Leo Tolstoy

Delice Bette | November 12, 2022


Leo Tolstoy, Frenchized name Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Никола́евич Толсто́й Listen), born August 28, 1828 (September 9, 1828 in the Gregorian calendar) in Iasnaya Poliana, and died November 7, 1910 (November 20, 1910 in the Gregorian calendar) in Astapovo, is a Russian writer. He is famous for his novels and short stories that depict the life of the Russian people in the time of the tsars, but also for his essays, in which he condemns the civil and ecclesiastical powers. He was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church; after his death, his manuscripts were destroyed by the Tsarist censors. He wants and intends to highlight in his works the great issues of Civilization. He also left stories and plays.

War and Peace, which took him five years to write, is considered his major work. In this historical and realistic novel, published in 1869, he depicts all social classes at the time of the invasion of Russia by Napoleon”s troops in 1812. It is a vast fresco of the complexities of social life and human psychology. It is a profound and original reflection on history and on violence in human life.

Tolstoy is a writer whose talent is quickly recognized thanks to the autobiographical accounts of his childhood and youth, then of his life as a soldier in Sevastopol (Crimea). He became very famous, as he wanted, with the novel Anna Karenina in 1877. But he is not happy, he is anguished and nihilistic. After an intense search for answers to his existential and philosophical questions, he became enthusiastic about the doctrine of Christ. From then on, and until the end of his life, he expressed his ideal of truth, goodness, justice and peace in essays, sometimes in fictions.

A Christian anarchist, he advocated manual labor, life in contact with nature, rejection of materialism, personal abnegation and detachment from family and social commitments. He hopes that the simple communication of truth from one person to another will make all superstitions, cruelties and contradictions of life disappear.

Because he is praised for his novels, his thought becomes a point of crystallization in Russia and Europe. He is admired or hated for his criticism of national churches and militarism. Towards the end of his life, he had a brief correspondence with Gandhi, an Indian politician and religious man, who was inspired by his “non-resistance to evil through violence” to develop his doctrine of “non-violence”. Towards the end of the 19th century, ideological currents (libertarian, anti-capitalist, etc.) claimed to be inspired by Tolstoi”s legacy. They took up his criticism of the churches, patriotism and economic injustices. If his religious reflection has always remained on the fringe, his literary genius is universally recognized.

Children and youth

Born on August 28, 1828 of the Julian calendar (September 9, 1828 of the Gregorian calendar) in Iasnaya Poliana, Leo Tolstoy was the son of Count Nicholas Ilyich Tolstoy, a penniless young man and veteran of the Russian campaign, and Countess Maria Nikolayevna Volkonskaya, herself the daughter of Field Marshal Nicholas Volkonsky. The countess was thirty-two years old at the time of her marriage, which was late in life. From this union were born four sons, Serge, Nicholas, Dimitri, Leon and a daughter, Marie. Shortly after the birth of Marie, in August 1830, when Leon was only eighteen months old, the countess died of puerperal fever.

His family belonged to the great Russian aristocracy, counting many important figures, in politics as well as in literature, in modern Russia and long before, claiming among its ancestors, for example, Mamai Khan (1335-1380), the powerful Mongolian commander who led, for several years, the Golden Horde in devastating expeditions affecting present-day Russia and Ukraine.

Until the age of eight and a half, Leon knew only the countryside in Iasnaya Poliana, the family and the small farmers. He learned arithmetic, as well as some French, German and Russian. Then the city attracted the siblings, so that they could receive a quality education. At that time, Leon was nicknamed “Liova riova”, which means Leon the whiner, because of his great sensitivity, especially when he left Iasnaya Poliana with his family for Moscow. However, before the family could even get used to their new life, they had to face a new misfortune: on June 21, 1837, their father died suddenly in the middle of the street. The following year, their grandmother met the same fate. Following the death of Alexandra Ilinitchna Osten-Sacken, an aunt who was appointed guardian, her sister Pelagie Ilinitchna Yushkov replaced her in this role. The latter lived in Kazan, on the banks of the Volga, where the Tolstoy family settled.

In 1844, sixteen-year-old Leon enrolled in the Faculty of Oriental Languages at the University of Kazan, thinking of becoming a diplomat. He lived with his brothers in the Kisseliov house on present-day Tolstoy Street. He soon became bored with his studies and after postponing his exams, he turned to the Faculty of Law, where he had little success. He soon realized that he was not interested in the education he received, only his numerous and varied personal readings (history, philosophical treatises) aroused in him an unsatisfied ambition.

He soon kept a personal journal, as well as a collection of rules of conduct that he fed daily and referred to just as frequently. His feelings and frustrations carried him away in this desire for perfection rather than righteousness. His very beauty came to grieve him, while he lamented an unattractive physique. He wrote about it:

“I am ugly, awkward, unclean and without worldly varnish. I am irritable, unpleasant to others, pretentious, intolerant and shy as a child. I am ignorant. What I do know, I have learned here and there, with no follow-up and still so little! But there is one thing I love more than the good: it is glory. I am so ambitious that if I had to choose between glory and virtue, I believe I would choose the former.”

– Diary, July 7, 1854

This ambition was not immediately expressed, and when he left the university in 1847, at the age of nineteen, he thought he would find his raison dӐtre in field work and charity: a boyar landowner, he says that he sometimes whipped his serfs, which he regretted. However, he soon turned away from them, preferring a life of leisure from Tula to Moscow, punctuated by gambling (especially card playing) and alcohol.

The soldier writer (1851-1855)

His ties with his older brother Nicholas, who had joined the army, took him to fight in the Caucasus, against the mountain people led by the rebel chief Shamil. There he experienced the adventure and glory that so many young people of his age hoped for. He later recounted his experience in The Cossacks. But for the time being, his childhood memories were more important to him. He wrote an account of it, Childhood, which he sent to the editor of the magazine The Contemporary, Nikolai Nekrassov, who responded favorably on August 29, 1852. The novel was a great success. Very soon, he undertook the sequel: Adolescence, published in 1854, then Youth in 1855.

Success could have convinced him that his destiny was that of a writer. However, this idea seems all the more absurd to him as his attraction for action prevents him from thinking of himself as a simple man of letters. Russia having just declared war on Turkey, Leon leaves his Cossack friends and joins his regiment in Bessarabia. He is sent to the Crimea, where he knows the danger, which both exalts and scandalizes him. Death revolts the man in a hurry. This impatience is relieved by the fall of Sebastopol, which definitely disgusts him from the military profession. He composed three stories, Sebastopol in December 1854, Sebastopol in May 1855, Sebastopol in August 1855, which moved the Empress, and were translated into French at the request of Alexander II.

In November 1855, Leo Tolstoy was sent as a courier to St. Petersburg. Ivan Turgenev received him, gave him shelter, and thanks to him Leo Tolstoy was able to frequent the circles of the leading writers of the time. But he soon turned away from them, his mood making him irritable at every exchange. He returned to Iasnaia Poliana to live more peacefully, while expressing the wish to found a home, which he perceived as necessary for his physical and moral balance. The death of his brother Dimitri from tuberculosis convinced him of this.

Wandering (1856-1861)

His deep desire for solitude, his horror of unbridled sexuality and, in spite of everything, his firm will to found a home, made Tolstoy a man with complex feelings of love, mixing impossible love and lightning love. Impossible love at first, since the man did not easily manage to find that much-vaunted stability; then lightning love when he was married to Sophie Behrs.

In Paris, where he arrived in February 1857, he met Ivan Turgenev, who introduced him to French arts and culture, which amused and annoyed him. He decided to leave for Switzerland, where he met his aunt in the second degree, Alexandrine Tolstoy, whose intelligence he admired, before returning to Russia and then leaving, on June 25, 1860, for Germany, where he carried out work of inspection of schools, studies of educational methods. His brother Nicholas, suffering from tuberculosis, died on September 20 of the same year. Nevertheless, Leo Tolstoy continued his wanderings, traveling through Europe, from Marseilles to Rome, from Paris to London, where he visited Alexander Herzen, as well as in Brussels, where he met Proudhon.

Also during his wandering, he will stay, in March 1857, with his friend Tourguéniev at the Hotel de la Cloche in Dijon.

The abolition of serfdom, ordered by Alexander II on February 19, 1861, enchanted Tolstoy – but also made him fear that this event would lead to a popular revolt. He then became an arbitrator of peace, responsible for settling disputes between landowners and serfs in the Krapivna district. Leo”s sentimental idleness was cut short by his meeting with Sophie Behrs, daughter of Andrei Estafyevich Behrs, a doctor attached to the administration of the Moscow imperial palace of distant German descent. And Tolstoy wrote about this event:

“I, a toothless old fool, have fallen in love.”

– to his aunt, September 7, 1862

The husband, the father

His marriage to Sophie Behrs, sixteen years his junior, was all the more improbable because Léon”s attachment to solitude, his strong personality, and his tumultuous past made this commitment to love a folly. Like the Pozdnychev of his Kreutzer Sonata, Leon had Sophie read his diary before their wedding, in which he detailed his worst faults. This did not discourage the young woman, and on September 23, 1862, the bride and groom were married in the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin.

Settled in Iasnaya Poliana, the couple experienced a very ambivalent relationship, a succession of happy days, a quietude that Leon assures that he had not experienced until then, and then of heartbreak. This initial calm, although it often made Sophie suffer, a city girl at heart, allowed Tolstoy to reach the serenity of the writer. He then published The Cossacks (1863), and then began to write War and Peace, first entitled the Year 1805. After visiting the battlefield of Borodino, and documenting in Moscow, he returned to Iasnaya Poliana to continue writing, with an astonishing rigor. Repeating whole passages of War and Peace several times, he managed to finish writing the sixth and last volume of the work in 1869.

In the same year, he saw the birth of his third son, named Leon after him. This period of enjoyment soon contrasted with the turmoil that the writer experienced as a result of a sudden and powerful realization that he was only mortal. This moral upheaval occurred while Tolstoy was traveling to Penza, during a stop at an inn in the town of Arzamas. Leon confided about it in his Diary:

“Suddenly, my life stopped… I had no more desires. I knew there was nothing to desire. The truth is that life is absurd. I had reached the abyss and I saw that before me there was nothing but death. I, a healthy and happy man, felt that I could no longer live.

– Diary, September 1869

It was then that Leon immersed himself in the reading of philosophers, Schopenhauer in particular, whom he quickly appreciated. He then made numerous projects, started writing a syllabary, and reopened a school. This effervescence actually hid a deep emptiness caused by the completion of his work War and Peace. Tolstoy”s talent was soon concentrated on one goal: to write a “novel about contemporary life, the subject of which would be an unfaithful woman. The plan to write Anna Karenina was born after Leo had read Pushkin”s Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin in March 1873, which his son Serge was reading at the time.

However, the writing of Anna Karenina proceeded slowly, interrupted by numerous family dramas. In November 1873, the Tolstoys” last-born son, Peter, died at the age of eighteen months, carried off by croup (diphtheria). The following year, Nicholas, the fifth son, lived hardly more than a year, hydrocephalic from birth. Sophie, who was ill, had a miscarriage shortly afterwards, and two aunts (Toinette and Pélagie Youchkov) died. This accumulation of tragedies delayed the publication of the novel, but did not prevent it, and Leon”s stubbornness overcame his skepticism, even his disgust for the work he had just created, which he considered “execrable. The critics did otherwise and welcomed it. Just as he had finished writing the previous novel, he went through a troubled period, where the philosophical considerations he had mixed with the novelistic events in Anna Karenina had given birth to an ethical-religious thought.

The search for a simple and spiritual life

His first publications are autobiographical stories (Childhood and Adolescence) (1852-1856). They relate how a child, the son of rich landowners, slowly realizes what separates him from his peasant playmates. Later, around 1883, he rejects these books as too sentimental, as much of his life is revealed, and he decides to live as a peasant, also getting rid of his inherited material possessions, however numerous (as well as honors, having acquired hereditarily the title of count). With time, he will be more and more guided by a simple and spiritual existence.

Still very young, following the death of his father, Tolstoy was plagued by a sense of the absurdity of life and, increasingly, of the falsity of social organization. Both sensitive and inclined to rationalize, Tolstoy overcame a great moral crisis through introspection and study, living a life he liked to keep simple: “I have passed from nihilism to faith,” he says in What is my faith? He then tried to transmit his conceptions on religion, morality and society, with a radical criticism of the State and the Church, the denunciation of the idleness of the rich and the misery of the poor, and a radical criticism of war and violence. He thus gave a higher meaning to the mobilization he had experienced during the Crimean War (1853-1856) – which he had recounted in Tales from Sevastopol – and to his novel War and Peace, which took place before he came into the world, during the Napoleonic Wars. During the last twenty years of his life, Tolstoy saw the rise of socialist movements, the 1905 Revolution, a sort of dress rehearsal for the 1917 Revolution, and the rise of the perils that would lead, a few years after his death, to the Great War and the disappearance of the Tsarist Empire.

For Tolstoy, true art is not a search for purely aesthetic pleasure, but a means of communicating emotions and uniting people; he also criticizes art for art”s sake and the bourgeois tastes that patronize inaccessible arts out of vanity and that mean nothing to the common man.

Philosophical readings

In the summer of 1869, while he was finishing War and Peace, he discovered Schopenhauer and became enthusiastic about him: “Schopenhauer is the most brilliant of men”. He even thought of translating it into Russian and publishing it. But the philosopher with whom he had the most affinity was the Russian African Spir. In 1896 he read Thought and Reality and was very impressed by it, as he wrote in a letter to Hélène Claparède-Spir: “Reading Denken und Wirklichkeit was a great joy for me. I do not know of any philosopher so profound and at the same time so exact, I mean scientific, accepting only what is indispensable and clear for everyone. I am sure that his doctrine will be understood and appreciated as it deserves and that the fate of his work will be similar to that of Schopenhauer, who became known and admired only after his death.” . On this subject, he notes in his Diary on May 2, 1896:

“Another important event, the work of African Spir. I have just reread what I wrote at the beginning of this journal. Basically it is nothing more than a kind of summary of Spir”s whole philosophy, which at that time I had not only not read, but had not even the slightest idea of.”

In 1879, Tolstoy turned to Christianity, which he wrote about in My Confession and My Religion (a work that was initially censored), but he was very critical of the Russian Orthodox Church: his Christianity was still marked by rationalism, and religion was always a subject of violent internal debate. His criticism of oppressive institutions and sources of violence inspired Mahatma Gandhi, as well as Romain Rolland. Their messages were later taken up by Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and many others. Gandhi read Tolstoy”s Letter to a Hindu in 1908, in which the Russian writer denounced acts of violence by Indian nationalists in South Africa; this led Gandhi and Tolstoy to correspond until Tolstoy”s death. Similarly, Romain Rolland published his biography, Life of Tolstoy, shortly after Tolstoy”s death. For its part, the Orthodox Church excommunicated Tolstoy after the publication of his novel Resurrection.

Last years

At the end of his life, Tolstoy is regularly plagued by inner dilemmas that torture him. His relationship with his wife was also very difficult, marked by family disputes and Tolstoy”s decision to disinherit his children.

On the night of October 28, 1910, after leaving a letter to his wife announcing that he was leaving her, he fled his family in the greatest secrecy with his personal physician, Dr. Dushan Makovitsky, and set out for the Optina Monastery, one of the most famous in Russia. He wants to meet the experienced monks who live there to calm his fears, but when he arrives at the door of the monastery, he hesitates and ends up turning back before he meets anyone.

On October 31, while he was at the Astapovo train station, he contracted pneumonia and had to be put on bed rest. Agonizing, he refused the visit of his wife. In addition, some people of Tolstoi”s entourage present at his bedside prevented Father Varsonofy from entering. The latter, monk of the Monastery of Optina, had come especially to try to speak to the writer, after having heard about the degradation of his health.

Tolstoi died on November 7, 1910 (November 20, 1910 in the Gregorian calendar).

The meaning of life

To reach the knowledge of oneself and of one”s relation to the universe, man has only reason, says Tolstoy. However, “neither philosophy nor science,” which “study phenomena in pure reason,” can lay the foundation for the relationship of man and the universe. In fact, all the spiritual forces of a creature capable of suffering, rejoicing, fearing and hoping are part of this relationship between man and the world; it is thus by a feeling of our personal position in the world that we believe in God. Faith is thus for Tolstoy a “vital necessity” in the life of a man; Pascal demonstrated it in a definitive way, he maintains in 1906. Faith is not a question of the will to believe.

It is religion that defines “our relationship to the world and to its origin, – which is called God”; and morality is the “constant rule, applicable to life, which derives from this relationship. It is therefore “essential to elucidate and express religious truths clearly.

“Humanity follows one of two directions: A) it submits to the laws of conscience, or B) it rejects them and abandons itself to its gross instincts”. To assign personal happiness as the goal of human life makes no sense, because, 1° “happiness for some is always acquired at the expense of others,” 2° “If man acquires earthly happiness, the more he possesses it, the less satisfied he will be, and the more he will desire,” and 3° “The longer man lives, the more he is inevitably affected by old age, disease, and finally death, which destroys the possibility of any earthly happiness. However, “life is an aspiration towards a good, a good that cannot be an evil, and a life that cannot be death”; “Materialists misunderstand what limits life with life itself”; “True life is not material life, but the inner life of our spirit”; “visible life” is a “necessary aid to our spiritual growth” but “only of temporary use”. Suicide is irrational, unreasonable, because in death only the form of life changes, and also immoral because the purpose of life is not personal contentment “by fleeing from unpleasantness,” but to perfect oneself by being useful to the world, and vice versa.

The “meaning of life” is “to do the will of Him who sent us into this world, from whom we came and to whom we will return. Evil consists in acting against this will and good in doing it”; the meaning of my life depends on the explanation I give myself of God”s will with the help of my reason.

Doing God”s will brings the greatest possible happiness to a man, and brings true freedom. (A conception of freedom found among Catholics and Cathars, for whom true freedom is “not free will, but the power to know evil and to resist it.”) By replacing our “desires and their gratification” with “the desire to do God”s will, in the present state, and in any possible future state, one is no longer “afraid of death”; “And if desires are completely transformed, then there remains only life, and there is no death. “This is the only conception that clearly defines man”s activity and protects him from despair and suffering.

So what to do? “The only business of human life is to understand the sufferings of individuals, the causes of errors and the activity needed to reduce them. And how? “To live in the clarity of the light that is in me, and to place it before men.

True” Christianity

All the introspection and systematic study of theology that led Tolstoy to abandon nihilism can be summarized as follows: religion is “the revelation of God to men and a mode of worship of the divinity,” and not a “set of superstitions – as believed by the privileged classes who, influenced by science, think that man is ruled by his instincts – nor a “conventional arrangement”

Tolstoy said that he only wanted to show the true Christianity. As a reformer of Christianity, he said: “No man has to discover anew the law of his life. Those who have lived before him have discovered and expressed it, and he has only to verify it with his reason, and accept or reject the propositions expressed in the tradition. Reason comes to us from God, unlike traditions which come from men and can therefore be false. The “law is hidden only to those who do not want to follow it” and who, rejecting reason, accept with confidence the affirmations of those who have also renounced it, and “verify the truth by tradition”.

In this he reasoned exactly like an author he quotes in The Kingdom of God is Within You, Petr Chelčický, who lived at the dawn of John Huss”s Reformation: “Men recognize faith with difficulty because it has been sullied by the ignominy committed in its name”; “one must then keep the judgment of the wise elders and use good reasoning”; “one cannot say, ”I don”t know what He thinks,” for if one could not know, no one would ever believe. There are many who have been followers of the faith given by Jesus Christ. His will is that we believe in His law; faith is necessary for; one cannot be faithful to them without first believing in God and His Words – they guide and instruct.”

In contemporary times, this same principle of the pre-eminence of truth had also been expressed by the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison – “Truth for authority, not authority for truth”, and whose struggle had largely consisted of denouncing and denying ecclesiastics and politicians who gave moral approval, even by their silence, to slavery.

The same approach led Tolstoy and Chelciky to similar understandings of Christianity: “In morals, Chelcicky presaged much of Tolstoy”s teaching: he interpreted the Sermon on the Mount literally, denounced war and oaths, opposed the union of church and state, and said that the duty of all true Christians was to disassociate themselves from the national church and return to the simple teaching of Jesus and His apostles.” In fact, for Tolstoy, “the essence of Christ”s teaching is simply that which is comprehensible to everyone in the Gospels.”

All the sects that Tolstoy cites for admitting “true” Christianity interpreted the Sermon on the Mount to the letter: Waldensians, Cathars, Mennonites, Moravian Brethren, Shakers, Quakers, Doukhobors, and Moloquists, and in fact, all the principles that Tolstoy puts forward, peppering his writings with quotations from the Gospels, stem directly from this attitude. Translators of the Gospel like Martin Luther and John Wycliff played an important role in the life of mankind, since it was enough to “free ourselves from the perversions brought by the Church to the true doctrine of Christ.

The “real” Church

Tolstoy announced his criticism of the Church in My Confession, which was the preface to his Critique of Dogmatic Theology: “The lie as well as the truth was transmitted by what is called the Church; both were contained in tradition, in what is called holy history and the Scriptures; it was up to me to find the truth and the lie and to separate them from each other. If the faith of a coalman includes belief in the Blessed Virgin, that may be fine for him, but it is no longer possible, for example, for a cultured woman who knows that “humanity is the result, not of Adam and Eve, but of the development of animal life”, because “in order to truly believe, faith must embrace all the elements of our knowledge”.

According to Tolstoy (as for Chelcicky), Christianity was corrupted by its association with temporal power at the time of Emperor Constantine I. The Church then invented a pseudo-Christianity which allowed the clergymen to obtain material advantages in exchange for the support of the representatives of the civil authorities to continue their old life. However, the approval by the religious authorities of a state that is based on violence (war, capital punishment, judicial condemnation, punishment, etc.) is a direct negation of the teaching of Christ, – moreover, the Christian doctrine prohibits the status of “teacher,” the pecuniary reward for professing the teaching of Christ and oaths.

Tolstoy extended the criticism of the Catholic Church that originated at the time of the Reformation in the fifteenth century to all churches, sects and religions, and up to his time : any Church – whether Orthodox, Greek, Catholic, Protestant, or Lutheran – that claims to be the sole repository of truth, with its councils and dogmas, and its lack of tolerance manifested in the definition of heresies and excommunications, shows that it is in reality only a civil institution; and the same is true of “the thousands of sects that are enemies of each other,” and “all other religions have had the same history.  ” The struggles between the churches to predominate are absurd and only testify to the falsity that has been introduced into religion. For Christian doctrine forbids quarrelling. In fact, “only Christianity that is not hindered by any civil institution, independent, true, can be tolerant”.

In history, this pseudo-Christianity originated with the Council of Nicaea, when men gathered in an assembly declared that the truth was what they decided to call truth; and “the root of evil was hatred and malice, against Arius and the others”. This “deception” led to the Inquisition and the stakes of John Huss and Savonarola. There had been a precedent in the Scriptures, where in a superstitious account of a meeting of the disciples the indisputability of what they said was attributed to a “tongue of fire. But Christian doctrine does not derive its veracity from the authority of ecclesiastics, nor from any miracle, nor from a so-called sacred object like the Bible.

“Man has only to begin, and he will see if the doctrine comes from me,” Tolstoy repeats. The Church (“and there are many”) has thus reversed the relationship between reason and religion, and rejects reason out of attachment to tradition. But as Ruskin, Rousseau, Emerson, Kant, Voltaire, Lamennais, Channing, Lessing and others have explained: “It is men working for the truth by acts of charity, who are the body of the Church which has always lived and will live forever”; “All has been said and there is nothing to add” about “the future of Catholicism”.

The object of all theology is to prevent understanding,” by distorting the meaning and words of the Scriptures; the elaboration of dogmas and the invention of sacraments (communion, confession, baptism, marriage, etc.) serves only “for the material benefit of the Church. The biblical accounts of creation and original sin are myths; the dogma of the divinity of Christ is a crude interpretation of the expression “Son of God”; the Immaculate Conception and the Eucharist are “delusions”; the Trinity, “3=1,” is nonsense, and the Redemption is contradicted by all the facts that show suffering and evil men. The dogmas are difficult or impossible to understand and their fruits are bad (“envy, hatred, executions, banishments, murder of women and children, burning and torture”), while the morals are clear to everyone and their fruits are good (“provide food…. everything that is joyful, comforting, and serves as a beacon in our history”). Thus, anyone who claims to believe in Christian doctrine must choose: “the Creed or the Sermon on the Mount”.

“True religion can exist in all the so-called sects and heresies, only it certainly cannot exist where it is joined to a state using violence”. Thus, we can understand that Pascal “could believe in Catholicism, preferring to believe in it than to believe in nothing”; and Thomas a Kempis, Augustine, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Francis of Assisi, and Francis de Sales helped to show the true doctrine of Christ; but “they would have been even more charitable and exemplary if they had not shown themselves obedient to false doctrines.”

Tolstoy and Esperanto

A convinced Esperantist, Tolstoy made it known in a letter dated April 27, 1894 to Vasilij Lvovič Kravcov and the Esperantists of Voronez that he was in favor of Esperanto, an international language that he said he had learned in two hours.

“I found Volapük very complicated and, on the contrary, Esperanto very simple. Having received, six years ago, a grammar book, a dictionary and articles in Esperanto, I was able to manage easily, after two short hours, if not to write it, at least to read it fluently. The sacrifices that any man in our European world will make, by devoting some time to its study, are so small, and the results that may result from it so immense, that one cannot refuse to make this attempt.”

In February 1895, Tolstoy published an article entitled “Reason and Faith” in the magazine La Esperantisto, which led the Russian Empire to censor the newspaper in Russia.

Tolstoy and vegetarianism

A former hunter, Leo Tolstoy adopted a vegetarian diet in 1885. He advocated “vegetarian pacifism” and respect for life in all its forms, even the most insignificant. He wrote that by killing animals “man needlessly suppresses in himself the highest spiritual aptitude – sympathy and pity for living creatures like himself – and that by thus violating his own feelings he becomes cruel. He therefore considered the consumption of animal flesh to be “absolutely immoral, since it involves an act contrary to morality: killing.

Tolstoy pedagogue

Tolstoy wanted to free the individual from physical and mental slavery. In 1856, he gave his land to the serfs, but they refused, thinking that he was going to swindle them. So he will constantly ask himself this question: “Why, but why don”t they want freedom?

He was an extraordinary pedagogue. He travels and says that everywhere, the school teaches servitude. The pupils recite the lessons stupidly without understanding them. To put children directly in contact with culture is to give up this tedious and sterile programming which goes from the simplest to the most complicated. What interests children are lively and complicated subjects, where everything is intertwined. “What should children be taught?” Tolstoy imagines a profusion of cultural places, where children would learn by attending these places.

Tolstoy anarchist Christian mystic

Tolstoy always claimed to be a Christian and later formalized his political anarchism through the expression of a mysticism of freedom rooted in the Christian example. Tolstoy denounced the validity of authority and all forms of power aimed at limiting personal freedom in numerous articles with a resolutely anarchist tone and motivated by a thoughtful faith in the Christian injunction to serve others. The social paradigm derived from the aforementioned golden rule is celebrated by Leo Tolstoy as that of a world dedicated to the fulfillment of all in mutual respect and personal exaltation.

The idea that only obedience to the moral law should govern humanity, expressed with all the power of his art in his work “The Kingdom of God is within you” earned Tolstoy the label of anarchist, which he never refuted, simply pointing out that his anarchism related only to human laws that his reason and conscience did not approve.

Influenced by Proudhon and Kropotkin, Tolstoy, deeply attached to the Gospel, is convinced that the conscience of humans is guided by the divine light revealed in Jesus. Because of his anti-ecclesiastical rhetoric, he was excommunicated by the Orthodox Church.

His writings, which have some similarities with Buddhism, will influence the Russian mystical anarchists of the beginning of the XXth century, among whom Georges Tchoulkov, Vassili Nalimov (en) or Alexis Solonovitch. The conjunction of these two dimensions, mystical and anarchist, in many of Tolstoy”s writings, made a strong impression on the young Gandhi. The latter would come into contact with Tolstoy, a correspondence would ensue, and Gandhi would claim all his life to be a “disciple” of Tolstoy”s thought. The historian Henri Arvon gives Leo Tolstoy as an anarchist.

“The question for a Christian is not whether a man has the right or not to destroy the present state of things… as the question is asked sometimes intentionally and very often unintentionally by the opponents of Christianity” – but how should I act in relation to the violence that is manifested by governments in social, international and economic relations. To this question Tolstoy gives as an answer a Christian rule of conduct which can and should also be considered satisfied for every reasonable man; for he appeals to their conscience: “If you are not able to do to others what you would like them to do to you, at least do not do to them what you would not like them to do to you.” The obligation of conscience, religious or merely human, not to swear, not to judge, not to condemn, and not to kill ensures that a man, believer or not, cannot take part in courts, prisons, governments, and armies.

While anarchists consider the government itself to be evil, Tolstoy writes:

One cannot call Tolstoy an anarchist thinker; for if there are similarities, “… the humanist doctrines (which) maintain that they have nothing in common with Christianity, – the socialist, communist and anarchist doctrines – are in fact nothing more than partial expressions of the Christian conscience”, the difference of opinion is clear: “the idea that men could live without government; this would be the doctrine of anarchy, with all the horrors that accompany it”. Very concretely, in a letter where Tolstoy explains Henry George”s project to a Siberian peasant, he gives him an idea of the way and the amount of taxes he would have to pay for the “public needs of the State”, – which is absolutely incompatible with anarchist ideas, Tolstoy would lean more towards minarchism

Kropotkin says that he “came to share the ideas expressed by Tolstoy in War and Peace about the ”role played by the unknown masses in historical events,”” but while the former advocated socialist anarchism, with a socialist organization of production, and considered that conflicts and wars could occur in the evolution of humanity “in spite of the will of individuals in particular”, the latter called superstitious the idea that one could organize the future lives of others through socialism, judged revolutionary ideas unrealistic, and ardently believed in the abolition of all war through the evolution of each man”s individual consciousness, the teaching of Christ meeting the demands of reason and the natural feeling of love.

Tolstoy and patriotism

On the question of the fatherland, the following writings of Leo Tolstoy can be cited: The Christian spirit and patriotism (1894), Patriotism and the government (1900), Soldier”s notebook (1902), The Russo-Japanese war (1904), Salute to the refractory (1909) and also the Tale of Ivan the Fool (1886)

In Patriotism and Government (1900), Tolstoy shows how “patriotism is a backward, inopportune and harmful idea… Patriotism as a sentiment is a bad and harmful sentiment; as a doctrine is a foolish doctrine, since it is clear that, if every people and every state holds itself to be the best of peoples and states, they will all be in a gross and harmful error. Then he explains how “this outdated idea, although it is in flagrant contradiction with the whole order of things that has changed in other respects, continues to influence men and to direct their acts. Only the rulers, using the easily hypnotized stupidity of the people, find it “advantageous to maintain this idea, which no longer has any meaning or use. They succeed because they possess “the most powerful means to influence men” (subjugation of the Press and the University, police and army, money).

Short stories, tales and narratives


In Russia, in Astapovo, Tolstoy”s house preserves the writer”s memorabilia, including his death mask (formerly owned by the French writer Paul Bourget) and a cast of his hand. In the center of Moscow, in the district of Khamovniki, is preserved the authentic wooden house of the writer in which he spent about twenty years, from 1882 to 1901. Among its leaders, the head of the Public Administration Nikolai Ivanovich Guchkov and the collector Lev Lvovich Cory. It was unanimously decided to buy the writer”s property at the expense of the State Treasury and establish a museum there. The property was purchased for 125 thousand rubles, which Tolstoy”s widow divided among the many descendants. On April 23, 1912, a farewell party was held in the house by the Tolstoy family to mark their final departure from the property. It was the Soviet government that created the museum and took charge of its restoration. Today, the Tolstoy museum remains one of the rare examples of wooden houses built in Moscow before the fire of 1812″ Leo Tolstoy”s house in Khamovniki (Moscow) “, on http:

External links


  1. Léon Tolstoï
  2. Leo Tolstoy
  3. En orthographe précédant la réforme de 1917-1918 : Левъ Николаевичъ Толстой.
  4. Troyat, Henri (2001). Tolstoy (em inglês). [S.l.]: Grove Press
  5. A. N. Wilson, Tolstoy (1988), p. 146
  6. Rajaram, M. (2009). Thirukkural: Pearls of Inspiration. New Delhi: Rupa Publications. pp. xviii–xxi
  7. a b Tolstoy, Líev. War and Peace. [S.l.: s.n.] ISBN 0679405739
  8. Tolstojs voornaam Lev wordt doorgaans in het Nederlands vertaald als Leo. Zijn achternaam wordt ook wel getranslitereerd als Tolstoi. Volgens de catalogus van de Koninklijke Bibliotheek verschenen er tussen 2010 en 2015 Nederlandse uitgaven van zijn werk onder de namen Leo Tolstoj, Leo Tolstoi, L.N. Tolstoj, Lev Tolstoj en Lev Nikolajevitsj Tolstoj.
  9. Volgens de gregoriaanse kalender. Op dat moment werd in Rusland nog de juliaanse kalender gebruikt. Volgens die na de Russische revolutie afgeschafte kalender is hij geboren op 28 augustus en gestorven op 7 november.
  10. Reader”s Digestː Mindennapi élet az ókortól napjainkig; 2006, 144. o.
  11. a b Басинский П. В. Лев Толстой: Бегство из рая / Гл. ред. Е. Шубина. — М.: Издательство АСТ, 2018. — 636 с. — (Литературные биографии Павла Басинского). — helytelen ISBN kód: 978-5-17-067699-9
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