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Conversations with Leo Tolstoy

Conversations with Leo Tolstoy (Paperback)

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When most think of Tolstoy, they think of the great author. 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina' brought him worldwide fame, and a good deal of money. Had he done nothing else in life, these two novels would have ensured him status and respect. Few others had written both a national epic and a great love story; and some might have been content with that. For his last thirty years, however, Tolstoy walked a different track. After his spiritual crisis, when he was 50, he exchanged his author's clothes for those of a prophet - a prophet who was to have a great influence on Gandhi amongst others. Through his prolific writing, he now became the scourge of the rich, the Church and the Government. Neither did he miss an opportunity to denounce both science and art. Darwin? Dostoyevsky? Shakespeare? No one was to be left standing. In 'Conversations with Leo Tolstoy', Simon Parke grants us the honour of sitting with the great man, towards the end of his life; and gives us the chance to chat with him. The conversation is imagined, but not Tolstoy's answers.

This is Tolstoy is his own words, drawn from his extensive books, essays and letters; and the military, vegetarianism, marriage, non-violence, death, God and sex are all on the agenda. 'I want people to come away feeling they know Tolstoy,' says Simon Parke, who was keen to use only Tolstoy's authentic words. 'They will be become aware of his opinions certainly, for he was forthright in those. He had an opinion on everything! But I hope also that people leave with a sense of the man beneath the opinions. I don't always agree with him; but it is hard not to admire him. He was far from perfect, but as he says: just because he walks the road like a drunk, doesn't mean it's the wrong road.'

BiographyBiography: generalBiographyMemoirs Publisher: White Crow Books Ltd Publication Date: 02/01/2010 ISBN-13: 9781907355257  Details: Type: Paperback Format: Books
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Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, better known as Leo Tolstoy, is rightly regarded as one of the greatest writers in the history of literature and his masterpieces, 'War And Peace' and 'Anna Karenina', are considered by many to be two of the most important novels ever written. He was born in 1828 in Yasnaya, Polyana, in what was then the Russian Empire, into a noble family with old and established links to the highest echelons of the Russian aristocracy. His parents died while he was young leaving relatives to raise him and after a brief and disappointing time at University, where enrolled in 1844, he spent time gambling, and losing, in St. Petersburg and Moscow before joining the army in 1851. He began writing whilst in the army and upon leaving took it up as his occupation with his first books detailing his life story as well as another, 'Sevastopol Sketches', discussing his experiences in the Crimean War. By the time he had completed 'Sevastopol Sketches' he had returned from the first of two trips abroad which would change his outlook on life and consequentially his writing approach and the content of his work. A trip to Europe in 1861 and a meeting with Victor Hugo, who had just completed 'Les Miserables', which had a marked influence on 'War And Peace', would further push Tolstoy towards the mindset that would lead him to write his most famous works. On the same trip he also met Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a French anarchist, with whom he discussed the importance of the need for education for all rungs of society. This revelation lead Tolstoy to open up 13 schools in Russia for the children of the working class, further highlighting his continuing separation from his noble roots. 'War And Peace', published in 1869, and 'Anna Karenina', published in 1878, were universally recognised as great works, but not long after the publication of the latter Tolstoy began to slip into an existentialist crisis. Although not suicidal in the literal sense of the term he did, however, decide that if he could find no reason or purpose for his existence he would rather die and so went about searching for a reason to live. He consulted his many friends in high places who espoused various intellectual theories but none of these sat well with him. Just as he was beginning to give up he had a dream that proved to be a moment of clarity and decided that God in a spiritual sense was the reason to keep on, though he was wary of the church and those that abused religion as a tool of oppression. He published 'A Confession' in 1882 which explained his crisis and his resolution and how it came about. Two subsequent novels, 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' and 'What Then Must We Do?', further re-enforced his views in which he criticised the Russian Orthodox Church. The culmination of his 30 years of religious and philosophical thinking was 'The Kingdom Of God Is Within you' which was published in 1894. In the book he outlined the abuses of those in power in both the church and the government and this would eventually lead to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. Tolstoy's main point derived from Jesus' teachings to 'turn the other cheek' and Tolstoy believed that this was the key to Christ's message which can be found in the Gospels and the 'Sermon On The Mount' in particular. This theory of 'non-violence' that dominated the book would make a profound impact on Mahatma Gandhi who read it as a young man whilst living in South Africa. In 1908 Tolstoy wrote 'A Letter To A Hindu' in which he told the Indian people that only through non-violent reaction and love could they overcome their British colonial masters. The letter was published in an Indian paper and Gandhi not only read it but also wrote to Tolstoy to ask permission to translate it into his own native Gujarati. 'The Kingdom Of God Is Within You' and 'A Letter To A Hindu' solidified Gandhi's non-violent idea of rebellion which he implemented and which came to fruition in 1947 when British rule came to an end and India became independent. Gandhi and Tolstoy would continue their correspondence up until Tolstoy's death in 1910.

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