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Author Study: Leo Tolstoy Curated by Grace Xu '19

Historical Context

Political Context

  • Early 1800s: debate between giving more power to enlightened oligarchy or enlightened autocracy (proponents of oligarchy wanted more political influence in hands of aristocracy) 
  • Expanding bureaucracy under Tsars Alexander I and Nicholas I
  • Slavophiles vs Westernizers
Slavophiles Westernizers
Conservative: believed Russian institutions and government better than Western forms More radical: believed in more liberal, Western political structures and ideologies
Mostly Orthodox Christians Atheists or Deists with own faith 

Cultural Context 

Social classes

  • Serfs: debate over elimination of serfdom in Russia (human rights, political, economic implications)
  • Aristocracy: considerable political and cultural influence  

Russian Orthodox Church

  • Church subject to government, but still major institution 
  • Significant portion of every social class devoted to Orthodox faith
  • Dominant form of Christianity in Russia 

Increasing Western Influence

  • Pressure to modernize like other European countries after participation in wars, such as the Crimean War 
  • Spread of Western culture, revolutionary ideals, language, etc. 


  • Government efforts to preserve legitimacy by preventing publications with political criticism 
  • Personal effect on Tolstoy: many works censored for criticism 


  • New cultural elite: increasing number of children from all backgrounds (ex. minor officials, tradesmen) getting an education 
  • Representative of impact of new Western ideas 



Map of Russian Expansion in Asia 

Decembrist Revolt in Senate Square, St. Petersburg (Karl Kolman, 1830s)

Battle of Balaklava, Crimean War, 1854

"Harvesting" (G. Myasoyedov)

Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow