See study by M. Dalton (1972).
Of a noble family, Tolstoy was born at Yasnaya Polyana, his parents' estate near Tula. Orphaned at nine, he was brought up by his aunts and privately tutored. At 16 he was sent to the Univ. of Kazan, where he studied languages and law. His classes bored him, and he left without a degree. He returned to his estate in 1849 and made several abortive attempts to aid and educate the serfs there. Tolstoy then began a profligate life in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In 1851 Tolstoy followed his brother into army service in the Caucasus, where he wrote Childhood (1852). This became the first part of an autobiographical trilogy, which includes Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1857). In 1854 he took part in the defense of Sevastopol, descriptions of which were published in Nekrasov's journal The Contemporary, attracting considerable attention for their unvarnished picture of war. He left army service in 1855 and for several years divided his time between his estate and the literary circles of St. Petersburg. His diary of the period reveals his intense dissatisfaction with his libertine existence. He set up a school for peasant children on his estate, emphasizing a spontaneous approach to learning. When his school proved impractical, he visited Western Europe and there began to question the bases of modern civilization.
In 1862 Tolstoy married Sophia Andreyevna Bers, a young, well-educated woman who bore him 13 children. His candor concerning his infidelities and his harsh conception of her wifely duties contributed to the instability of their marriage. During this time he wrote The Cossacks (1863) and his masterpieces War and Peace (1862-69) and Anna Karenina (1873-76). War and Peace is a vast prose epic of the Napoleonic invasion of 1812. It illustrates Tolstoy's view of history as proceeding inexorably to its own ends, a view in which mankind appears as an accidental instrument. This thesis is conveyed by a stream of brilliantly conceived characters and incidents. Anna Karenina, his most popular work, concerns the tragedy of a woman's faith in romantic love.
About 1876 the doubts that had beset Tolstoy since youth, fed by his puritan temperament in conflict with his sensuality, gathered force. The result of his painful self-examination was his conversion to the doctrine of Christian love and acceptance of the principle of nonresistance to evil. The steps in his conversion are set forth in his Confession (1879). For the rest of his life Tolstoy dedicated himself to the practice and propagation of his new faith, which he expounded in a series of works, among them A Short Exposition of the Gospels (1881), What I Believe In (1882), What Then Must We Do? (1886), and The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (1908).
Tolstoy preached nonviolence and a Rousseauistic simplicity of life. He was an anarchist to the extent that he considered wrong all organizations based on the premise of force, including both the government and the church. A Tolstoy cult grew up in Russia and abroad, and his estate became a place of pilgrimage. Because of his prestige the government did not interfere with his activities, although the Russian Church excommunicated him in 1901.
Moral questions are central to Tolstoy's later works, which include the story "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" (1884), the drama The Power of Darkness (1886), and the novel The Kreutzer Sonata (1889). To his last period belongs the essay What Is Art? (1897-98), in which he argued for the moral responsibility of the artist to make his work understandable to most people; he denounced acknowledged masterpieces, including his own earlier works. His last works also include the novels Hadji Murad (1896-1904) and Resurrection (1899-1900) and the drama The Living Corpse (pub. 1911).
Tolstoy's insistence on putting his beliefs into practice and abandoning all earthly goods led to a permanent breach between himself and his wife. His children, with the exception of the youngest daughter, Alexandra, sided with their mother. In 1910, at 83, Tolstoy left home with Alexandra without a specific destination. He caught a chill and died at the railroad stationmaster's house at Astapovo.
Tolstoy's works are available in many English translations. See also the reminiscences of his wife, Sophia (tr. 1928 and 1936); his children Sergei (tr. 1926), Tatiana (tr. 1951), Ilya (tr. 1971), and Alexandra (tr. 1953, repr. 1973); his friends M. Gorky (tr. 1920), A. B. Goldenweizer (tr. 1923, repr. 1969), V. Bulgakov (tr. 1971), and V. G. Chertkov (tr. 1922, repr. 1973); biographies by A. Maude (1931), E. J. Simmons (1946), and H. Troyat (tr. 1967); collections of critical essays, ed. by R. E. Matlaw (1967) and by H. Gifford (1972); I. Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953); W. L. Shirer, Love and Hatred: The Troubled Marriage of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy (1994).
(born Sept. 5, 1817, St. Petersburg, Russia—died Oct. 10, 1875, Krasny Rog) Russian poet, novelist, and dramatist. A distant relative of Leo Tolstoy, he held various court posts. In the 1850s he began to publish comic verse, often satirizing government bureaucracy. Among his popular historical novels is Prince Serebrenni (1862). His dramatic trilogy about the 16th and 17th centuries—The Death of Ivan the Terrible (1866), Tsar Feodor Ioannovich (1868), and Tsar Boris (1870)—is written in blank verse and contains some of Russia's best historical dramatic writing. His lyric poetry includes many love and nature poems, as well as Ioann Damaskin (1859), a paraphrase of St. John of Damascus's prayer for the dead.
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Tolstoy, or Tolstoi (Толсто́й) is a prominent family of Russian nobility, descending from one Andrey Kharitonovich Tolstoy (i.e., "the Fat") who served under Vasily II of Moscow. The "wild Tolstoys" (as they were known in the high society of Imperial Russia) have left a lasting legacy in Russian politics, military history, literature, and fine arts.
Andrey Kharitonovich Tolstoy was in turn a great-grandson of some Indris who was "a man of distinguished ancestry" who came from "the Germans, the Caesar's lands" (the Holy Roman Empire) to Chernigov, accompanied by his sons Litvinos and Zimonten and a force of 3000 men. This family legend is unverifiable.
The family first reached prominence in the late 17th century, on account of its connections with the Miloslavsky clan to which Tsar Alexis' first wife belonged. It was okolnichi Peter Andreevich Tolstoy who decided the family fortune by casting his lot with the party of Peter the Great. He gradually gained in Peter's confidence serving first as the Russian ambassador to Constantinople, then as the head of the secret police. Although detested by contemporaries, Tolstoy was made a count for his part in securing the throne for Catherine I. He later clashed with the mighty Prince Menshikov, was stripped of his titles and exiled to the Solovki. The titles and estates were restituted to his grandchildren 30 years later.
The most famous of 19th-century Tolstoy politicians was Count Dmitri Andreevich (1823–89), successively the Minister of Education, Minister of Interior and President of the Academy of Science. During his term in office, he put into effect a vigorous Russification program in Poland and Ukraine, for which he is chiefly remembered.
Two members of the family were active during the Napoleonic wars. Count Peter Alexandrovich (1761–1844) served under Suvorov in wars against Poland and Turkey, was made a general-adjutant in 1797, went as an ambassador to Paris in 1807 and tried to persuade Alexander I to prepare for the war against France, without much success though. He served as the governor of St Petersburg and Kronstadt from 1828 until his death.
Alexander Ivanovich Tolstoy (1770–1857), stemming from a collateral branch of the family, inherited the committal title and estates of his childless uncle, the last of the Ostermanns. He first distinguished himself in the battle of Charnova (1807) where his regiment held out for 15 hours against the whole army commanded by Napoleon. One of the most admired generals of the anti-Napoleonic coalition, he was rewarded for his courage in the battles at Pultusk and Eylau. At Guttstadt he was wounded so seriously that they feared for his life. In the great battle of Borodino he brilliantly commanded the key positions until he was shell-shocked and taken away from the battlefield. Ostermann-Tolstoy was once again wounded in the battle of Bautzen (1813) but didn't give up command of his force. His crowning achievement was the victory at Kulm (August 30, 1813), which cost him amputation of the left arm. When the war was over, he quarreled with the Emperor, resigned and spent the rest of his life living in Europe.
Count Feodor Petrovich Tolstoy (1783–1873), sympathetically mentioned by Pushkin in Eugene Onegin, was one of the most fashionable Russian drawers and painters of the 1820s. Although he prepared fine illustrations for Bogdanovich's Dushenka, his genuine vocation was wax modeling and design of medals. As he gradually went blind, he had to give up drawing and started writing ballets and librettos for operas. He was appointed Vice-President of the Academy of Arts in 1828. Many of his works may be seen in the Russian Museum, St Petersburg.
Count Feodor Ivanovich Tolstoy (1782–1846) was a notorious drunkard, gastronome, and duellist. It is said that he killed 11 people in duels. In 1803 he participated in the first Russian circumnavigation of the Earth. After he had his body tattooed at the Marquesas and debauched all the crew, captain Krusenstern had to maroon him on the Aleutian Islands near Kamchatka. Upon his return to St Petersburg, Count Fedor was nicknamed Amerikanets ("the American"). He fought bravely in the Patriotic War of 1812 but scandalized his family again by marrying a Gypsy singer in 1821. Alexander Griboyedov satirized him in Woe from Wit, and his cousin Leo Tolstoy — who called him an "extraordinary, criminal, and attractive man" — fictionalized him in War and Peace.
Many of the Tolstoys devoted their spare time to literary pursuits. For instance, Count Alexei Konstantinovich (1817–75) was a courtier but also one of the most popular Russian poets of his time. He wrote admirable ballads, a historical novel, some licentious verse, and satires published under the penname of Kozma Prutkov. His lasting contribution to the Russian literature was a trilogy of historical dramas, modelled after Pushkin's Boris Godunov.
Count Lev Nikolaevich (1828–1910), more widely known abroad as Leo Tolstoy is acclaimed as one of the greatest novelists of all time. After he started his career in the military, he was first drawn to writing books when he served in Chechenya, and already his first novel, Kazaky ("The Cossacks"), was something quite unlike anything written before him. It was in his family estate Yasnaya Polyana near Tula that he created two novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, that are widely acclaimed as among the best novels ever written. Later he developed a kind of non-traditional Christian philosophy, described in his work The Kingdom of God is Within You which inspired Rainer Maria Rilke and a young Indian lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi whose influence extended out to Martin Luther King. The nonviolent philosophy of Tolstoy transcends more movements than many people may be accustomed to think.
Of Lev's thirteen children, most spent their life either promoting his teachings or denouncing them. His youngest daughter and secretary, Alexandra Lvovna (1884–1979), had a particularly troubled life. Although she shared with her father the doctrine of non-violence, she felt it was her duty to take part in the events of World War I. For her courage she was rewarded with three St George medals and the rank of colonel. The Bolsheviks imprisoned her in 1920, but she was installed as the director of the Tolstoy museum in Yasnaya Polyana the next year. Upon leaving Russia in 1929, she settled in the USA and founded the Tolstoy Fund. She helped many Russian intellectuals (notably Vladimir Nabokov and Sergei Rachmaninoff) to escape Bolshevik persecution and to settle in America.
Count Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1883–1945) belonged to a different branch of the family. His early short stories, published in 1910s, were panned by critics for excessive naturalism and wanton eroticism. After the Revolution he briefly emigrated to Germany, but then changed his political views and returned to the Soviet Union. His science fiction novels Aelita (1923), about a journey to the Mars, and Engineer Garin's Death Ray (1927) were popular with teenagers. In his later years he published two lengthy novels on historical subjects, Peter the First (1929–45) and The Road to Calvary (1922–41). As a staunch supporter of Stalin, he became known as "Red Count" or "Comrade Count" and his work was acknowledged to be classics of the Soviet literature. Most of his reputation declined with that of Socialist Realism, but his children's tale character Buratino retains his strong legacy with the younger audience of Russia and across the former Soviet space, appearing as popular reading, a movie, and a variety of derivative forms.
His granddaughter Tatiana Tolstaya (born in 1951) is one of the foremost Russian short story writers. Another living member of the family is Nikolai Tolstoy-Miloslavsky (born in 1935), a controversial British historian.