Leo Tolstoy

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Count Leo Tolstoy (1818-1910)

Tolstoy is perhaps the greatest writer of prose fiction, and his pièce de résistance, War and Peace, is hailed as perhaps the greatest novel written.  Certainly, he and Dostoyevsky are the two most acclaimed Russian writers.  A prolific writer and father (he had 13 children), Tolstoy has two major periods: pre- and post-Christian conversion.

Tolstoy was an Aristocrat (a Count), a member of the last great Russian aristocracy, but was unhappy as such: he wanted a better life for the Russian peasant class.  The peasants were finally emancipated in 1862, a few years before the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S.  After this, Tolstoy published two of the most greatest (and longest) novels ever written: War and Peace (1869) and Anna Kerenina (1876).

After Anna Kerenina, Tolstoy converted to a Buddhist kind of Christianity (he believed in the morality and anti-materialism of Christ, but he rejected the afterlife, the idea of a personal God and the divinity of Jesus).  As a result of his conversion, he renounced aristocrat society, dressed up as a peasant, and started working in the fields.  He advocated universal love of all humankind, freedom from hatred and violence, and abolition of private property.

Tolstoy practiced what he preached: he renounced all of his earlier works; he renounced royalties because art should be in the public domain.  After his conversion, he wrote a famous essay, "What is Art?" and "The Death of Ivan Illych," which espoused his brand of Christianity.  It is perhaps the greatest novella written.

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