In his personal journal, Leo Tolstoy says, 'I say that one ought not to resist violence by violence: against me they say, that I say it is not necessary to fight evil (251).' He believed violence was evil but all his life his view of what was evil kept changing. What he had going for him in his life, and what he believed was good and life's purpose, also kept changing. While Tolstoy is considered to be one of the world's greatest authors of all time, he was disillusioned, unhappy and hostile which is seen in how his literary works transformed over his lifetime.
When Leo was a little boy, Nikolai, his brother who was almost 6 years older than he, told him that he had discovered the secret to mankind's happiness forever. He told him that he wrote the secret on a magic green stick and buried it near a ravine in the forest. Tolstoy had one mindset through his life and that was to find humanity's secret to happiness that was foretold by his brother in this make-believe story. This later bestowed upon him to find his calling of leadership. The story of the green stick helped him to believe and have hope that there is a truth that he could find. He even asked to be buried by the site of the green stick that represented his life's dream that didn't come to pass.
He tried to find satisfaction is several different career paths but was not satisfied with each of their results. Tolstoy was born into the aristocracy and his parents were very wealthy landowners. When he went to the university, he was disgusted with it and 'early developed an attitude of contempt for academic learning' (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 278). He left the university to join the army and discovered that wasn't his calling either. At nineteen years old he decides to go back to his country home and focus on being a landowner. He wanted to be a good master to the serfs and help improve their life by creating a school for peasants. At first it looked like it was working. Tolstoy had really different ideas on how children should be educated. The pupils did not 'carry anything with them, they had no home lessons'he brings with him only himself' (Gomme, 9). But this wasn't effective in the end because of the peasant's resistance and resentment. So disillusioned, he goes back to his previous lifestyle of being an aristocratic fellow in Moscow, gets married to Sonya (sometimes translated Sofia) Bers. and moves back home to focus on his writing. They loved each other madly when they got married but they didn't believe in the same things and it ended up splitting them apart. They stayed married but he ran away from her right before he died in a train station in the middle of nowhere (Denner, 615).
Tolstoy chose Sonya because he loved her, but he also had other reasons. According to his son, Sergei, 'Firstly my father had determined to marry a very young girl whom he could mould to his own design. Secondly it was a matter of principle that he should marry out of his own noble class' (2). This seemed to work well in the beginning but Tolstoy kept changing his beliefs and Sonya couldn't change back with him. Because she grew up not wealthy and noble, it seemed evil to her to give away all your possessions and wealth to the poor. And if he believed to resist violence was evil, when she was really upset he usually gave in and got depressed.
Part of the reason Tolstoy was unhappy is that his mother died when he was two and his father died when he was nine. He was raised by women relatives and was close to his brothers. He had to deal with a lot of other family struggles and distresses. Tolstoy wanted to stay in the country but Sonya wanted to live in the city. She wanted him to write fiction stories and make a lot of money for their family. But he wanted to stay his course and write about the meaning of life and God. He gave in and moved the family to the city and became very unhappy. He wanted to give all his wealth away to the poor but she insisted that he give it to the family to fix their needs and their future. His youngest son died at the age of seven and this was more than he or their marriage could handle.
Tolstoy had two conversions that marked his life (Philipson, 93). The first was conversion to religion and the second was when Tolstoy rejected the church. Russia's Orthodox church excommunicated Tolstoy in 1901 and reaffirmed their decision in 2001 (Harding web). He converted to Christianity when he noticed that the peasants seemed to be happier and had more meaning in their lives. He thought it was because of their belief in God and how they didn't have riches and complicated lives to make life difficult. He said he envied their lack of learning. He noticed that even when they were facing death they had more peace than the unhappy aristocracy. So he went to church to find out more about God. He became a Christian and stayed in the church for a couple of years. But in his book Confession, he writes, 'That there is truth in the teaching is to me indubitable but it is also certain that there is falsehood in it, and I must find what is true and what is false, must disentangle one from the other. I am setting to work upon this task' (Philipson, 94). This is what led him to change from being a famous author to a religious reformer.
Tolstoy was hostile toward Russia at different times throughout his life. He didn't like their system of aristocracy that separated the wealthy landowners from the poor serfs who had almost no rights and were basically slaves. He was hostile toward the government's church when he realized they added their own rules and made up strict policies that Jesus didn't actually say. In his personal journal, he wrote, 'The government destroys faith, but faith is necessary' (276). He even wrote his own version of the Bible to try and make it simple and pure and he no longer went to the regular church. Tolstoy believed that all Christian institutions have perverted what Jesus actually taught so they need to be rejected just like the government. His book The Kingdom of God is Within You is supposed to be the world's most famous book of religious anarchy and the secret of the green stick Tolstoy spent his whole life looking for (Philipson, 120).
In his personal journal at the end of his life, Tolstoy wrote 'The evil of the world, its cause is very simple' The salvation is one: the destruction of false teaching' (273). He was contradictory to his own beliefs throughout his life so you have to wonder did he want to destroy some of his own teaching. Tolstoy was a great novelist but clearly he was disillusioned, unhappy and hostile through his life.
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