Leo Tolstoy: Life, Works, and Writing Style Term Paper

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Leo Tolstoy: Life, Works, And Writing Style

Leo Tolstoy

Born in September 9th, 1828, Leo Tolstoy according to Borrero is widely regarded one of the greatest writers of all time (340). Some of his most popular works include but they are not limited to Karenina and War and Peace. In this text, I discuss Tolstoy's life, works, as well as style of writing.


Early Childhood

The lastborn in a family of five, Tolstoy was born at his family's estate at Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy's birthplace lies in Russia's Tulu Province. Coming from a well off aristocrat family, Tolstoy according to Borrero was a count by title (340). Tolstoy lost both his parents when he was quite young. At age two, he lost his mother, Mariya Nikolayevna. Upon the death of Tolstoy's mother, a distant cousin of his father, Tatyana Ergolskaya, took the children under her care for a period of approximately five years, before Alexandra Osten-Saken was appointed the legal guardian of the children. The said appointment took place after the death of their father. As Orwin points out; Tatyana was Tolstoy's most beloved guardian (7). At the time of his father's death, Tolstoy according to Orwin was only 9 years old (7). Upon the death of Alexandra, the children were yet again (in 1840) sent to live with another sister of their father in Kazan, Russia.


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Tolstoy took his education at home and for this reason, he became rather fluent in Russian, German as well as French (Orwin, 7). In 1943, Tolstoy joined university where he chose to pursue Oriental Languages. Here, he found studies too demanding and he was forced to switch to law -- two years after joining Kazan University. It is important to note that at this point, Tolstoy linguistic talents had begun to show. His professors in the words of Bloom "recognized his linguistic talent, becoming proficient in more than a dozen languages…." (233).

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Tolstoy had not successfully finished his law degree by the time he left university in 1847 (Bloom, 233). On returning to Yosnaya Polyana, Tolstoy tried his hand in farming and failed due to his inexperience in handling the farm's unpaid farmhands. On his return, he also tried to champion social reform particularly among the peasants (Bloom, 234). Most of his time in this case was however spent socializing. It is also at around this time that he started making entries in his diary. As Orwin points out, some of Tolstoy's diaries detail a number of rules which he often set for himself but failed to abide by (8). It is important to note that the entries he made in the diaries served as an important resource for his works going forward.

Career at the Army and Commencement of his Literary Career

In 1948, Tolstoy's elder brother, Nikolay, who was serving with the army at the time paid him a visit at Yosnaya Polyana. During his visit, he requested Tolstoy to join him in his work station and Tolstoy obliged. It during his stay with Nikolay in the south that Tolstoy decided to join the military. During his service, Tolstoy is described as having been brave. However, in some instances, this brevity according to Orwin bordered on outright recklessness (8). For instance, as the authors further point out, one of Tolstoy's fellow officers recalls him posing in front of a cannon which already had a lit fuse (Orwin, 8).

Tolstoy's first published text was Childhood? -- an autobiographical piece that found its way into a leading journal at the time, i.e. Contemporary (Bloom, 234). The editor of the journal found Tolstoy's sketch particularly sticking. On being published, this piece was hailed across Russia as a masterpiece. Almost immediately, Tolstoy commenced on putting together yet another piece, The Cossacks, which basically sought to document his life and times in the outpost. This particular piece was completed in 1862. During his service in southern Ukraine, he managed to put together the next portion of his autobiography which he christened Youth. He also managed to complete a number of tales which sought to give an account of war from his own perspective. Tolstoy's hugely popular piece, War and Peace, was completed in 1869 (Leburn, 349). His other masterpiece, Anna Karenina, was completed in 1877 (Leburn, 349). These two literary pieces created quite a sensation on their release. I will discuss them in significant detain elsewhere in this text.


During the last quarter of 1862, Tolstoy married a young beautiful woman by the name Sofya Andreyevna (Bloom, 235). As Lebrun points out, Sofya's was a court physician (349). Despite being 16 years his junior, Sofya was quite intelligent and strong-willed. According to Orwin, Sofya's other key role in addition to managing the household was copying lengthy novels for Tolstoy (8). The very first of the couple's nine children was born in 1863. It is however important to note that after spending a couple of years together, the relationship between Tolstoy and Sofya began to show signs of strain. One of the causes of the said standoff was Tolstoy's resolve to give all his wealth away (Robinson, 51). His wife was against such an idea in its totality. As a result, an agreement was eventually reached at to the effect that Sofya would be assigned the copyright to all of Tolstoy's works completed prior to 1881.

Final Years and Death

The final years of Tolstoy were not particularly the happiest for him (Borrero, 341). Indeed, as Orwin notes, (9) Tolstoy's last thirty years were largely unhappy (9). This is in comparison to his first two decades of marriage. Although he had already earned worldwide acclaim for his works, Tolstoy found it difficult to maintain a healthy balance between the interests of his family and those of his followers. He was also unable to reconcile his beliefs with life's other demands and responsibilities. Tolstoy died of pneumonia in October 1910 while on his last pilgrimage (Borrero, 341).

Important Works

As I have already pointed out elsewhere in this text, Tolstoy's two most widely acclaimed pieces are War and Peace and Anna Karenina. In basic terms, Tolstoy's War and Peace could be regarded one of Tolstoy's most comprehensive accounts of his life. This is more so the case given that he chose to pull into the plot almost every person he had met. He describes a wide range of events as well as occurrences that impacted on his life with significant detail. On the other hand, Anna Karenina largely revolves around Anna who happens to be a strikingly beautiful wife of an old government official. When Anna meets Vronsky, a handsome fellow, her life is turned upside down. She falls in love with Vronsky - a love affair that can only be termed disastrous. This particular piece brings to the fore the existing conflict between reality and people's untamed desires. Some of Tolstoy's other works include but they are not limited to The Death of Ivan IIyich, Childhood, and Youth.

Style of Writing and Language Use

In basic terms, Tolstoy makes use of ordinary events to bring into perspective various issues on religion, war, as well as feminism. Some of the areas that Tolstoy was most passionate about in his writings according to Snodgrass include but they are not limited to anarchism, Christianity, and violence (288). In seeking to analyze Tolstoy's writing style, it would be prudent to first focus on Anna Karenina. This is more so the case given that Tolstoy considers it his best work.

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy succeeds in intertwining the lives of a number of characters in a way that does not confuse the reader. Tolstoy also chooses to make use of the third-person perspective in the narration and as the all-knowing narrator; he extends his knowledge to his character's thoughts and actions. To give his narrative a realistic touch, Tolstoy chooses to utilize real events in which case characters actively discuss pertinent and real life issues in the society. Although he clearly favors the use of long (and sometimes complex) sentences, he occasionally deviates from this tendency by keeping sentences short and elliptical. Tolstoy also writes with precise clarity. This is particularly the case given his ability to recreate emotions with unrivalled precision. As Orwin points out, "in addition to giving pleasure, he hoped that his stories would make readers think about how they should live their lives" (7).

A look at some of Tolstoy's other writings brings out his syntax as being somewhat unconventional. This is more so the case in War and Peace where Tolstoy seeks to strengthen his narration perspective by ignoring quite a number of language rules. Yet another distinctive characteristic of Tolstoy's style is the deliberate use of repetition. This he does in an attempt to acquaint the reader with the mannerisms or characteristics of a character. For instance, in War and Peace, Tolstoy makes use of the words "radiant eyes" quite a number of times in reference to Princess Marya. In so doing, he intends… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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