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Leo Tolstoy

Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian author best known for his novels War and Peace and
Anna Karenina which are considered to be the greatest novels of realist fiction. Tolstoy is also
regarded as world’s best novelist by many. In addition to writing novels, Tolstoy also authored
short stories, essays and plays. Also a moral thinker and a social reformer, Tolstoy held severe
moralistic views.
Born in Yasnaya Polyana on September 9, 1828, Leo Tolstoy belonged to a well known noble
Russian family. He was the fourth among five children of Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy and
Countess Mariya Tolstaya, both of whom died leaving their children to be raised by relatives.
Wanting to enter the faculty of Oriental languages at Kazan University, Tolstoy prepared for the
entry examination by studying Arabic, Turkish, Latin, German, English, and French, also
geography, history, and religion. In 1844, Tolstoy was accepted into Kazan University. Unable to
graduate beyond the second year, Tolstoy returned to Yasnava Polyana and then spent time
travelling between Moscow and St. Petersburg. With some working knowledge of several
languages, he became a polyglot. The newly found youth attracted Tolstoy towards drinking,
visiting brothels and most of all gambling which left him in heavy debt and agony but Tolstoy
soon realized he was living a brutish life and once again attempted university exams in the hope
that he would obtain a position with the government, but ended but up in Caucusus serving in the
army following in the footsteps of his elder brother. It was during this time that Tolstoy began
In 1862, Leo Tolstoy married Sophia Andreevna Behrs, mostly called Sonya, who was 16 years
younger than him. The couple had thirteen children, of which, five died at an early age. Sonya
acted as Tolstoy’s secretary, proof-reader and financial manager while he composed two of his
greatest works. Their early married life was filled with contentment. However, Tolstoy’s
relationship with his wife deteriorated as his beliefs became increasingly radical to the extent of
disowning his inherited and earned wealth.
Tolstoy began writing his masterpiece, War and Peace in 1862. The six volumes of the work
were published between 1863 and 1869. Among his earliest publications are autobiographical
works such as Childhood, Boyhood and Youth (1852-1856). Although they are works of fiction,
the novels reveal aspects of Leo’s own life and experiences. Tolstoy was a master of writing
about the Russian society, evidence of which is displayed in The Cossacks (1863). His later
works such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and What Is to Be Done? (1901) focus on
Christian themes.
In his late years, Tolstoy became increasingly inclined towards ascetic morality and believed
sternly in the Sermon on the Mount and non-violent resistance. On November 20, 1910, Leo
Tolstoy died at the age of 82 due to pneumonia.