Read by David Shaw-Parker (Unabridged: 46mins)
Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 in the Russian province of Tula to a wealthy noble family. As a child, he had private tutors but he showed little interest in any formal education. When he went to the University of Kazan in 1843 to study oriental languages and law, he left without completing his courses. Life now was relaxed and idle but with some writing also taking place. Gambling debts forced an abrupt change of path and he joined the army to fight in the Crimean War. He was commended for his bravery and promoted but was appalled at the brutality and loss of life. He recorded these and other earlier experiences in his diaries which formed the basis of several of his works.
In 1852 ‘Childhood’ was published to immediate success and was followed by ‘Boyhood’ and ‘Youth’.
His experience in the army and the horrors he witnessed resulted in ‘The Cossacks’ in 1862 and the trilogy ‘Sevastopol Tales’. After the war he travelled around Europe, visiting London and Paris and meeting such luminaries as Victor Hugo and Charles Darwin.
It was now that Tolstoy began his masterpiece, ‘War and Peace’. Published in 1869 it was an epic work that changed literature. He quickly followed this with ‘Anna Karenina’.
These successes made Tolstoy rich and helped him accomplish many of his dreams but also brought problems as he grappled with his faith and the lot of the oppressed poor. These revolutionary views became so popular that the authorities now kept him under surveillance.
He led a life of asceticism and vegetarianism and put his socialist ideals into practice by establishing numerous schools for the poor and food programmes. He also believed in giving away his wealth, which caused much discord with his wife.
His writing continued to bring forth classics such as ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ and many brilliant and incisive short stories such as ‘How Much Land Does A Man Need’.
In 1901 Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Church and controversially deselected for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Whilst undertaking a pilgrimage by train in October 1910 with his daughter Aleksandra he caught pneumonia in the nearby town of Astapovo. Leo Tolstoy died on November 9th, 1910, he was 82.