Biography of Tolstoy

The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy is the author of well-known works “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina”, “Death of Ivan Ilyich”, and nowadays he continues to be considered one of the best writers of the world.


Leo Tolstoy was born September 9, 1828 in the Tula province in a family belonging to the nobility class. In the 1860s he wrote his first great novel, War and Peace. In 1873 Tolstoy began work on the second of his most famous books, “Anna Karenina.” He continued to write fiction throughout the 1880s and 1890s. One of his most successful late works is “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” Tolstoy died on November 20, 1910 in Astapovo, Russia.

The first years of life

September 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana was born future writer Leo Tolstoy. He was the fourth child in a large noble family. In 1830, when Tolstoy’s mother, the nee Princess of Volkonskaya, died, his cousin took care of the children.

Their father, Count Nikolai Tolstoy, died in seven years, and their aunt was appointed guardian. After the death of Aunt Leo Tolstoy, his brothers and sisters moved to his second aunt in Kazan. Although Tolstoy experienced many losses at an early age, he later idealized his childhood memories in his work.

It is important to note that the primary education in the biography of Tolstoy was received at home, the lessons were given to him by French and German teachers. In 1843 he entered the Faculty of Oriental Languages ​​at the Imperial Kazan University. Tolstoy failed to excel in his studies – low grades forced him to move to a lighter law school. Further difficulties in his studies led to the fact that Tolstoy, in the end, left the Imperial Kazan University in 1847 without a degree. He returned to the estate of his parents, where he was going to farm. However, this undertaking also ended in failure – he too often was absent, leaving for Tula and Moscow. What he really succeeded is in the conduct of his own diary – it was this habit of a lifetime that inspired Leo Tolstoy to most of his works.


was fond of music, his favorite composers were Schumann, Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Mendelssohn. Lev Nikolaevich could play their works for several hours a day.

One day, Tolstoy’s older brother, Nikolai, came on a visit to Leo during his army vacation, and persuaded his brother to join the army as a junker to the south, to the Caucasus mountains where he served. After being a cadet, Leo Tolstoy was transferred to Sevastopol in November 1854, where he fought in the Crimean War until August 1855.

Early publications

In the years of his Junkers in the army, Tolstoy had plenty of free time. In quiet periods, he worked on an autobiographical story called Childhood. In it he wrote about his most beloved childhood memories. In 1852 Tolstoy sent the story to Sovremennik, the most popular journal of that time. The story was joyfully received, and it was Tolstoy’s first publication. Since that time, critics have placed him in a row with already well-known writers, among whom were Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Goncharov, Alexander Ostrovsky and others.

After completing the story “Childhood”, Tolstoy began to write about his daily life in an army outpost in the Caucasus. Started in the army years, the work of “Cossacks”, he finished only in 1862, after he had already left the army.

Surprisingly, Tolstoy was able to continue writing during active battles in the Crimean War. At this time he wrote “Adolescence”, the continuation of “Childhood”, the second book in Tolstoy’s autobiographical trilogy. At the height of the Crimean War, Tolstoy expressed his opinion about the striking contradictions of the war through the trilogy of works “Sevastopol Stories.” In the second book of the Sevastopol stories, Tolstoy experimented with a relatively new technique: part of the story is presented in the form of a narrative on behalf of a soldier.

After the end of the Crimean War, Tolstoy left the army and returned to Russia. Arriving home, the author enjoyed great popularity in the literary scene of St. Petersburg.

Stubborn and arrogant, Tolstoy refused to belong to any particular philosophical school. Declaring himself an anarchist, he in 1857 went to Paris. Once there, he lost all his money and was forced to return home, to Russia. He also managed to publish “Youth”, the third part of the autobiographical trilogy, in 1857.

Returning to Russia in 1862, Tolstoy published the first of 12 issues of the thematic magazine Yasnaya Polyana. In the same year he married the daughter of a doctor named Sofya Andreevna Bers.

Basic novels

Living in Yasnaya Polyana with his wife and children, Tolstoy spent most of the 1860s working on his first famous novel, War and Peace. Part of the novel was first published in the “Russian Messenger” in 1865 under the title “1805 year”. By 1868, he had issued three more chapters. A year later the novel was completely finished. Both critics and the public argued about the historical justice of the Napoleonic wars in the novel, combined with the development of the stories of his thoughtful and realistic, but still fictional characters. The novel is also unique in that it includes three long satirical essays about the laws of history. Among the ideas that Tolstoy is also trying to convey in this novel is the conviction that the position of a person in society and the meaning of human life are basically the derivatives of his daily activities.

After the success of “War and Peace” in 1873, Tolstoy began work on the second of his most famous books – “Anna Karenina.” It was based in part on the real events of the war between Russia and Turkey. Like “War and Peace”, this book describes some biographical events from the life of Tolstoy himself, this is especially noticeable in the romantic relationship between the characters Kitty and Levin, which is said to be reminiscent of Tolstoy’s courtship of his own wife.

The first lines of the book “Anna Karenina” are among the most famous: “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” “Anna Karenina” was published in parts from 1873 to 1877, and was highly recognized by the public. The fees received for the novel quickly enriched the writer.


Despite the success of Anna Karenina, after the end of the novel, Tolstoy experienced a spiritual crisis and was depressed. The next stage of the biography of Leo Tolstoy is characterized by the search for the meaning of life. The writer first turned to the Russian Orthodox Church, but did not find there answers to his questions. He came to the conclusion that the Christian churches were corrupt and, instead of organized religion, promoted their own beliefs. He decided to express these beliefs, having founded in 1883 a new edition called “Mediator”.
As a result, for his non-standard and contradictory spiritual convictions, Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. Behind him even watched the secret police. When Tolstoy, led by his new conviction, wanted to give away all his money and give up everything superfluous, his wife was categorically against it. Not wanting to heat up the situation, Tolstoy reluctantly agreed to a compromise: he gave his wife copyrights and, apparently, all deductions for his work until 1881.

Late fiction

In addition to his religious treatises, Tolstoy continued to write fiction throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Among the genres of his later works were moral stories and realistic fiction. One of the most successful among his later works was the novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich, written in 1886. The protagonist struggles to fight the impending death. To put it briefly, Ivan Ilyich is horrified by the realization that he wasted his life on trifles, but the realization of this comes to him too late.

In 1898, Tolstoy wrote the story “Father Sergius,” a work of art in which he criticizes the convictions he developed after his spiritual transformation. The following year he wrote his third voluminous novel “Resurrection”. The work received good reviews, but this success was hardly consistent with the level of recognition of his previous novels. Other later works by Tolstoy are essays on art, a satirical play called The Living Corpse, written in 1890, and a novel called Hadji Murat, which was discovered and published after his death. In 1903, Tolstoy wrote a short story “After the Ball,” which was first published after his death in 1911.

Old age

For the last 30 years of his life, Tolstoy has established himself as a spiritual and religious leader. His ideas of nonviolent resistance to evil were similar to the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi.

During his later years, Tolstoy reaped the fruits of international recognition. Nevertheless, he struggled to reconcile his spiritual convictions with the tension he had created in his family life. His wife not only disagreed with his teaching, she did not approve of his pupils who regularly visited Tolstoy in a family estate. Trying to avoid the growing discontent of his wife, in October 1910 Tolstoy and his youngest daughter Alexander went on pilgrimage. Alexandra was a doctor for her elderly father during the trip. Trying not to flaunt their private lives, they traveled incognito, hoping to evade unnecessary questions, but sometimes this was in vain.

Death and heritage

Unfortunately, the pilgrimage proved too burdensome for an aging writer. In November 1910, the head of the small railway station Astapovo opened the doors of his house to Tolstoy, so that the sick writer could rest. Soon after, on November 20, 1910, Tolstoy died. He was buried in the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, where Tolstoy lost so many people close to him.

To this day, Tolstoy’s novels are considered one of the best achievements of literary art. “War and Peace” is often cited as the greatest novel ever written. In the modern scientific community Tolstoy is widely recognized as the possessor of the gift of describing the unconscious motives of character, the sophistication of which he defended, emphasizing the role of everyday actions in determining the nature and goals of people.

Chronological table

If you are interested in biography and creativity by date – we recommend that you read the Tolstoy Chronological Table.

Interesting Facts
    Leo Tolstoy is known not only as the author of serious works. He also wrote “The Alphabet” and “The Book for Reading” for children. Tolstoy sometimes disliked his most significant and significant work “War and Peace” and called it “verbose rubbish”. Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy had a noble title of Count. Tolstoy was fond of secular life and playing cards. He always played very recklessly and often lost, which had a negative impact on his financial position. Tolstoy sharply criticized the talent of Shakespeare as a playwright, and even published an essay “On Shakespeare and the drama” with a detailed analysis of some of his works. After his death, Tolstoy had a wife and 10 children. Totally, the spouses gave life to 13 children, but only 10 of them survived infancy.

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Biography of Tolstoy