War and Peace (by Leo Tolstoy)

Tolstoy, Leo, Count

Leo Tolstoy, Count, Rus. Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoi (lyĕf), 1828–1910, Russian novelist and philosopher, considered one of the world's greatest writers.

Early Life

Of a noble family, Tolstoy was born at Yasnaya Polyana, his parents' estate near Tula. Orphaned at nine, he was brought up by his aunts and privately tutored. At 16 he was sent to the Univ. of Kazan, where he studied languages and law. His classes bored him, and he left without a degree. He returned to his estate in 1849 and made several abortive attempts to aid and educate the serfs there. Tolstoy then began a profligate life in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Early Works

In 1851 Tolstoy followed his brother into army service in the Caucasus, where he wrote Childhood (1852). This became the first part of an autobiographical trilogy, which includes Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1857). In 1854 he took part in the defense of Sevastopol, descriptions of which were published in Nekrasov's journal The Contemporary, attracting considerable attention for their unvarnished picture of war. He left army service in 1855 and for several years divided his time between his estate and the literary circles of St. Petersburg. His diary of the period reveals his intense dissatisfaction with his libertine existence. He set up a school for peasant children on his estate, emphasizing a spontaneous approach to learning. When his school proved impractical, he visited Western Europe and there began to question the bases of modern civilization.

In 1862 Tolstoy married Sophia Andreyevna Bers, a young, well-educated woman who bore him 13 children. His candor concerning his infidelities and his harsh conception of her wifely duties contributed to the instability of their marriage. During this time he wrote The Cossacks (1863) and his masterpieces War and Peace (1862–69) and Anna Karenina (1873–76). War and Peace is a vast prose epic of the Napoleonic invasion of 1812. It illustrates Tolstoy's view of history as proceeding inexorably to its own ends, a view in which mankind appears as an accidental instrument. This thesis is conveyed by a stream of brilliantly conceived characters and incidents. Anna Karenina, his most popular work, concerns the tragedy of a woman's faith in romantic love.

Later Life and Works

About 1876 the doubts that had beset Tolstoy since youth, fed by his puritan temperament in conflict with his sensuality, gathered force. The result of his painful self-examination was his conversion to the doctrine of Christian love and acceptance of the principle of nonresistance to evil. The steps in his conversion are set forth in his Confession (1879). For the rest of his life Tolstoy dedicated himself to the practice and propagation of his new faith, which he expounded in a series of works, among them A Short Exposition of the Gospels (1881), What I Believe In (1882), What Then Must We Do? (1886), and The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (1908).

Tolstoy preached nonviolence and a Rousseauistic simplicity of life. He was an anarchist to the extent that he considered wrong all organizations based on the premise of force, including both the government and the church. A Tolstoy cult grew up in Russia and abroad, and his estate became a place of pilgrimage. Because of his prestige the government did not interfere with his activities, although the Russian Church excommunicated him in 1901.

Moral questions are central to Tolstoy's later works, which include the story "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" (1884), the drama The Power of Darkness (1886), and the novel The Kreutzer Sonata (1889). To his last period belongs the essay What Is Art? (1897–98), in which he argued for the moral responsibility of the artist to make his work understandable to most people; he denounced acknowledged masterpieces, including his own earlier works. His last works also include the novels Hadji Murad (1896–1904) and Resurrection (1899–1900) and the drama The Living Corpse (pub. 1911).

Tolstoy's insistence on putting his beliefs into practice and abandoning all earthly goods led to a permanent breach between himself and his wife. His children, with the exception of the youngest daughter, Alexandra, sided with their mother. In 1910, at 83, Tolstoy left home with Alexandra without a specific destination. He caught a chill and died at the railroad stationmaster's house at Astapovo.


Tolstoy's works are available in many English translations. See also the reminiscences of his wife, Sophia (tr. 1928 and 1936); his children Sergei (tr. 1926), Tatiana (tr. 1951), Ilya (tr. 1971), and Alexandra (tr. 1953, repr. 1973); his friends M. Gorky (tr. 1920), A. B. Goldenweizer (tr. 1923, repr. 1969), V. Bulgakov (tr. 1971), and V. G. Chertkov (tr. 1922, repr. 1973); biographies by A. Maude (1931), E. J. Simmons (1946), and H. Troyat (tr. 1967); biography of Sophia Tolstoy by A. Popoff (2010); collections of critical essays, ed. by R. E. Matlaw (1967) and by H. Gifford (1972); I. Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953); W. L. Shirer, Love and Hatred: The Troubled Marriage of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy (1994).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

War and Peace (by Leo Tolstoy): Selected full-text books and articles

War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy; Louise Maude; Aylmer Maude; Henry Gifford Oxford University Press, 1998
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace By Harold Bloom Chelsea House, 1988
Librarian's tip: This is a book of literary criticism
Tolstoy and the Genesis of "War and Peace" By Kathryn B. Feuer; Robin Feuer Miller; Donna Tussing Orwin Cornell University Press, 1996
Truth and Lies in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace By Bell, Fraser Queen's Quarterly, Vol. 109, No. 2, Summer 2002
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Tolstoy By A. N. Wilson Norton, 1988
Librarian's tip: Chap. Ten "War and Peace, 1865-1869"
Tolstoy's Art and Thought, 1847-1880 By Donna Tussing Orwin Princeton University Press, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. Five "The Unity of Man and Nature in War and Peace"
Russia Discovered: Nineteenth-Century Fiction from Pushkin to Chekhov By Angus Calder Heinemann, 1976
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Tolstoy to War and Peace: Man against History"
Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism By Ewa M. Thompson Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "The Consolidating Vision: War and Peace as the New Core Myth of Russian Nationhood"
Patterns of Epiphany: From Wordsworth to Tolstoy, Pater, and Barrett Browning By Martin Bidney Southern Illinois University Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. Seven "Water, Movement, Roundness: Epiphanies and History in Tolstoy's War and Peace"
An Obsession with History: Russian Writers Confront the Past By Andrew Baruch Wachtel Stanford University Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: Chap. Five "War and Peace: Intergeneric Dialogue in One Text"
Portraits of Russian Personalities between Reform and Revolution By Richard Hare Oxford University Press, 1959
Librarian's tip: Chap. VI "Tolstoy after War and Peace"
Party of One: The Selected Writings of Clifton Fadiman By Clifton Fadiman World Pub. Co., 1955
Librarian's tip: Discussion of War and Peace begins on p. 176
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