English Literature
Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Life and Legacy of Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a highly esteemed Russian author recognized worldwide as one of the greatest writers of all time. With his Realist approach, Tolstoy created two of the most influential works in Russian literature, Anna Karenina and War and Peace. His impact, however, extended beyond his literary accomplishments, encompassing diverse interests and beliefs such as pacifism, education, and Christian anarchism.

Early Life and Career

Born as Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy in 1828, he grew up in an aristocratic family near Tula, Russia, in the village of Yasnaya Polyana. After losing his parents before the age of 10, he attended a Russian university, but never completed his studies. He and his brother served in the Crimean War (1853-1856), an experience that strongly influenced his views on nonviolence.

Following his return to Russia, Tolstoy embarked on a journey through Europe, where his moral values were shaped, and he grew resentful of the aristocracy. While abroad, he married Sofya Andreyevna Bers and had 13 children, three of whom died in infancy. Despite his responsibilities as a husband and father, Tolstoy managed to write his most famous works during this time, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Tolstoy's wife, Sonya, single-handedly wrote out the manuscript of War and Peace eight times? She was tasked with hand-copying every new version of the novel as Tolstoy made revisions, resulting in almost 10,000 handwritten pages.

Later Years and Legacy

Tolstoy's later years were characterized by a growing interest in morality and religion, leading him to reject many of his previous works as unrealistic. He also wrote extensively on nonviolence, pacifism, and Christian teachings. Tolstoy was a firm believer in education and even founded 13 schools for Russian peasants in his hometown.

Despite his fame and wealth from his writing, Tolstoy actively gave away his possessions and money to distance himself from the aristocratic lifestyle. He even relinquished the copyright to several of his famous novels, causing strife with his wife Sonya, who did not share his beliefs.

Tolstoy's life came to an end when he passed away from pneumonia at a train station in 1910 at the age of 82. Thousands of Russian peasants attended his funeral, a testament to his impact and influence on the common people. Throughout his life, Tolstoy wrote numerous books, novellas, and essays, each representing different stages in his philosophical journey.

Famous Works by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy's extensive body of work reflects his evolution as a writer and thinker. His three fictional novels, in particular, are considered masterpieces that have solidified his position in literary history.

  • War and Peace (1869)
  • Initially published serially and then as a complete novel, War and Peace is a Realist masterpiece that follows the lives of five Russian aristocratic families during the Napoleonic Wars. Tolstoy conducted thorough research to ensure historical accuracy and included philosophical essays within the narrative.
  • Anna Karenina (1877)
  • Tolstoy's first "true" novel, Anna Karenina, was also serially published. It tells the story of an aristocratic woman who falls in love with a wealthy count and the consequences that follow.
  • Resurrection (1899)
  • Tolstoy's final novel, Resurrection, delves into the tale of a wealthy Russian nobleman who falls in love with a peasant girl and is forced to confront societal and moral issues.

Leo Tolstoy's influence in literature and beyond continues to this day, cementing his status as one of the most celebrated figures in history.

Exploring Themes in Tolstoy's Epic Novel

Renowned writer Leo Tolstoy delves into complex themes of love, infidelity, social norms, and religion in his massive novel. Along with examining political concepts like Russia's feudal system, the Orthodox Church, and the Russian government, Tolstoy's final novel, Resurrection, offers a critique of Russian society and the church. However, the novel was met with condemnation from the Russian Orthodox Church, leading to Tolstoy's excommunication.

Leo Tolstoy's Short Stories and Novellas

Famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy produced a multitude of short stories and novellas throughout his illustrious career. He first gained recognition with a series of three novellas - Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854), and Youth (1856) - inspired by his own experiences growing up. One of his most acclaimed works, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), is widely regarded as a prime example of a novella. Tolstoy continued to craft captivating tales in this medium throughout his lifetime.

Exploring Tolstoy's Philosophy through Memorable Quotes

Tolstoy's impactful words have been widely quoted, offering insight into his philosophy. One of his most famous lines, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," opens his beloved novel Anna Karenina. Through this, Tolstoy presents the contrasting realities of Anna and Levin, one destroying her family while the other builds his. This quote can also be interpreted as a commentary on the monotony of happy families.

Another poignant quote by Tolstoy is, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." Here, he emphasizes the importance of individual change and self-reflection in bringing about positive change in the world. He also believed in the fundamental role of love and simplicity in achieving greatness, stating, "There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth."

Tolstoy's exploration of love and its transformative power is evident in his quote, "Everything I know, I know because of love." Although he wrote this before his spiritual awakening, it reflects his belief in the central role of love and goodness in life. Similarly, his quote, "I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself," showcases how his experiences in the Crimean War shaped his philosophy of nonviolence and compassion towards others.

The importance of love and kindness towards fellow humans is a recurring theme in Tolstoy's works. In War and Peace, he writes, "One may deal with things without love...but you cannot deal with men without it...It cannot be otherwise, because natural love is the fundamental law of human life."

Themes in Tolstoy's Novels and Short Stories

Throughout his prolific writing career, Tolstoy consistently explored themes of love, morality, and familial relationships in the context of 19th-century Russian society, theology, and politics. His works often delved into the complexities of different types of love, including romantic and platonic relationships, as well as the consequences of infidelity. Each novel was also set in a specific period of Russian history, reflecting Tolstoy's personal experiences and observations.

In addition, Tolstoy's religious transformation greatly influenced his writing. Before and after his rejection of organized religion, his works grappled with religious and moral dilemmas as his characters struggled to find meaning and faith in Christianity. In his later writings and nonfiction, Tolstoy delved deeper into these themes that were ever-present in his works.

Getting to Know Leo Tolstoy Beyond His Literature

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a renowned Russian author, famed for his powerful writing style and insightful commentary on social and political issues. He is widely considered one of the greatest writers in history, with his most notable works including "War and Peace" (1869) and "Anna Karenina" (1877).

Tolstoy's Striking Realism in Writing

Tolstoy's writing is often categorized as Realism, a literary movement that presents life in a truthful and matter-of-fact manner. In his novels, Tolstoy accurately portrayed the lives of the Russian aristocracy, striving to depict the realities in his works. Unlike the heroic characters often found in Romantic literature, Tolstoy's characters were relatable and realistic, often based on real people he had encountered.

His major works were a blend of character-driven stories and historical events, deviating from the traditional format of linear storytelling. For example, in "War and Peace," Tolstoy intertwines the lives of five aristocratic families during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, offering a multifaceted perspective on the societal and personal impacts of this historical event.

The Enduring Impact of Tolstoy's Ideas

Leo Tolstoy, known for his literary masterpieces, also left behind a legacy of philosophies and moral beliefs that continue to influence individuals and movements even after his death. His ideas on nonviolence, religion, and opposition to the state gave rise to the Tolstoyan movement, which emerged after his passing.

But even during his lifetime, Tolstoy's ideologies resonated with other notable figures. Mahatma Gandhi, renowned for his philosophy of nonviolent resistance, found inspiration in Tolstoy's writings on the subject. Additionally, Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin celebrated Tolstoy's works, with his birthday being recognized as a national holiday in Russia.

Lessons from the Legacy of Leo Tolstoy

  • Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is revered as one of the greatest writers in history.
  • His most notable works include "War and Peace" (1869) and "Anna Karenina" (1877).
  • Tolstoy's literary repertoire also includes a variety of short stories and essays.
  • He advocated for nonviolence, Christian anarchism, and the power of love as a guiding force in life.
  • Tolstoy's writing style aimed for realism and relatable characters.


  • Tolstoy, Leo. "Anna Karenina." 1877.
  • Tolstoy, Leo. "Three Methods of Reform." 1900.
  • Tolstoy, Leo. "War and Peace." 1869.
  • Tolstoy, Leo. "Resurrection." 1899.

Common Themes in Tolstoy's Literature

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) has earned a place as one of the most celebrated Russian writers of all time. Among his vast body of work, themes such as familial relationships, political realities, and religion can be traced throughout his writings. These themes provide a deeper understanding of human emotions and societal dynamics.

Tolstoy's depictions of familial relationships, including love, infidelity, and family dynamics, offer a poignant exploration of human interactions. Additionally, his writing sheds light on the political landscape of 19th-century Russia, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars and Imperial rule.

Furthermore, Tolstoy's works also heavily involve religious undertones. As a Christian anarchist, he believed in the power of love and its connection to God. His philosophical musings often centered around the role of spirituality and morality in human existence.

Tolstoy's Writing Style and Legacy

Tolstoy's writing is hailed as Realist, as he aimed to portray characters in complex and morally ambiguous situations. His approach to character development, focusing on the intricacies of human nature, makes his works timeless and relatable. His longer works, such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina, seamlessly weave elements of the historical novel and familial story, creating a comprehensive and compelling literary experience.

In conclusion, Tolstoy's legacy continues to captivate readers with his powerful themes and masterful storytelling. His works offer timeless insights into the human experience, making him a celebrated figure in literature.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime