Childhood, Boyhood, Youth Summary
by Leo Tolstoy

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Childhood, Boyhood, Youth Summary

Tolstoy divides Childhood, Boyhood, Youth into three parts: childhood, boyhood, and youth. Each part is narrated by the main character, Nikolai, and tells the story of his early years from his upbringing on his family estate to his university education in Moscow.

Nikolai portrays himself as a shy, sensitive child who is constantly trying to improve himself. The first chapter of this book is set on the family estate where Nikolai lives with his parents, his brother and sister, family servants (including a tutor(, and serfs. This section doesn't have much of a story. It mostly describes scenes in Nikolai's childhood and the relationships he has with people such as his father, whom he describes as

A man of the past age, and had the indefinable character common among those who were young then: a compound of chivalry, enterprise, self-confidence, amiability, and licentiousness.

At the end of the first chapter, Nikolai experiences the first major and tragic event of his life when his mother dies in "great agony."

Nikolai moves into boyhood with "painful memories" but a better understanding of the world. This is characterized by the opening chapter, where he leaves his estate for Moscow and on the way sees the poverty of villagers and beggars and begins to comprehend the difference between the wealth of his family and the poverty of friends such as Katya. At the end of the section, he has developed a close friendship with Dmitri Nekhyudov, which seems to largely involve putting right the world's wrongs.

We discussed future life, art, government service, marriage and the education of children, and it never entered our heads that all we said was most awful nonsense. This did not occur to us because the nonsense we talked was clever and pleasing nonsense and in youth we still value intellect and believe in it.

In the "Youth" section, Nikolai starts to develop his own set of morals and ideas on how to live life, which he expresses in his "Rules of Life" book. Despite the increasing presence of religion in his life, he starts to find it difficult to maintain his ideals when his father remarries and Nikolai begins to fail at university. The book finishes with Nikolai resolving to rewrite his "Rules of Life" book.

Summary

(Essentials of European Literature)

Childhood, Boyhood, Youth make up the three completed parts of a projected four-part sequence that was Leo Tolstoy’s first writing. One would suppose that with a novelist who generally used a certain amount of autobiography, these first works, which appear in the form of an autobiography (using a first-person narrator), would be the bases for studying his other work; but they have been neglected, and if anyone is to blame, it is Tolstoy himself, who later in life rejected them for their false sentimentality. This is a pity, for, though the young man of the third volume is undoubtedly sentimental, the first two volumes show such a natural development of the character that his feelings seem natural, not only to himself but also to all youth. This description of a particular childhood, boyhood, and youth has sufficient universal relevance to make it worth reading as a tender and real portrait of growing up anywhere and at any time.

The three completed parts of the “Four Epochs of Growth,” the tentative title for the projected four, are of different lengths, with the first two amounting to slightly more than the third part, Youth, the longest of the three. Each section is structured around a chapter bearing the title of that part. Chapter 15 (of twenty-eight chapters) of Childhood is entitled “Childhood,” chapter 19 of the second part is “Boyhood,” and chapter 32 (of forty-five chapters in the third part) is titled “Youth.” These central chapters indicate not only the careful organization of each part but also the steady development of the central character in the flow of interconnected events which make up the narrative. The interconnections (for example, in the reappearance of characters like Sonya or visits to the country) are...

(The entire section is 1,538 words.)