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Leo Tolstoy is a Russian novelist, essayist, and poet. While Tolstoy was a writer of the 1800s, his works Anna Karenina and War and Peace are still being studied. Despite his personal quirks, Tolstoy is still considered by many as the greatest Russian writer of all time.

A Russian Noble

Leo Tolstoy comes from a family of old Russian nobility. Born in Tula, Russia, he is the fourth of five children. His parents died at a young age, so he and his siblings were brought up by relatives.

He began studying law and Oriental languages at Kazan University in 1844 but didn’t finish. In 1851, he went with his brother to the Caucasus and joined the army. This was around the same time he began writing.

Russian Classics

Published in installments, Anna Karenina is the story of a married socialite who had an affair with Count Vronsky. It was published from 1873 to 1877 in the Russian Messenger and was considered by Tolstoy as his first novel.

Tolstoy’s most celebrated work is the epic War and Peace. Set during the Napoleonic wars, the novel is a depiction of nineteenth-century Tsarist Russia under Alexander I. In essence, the story revolves around the absurdity, hypocrisy, and shallowness of the wars and the aristocratic society. The novel consists of 580 total characters, but the main story develops around Pierre, Andrew, Natasha, Nicholas, and Mary and the intertwining of their lives.

Tolstoy and Controversies

Leo Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901 because he rejected religious rituals. Following the publication of Anna Karenina, he grew more and more uncomfortable with his aristocratic background. This crises led him to questioning the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Even so, Tolstoy managed to inspire some form of a cult, which combines pacifism and Christian anarchism. He had a substantial amount of followers, which established communities all over the world. Though a lot were short-lived, some of these “Tolstoyan” communities are still intact.


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