Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), one of the great Russian novelists, is most well-known for his two epic stories War and Peace and Anna Karenina.   While War and Peace deals with history and national conflict, Anna Karenina focuses on conflict of a more personal nature - marriage. 

Leo Tolstoy continues the long tradition of authors writing stories from their own personal experience.  Tolstoy was born into the elite of Tsarist Russia on his family estate of Yasnaya Polyana (Bright Field).  He studied French, English, Greek and read philosophy from Voltaire, Rousseau and Hegel.  In both War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Tolstoy describes in intimate detail the lives and daily minutia of wealthy Russians and frequently uses French, the language of the elite, in his works.  Although he was a land-holding member of the Russian aristocracy, he felt an affinity for the peasants who worked his land.  He tried to engineer a program where his peasants would take responsibility for the land and collect their own profits.  It failed - largely because the peasants distrusted anyone from the aristocracy.  This same scheme is reproduced in Anna Karenina by the character, Levin - and also fails.  However, Levin's courting and marriage to Kitty, an autobiographical reproduction of Tolstoy's own marriage, is quite successful. 

During his lifetime, Tolstoy became one of the Russia's most celebrated writers.  Rather than embrace this phenomenon, Tolstoy eschewed the spotlight and in his later life turned toward spiritualism, self-discovery and helping improve the plight of the poor, oppressed and unfortunate.  

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