Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Leo Tolstoy

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English Literature

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time. A writer of Realism, Tolstoy’s novels Anna Karenina (1868) and War and Peace (1869) have stood the test of time and remain two of the most famous works of Russian literature. In his personal life, Tolstoy was a pacifist, education advocate, and Christian anarchist. Tolstoy’s legacy extends far beyond just the literary sphere, but his written contributions remain some of the most important works in literary history.

Leo Tolstoy Biography

Leo Tolstoy, Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Repin StudySmarterPortrait of Leo Tolstoy (1887) by Ilya Repin, pixabay

Leo Tolstoy was born Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy in 1828 at Yasnaya Polyana near Tula, Russia. He grew up in an aristocratic Russian family with four siblings. By the time Tolstoy turned 10, both of his parents had passed away. He attended a Russian university but did not finish his degree. He and his brother fought in the Crimean war (1853-1856); Tolstoy’s horror at what he witnessed during the war would lead to a lifelong passion for nonviolence.

Following his release from the army, Tolstoy traveled around Europe. During his travels, he adopted the moral positions that would guide his life’s work and his writing—nonviolence, the importance of education, and a disdain for the aristocracy.

Upon his return to Russia, Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevena Bers; the couple had 13 children, three of whom died in infancy. In the period after he married Sofya (commonly referred to by the Russian diminutive, Sonya) and raised his children, Tolstoy wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina, his two masterpieces.

Did you know that Sonya hand-wrote the entire manuscript of War and Peace eight times? She was tasked with copying the new version of the novel each time Tolstoy revised it. When it was first published it had about 1,200 pages—that's almost 10,000 handwritten pages.

In his later years, Tolstoy became more interested in morality and religion. He rejected many of his earlier works, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as being unrealistic, and he wrote treatises on religion and politics. He was particularly interested in nonviolence and pacificism, which he derived from Christian teachings.

Tolstoy was opposed to private land ownership and espoused the economic beliefs of Georgism. He was a strong believer in education and founded 13 schools where he grew up, specifically for the children of Russian peasants.

Toward the end of his life, Tolstoy was dedicated to giving away his wealth and the money he earned from his books. He sought to totally reject the aristocratic way of life in Russia. He worked the fields of his estate alongside Russian peasants and volunteered to help feed those in need during the famine of 1891.

In an effort to reject monetary gains, Tolstoy gave up the copyright to many of the famous novels that he no longer felt represented his beliefs. His approach to money often caused disagreements with his wife Sonya, with whom he was often at odds.

How did Tolstoy die?

Tolstoy died of pneumonia at a train station in 1910. He was 82 at the time of his death. He had left home, as he and his wife were arguing over his religious and political beliefs. Following his death, the procession of his funeral cavalcade was attended by thousands of Russian peasants along the streets.

Famous Works by Leo Tolstoy

Throughout his lifetime, Tolstoy wrote numerous books, novellas, short stories, and essays. His extensive bibliography shows Tolstoy’s own philosophical transformations over time.

Novels & Books by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy wrote three fictional novels during his career. Each represents a different stage in his life and has cemented his place in the literary halls of fame.

War and Peace (1869)

Originally published serially, and then together in 1869, War and Peace is considered one of Tolstoy’s crowning literary achievements. This Realist novel chronicles the lives of five different Russian aristocratic families during the Napoleonic Wars. Tolstoy conducted extensive historical research to accurately portray the events. He included philosophical essays in the book, in addition to the fictional narratives.

Leo Tolstoy St. Petersburg Russia StudySmarterSt. Petersburg, Russia, pixabay

Anna Karenina (1877)

Tolstoy himself considered Anna Karenina to be his first true novel. Like War and Peace, it was originally published serially before it was published as a complete novel in 1877. This massive novel explores themes of love, infidelity, social norms, and religion as well as political themes examining Russia’s feudal system, the Orthodox Church, and the Russian government.

Resurrection (1899)

With Resurrection, the last full novel Tolstoy penned before his death, Tolstoy leveled a critique at Russian society and the Orthodox Church. He details the economic theory with which he became fascinated in his final years, intending to write a novel that would examine every level of Russian society. The release of the novel was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church, and Tolstoy was subsequently excommunicated.

Why would the Church take notice of a novel by an author such as Tolstoy? What reason would they have for excommunicating Tolstoy for his writing?

Short Stories & Novellas by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy penned many short stories and novellas throughout his storied career. The first of his writing to bring fame was a series of three novellas about a fictionalized version of his own childhood and adolescence— Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854), and Youth (1856). One of his most famous novellas, and often considered one of the finest examples of a novella, is The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886). In addition to those mentioned here, Tolstoy wrote many other novellas and short stories throughout his lifetime.

Quotes by Leo Tolstoy

Given that he is considered one of the greatest writers to ever put pen to paper, Tolstoy’s works are often quoted. The quotes gathered here provide an insight into Tolstoy's philosophy.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 1

One of the most famous first lines in literary history, Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with this quote. The book follows the plight of Anna and Levin as one destroys her family and the other creates his. Though a seeming indictment of unhappy families, this quote can also be read as stating that happy families are all alike and thus all uniform and unexciting.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” 2

Here Tolstoy elucidates on the nature of philanthropy and change. He notes that the most important and perhaps most effective changes are those we can make within ourselves. It is difficult to go out and enact change and promote goodness in the world without first doing so within oneself.

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” 3

This quotation distills Tolstoy's philosophy into one sentence. From War and Peace, it echoes Tolstoy's nonviolent, pacifist sentiments.

“Everything I know, I know because of love.” 4

Similar to the previous quote, this expands upon Tolstoy's central philosophy. War and Peace was written before his spiritual awakening in his later years, but his belief in the power of love and goodness endured.

“I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself.” 5

Here, Tolstoy shows the effect that fighting in the Crimean War had on his philosophical outlook. Following the devastation and violence he witnessed man commit against fellow man, Tolstoy became a lifelong advocate of nonviolence.

“One may deal with things without love...but you cannot deal with men without it...It cannot be otherwise, because natural love is the fundamental law of human life.” 6

Again, this reiterates Tolstoy's foundational belief. He believed in the importance of loving one's fellow man and living a godly lifestyle in the image of God's love toward humanity.

Common Themes in Tolstoy’s Works

Tolstoy’s prolific writing career spanned many different themes and historical periods. The most common themes in his work concerned 19th-century Russian society, theology, morality, and familial relationships.

Each of his major novels explored themes of familial relationships that included romantic love, platonic love, and infidelity. Each novel was also set in a specific period in 19th-century Russian history, whether it was the Napoleonic Wars before his time or the reign of the Russian aristocracy and Imperial rule that Tolstoy lived through. His eventual religious transformation is also reflected in his novels. Both before and after his rejection of organized religion, Tolstoy wrote about religious meaning and morality, and his characters often struggled to come to terms with Christianity and God in their lives.

Tolstoy’s later writings and nonfiction dealt mainly with his philosophical and political beliefs. He wrote about educational reform, nonviolence, and the power of love as the most important guiding force of life. Following his death and the Russian Revolution, many of his works that had previously been censored in Russia were published in full for the first time.

Leo Tolstoy’s Writing Style

Tolstoy is often credited as a writer in the Realist style. His novels were acclaimed for their realistic portrayals of life as part of the Russian aristocracy. His goal as a writer was to represent truth in his works. Rather than create characters that embody the ‘heroic’ trope of earlier Romantic literature styles, Tolstoy instead wrote in a way that created characters that could have been real people (and occasionally were based upon real people!).

His major novels were also often a mix between character-driven familial stories and historical stories. Rather than write historical novels that followed a usual format—linear, concerned with only the big battles and victories—Tolstoy instead vacillated between the personal and the societal. He wrote about the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in War and Peace while also expanding upon the lives of five different aristocratic families in Russia at the time. His stories were often nonlinear and concerned with characters that represented the realities of humans, rather than black and white literary versions that could easily fall into a category of ‘good’ or ‘evil.’

Realism is a movement in literature where authors attempt to write in a way that is as true-to-life or matter-of-fact as possible.

Tolstoy’s Legacy

Tolstoy is a giant of literature and his works have endured as some of the most important and widely-read novels and short stories of the 19th century. Beyond literature, Tolstoy’s philosophical writings and moral standpoints inspired movements and leaders after his death. The Tolstoyan movement, which arose after his death, was supported by those who believed in Tolstoy's moral and philosophical teachings about nonviolence, his religious views, and state opposition. His birthday was celebrated by the Soviet government throughout Russia, and various Russian leaders after Tolstoy wrote extensively about his philosophies, including Lenin and Stalin.

While still alive, Tolstoy communicated with Mahatma Gandhi, who found Tolstoy’s beliefs in nonviolence and religion to be inspiring and led to the formation of many of Gandhi’s own beliefs and actions in his campaign for the liberation of India from British rule.

Leo Tolstoy - Key takeaways

  • Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is considered one of the greatest writers of all time.
  • His most famous novels are War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), both of which are considered two of the most important works of literature of all time.
  • Tolstoy additionally wrote many short stories and novellas throughout his lifetime.
  • In addition to his fictional works, Tolstoy wrote many essays and treatises on his moral and philosophical ideals.
  • Tolstoy believed in nonviolence, opposition to the state, Christian anarchism, and the importance of love as a guiding principle in life.
  • He wrote in a realist style that meant to prepare characters that were akin to real-life people, not caricatures meant to uphold one singular trope or archetype.

Citations

1. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1877.

2. Leo Tolstoy, "Three Methods of Reform," 1900.

3. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1869.

4. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1869.

5. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1869.

6. Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection, 1899.

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author, considered one of the greatest writers to ever have lived. He was born and raised in Russia; as a young adult, he fought in the Crimean war and traveled throughout Europe. His time in the war and his subsequent travels helped shape Tolstoy’s life philosophies, and he became an advocate for nonviolence, education, and rejected organized religion in favor of Christian anarchism.

Anna Karenina (1877) is a Russian novel by Tolstoy that deals with social themes surrounding familial relationships, infidelity, love, and the social norms of the Russian aristocracy. He also delves into political themes, such as the Russian government and politics, the feudal system in Russia, and the influence of the Church.

Tolstoy wrote three full-length fictional books in his lifetime. These books are War and Peace (1869), Anna Karenina (1877), and Resurrection (1899). Tolstoy also wrote many novellas and short stories, as well as non-fiction essays and philosophical treatises.

Common themes in Leo Tolstoy’s works concern familial relationships, which include romantic love, platonic love, infidelity, and relations amongst family members. He also wrote extensively about the political realities of life in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars and during the Imperial reign in the 19th century. He often wrote about the realities of aristocratic life in Russia. He also frequently wrote about religion; Tolstoy was a Christian anarchist and he wrote about the power of love as a guiding force in life and how it stems from the love of God.

Tolstoy’s style of writing is Realist. He sought to describe characters who existed in morally grey areas, who could not be described in black or white terms. He also mixed the idea of the historical novel with that of a familial story, and his long fiction books often functioned as both of these two genres at once. 

Final Leo Tolstoy Quiz

Question

Who is Leo Tolstoy?

Show answer

Answer

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author, considered one of the greatest writers to ever have lived. He was born and raised in Russia, and spent time fighting in the Crimean war and traveling Europe. His time in the war and subsequent travels helped shape Tolstoy’s life philosophies, and he became an advocate for nonviolence, education, and rejected organized religion in favor of Christian anarchism.

Show question

Question

What did Tolstoy write?

Show answer

Answer

Leo Tolstoy wrote many novels, novellas, short stories, nonfiction essays, and treatises. His most famous works of literature are his novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1878). His novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) is also very well-known.

Show question

Question

What are some common themes in Leo Tolstoy's works?


Show answer

Answer

Common themes in Leo Tolstoy’s works include familial relationships, this means romantic love, platonic love, infidelity, and the relations amongst family members. He also wrote extensively about the political realities of life in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars and during the Imperial reign in the 19th century. He wrote often about the realities of aristocratic life in Russia. He also often wrote about religion; Tolstoy was a Christian anarchist and he wrote about the power of love as a guiding force in life and how it stems from the love of God.

Show question

Question

What is Leo Tolstoy’s style of writing?

Show answer

Answer

Tolstoy’s style of writing is Realist. He sought to describe characters who existed in morally grey areas, who could not be described in black or white terms. He also mixed the idea of the historical novel with that of a familial story, and his long fiction books often functioned as both of these two genres at once.

Show question

Question

How did Leo Tolstoy die?

Show answer

Answer

Tolstoy died of pneumonia at a train station in 1910. He was 82 at the time of his death. He had left home as he and his wife were arguing over his religious and political beliefs. Following his death, his funeral cavalcade was watched by thousands of peasants.

Show question

Question

Leo Tolstoy wrote great heroic characters in the style of Romantic authors in the 19th century.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is the opening line of which of Tolstoy's works?

Show answer

Answer

War and Peace

Show question

Question

What is Tolstoy's legacy?

Show answer

Answer

Tolstoy is known as one of the greatest writers in history. His novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1878) are still celebrated today as masterpieces of realistic, historical writing. Outside of the literary world, Tolstoy's writings and philosophy on nonviolence, state opposition, and education were formative in Russia and to leaders across the world.

Show question

Question

Which war did Tolstoy fight in?

Show answer

Answer

Franco-Austrian War

Show question

Question

What is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy about?

Show answer

Answer

Anna Karenina (1878) is a Russian novel by Tolstoy that deals with social themes surrounding familial relationships, infidelity, love, and the social norms of the Russian aristocracy. He also delves into political themes, such as Russian government and politics, the feudal system in Russia, and the influence of the Church.

Show question

Question

What is Anna Karenina about?

Show answer

Answer

Anna Karenina is about a Russian aristocrat, the titular Anna, who embarks on a doomed love affair with a younger military man. Her infidelity leads Anna toward paranoia and anxiety, and at the end of the novel, the consequences of her decisions and rejection from society lead Anna to suicide. A simultaneous story shows the love between Kitty, a young socialite, and Levin, a wealthy landowner. The two find solace in an agrarian lifestyle far from the corruption of the Russian cities.

Show question

Question

Who wrote Anna Karenina?

Show answer

Answer

Anna Karenina (1877) was written by Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy is considered to be one of the greatest authors of all time. He wrote Anna Karenina while he was living at home in Russia with his wife, engaged in the raising of their children.

Show question

Question

What are the main points in Anna Karenina?

Show answer

Answer

The main points of Anna Karenina concern infidelity, familial relationships, and societal transformation. Anna’s storyline sees her shunned from society for her infidelity while Vronsky does not experience the same suffering. She descends further into paranoia and jealous as the story progresses due to her affair. While Anna’s family is torn apart, Levin builds a family with Kitty. All this occurs against the backdrop of societal transformation—new agriculture technologies, new modes of transformation, and new progressive ideals come to Russia.

Show question

Question

What do the trains symbolize in Anna Karenina?

Show answer

Answer

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy uses the trains to show the ushering in of progress in contrast to traditional values and ways of doing things in Russia. Simultaneously, the trains foreshadow Anna's eventual death, as when she and Vronsky first meet at a train station they witness a worker fall to his death between the wheels of a train.

Show question

Question

How is Anna Karenina a realist novel?

Show answer

Answer

Anna Karenina is a realist novel because Tolstoy wrote it in a way that it was meant to be as true to life as possible. He did so by using matter of fact diction and by utilizing the characters' inner monologues in order to portray exactly what they were thinking and feeling.

Show question

Question

How is infidelity as a theme used in the novel?

Show answer

Answer

Infidelity is a major theme. Anna's infidelity to Karenin leads to her downfall as she embarks on an affair with Vronsky. While it is understood that many of the upper class engage in affairs, such as Princess Betsy, Anna was shunned for her blatant, obvious affair with Vronsky. The novel even opens with the Oblonsky family in uproar after Dolly discovered Stiva's infidelity, Anna arrives and convinces Dolly that Stiva still loves her.

Show question

Question

What event forces Anna to reveal the affair to Karenin?

Show answer

Answer

After Anna makes a scene at the horse racing when she is concerned for Vronsky, she finally tells Karenin about the affair. She also reveals that she is pregnant with Vronsky's child.

Show question

Question

What event causes Karenin to state his forgiveness of Anna and Vronsky's actions?

Show answer

Answer

When Anna gives birth to her baby daughter, she becomes gravely ill and they believe she will die. Karenin forgives Vronsky and Anna in this moment.

Show question

Question

Nikolai is the brother of which character?

Show answer

Answer

Anna

Show question

Question

What happens at the train station the first time Vronsky and Anna meet?

Show answer

Answer

A worker falls to his death between the wheels of a train. This foreshadows Anna's eventual suicide at the train station where she throws herself between the wheels of a train.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Leo Tolstoy quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.