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Author Study: Leo Tolstoy Curated by Grace Xu '19

Leo Tolstoy - Quick Facts 

Born: September 9, 1828 in Yasnaya Polyana, Tula, Russia

Died: November 20, 1910 in Astapova, Russia

Other names: Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, Count Leo Tolstoy, Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi 

Russian Rulers History Podcast (Episode 163): "Leo Tolstoy - The Later Years of Transformation"


  • Categorization of Tolstoy's life into pre-Anna Karenina and post-Anna Karenina​
  • Factors that led to Tolstoy's moral transformation (ex. conditions on own estate, Yasnaya Polyana)
  • Tolstoy's excommunication from Russian Orthodox Church (works full of criticism) 
  • Influence of moral philosophy on later works (ex. ResurrectionThe Restoration of Hell, After the Ball)
  • Tolstoy's death  

Youth and Earlier Years (1828-1851)

  • Born and raised on family estate, Yasnaya Polyana
  • Very wealthy noble family dating back to 14th century
  • Mother, Maria Volkonsky, died when Tolstoy was only two years old; father, Count Nikolay Illyich Tolstoy, died when Tolstoy was nine years old   
  • Raised by father's cousin, Tatyana Ergolsky, until 1840, and then moved to Kazan to be under care of aunt, Pelageya Yushkov​
  • Education:
  • Moscow (1837-1841) + Kazan (1841-1844): educated at home by French and German tutors 
  • Kazan University (1844-1847): studied Oriental languages and law, but left in 1847 without a degree

Military Experience (1851-1856)

  • Joined artillery battery as non-commissioned officer (1851-1854), transferred to Bucharest
  • Sub-lieutenant in Sevastopol (1854-1855)

Education and Return to Yasnaya Polyana (1856-1870s)

  • Started experimental school for peasants (deviation from traditional strict curriculum)
  • Gave freedom to serfs even before 1861 emancipation by Tsar Alexander II
  • Published essays on views toward education in journal, Yasnaya Polyana

Marriage and "Golden Years" (1863-1880s)

  • 1862: married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs  
  • High point of Tolstoy's life: raising family 
  • Prolific as a writer: wrote two of his greatest novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina 

Spiritual Crisis (1880s-1890s)

  • Time of deep reflection, internal struggle to find answers to moral questions and meaning of life 
  • Most of works banned by religious and secular censorship for radical/non-traditional views  
  • Core of belief: God’s commandments in the Sermon on the Mount
  • Advocate for Christian-anarchism: nonresistance to evil, abolition of compulsory legislation (ex. police, prisons, army, ultimately state); "syncretic reconciliation of Christianity with all the wisdom of the ages, especially Taoism and Stoicism" (Encyclopedia of Russian History) 
  • Sacrificial theology: became vegetarian; gave up smoking, drinking, hunting; renounced many aristocratic privileges (wore peasant clothing, frequently performed physical labor, turned away from social functions deemed corrupt)

Philosophy and Death (1890s-1910)

  • 1901: excommunicated from Russian Orthodox Church for blasphemy 
  • Increasing discontent with lifestyle and uneasiness toward disparity with his high moral values and standards
  • Domestic conflict: escalating tension brought out by new and more extreme convictions 
  • Left family in secrecy in 1910 and was tracked to Astapovo railway stop, where he died of congestive heart failure 

Map of Tula, Russia


Portrait of Leo Tolstoy in the Military

Tolstoy with peasant children at his Yasnaya Polyana school

"House of Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana"

"Leo Tolstoy with His Family at Tea in a Park, 1892"

"Truth, I love much."

~Leo Tolstoy's last words