Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy
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  Leo Tolstoy's Biography  This lauded author was born Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy in 1828 at Iasnaia Poliana, his family's estate in Russia. At times the toast of the town, he also fell out of favor with the Russian authorities many times during a long career — both for his political views and failed writing endeavors. He was a prolific author who did not set out to be a storyteller. He was full of contradictions: he led a raucous, philandering youth, then devoted himself to family life only to become bitter and disillusioned; he was a count who was fascinated by peasant life; he was a revolutionary in his thinking and later in life he was an activist and reformer; he was best known as Russia's greatest moral authority, and his teachings on civil disobedience have inspired Gandhi, Martin Luther King,  Jr. and countless others. He was, and still is, an author to be reckoned with. Downright Debauchery  Although Tolstoy's legacy as an author and philosopher is one of seriousness and morality as a young man, Tolstoy was often far from serious or moral. In his 20s, he dropped out of the university, spent several years in-and-out of the army, during which time he drank heavily, gambling away his family's fortune, womanizing and fraternizing, and eventually gained entrée into the close knit world of the St. Petersburg literary scene, becoming at one point closely associated with Turgenev, the author of Fathers and Sons . In 1858, four years before his first marriage, he had an adulterous affair with a married peasant who bore him an illegitimate child. It wasn't until he was 50 years old that Tolstoy had a great change of faith and heart that solidified his very moral attitude toward the world. Anna Karenina  In  Anna Karenina  (1875  –  77) Tolstoy applied these ideas to family life. The novel's first sentence, which indicates its concern with the domestic, is perhaps Tolstoy's most famous: “All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Anna  Karenina  interweaves the stories of three families, the Oblonskys, the Karenins, and the Levins. The novel begins at the Oblonskys, where the long-suffering wife Dolly has discovered the infidelity of her genial and sybaritic husband Stiva. In her kindness, care for her family, and concern for everyday life, Dolly stands as the novel's moral compass. By contrast, Stiva, though never wishing ill, wastes resources, neglects his family, and regards pleasure as the purpose of life. The figure of Stiva is perhaps designed to suggest that evil, no less than good, ultimately derives from the small moral choices human beings make moment by moment. Stiva's sister Anna begins the novel as the faithful wife of the stiff, unromantic, but otherwise decent government minister Aleksey Karenin and the mother of a young boy, Seryozha. But Anna, who imagines herself the heroine of a romantic novel, allows herself to fall in love with an officer, Aleksey Vronsky. Schooling herself to see only the worst in her husband, she eventually  leaves him and her son to live with Vronsky. Throughout the novel, Tolstoy indicates that the romantic idea of love, which most people identify with love itself, is entirely incompatible with the superior kind of love, the intimate love of good families. As the novel progresses, Anna, who suffers pangs of conscience for abandoning her husband and child, develops a habit of lying to herself until she reaches a state of near madness and total separation from reality. She at last commits suicide by throwing herself under a train. The realization that she may have been thinking about life incorrectly comes to her only when she is lying on the track, and it is too late to save herself. The third story concerns Dolly's sister Kitty, who first imagines she loves Vronsky but then recognizes that real love is the intimate feeling she has for her family's old friend, Konstantin Levin. Their story focuses on courtship, marriage, and the ordinary incidents of family life, which, in spite of many difficulties, shape real happiness and a meaningful existence. Throughout the novel, Levin is tormented by philosophical questions about the meaning of life in the face of death. Although these questions are never answered, they vanish when Levin begins to live correctly by devoting himself to his family and to daily work. Like his creator Tolstoy, Levin regards the systems of intellectuals as spurious and as incapable of embracing life's complexity. Both War and Peace  and  Anna Karenina  advance the idea that ethics can never be a matter of timeless rules applied to particular situations. Rather, ethics depends on a sensitivity, developed over a lifetime, to particular people and specific situations. Tolstoy's preference for particularities over abstractions is often described as the hallmark of his thought. Biographies and recollections of Tolstoy The best portrait of Tolstoy the person is Maxim Gorky ,  Reminiscences of Leo Nicolaevich Tolstoy  (1920, reprinted 1977; srcinally published in Russian, 1919). There are several biographies of Tolstoy. Aylmer Maude , The Life of Tolstoy , 2 vol. (1908  –  10, reissued 2 vol. in 1, 1987), is a highly detailed account, written by a friend sympathetic to Tolstoy's teachings. Ernest J. Simmons ,  Leo Tolstoy  (1946, reissued in 2 vol., 1960), is useful for its generous selection of intriguing quotations concerning Tolstoy's life, though it is weak on Tolstoy's works. Henri Troyat , Tolstoy  (1967, reprinted 1980; srcinally published in French, 1965), captures the drama of Tolstoy's life; it is marred, however, by the use of autobiographical fiction as if it were nonfictional documents. Because Troyat is skeptical of Tolstoy's religious teachings, his biography is a useful counterpoint to Maude's. A whimsical biography by a prominent Russian writer and critic is Victor Shklovsky  ( viktor Shklovskii ),  Lev Tolstoy  (1978; srcinally published in Russian, 1963). Also of interest is A.N. Wilson , Tolstoy  (1988).  N.N. Gusev ,  Letopis' zhizni i tvorchestva L'va Nikolaevicha Tolstogo , 2 vol. (1958  –  60), is a chronology of facts. Informative works on Tolstoy's wife are The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy , trans. by Cathy Porter   (1985); and S.A. Tolstaia ,  Autobiography of Countess Tolstoy , trans. from Russian by S.S. Koteliansky  and Leonard Woolf   (also published as The Autobiography of Countess Sophie Tolstoi , 1922). Accounts of the Tolstoy's marriage are Cynthia Asquith ,  Married to Tolstoy  (1960); Anne Edwards , Sonya: The Life of Countess Tolstoy  (1981); and Louise Smoluchowski ,  Lev and Sonya: The Story of the Tolstoy Marriage  (1987). Alexandra Tolstoy , Tolstoy: A Life of My Father   (1953, reissued 1975; srcinally published in Russian, 2 vol., 1953), presents another view  Anna Karenina novel by Leo Tolstoy, published in installments between 1875 and 1877 and considered one of the pinnacles of world literature. The narrative centres on the adulterous affair between Anna, wife of Aleksey Karenin, and Count Vronsky, a young bachelor. Karenin's discovery of the liaison arouses only his concern for his own public image. Anna promises discretion for the sake of her husband and young son but eventually becomes pregnant by Vronsky. After the child is born, Anna and the child accompany Vronsky first to Italy and then to his Russian estate. She begins making furtive trips to see her older child and grows increasingly bitter toward Vronsky, eventually regarding him as unfaithful. In desperation she goes to the train station, purchases a ticket, and then impulsively throws herself in front of the incoming train. A parallel love story, involving the difficult courtship and fulfilling marriage of Kitty and Levin, provides a rich counterpoint to the tragedy and is thought to reflect Tolstoy's own marital experience. There is an inevitability about the tragic fate that hangs over the adulterous love of Anna and V ronsky. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” is the epigraph of the novel and the leitmotif of the story. Anna pays not so much because she transgresses the moral code but because she refuses to observe the proprieties customarily exacted in such liaisons by the hypocritical high society to which she belongs.

Chapter 13

Jul 26, 2017
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