Key Facts About Leo Tolstoy

by James Green
The world knows Leo Tolstoy for his realist writing style.

The world knows Leo Tolstoy for his realist writing style.

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Leo Tolstoy, born September 9, 1828, was a Russian writer most famous for "Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace." Credited with influencing the genre of realism, his novels often contained themes such as the impact of war, social conflict and class distinctions. He died November 20, 1910.

Early Life

Leo Tolstoy was born in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia, to a family of nobles. He studied law and oriental languages briefly before leaving his studies and eventually joining the Army. While serving in the military, he started to develop the beliefs and ideology his published works would eventually reflect. The cruelties of war and governments motivated him to begin his writing career. A major influence on his writing was the work of Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables.

Key Works

Tolstoy produced a vast number of works, with the majority in the form of short stories. Some of his better known works include "War and Peace," widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of literature to this day. The novel describes the impact of the French invasion of Russia in 1812 in considerable, highly graphic detail. His other celebrated novel, "Anna Karenina," is a story of romance, social conflict and high society in tsarist Russia. Other Tolstoy novels include "Hadji Murat," "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," "Youth" and "The Cossacks."

Styles and Themes

Many consider Tolstoy a major contributor to the realism genre. Many critics see his novels as highly earthbound, that is, intrinsically linked to the world around him. Some have noted that Tolstoy had a talent for seeing the world on a much greater depth compared to other authors. Situations and realities take on a completely new meaning. Many Tolstoy novels also reflected his own political and religious views, namely that of the problems of class division, rewards through work, and Christianity infused with concepts of Buddhism. He had a special interest in the Buddhist philosophy of inner self-reflection.

Later Life and Death

Tolstoy became steadily more vocal and critical of world politics and conflicts as he grew older. He was outspoken not only on social conflicts around the world, but also had the nerve to criticize the Russian government's treatment of its citizens at home as well as its foreign policy. Influenced by the ideas of Buddhism, he later focused on Confucianism and Hinduism, especially the latter's influence on non-violence. Tolstoy died of pneumonia at the age of 82. Before his death, he had largely abandoned his inherited wealth, believing he was undeserving. He had given much of it away to vagrants and peasants during his life.

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