On this Day:
In 1884, police seized all copies of Leo Tolstoy’s “What I Believe In”.
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (9 September [O.S. 28 August] 1828 – 20 November [O.S. 7 November] 1910), usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He received nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906 and for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902, and 1909. That he never won is a major controversy.
Born to an aristocratic Russian family in 1828, Tolstoy’s notable works include the novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1878), often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction. He first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1852–1856), and Sevastopol Sketches (1855), based upon his experiences in the Crimean War. His fiction includes dozens of short stories and several novellas such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), Family Happiness (1859), After the Ball (1911) and Hadji Murad (1912). He also wrote plays and numerous philosophical essays.
In the 1870s, Tolstoy experienced a profound moral crisis, followed by what he regarded as an equally profound spiritual awakening, as outlined in his non-fiction work A Confession (1882). His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. His ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), had a profound impact on such pivotal 20th-century figures as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. He also became a dedicated advocate of Georgism, the economic philosophy of Henry George, which he incorporated into his writing, particularly Resurrection (1899).
Novels and fictional works
Tolstoy is considered one of the giants of Russian literature; his works include the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina and novellas such as Hadji Murad and The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Tolstoy’s earliest works, the autobiographical novels Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1852–1856), tell of a rich landowner’s son and his slow realization of the chasm between himself and his peasants. Though he later rejected them as sentimental, a great deal of Tolstoy’s own life is revealed. They retain their relevance as accounts of the universal story of growing up.
Tolstoy served as a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment during the Crimean War, recounted in his Sevastopol Sketches. His experiences in battle helped stir his subsequent pacifism and gave him material for realistic depiction of the horrors of war in his later work.
His fiction consistently attempts to convey realistically the Russian society in which he lived. The Cossacks (1863) describes the Cossack life and people through a story of a Russian aristocrat in love with a Cossack girl. Anna Karenina (1877) tells parallel stories of an adulterous woman trapped by the conventions and falsities of society and of a philosophical landowner (much like Tolstoy), who works alongside the peasants in the fields and seeks to reform their lives. Tolstoy not only drew from his own life experiences but also created characters in his own image, such as Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrei in War and Peace, Levin in Anna Karenina and to some extent, Prince Nekhlyudov in Resurrection. Richard Pevear who translated numerous of Tolstoy’s works talked about his signature style as, “His works are full of provocation and irony, and written with broad and elaborately developed rhetorical devices.”
War and Peace is generally thought to be one of the greatest novels ever written, remarkable for its dramatic breadth and unity. Its vast canvas includes 580 characters, many historical with others fictional. The story moves from family life to the headquarters of Napoleon, from the court of Alexander I of Russia to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. Tolstoy’s original idea for the novel was to investigate the causes of the Decembrist revolt, to which it refers only in the last chapters, from which can be deduced that Andrei Bolkonsky’s son will become one of the Decembrists. The novel explores Tolstoy’s theory of history, and in particular the insignificance of individuals such as Napoleon and Alexander. Somewhat surprisingly, Tolstoy did not consider War and Peace to be a novel (nor did he consider many of the great Russian fictions written at that time to be novels). This view becomes less surprising if one considers that Tolstoy was a novelist of the realist school who considered the novel to be a framework for the examination of social and political issues in nineteenth-century life. War and Peace (which is to Tolstoy really an epic in prose) therefore did not qualify. Tolstoy thought that Anna Karenina was his first true novel.
After Anna Karenina, Tolstoy concentrated on Christian themes, and his later novels such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and What Is to Be Done? develop a radical anarcho-pacifist Christian philosophy which led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. For all the praise showered on Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Tolstoy rejected the two works later in his life as something not as true of reality.
In his novel Resurrection, Tolstoy attempts to expose the injustice of man-made laws and the hypocrisy of institutionalized church. Tolstoy also explores and explains the economic philosophy of Georgism, of which he had become a very strong advocate towards the end of his life.
Tolstoy also tried himself in poetry with several soldier songs written during his military service and fairy tales in verse such as Volga-bogatyr and Oaf stylized as national folk songs. They were written between 1871 and 1874 for his Russian Book for Reading, a collection of short stories in four volumes (total of 629 stories in various genres) published along with the New Azbuka textbook and addressed to schoolchildren. Nevertheless, he was skeptical about poetry as a genre. As he famously said, “Writing poetry is like ploughing and dancing at the same time”. According to Valentin Bulgakov, he criticised poets, including Alexander Pushkin, for their “false” epithets used “simply to make it rhyme”.
In 1884, Tolstoy wrote a book called What I Believe, in which he openly confessed his Christian beliefs. He affirmed his belief in Jesus Christ’s teachings and was particularly influenced by the Sermon on the Mount, and the injunction to turn the other cheek, which he understood as a “commandment of non-resistance to evil by force” and a doctrine of pacifism and nonviolence. In his work The Kingdom of God Is Within You, he explains that he considered mistaken the Church’s doctrine because they had made a “perversion” of Christ’s teachings. Tolstoy also received letters from American Quakers who introduced him to the non-violence writings of Quaker Christians such as George Fox, William Penn and Jonathan Dymond. Tolstoy believed being a Christian required him to be a pacifist; the apparently inevitable waging of war by governments, is why he is considered a philosophical anarchist.
Later, various versions of “Tolstoy’s Bible” were published, indicating the passages Tolstoy most relied on, specifically, the reported words of Jesus himself.
Tolstoy believed that a true Christian could find lasting happiness by striving for inner perfection through following the Great Commandment of loving one’s neighbor and God, rather than guidance from the Church or state. Another distinct attribute of his philosophy based on Christ’s teachings is nonresistance during conflict. This idea in Tolstoy’s book The Kingdom of God Is Within You directly influenced Mahatma Gandhi and therefore also nonviolent resistance movements to this day.
Tolstoy believed that the aristocracy was a burden on the poor. He opposed private land ownership and the institution of marriage, and valued chastity and sexual abstinence (discussed in Father Sergius and his preface to The Kreutzer Sonata), ideals also held by the young Gandhi. Tolstoy’s passion from the depth of his austere moral views is reflected in his later work. One example is the sequence of the temptation of Sergius in Father Sergius. Maxim Gorky relates how Tolstoy once read this passage before him and Chekhov and Tolstoy was moved to tears by the end of the reading. Later passages of rare power include the personal crises faced by the protagonists of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and of Master and Man, where the main character in the former and the reader in the latter are made aware of the foolishness of the protagonists’ lives (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
If you are a fan of Russian literature you better hurry.
I heard Tolstoy’s R Us may be going out of business…
Second, a Song:
Magical Quotes on YouTube.com states:
Russian writer, essayist, philosopher, and political thinker Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, known as Leo Tolstoy was born September 9, 1828, into a family of Russian nobility. Although it’s been more than a hundred years after his death, he still ranks among the world’s best writers. Many consider him the greatest writer of all time.
Mostly he wrote novels and short stories, but later in life also wrote essays and plays. Two best Tolstoy’s novels are War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). They can be found in almost every list of the most popular novels of all time. Besides them, the more important works include: Family Happiness (1859), A Confession (1882), The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), Resurrection (1899), and Hadji Murat (1912).
Here is Magical Quotes “The Wisest Quotes by Leo Tolstoy. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” – Leo Tolstoy
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Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky