Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy (Лев Николаевич Толстой) was born in 1828, a little south of Moscow.
9 September 1828 Tula Governorate, Russian Empire
20 November 1910 Ryazan Governorate, Russian Empire
Tolstoy is today best known for War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). These works are widely seen 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. Tolstoy’s fiction includes dozens of short stories and several novellas including The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), Family Happiness (1859), and Hadji Murad (1912). He also wrote plays and numerous philosophical essays.
At some point in the late 1870s he experienced a self-described “profound moral crisis,” followed by what he regarded as an “equally profound spiritual awakening.” This is documented 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. Interestingly, his thoughts on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), had a profound impact on such pivotal 20th c. figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Tolstoy’s contemporaries paid him lofty tributes. Fyodor Dostoyevsky admired and was delighted by Tolstoy’s novels (and, conversely, Tolstoy also admired Dostoyevsky’s work). Gustave Flaubert, on reading a translation of War and Peace, exclaimed, “What an artist and what a psychologist!”
The 19th-century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold opined that “A novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life.”
Virginia Woolf declared him “the greatest of all novelists.” James Joyce noted that “He is never dull, never stupid, never tired, never pedantic, never theatrical!” Thomas Mann wrote of Tolstoy’s seemingly guileless artistry: “Seldom did art work so much like nature.”
Vladimir Nabokov heaped superlatives upon The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina; he questioned, however, the reputation of War and Peace, and sharply criticized Resurrection and The Kreutzer Sonata.
The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.
Music is the shorthand of emotion.
It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.
Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal.
We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.
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“If you love somebody, let them go, if they don’t return, they were never yours.”
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A short excerpt from the book: “I was dead, deader than dead because, I was still alive.”
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