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Tolstoy: A Russian Life Paperback – January 1, 1642
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- Item Weight : 15.9 ounces
- ISBN-10 : 1781251916
- ISBN-13 : 978-1781251911
- Product Dimensions : 5.04 x 1.38 x 7.8 inches
- Publisher : Profile Books; Main Edition (January 1, 1642)
- Language: : English
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#343,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top reviews from the United States
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Tolstoy was a man of great achievements and many contradictions in his complex soul. He was born as a wealthy aristocrat who grew up in Moscow, Tula and Yasnaya Polyana (Clear Glade) his family's vast estate 120 miles from Moscow. Tolstoy attended Kazan University where he studied languages and law. He left without a degree. The young man had four brothers and a sister. He and his siblings were orphaned at early ages growing up surrounded by an extended and loving family. As a young man Tolstoy loved to hunt and fish; indulge in outdoor pursuits; read; write; chase women and drink to excess. He became a military officer serving five years in the artillery during the Crimean War. His novel "The Cossacks" was based on this experience as well as several short stories and novellas.
Tolstoy wed Sofie Bers in 1862. She was a city girl who grew up in the Kremlin where her father served as a doctor. Sonya would bear Tolstoy 13 children. She is one of the most incredible wives of an author who ever lived! She had to raise the children, feed them and sew their clothes in addition to serving as Tolstoy's secretary. She was bright and loved city life. She was often bored in the country. She and Tolstoy had many marital problems with him leaving her and the family in his 1910 flight.
Tolstoy is best known as the author of such monumental works as "War and Peace" written in the 1860s' "Anna Karenina" in the 1870's and "Resurrection" in 1899. It is on these works his fame rests.
Tolstoy was also known as a radical Christian thinker. He was expelled from the Russian Orthodox Church for his iconoclastic beliefs. Thousands became known as Tolstoyans who embraced Tolstoy's teachings on nonviolence; animal rights; celibacy and vegetarianism. Tolstoy has influenced such giants as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Tolstoy also believed in education for the peasants of Russia. His ABC readers were widely distributed. The great man also helped with soup kitchens during times of famine. He lived simply and wanted to give away all his wealth. Tolstoy was a spiritual man who often consulted with holy men and stayed in monasteries seeking meaning in life. He hated war and became a well known pacifist leading to conflicts with the tsarist regime and orthodox church leaders.
Tolstoy had a strong ego; was vain; brilliant and domineering. He loved his family but was a poor father in communicating his love to his often neglected wife and children.
Rosamund Bartlett has uncovered many new family letters of the Tolstoy family. Bartlett is also good at exploring the social and political landscape of repressive Russia under the Tsars. The serfs were emancipated under Tsar Alexander II in 1861 but still led lives of poverty, ignorance and want.Tolstoy wished to improve their lives through education and spirituality.
If you want to read an excellent biography of a great writer then I suggest time spent with Tolstoy by Bartlett is time well spent.
Top reviews from other countries
This book is not an exegesis of War and Peace or Anna Karenina, but a meticulously detailed life of Pyotr Andreyevich Tolstoy, the man. A glance at Bartlett’s Select Bibliography runs to 9 pages of small print, embracing Tolstoy’s correspondence, diaries and family memoirs. The novels themselves are overshadowed by the sheer volume of letters and political and moral treatises to which the author devoted the majority of his latter years. Tolstoy was not just a writer of novels, although for most of his readers it is by them that he is remembered today, but a social and moral reformer. From his aristocratic background he gradually renounced all worldly pleasures and saw his masterpieces as trivial and worthless. He wanted to make the world a better place and by doing this peacefully though his own example he gained the respect of thousands in many lands, especially in the West, but also aroused the anger of the Russian Orthodox church and the ruling class. From his native Yasnaya Polyana, a relatively small estate some 300 miles south-east of Moscow, he reached out to hundreds of thousands, becoming intimate with Englishmen, Europeans, Americans and Japanese, many of whom travelled miles just to shake him by the hand.
Although packed with detailed analyses of Tolstoy’s clashes with authority, resulting finally in his excommunication from the Church, and his being dubbed a devil incarnate by the influential Father Ioann for teaching that Christ was not divine. As Rosamund Bartlett explains, ‘Father Ioann was seen as the pastor of the people, whereas Tolstoy was worshipped more by the intelligentsia.’ Both aspired to an ascetic ideal, both were strict vegetarians and puritans, setting the example by their own lives. When Tolstoy fell seriously ill in 1902 the Holy Synod, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Censorship Committee feared that his death would spark a revolution. Many of Tolstoy’s works were too much for government and clergy, but he pressed on and had them published abroad. Thus he harangued the clergy in the Free Word Press in 1903: ‘You know that what you teach about the creation of the world, about the inspiration of the Bible by God, and much else is not true. How then can you teach it to little children and to ignorant adults who look to you for true enlightenment?’
Bartlett’s comprehensive study is both highly readable and informative, replete with illustrations of the family and friends of a man whose life became as close as possible to that of Christ in following the Jesuitical path of poverty, service and humility, but sheered of any doctrinal trimmings.
It's about the development of key books e.g., "Anna Karenina" and "ABC" (an educational text) but also about Tolstoy as educationalist and thinker. The boldness and range of his religious/philosophical thinking about how to live was tremendous. A centrepiece was "The Gospel in Brief" (based on the Sermon on The Mount) which - a radical re-examination of Christianity - drew conclusions he lived by. He became a non-violent pacifist, but also anti-state, anti-militarist and arguably anarchist, which explains why the Soviets and Orthodox church were so hostile.
Dr Bartlett's thorough book is well-researched , but I'd have liked more opinions (in addition to chronology) about the literature and philosophy; e.g., why is Anna Karenina so highly regarded and writers e.g., Chekhov in awe, ... what are the merits/demerits of Tolstoy's "anarchistic" ideas? Was he right? Perhaps such discussion could have been in footnotes? Perhaps Dr Bartlett felt such judgements were provided by others in the literature.
The portrayal of (Tolstoy's wife) Sophia - central but in shadow - seemed understated; perhaps the marriage was a drama (tensions of a woman married to a radical genius) Dr Bartlett didn`t want to major on. Tolstoy and Sophia married in 1862 when she was 18 (he 34), she bore 13 children (8 survived childhood), and died 1919 at Yasnaya Polyana (the Tolstoy estate south of Moscow). She attempted suicide when told (at the end of his life) Tolstoy had left Yasnaya Polyana.