The Six: Six Things You Didn’t Know About Leo Tolstoy


(Author’s note: “Writing Gooder” is a blog run by the Young Writers Society and its target audience is teenagers and young college students. Many of these young writers have no idea who Tolstoy was! So we have tried to keep the facts simple and informational. If you know a lot about Tolstoy, congrats! He was a terrific man. You probably know much of this already. If you are looking for facts that are more odd, try my article on Mark Twain. He had some odd traits!: )

The Russian great was considered mad by some and a genius by others. He was a radical and a saint. A noble-turned-ascetic wanderer. No wonder so many were fascinated with his life and stories.

6. He was an anarchist.

Not just an anarchist, Tolstoy’s reputation is as a Christian anarchist. It was certainly a revolutionary concept in tsarist Russia. As a Christian, he considered it necessary to be a pacifist. He believed the State to be the greatest contributor to war and murder, so therefore the State had to be disregarded.

His ideas later found admirers in such revolutionaries as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

5. He was watched by the Russian secret police.

Not much of a surprise here, considering we learned that he was anti-government. Yet it wasn’t only his confrontation with the secular tsarist government that brought the secret police to reign down on him.

Tolstoy was a Christian and attempted to worship in the Russian Orthodox Church. He was quickly disappointed and contested the authority of the Church. It was at this point that they booted (excommunicated)  him and kept a nice close eye on this modest noble. He managed to stir up both the Church and the State (which he considered pretty much linked anyway).

4. He was a junker.

“A what?” you may ask. A Junker was a Prussian/German landowner and member of the minor nobility who most likely just didn’t matter anymore. They were mostly poor and sometimes lost their land, though many tried to make their work as farmers or soldiers.

Tolstoy did both, failing miserably at the everyday management of his farm with all its serf workers. He also followed his brother into the military, seeing action in the Crimean War. Russian junkers were soldiers, and the term (borrowed from German) stuck to designate these low-level noble officers.

3. He gave away his wealth.

Tolstoy had just come off a huge financial hit with Anna Karenina. He started to rake in the cash and was making money like a good Russian noble ought to during that time. And he had done it all through writing.

Except Tolstoy couldn’t abide by his Christian values and keep all that money to himself. He gave up most of his fortune, often to local beggars. It drove his wife, Sofya, to rejection. She had gone into their marriage believing she had married a comfortable and wealthy noble only to be subjected to Tolstoy’s constant and nearly complete charity. Tolstoy eventually left home to travel and he became a wandering ascetic.

2. Many novelists call him the greatest novelist ever.

War and Peace has over 400,000 words, but that doesn’t make Tolstoy the greatest novelist according to some; yet even the most awarded and accomplished novelists call him that. James Joyce looked up to him, Virginia Woolf declared him the greatest novelist ever.

Nabokov, Chekov, Proust, Faulkner all sung his praises. There is hardly a criticism in the novelists’ book. And it is Anna Karenina that most of these authors believe to be his best masterpiece, not the sprawling War and Peace that many have come to know him by.

1. He died in a rather poetic fashion.

Tolstoy died of pneumonia at the Astapavo train station. After wandering like the ascetic he was, the author was brought upstairs to die after being treated with morphine and camphor.

Anna Karenina spoiler. He died at a train station where, famously, his character Anna Karenina came to her end. Except Tolstoy didn’t throw himself under a train and get run over in gruesome fashion. Still, it’s almost fitting that the author and his character were somehow linked in the end.


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21 Responses

  1. Ole Harald Dahl says:

    Got interested when I saw the heading, but all the informations are well known. Might be it would have been better to find another heading for the article?? – Good writers are respecting their readers!

    • Trident says:

      Thanks for the comment. You are quite right, many of these facts about Tolstoy are known rather well for the initiated. This is a blog for young writers so I have tried to incorporate some of the things that a teenager might get some use out of. Besides, Tolstoy was a bit of an open book!

      If you want an author who definitely had some odd facts about him, try my post on Mark Twain! Definitely worth the read:

  2. Tom says:

    Did you just call War and Peace sprawling!? Anna K is brilliant, to be sure, but so is W&P.

    • Trident says:

      Haha, all for a matter of entertainment’s sake. I have never had the pleasure of reading War and Peace, but as a good student of Nabokov I studied his criticisms of it. He might have agreed!

      • Barbara A. Richards says:

        I prefer War and Peace. Have read both of these great novels (though Tolstoy said that War and Peace was not a novel) several times. So what if War and Peace is “sprawling”, I would call that magnificent breadth, and it has a humanity beyond compare.

    • David says:

      It is sprawling. As in, it fucking sprawls. 1200+ pages in tiny print capturing hundreds of characters, and 600 pages of historical theory/philosophy is sprawling by any account of what a novel is meant to be.

  3. bill says:

    For those of us who are not Lit Majors and like Tolstoy’s writing, this is all new. thank you!

  4. Shilpa sasikala v.p says:

    Nice article. Tis was of use for me as a literature student. All the ‘six things ‘ is interesting.

  5. John says:

    To the best of my knowledge, Tolstoy was not a junker. He did not own property in Prussia (as far as I know). Tolstoy was a descendant from a well know Russian aristocratic family who were both landed and rewarded with titles for military service. The Russian aristocracy numbered less than 1% of the population and Tolstoy was far from close to financial bankruptcy.

    • Trident says:

      Hi John, I did some research on this. The term “junker” means different things in Russia and Germany. I tried to explain this, but not clearly enough I suppose. In Germany, they were lowly landowners. In Russia, they were low-level officers in the Russian military.

  6. James says:

    Of all these, I only knew numbers 6 and 2. Very interesting!

  7. boogie says:

    he did not become an ascetic, however much he aspired to be. he decided to become a wandering ascetic at the end of his life, but became ill at a train station, then passed away there.

  8. Narayan Rao R says:

    Leo Tolstoy was also a vegetarian.

  9. Im learning more about this man as I find interesting articles as this one published recently on his website. I have just completed a painting of him from a photo as he appeared in a very relaxed and gentile mood, and learning of his altruistic ways it just seems to fit..

  10. Theodore says:

    I have also heard that before his death he converted to the Bahai Faith.

  11. Natraj Krishnan says:

    Leo Tolstoy’s latest revelation is interesting and what kind of a lifestyle the great writer has gone through and his humanitarian approach. in this modern era……….we will not be able to find a man like Tolstoy

  12. OK Sudesh says:

    the 4th thing (‘he was a junker’) is new to me. i had the feeling that he was quite wealthy.

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