How Much Do You Know About Leo Tolstoy?

tolstoy confession

Leo Tolstoy - Tormented Man

I had read War and Peace and Anna Karenina before I got to A Confession, Tolstoy’s autobiography about his crisis of faith. He eventually managed to cheer up a bit, but not by much.

Apparently he had participated in some very dark things by the time he hit the middle of his life. Murder, indulging in various lustful practices, cruelty, and many more activities which he names, and which “horrify” him as he looks back on them.

He was rich. He had a great family that loved him. And he was miserable. Money didn’t make him happy, and neither did family. He refers to the time he spent writing War and Peace as a time when he was dabbling in the most wretched, nonsensical, unimportant writing.

At the core of it all was an inability to have Faith in God. Once he discarded the “teachings of boyhood days” he was unable to see anything good in what now amounted to a series of useless rituals and vain beliefs.

In fact, he saw the act of living itself as a vain one, and much of the book is spent with him wondering why he can’t just get the nerve to kill himself. How do you know you’re wrong? What is he didn’t know as much as he thought? Big questions for a tormented man.

A Confession is about 100 pages long, and most of them are pretty dreary. Fascinating stuff, though. Tolstoy’s fans and fortune would have made him the equivalent of today’s globe-hopping jet-set, but without Faith to back it up, the Tolstoy of Confession still would have been miserable.

Have your read it? What else do you know about this cheery fellow?


One thought on “How Much Do You Know About Leo Tolstoy?

  1. I have never read this book, but I am intrigued.

    I have never engaged in murder, nor, more sadly, indulged in “various lustful practices,” but I have been cruel. And haven’t we all done things that, looking back, horrify us?

    I have never had enough money to be particularly happy about, but I hear it doesn’t cause happiness anyway. One study I read recently suggested that making anything over $75,000 a year will have no impact on your happiness (the theory being that there are certain basic needs that must be met, but once these are covered, the extra $1000 or $10000 or $1000000000 doesn’t matter at all).

    Doesn’t everyone question God at some point in their life?

    It sounds like he could have suffered from depression combined with some type of faith crisis. I’m sure I’ve never experienced anything as dark as it seems he has experienced, but I have experienced deep, paralyzing loss and sadness. It is debilitating.

    And family causes joy and pain. At least in my experience.

    As far as religion, I think that “opiate of the masses” thinking was pretty common in those parts at those times. Even today, it seems like the only religion a lot of people know is cynicism.

    I have never understood suicide. Life can get tough, but even if you only hang on because it’s “better to face the evil known,” it seems like that would keep you around.

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