Tolstoy's life was defined by moral and artistic seeking and by conflict with himself and his surroundings. Of the old nobility, he began by living the usual, dissipated life of a man of his class; however, his inner compulsion for moral self-justification led him in a different direction. In 1851 he became a soldier in the Caucasus and began to publish even while stationed there (Childhood  and other works). Even more significant were his experiences during the Crimean War: the siege of Sevastopol provided the background for his sketches of human behavior in battle in the Sevastopol Stories (1855--56). After the war, Tolstoy mixed for a time with St. Petersburg literary society, traveled extensively abroad, and married Sophia Bers. The couple were happy for a long time, with Countess Tolstoy participating actively in her husband's literary and other endeavors. The center of Tolstoy's life became family, which he celebrated in the final section of War and Peace (1869). In this great novel, he unfolded the stories of several families in Russia during the Napoleonic period and explored the nature of historical causation and of freedom and necessity. A different note emerged in Anna Karenina (1876). Here, too, Tolstoy focused on families but this time emphasized an individual's conflict with society's norms. A period of inner crisis, depression, and thoughts of suicide culminated in Tolstoy's 1879 conversion to a rationalistic form of Christianity in which moral behavior was supremely important. Confession (1882) describes this profound transition. Tolstoy now began to proselytize his new-found faith through fiction, essays, and personal contacts. Between 1880 and 1883, he wrote three major works on religion. A supreme polemicist, he participated in debates on a large number of political and social issues, generally at odds with the government. His advocacy of nonresistance to evil attracted many followers and later had a profound influence on Mahatma Gandhi and, through him, Martin Luther King, Jr. (see Vol. 4). Tolstoy's stature as a writer and public figure was enormous both within Russia and abroad, greater than that of any other Russian writer. When the Orthodox Church excommunicated him in 1901, a cartoon depicted him as disproportionately larger than his ecclesiastical judges. Tolstoy's final years were filled with inner torment: Living as he did on a luxurious estate, he felt himself to be a betrayer of his own teachings. He also suffered from disputes with his wife over the disposition of his property, which she wished to safeguard for their children. In 1910, desperately unhappy, the aged writer left his home at Yasnaya Polyana. He did not get far; he caught pneumonia and died of heart failure at a railway station, an event that was headline news throughout the world. In the course of Tolstoy's career, his art evolved significantly, but it possessed a certain underlying unity. From the beginning, he concentrated on the inner life of human beings, though the manner of his analysis changed. The body of his writing is enormous, encompassing both fiction and a vast amount of theoretical and polemical material. Besides his three great novels---War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Resurrection (1899)---he wrote many superb shorter works. Among these, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) stands out as a literary masterpiece and fine philosophical text, while the short novel Hadji Murat (1904), set in the Caucasus and Russia during the reign of Nicholas I, is a gem of narration and plot construction. Tolstoy has been translated extensively. The Louise and Aylmer Maude and Constance Garnett translations are institutions (for many works, the only versions available) and are used by different publishers, sometimes in modernized versions. New translations by Rosemary Edmonds, David Magarshack, and Ann Dunigan are also justifiably popular.
by Leo Tolstoy
BOOK ONE: 1805
"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the
Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war,
if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by
that Antichrist- I really believe he is Antichrist- I will have
nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer
my 'faithful slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see
I have frightened you- sit down and tell me all the news."
It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna
Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya
Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man
of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her
reception. Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as
she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in
St. Petersburg, used only by the elite.
All her invitations without exception, written in French, and
delivered by a scarlet-liveried footman that morning, ran as follows:
"If you have nothing better to do, Count [or Prince], and if the
prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too
terrible, I shall be very charmed to see you tonight between 7 and 10-
"Heavens! what a virulent attack!" replied the prince, not in the
least disconcerted by this reception. He had just entered, wearing
an embroidered court uniform, knee breeches, and shoes, and had
stars on his breast and a serene expression on his flat face. He spoke
in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only spoke but
thought, and with the gentle, patronizing intonation natural to a
man of importance who had grown old in society and at court. He went
up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting to her his bald,
scented, and shining head, and complacently seated himself on the
"First of all, dear friend, tell me how you are. Set your friend's
mind at rest," said he without altering his tone, beneath the
politeness and affected sympathy of which indifference and even
irony could be discerned.
"Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times
like these if one has any feeling?" said Anna Pavlovna. "You are
staying the whole evening, I hope?"
"And the fete at the English ambassador's? Today is Wednesday. I
must put in an appearance there," said the prince. "My daughter is
coming for me to take me there."
"I thought today's fete had been canceled. I confess all these
festivities and fireworks are becoming wearisome."
"If they had known that you wished it, the entertainment would
have been put off," said the prince, who, like a wound-up clock, by
force of habit said things he did not even wish to be believed.
"Don't tease! Well, and what has been decided about Novosiltsev's
dispatch? You know everything."
"What can one say about it?" replied the prince in a cold,
listless tone. "What has been decided? They have decided that
Buonaparte has burnt his boats, and I believe that we are ready to