Authors We Love: Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy (Novelist) - On This Day

Tolstoy has done a lot of thinking on human nature in his novels. From these thinking, we can see the most real aspect of Tolstoy’s spiritual world. Tolstoy’s reflections on human nature were inspired mainly by the history and reality of Russia at the time. On the one hand, traditional Russia was a patriarchal society, and the Orthodox Church determined the way people thought and felt. Tolstoy was also deeply influenced by the Orthodox Church, whether his attitude was one of acceptance or reservation. On the other hand, the European spirit of enlightenment also exerted a deep influence on Russia, which shook the foundation of traditional Russian belief to a great extent.

The influence of the spirit of enlightenment on Tolstoy was also significant, which made Tolstoy suspect the basic doctrinarian system of Orthodox Church, and he would not think about the issue of faith like ordinary believers. However, Tolstoy did not fully move towards the Enlightenment position of individualism in Europe, so his thinking on human nature often drifted between the two, sometimes like a believer, sometimes like a humanist. The utopian thoughts in Tolstoy’s works are mainly reflected in the resistance against violence and slavery, the opposition to private land system, and the opposition to the promotion of capitalist material civilization and evolution.

He demanded the return to a healthy farming life through the work and moral practice of everyone to establish brotherhood, equality, harmony and fraternity of all human beings. Tolstoy created epic novels. The historical facts are blended with artistic fiction, and the bold and unrestrained brushwork is mixed with delicate description. Tolstoy shows his personal face in a large group portrait. The epic’s solemnity is interspersed with lyrical monologues, which are varied and magnificent. He is good at handling the structure of many clues and the threads are all joined together seamlessly. He can break through the closed form of the novel as magnificent as life has no beginning and no end.

Tolstoy’s artistic charm lies not only in reproducing the macro world, but also in portraying the micro world. Tolstoy has mastered the dialectical development of the mind unprecedentedly in the world literature and described the evolution process of the mind under the influence of the outside world in detail. He dives deep into the subconscious and show it in a harmonious connection with the conscious mind. Tolstoy’s artistic power is real, and it is evident in the shaping of character. He faithfully describes the multifaceted, rich, and complex nature of his characters, not just their dominant side or a dominant state of mind.

He does not conceal the faults of his beloved, nor does he stifle the glimmer of light that flashes in the heart of the character he reveals. He does not sugar-paint, exaggerate, idealize or caricature, but always shows his true nature by the help of real and objective description, thus seeing greatness in the ordinary or, conversely, showing its horror in the ordinary phenomena. Tolstoy’s style is chiefly characterized by its simplicity. He strives for the fullest and most accurate reflection of the truth of life or expression of his own thoughts. Therefore, although he is strict in art, he does not seek to win by skill alone, nor does he seek formal delicacy and avoid long compound sentences, but only seeks the maximum expression. In order to show the disillusionment of the characters in structure, he often adopts the method of flashback. In language, the novel strives to be simple and concise and easy to understand, close to folktales.

-Coreen C.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy War and Peace (Vintage Classics) (9781400079988 ...

This book centers on the Great Patriotic War of 1812 and reflects major historical events from 1805 to 1820. Taking the experience of Bezuhov, Rostov, and Kuragin as the mainline, it connects many events and characters in the alternating description of war and peace. The author cross-described the two lives and two threads of “war” and “peace”, forming an encyclopedic magnificent epic. The basic theme of “War and Peace” is to recognize the just resistance actions of the Russian people during the war, and to praise the patriotic enthusiasm and heroism of the Russian people during the war. But the tone of his work is one of religious benevolence and humanitarianism. He opposes war and sympathizes deeply with the suffering of all sides.

Andrei, Pierre, and others have experienced a tortuous and dialectical development process in their pursuit of ideals and truth. The different mental manifestations of the Russian troops in different battles, such as panic, calmness, and passion, combined with the distinctive individual psychological motivations of each bearing in the specific war, melted and formed the spiritual atmosphere in every corner of the battlefield. Morale is the key to win or lose in a war. The novel War and Peace has both the magnificent color of epic novels and the depth of expression in its insight into the psychology of characters and even the entire nation. The work focuses on a panoramic overview of social life, realizing the epic aesthetic ideal of the creative subject and transcending the work itself. War and Peace powerfully exposes and criticizes the decadence of the upper-class society. In the critical autumn of their motherland, they are still fighting for power and wealth, leading a life of luxury and dissipation and shamelessness.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics) (9781593080273): Leo  Tolstoy, George Stade, Constance Garnett, Amy Mandelker: Books

An excellent psychological description is the essence of the artistic charm of Anna Karenina. The psychological description of the characters is an important part of the whole work. Anna’s choice shows human error. In order to realize the narrow personal love, she did not mind leaving her family as a slave to her own lust. Leo Tolstoy profoundly reveals the origin of Anna’s tragic fate through this magnificent work, that is, the incomplete emotional personality determines Anna’s tragic fate. Although her life exploration is aimed at realizing the spiritual self-pursuit, her life force lacks rational coordination, support and control, resulting in a tragic ending of drifting with passion.

Anna vigorously pursues the extension of perceptual life, strives to explore the original existence mode of life, and earnestly calls for the return of human nature. This behavior mode and understanding of life are understandable, but it does not mean that we should completely abandon even a little bit of rational constraints. Anna in the pursuit of spiritual freedom and practice of the liberation of human nature at the same time fell into the sensual error of indulgence. The freedom she sought to cast off the shackles of society was a selfish freedom, a freedom without scruples, a satisfaction of emotional and possessive desires.

Freedom is not a simple sense of doing whatever you want to do, but a rational sense of active life stretch. If we abandon the principle of reason and only recognize the freedom of the individual, then the freedom of the individual can easily constitute a violation of the freedom of another person, harm the interests of the surrounding groups, lead to contradictions and conflicts, and ultimately make the freedom of the individual insecure and unstable. Just as the pareto principle in economics requires, the realization of individual freedom must be restrained by rationality to ensure the freedom of the whole society is not reduced, that is, the increase of individual freedom must be presupposed by respecting the freedom of other relevant individuals.

It is only under the guidance of reason that each individual seeks his or her own freedom that he or she will be recognized by the social subject. Freedom must be combined with reason to manifest and realize, so as to form a complete concept of moral self-discipline. On the contrary, freedom without reason is at best an empirical self, not a positive extension of life. Only by constraining oneself with the power of reason, realizing the unity of sensibility and rationality, and establishing a sound ideal personality, can we achieve the true state of freedom, which is the highest state that human beings should pursue.

Moreover, Tolstoy saw that in Russia, with the development of urban civilization and material civilization, people’s natural emotions were suppressed, subjectivity gradually lost, and they became the slaves of selfish desires. In the novel, Levin is a man who loses himself in the bureaucratic strife. Through this character, the author shows his reflection on rationality and his deep worry about the alienation of human nature. In the novel, Tolstoy also created two environments, two kinds of aristocrats, through the lives of Levin and Anna. One was the city, where the Karenin, the Oblonsky, and the Vronsky aristocracy lived.

The other was the countryside, where the Levin aristocracy lived. The former is far from nature, for selfish desire to slowly lose the natural emotion of people. In the competition between human beastliness and human nature, they gradually abandon the good self for their own selfish desires. And the latter is in the natural environment, in the real work to exercise the body, purify the mind, get real happiness. Tolstoy shows his opposition to urban civilization through different aristocratic attitudes towards nature. From the cultural point of view, Anna’s tragedy should be the manifestation of Russian cultural tragedy.

Anna struggled between emotional satisfaction and religious repression, lacking a rational regulatory link, a mental defect that showed the fragmentation of Russian culture. Russia is a latecomer to capitalism. It is a millennia-long religious and authoritarian system that keeps the state running. The scientific Enlightenment, which rose slowly in Russia from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century, was often led by the ruling class to serve the autocratic system, which resulted in a lack of real rational spirit and legal consciousness, let alone a sense of democracy.

In Russia, only a small number of intellectuals (such as Pushkin, Belinsky, Turgenev) were affected by western science, democracy and rational spirit. However, most intellectuals have a strong religious consciousness inherent in their minds (such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc., who best represent the characteristics of Russian culture). For the Russian people as a whole, their way of looking at problems and dealing with things is either instinctive desires or moral beliefs, and their instincts and beliefs are in a state of confrontation and division. Hence, Anna embodies the fractured nature of instinct and belief in Russian culture.

Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

anna_kareninaFrom the retrospective view that we as readers have today, it makes sense that much 19th century literature deals with love and romance of the aristocratic sort. The presence of Victorianism in the English-speaking world and largely congruous social standards in the rest of Europe provided for strict gender roles and behaviors, to which all members of the elite echelons especially were expected to adhere. In protest of the aforementioned values or perhaps simply in pursuit of a gripping narrative, many authors of the age told stories of characters who challenged the accepted marital and social expectations of their time. Leo Tolstoy’s greatest work, Anna Karenina, is such a tale.

Set amongst the parties and offices and residences of the highest members of society in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, the novel follows the character from which it gains its name, the wife of a prominent Russian politician who has engaged in a passionate affair with Vronsky, a respected military officer. Concerned exclusively with the interactions between characters and the events that develop among them, in the eves of the contemporary reader for whom magical or action-packed narratives are the norm, Anna Karenina, especially considering its voluminous length, may seem difficult to stomach. Nonetheless, its subject matter and its nine hundred or so pages are two of the qualities that make the novel great.

Indeed, no matter what language in which it is read, Anna Karenina is masterful. It is a romance, yes, but the realism with which Tolstoy writes is unlike any other author. His simplistic yet grand portrayals of a conversation between two lovers at a party, of the farm life and labors of the peasant population, of a suitor’s gallant horse race, of Russian life in its entirety, among a panoply of other scenes, make the read worthwhile. It is not possible to do justice to such an important and wonderful novel in a review such as this.

-Sebastian R., 11th grade

Book Review: The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy

ivan_ilych“Can it be that I have not lived as one ought?” suddenly came into his head. “But how not so, when I’ve done everything as it should be done?”

All humans who were, who are, and who will be have existed, exist, and will exist, respectively, as unique entities, each discrete and different from every other. In our vast variety, it is peculiar to think that all of us, collectively, could find anything of commonality. Indeed, our discrepancies are often cited as the sources of our social and cultural distinctions, our conflicts, and even our wars. Nonetheless, as human beings we do truly share something, or perhaps a few things, that constitutes the essence of our existence. Possibly the most important of these constituent parts, or, as some may perceive, an equivalent of this essence, is human life itself, its progressions and turbulences, its peaks and nadirs.

It is this very concept, life in its truest form, that Leo Tolstoy, in his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilych, seeks to explore. Tolstoy’s work is a summation of the life of a judge in mid-19th century Russia, focusing in particular on his final days of life. As an audience, we are first introduced to Ivan Ilych through the perspective of his colleagues, who, in regards to their fellow official’s death, are most interest in the fate of his position and estate. With this introduction, the remainder of the novella chronicles the passage of years in Ivan Ilych’s life. He appears to live comfortably, dedicated to his career, and exists happily, despite the mounting pangs of a loveless marriage. Ilych, with wife and children, lives awhile in the exile of a peasant village with his wife’s family, but soon he is returned to a more honorable post in his old line of work, affording him the opportunity to begin a good life anew. Yet in the excitement of a new home all his own, Ilych’s life begins to run downhill after he contracts an internal injury whilst decorating the new residence he so cherishes. Ever quickening, his dying days pose for him an existential crisis, causing him to question the value of his life and how his once ubiquitous comfortableness has been lost.

In regards to its plot and subject matter, there is nothing extravagant or instantly engrossing about The Death of Ivan Ilych. To the contrary, the work is defined by and truly is bold for its simplicity. Indeed, Ivan Ilych himself is a simple man, a highly physical being who seeks only to live and to live well. Perhaps this is why his death, as opposed to that of a more prominent figure, is so significantly tragic. Ivan Ilych is an everyman, and thus his sufferings, those of a man who sought only to do what is good and right, become frighteningly familiar and immediately applicable to our own lives. Even with its brevity, The Death of Ivan Ilych has much insight to offer on this human experience we all share.

-Sebastian R., 11th grade