Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was a leader in realist fiction in the late nineteenth century and is still considered one of the greatest authors to come out of that era. Born in Russia in 1828, Tolstoy suffered the loss of both his parents at a young age but would later turn those memories into a published account of his childhood. Despite the acclaims he receives for his works later in life, Tolstoy was a poor student. After dropping out of the University of Kazan in 1847, he tried his hand at farming. It was during this time that he gleaned much of his material for his beloved novel, Anna Karenina, namely his character Levin and the life he leads on the farm. It is thought that the courtship between Levin and Kitty is modeled after Tolstoy’s relationship with his wife.

After Tolstoy’s less than lucrative time on the farm, his older brother convinced him to become a soldier. It was during his time in the Crimean War that Tolstoy worked on one of his earliest publications, Childhood, an autobiography. Later when he returned from the war, he turned this story into a trilogy by adding Boyhood, and Youth, to the memoir. While this was a non-fiction piece, his fiction retained the realism of non-fiction, focusing on true details and realistic events. His publications were set in Russia, the place where he was born and raised and the place he knew the most about. While he is considered a Russian author, his writing transcends culture to make him an international phenomenon. Even American greats such as Faulkner and Woolf sing his praises.

Tolstoy’s prolific work, War and Peace, is a realist epic that takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. Tolstoy drew on his own experience in the Crimean War to replicate details that would make his tale true to life. Published in 1865, this novel spans more than 500,000 words and encompasses hundreds of characters as Tolstoy makes arguments for politics and religion. There have been several film adaptations of this novel as well and recently, BBC produced a mini-series staring Lilly James and Paul Dano.

The image above is a first edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in Russian (Voina I Mir). The image below is a first edition War and Peace in English.

In 1873, Anna Karenina first appeared in print as a serialized story in The Russian Messenger periodical over a period of four years. In 1878, the story was printed in book form in Moscow. Considered one of the Great Books by many, Anna Karenina, chronicles the life of a wayward wife, a passionate young farmer and his bride-to-be, and the surrounding families affected by the affair. Tolstoy was a deeply spiritual man and his Christianity is interwoven in this epic story by raising questions of morality and faith. Because of this novel’s beauty and lasting relevance, many film adaptations have been created to capture the poignancy of this tale. The 2012 film adaption is directed by Tom Stoppard and stars Kiera Knightly as Anna.

We have in our collection a first English edition of Anna Karenina published in 1886 and translated by Nathan Haskell Dole.

Later in Tolstoy’s life, he continued to write stories of realism and morality. In 1886, he wrote the well-known novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the story of a man struggling with the approach of his own death. In our collection, we have a finely bound set of The Works of Leo Tolstoy in very good condition. Titles in the collection include his short stories, essays, and iconic novels, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, Anna Karenina and War and Peace. This collection was published in Boston by L.C. Page & Company in 1904. It is an illustrated library edition and consists of fourteen volumes with gilt titles and marble end-papers.