- On September 9, 1828, writer Leo Tolstoy was born at his family’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula Province of Russia.
- He was the youngest of four boys. When Tolstoy’s mother died in 1830, his father’s cousin took over caring for the children.
- When their father, Count Nikolay Tolstoy, died just seven years later, their aunt was appointed their legal guardian. When the aunt passed away, Tolstoy and his siblings moved in with a second aunt, in Kazan, Russia.
- Tolstoy received his primary education at home, at the hands of French and German tutors.
- In 1843, he enrolled in an Oriental languages program at the University of Kazan. There, Tolstoy failed to excel as a student.
- His low grades forced him to transfer to an easier law program. Prone to partying in excess, Tolstoy ultimately left the University of Kazan in 1847, without a degree.
- He returned to his parents’ estate, where he made a go at becoming a farmer.
- As Tolstoy was flailing on the farm, his older brother, Nikolay, came to visit while on military leave. Nikolay convinced Tolstoy to join the Army as a junker, south in the Caucasus Mountains, where Nikolay himself was stationed.
- Following his stint as a junker, Tolstoy transferred to Sevastopol in Ukraine in November 1854, where he fought in the Crimean War through August 1855
- During quiet periods while Tolstoy was a junker in the Army, he worked on an autobiographical story called Childhood. In it, he wrote of his fondest childhood memories.
- In 1852, Tolstoy submitted the sketch to The Contemporary, the most popular journal of the time. The story was eagerly accepted and became Tolstoy’s very first published work.
- Once the Crimean War ended and Tolstoy left the Army, he returned to Russia. Back home, the burgeoning author found himself in high demand on the St. Petersburg literary scene.
- Declaring himself an anarchist, he made off to Paris in 1857. Once there, he gambled away all of his money and was forced to return home to Russia.
- He also managed to publish Youth, the third part of his autobiographical trilogy, in 1857.
- Back in Russia in 1862, Tolstoy produced the first of a 12 issue-installment of the journal Yasnaya Polyana, marrying a doctor’s daughter named Sofya Andreyevna Bers that same year.
- Tolstoy spent the better part of the 1860s toiling over his first great novel, War and Peace. A portion of the novel was first published in the Russian Messenger in 1865, under the title “The Year 1805.“
- By 1868, he had released three more chapters and a year later, the novel was complete.
- The novel also uniquely incorporated three long essays satirizing the laws of history. Among the ideas that Tolstoy extols in War and Peace is the belief that the quality and meaning of one’s life is mainly derived from his day-to-day activities.
- Following the success of War and Peace, in 1873, Tolstoy set to work on the second of his best-known novels, Anna Karenina.
- Like War and Peace, Anna Karenina fictionalized some biographical events from Tolstoy’s life.
- Anna Karenina was published in installments from 1873 to 1877, to critical and public acclaim. The royalties that Tolstoy earned from the novel contributed to his rapidly growing wealth.
- Tolstoy suffered a spiritual crisis and grew depressed. Struggling to uncover the meaning of life, Tolstoy first went to the Russian Orthodox Church but did not find the answers he sought there.
- He decided to express those beliefs by founding a new publication called The Mediator in 1883.
- When Tolstoy’s new beliefs prompted his desire to give away his money, his wife strongly objected.
- Tolstoy continued to write fiction throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Among his later works’ genres were moral tales and realistic fiction.
- One of his most successful later works was the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, written in 1886. In Ivan Ilyich, the main character struggles to come to grips with his impending death.
- In 1898, Tolstoy wrote Father Sergius, a work of fiction in which he seems to criticize the beliefs that he developed following his spiritual conversion.
- The following year, he wrote his third lengthy novel, Resurrection.Tolstoy’s other late works include essays on art, a satirical play called The Living Corpse that he wrote in 1890, and a novella called Hadji-Murad (written in 1904), which was discovered and published after his death.
- His ideas about nonviolent resistance to evil influenced the likes of social leader Mahatma Gandhi.
- Their troubled marriage took on an air of notoriety in the press. Anxious to escape his wife’s growing resentment, in October 1910, Tolstoy, his daughter, Aleksandra, and his physician, Dr. Dushan P. Makovitski, embarked on a pilgrimage.
- Unfortunately, the pilgrimage proved too arduous for the aging novelist. In November 1910, the stationmaster of a train depot in Astapovo, Russia opened his home to Tolstoy, allowing the ailing writer to rest. Tolstoy died there shortly after, on November 20, 1910