Lev Tolstoy's life was one long search for truth and an equally tortuous process of constant metamorphosis. Born into one of the most ancient and renowned families of the Russian landed aristocracy, he suffered from a perfectionism that saw him by turns try his hand at being officer, celebrated writer, pedagogue, novelist, and then universal moral teacher, without ever achieving inward contentment.
Tolstoy grew up at the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana. His mother died before his second birthday, and his fondest memories were of his German tutor Friedrich (Fedor) Rössel. After his father's death in 1837 he was shunted among relatives and ended up in Kazan, where in 1844 he enrolled at the university, but left without obtaining a degree. He then spent a few years at Yasnaya Polyana and in 1851 traveled to the Caucasus, becoming a commissioned officer in the army and serving in Romania and Moldavia. Concurrently he began publishing stories from military life and a series of autobiographical novels, Detstvo, Otrochestvo, and Iunost' (1852-1857). His service in the Crimean War was reflected in the three Sevastopol sketches (1855-1856), in which his unique narrative mode was widely noted. Leaving the army, he settled in St. Petersburg and in 1857 toured Paris, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany—experiences that inspired him to social critique. His penchant for moral allegory and protest marks stories such as “Liutserna” (1857) and “Tri smerti” (1859).
Up to this time his life presents a series of dissipated sprees and ensuing self-recriminations, minutely chronicled in his diary. Although he never resolved all the contradictions of his private life, he finally gathered the strength to break with the most egregious forms of womanizing, gambling, and carousing. The year 1859 marks the first of many breaks in his writing career, as he returned to his estate to devote himself to educating his peasants and developing popular