Interesting Facts About Leo Tolstoy


Everyone knows that Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) was a Russian novelist, essayist, playwright, and short story writer who wrote classics such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and is considered to be one the greatest novelists of all time. Some facts of his long life, however, still remain understudied, and only those who study his biography very thoroughly, may know the following:

  • Leo Tolstoy wasn’t a good student. When he enrolled in the Oriental languages program at the University of Kazan, he consistently received low grades, and was described by his teachers as, “both unable and unwilling to learn.” He left after two years, and never finished his degree.
  • Leo Tolstoy fought in the Crimean War from November 1854 to August 1855. During this time, he used much of his free time to write. This helped him to remain strong while living through the terrible experiences of war.
  • While fighting in the Crimean War Leo Tolstoy wrote Boyhood. It was the second book in his autobiographical trilogy Childhood. Boyhood. Youth. After returning home from the war Leo discovered he was already popular on the literary scene in St. Petersburg.
  • Leo Tolstoy witnessed a public execution in Paris in 1857, which bothered him for the rest of his life.
  • In 1860-61, while on a trip to Europe, Leo Tolstoy met Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables. Leo’s political views were believed to have been shaped during this time.


  • Leo Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevna Bers in 1862. She became his lifetime partner and carried the burden of being a wife, a mother, a housekeeper, Tolstoy’s personal secretary, and the family business manager, all at the same time. She gave birth to 13 children over the course of 20 years.
  • In the 1860s Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace.
  • In 1873 Leo Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina, which was published from 1873 to 1877 in installments. The royalties helped build Tolstoy’s wealth.
  • Because of Leo Tolstoy’s unconventional ideas he was watched by Russia’s secret police for a time.
  • His Christian anarcho-pacifist ideas were widely influential. Late in life, after the publication of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Tolstoy became deeply involved in exploring his religious and social beliefs. He openly declared his Christian beliefs in 1884, with a book titled, What I Believe, and began developing a radical anarcho-pacifist Christian philosophy that would serve as a prominent theme in his later works.
  • As a result of developing his unconventional philosophy, Leo began giving away a lot of his money, which his wife Sofya could not aprove. Leo granted her control of his copyrights and royalties.
  • Leo Tolstoy became established as a religious and moral leader in the last 30 years of his life. Mahatma Gandhi is said to have been influenced by Tolstoy.
  • He Inspired a Religious and Social Movement. Though Tolstoy’s work led to the birth of a religious and social movement, the adherents of which called themselves “Tolstoyans.” The Tolstoyans sought to promote and live out Tolstoy’s ideas and beliefs, including participating in social activism and reform, becoming vegetarian, and living a life of asceticism. Communes sprang up in places as far afield as South Africa, India, Japan, and the United States.
  • While on a pilgrimage with his youngest daughter Aleksandra on November 20th, 1910 Leo Tolstoy died. He left behind his wife Sofya and 10 children.
  • Leo and Sofya had 13 children but only 10 lived beyond infancy.
  • Tolstoy’s War and Peace is often referred to as the greatest novel ever written.
  • By the year 2010, there were the total of 350 ancestors of Tolstoy’s family living (or previously living) in 25 countries of the world. Since 2000, they have developed a tradition to meet annually in Yasnaya Polyana (Tolstoy’s estate).
  • Tolstoy is not as celebrated in Russia as many might think. The Kremlin did nothing to celebrate the centenary of Tolstoy’s death, November 20th, 2010, to the dismay of many. The oversight stood in contrast to 2010’s nationwide festival surrounding the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church has remained firm in its refusal to lift Tolstoy’s excommunication, despite receiving several requests to pardon the author. It acknowledged Tolstoy’s importance as a writer, but maintained that it cannot lift an excommunication after someone’s death.


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1 Comment

  1. I can’t help it. I must share this video. Brilliantly performed story of Leo Tolstoy and his work:



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