's Writings, The University of Chicago Press, 1968, pp. 94-117.
[In the following essay, Simmons presents an overview of Tolstoy's philosophical writings.]
When Leo Tolstoy and his three brothers were children they used to play a game which had been started by the oldest, the eleven-year-old Nicholas. He possessed a wonderful secret that would make all men happy, he told them, and he had written it on a little green stick which he had buried at a certain spot by the edge of the road in the Zakaz Forest near their house at Yasnaya Polyana. By performing special tasks, his younger brothers would one day learn the secret. Huddled together in a shelter made of boxes and chairs covered with shawls, the children would talk fervently about the mysterious secret written on the green stick. When it became generally known, they decided, it would bring about a Golden Age on earth. There would be no more sickness, no human misery, no anger, and all would love one another.
Tolstoy never forgot this childhood game which may be said to mark the beginning of his lifelong quest for the secret of earthly happiness. That is, the search did not begin, as is commonly supposed, at the time of his intense spiritual experience at the age of fifty. Throughout his early years and during the period of writing...
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SOURCE: "On the Poetics of Tolstoj's Confession," in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 19, No. 3, Fall, 1975, pp. 276-87.
[In the following essay, Matual discusses the structure and form of the Confession in terms of classical poetics.]
In its final form the Confession was intended as an introduction to Tolstoj's polemical treatise on Orthodox dogmatic theology (Issledovanie dogmati eskogo bogoslovija (1879-80). These two works together with his translation of the gospels (Soedinenie i perevod etyrex evangelij) and the systematic exposition of his new faith (V em moja vera?) represented his major statements on the religious questions which were to pre-occupy him for the rest of his life. As religious literature the Confession found both defenders and assailants; but those critics who were indifferent to the religious crisis it depicts either understated its value or attempted to demonstrate its relevance to the pressing social issues of the day. With few exceptions this trend has continued to our own time.1 While acknowledging the importance and even the beauty of the Confession, critics have generally failed to deal meaningfully with its purely artistic features. Although it was conceived as a preface to the later religious writings, its character is not exclusively functional or "cognitive," as even the most cursory reading will...
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SOURCE: "Tolstoy Versus Dostoevsky," in Existentialism, Religion, and Death: Thirteen Essays, New American Library, 1976, pp. 15-27.
[In the following essay, Kaufmann contrasts the political and philosophical views of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.]
It is customary to think of Tolstoy as a very great novelist who wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but who then became immersed in religion and wrote tracts. His later concerns are generally deplored, and many readers and writers wish that instead he might have written another novel of the caliber of his masterpieces. A very few of his later works are excepted: chief among these is The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, which is acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of world literature. And some of those who have read the less well-known fable, How Much Land Does a Man Need? have said that it may well be the greatest short story ever written. But these are stories. Such direct communications as My Religion, with their unmistakable and inescapable challenge, one prefers to escape by not reading them. This makes it likely that most admirers of the stories, and even of Anna Karenina, come nowhere near understanding these works—a point amply borne out by the disquisitions of literary critics.
Lionel Trilling, as perceptive a critic as we have, has said that "every object . . . in...
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SOURCE: "The Religious Crisis: A Confession," in Tolstoy, Paul Elek Ltd., 1977, pp. 124-36.
[In the following essay, Cain contends that a biographical reading of Tolstoy's Confession is key to understanding him as a historical figure.]
During the years in which he was working on the later books of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy entered on what was to prove the most profound, the most sustained and the most agonising spiritual crisis of his life. The questions which tormented him were not new: they were the problems of how and why he should live which had troubled him throughout his adult life, and which directly or indirectly had entered into everything he had written up to this point. It was in these years of the late 1870s, though, that the problems intensified for him in such a way that they demanded some more definite answer than he had been able to give before. The final mysteries of life and death had now to give way before the remorseless, rationalist urge to see things clearly and see them whole. To surrender to the stream of life, to say 'you cannot understand the meaning of life, so don't think about it but live', was no longer enough: the meaning of life, and above all of death, had to be accounted for once and for all. A Confession, begun in 1879, was the first and by far the most powerful of a sequence of books and pamphlets in which Tolstoy tried to forge for himself a...
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SOURCE: "Experience versus the Intellect: Tolstoy," in Man and Society in Nineteenth-Century Realism: Determinism and Literature, Rowman and Littlefield, 1977, pp. 111-20.
[In the following essay, Larkin examines how Tolstoy's beliefs influenced his use of literary realism.]
TOLSTOY AND THE HUMAN CONDITION
Tolstoy sits uneasily in any assemblage of Realists. He despised much of the mainstream of western intellectual thought, and his recipe for living was directly at odds with it. But for all that, he lived in a milieu that was influenced by western determinism; and the problems it raised are a recurring feature of his books.
His interior life was one of conflict: a continuous struggle between what his reason told him was the truth about life, and what his experience and emotions told him life could be like if properly lived. This struggle partly corresponded to the two main streams in his cultural formation: the traditional attitudes of rural Russia and the western legacy of the French Enlightenment. It was in fact an individual reflection of the great debate between Westerners and Slavophils that was dividing educated Russian society as a whole. But whereas most writers were, like Turgenev, drawn to one side or the other, the battle in Tolstoy's case continued within him.
Conflict characterised the whole spectrum of his attitudes. In Henri...
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SOURCE: "The Movement of Faith as Revealed in Tolstoi's Confession," in Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 74, Nos. 3-4, July-October, 1978, pp. 227-43.
[In the following essay, Patterson presents an analysis of the steps through which Tolstoy moved in his religious conversion, as outlined in his Confession.]
Tolstoi's Confession is the story of the spiritual crisis which its author experienced during the late 1870s, when the man who had written War and Peace and Anna Karenina came to believe that he had accomplished nothing in life, that his life was meaningless. Although there are parallels between the torments of Levin in Anna Karenina and Tolstoi's own conflicts in the Confession, the latter piece was written in 1879, two years after the publication of the former, and represents a more developed reflection on "the problem of life." As I shall argue in this article, the resolution of the crisis related in Tolstoi's Confession comes in a movement of faith which emerges as the fourth aspect of a four-dimensional change or metamorphosis withinthe individual. The four dimensions of the metamorphosis may be described as (1) the encounter with death, (2) the onset of despair, (3) the struggle for possibility, and (4) the movement of faith. Let us now see how an analysis of the movement of faith as revealed in Tolstoi's Confession may be rendered in these...
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SOURCE: "The Confession as Subtext in The Death of Ivan Wich," in The International Fiction Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer, 1981, pp. 124-28.
[In the following essay, Matual argues that the experiences of Ivan Ilitch in The Death of Ivan Ilitch are a fictional parallel to Tolstoy's spiritual crisis in his Confession.]
In the late 1870's, Leo Tolstoy experienced a dramatic spiritual transformation as a result of which he devoted himself almost exclusively to the writing of such religious treatises as The Confession, An Investigation of Dogmatic Theology, and A Union and Translation of the Four Gospels. Although his faith and the works that stemmed from it gave him great joy and satisfaction, they created considerable dissension in the Tolstoy household. His wife Sofia Andreevna, frequently complained that her husband's scholarly pursuits were ruining his health, introducing an alien and unwanted element into their domestic life, and incurring the wrath of the authorities both ecclesiastic and civil. Against this background of protest Tolstoy completed The Death of Ivan Il'ich in 1886. As a work of fiction and consequently a radical break with his theological preoccupations, it was meant to be a concession to his long-suffering wife. Sofia Andreevna was quite pleased.1 Yet she failed to notice that The Death of Ivan Il'ich is thematically and even...
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Egan, David R., and Melinda A. Egan. Leo Tolstoy: An Annotated Bibliography of English-Language Sources to 1978. Metuchen, N.J. and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1979, 267 p.
Contains a section devoted to secondary sources on Tolstoy's religious and philosophical writings.
Christian, R. F. "'Confession' and 'Resurrection'," in Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction, pp. 212-29. Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1969.
Contends that Tolstoy's religious conversion occurred gradually over many years and is evident in works as early as his Childhood.
Clive, Geoffrey. "Tolstoy and the Varieties of the Inauthentic," in The Broken Icon: Intuitive Existentialism in Classical Russian Fiction, pp. 86-127. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972.
Examines Tolstoy's existential leanings.
Edie, James M.; James P. Scanlan; and Mary-Barbara Zeldin, eds. "Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy," in Russian Philosophy, Vol. II: The Nihilists, The Populists, Critics of Religion and Culture, pp. 208-212. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965.
Provides a brief overview of Tolstoy's religious conversion, as well as an introduction to Tolstoy's The Law of Violence and the Law of Love.
Greenwood, E. B. Tolstoy: The Comprehensive...
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