We’ve all huffed and puffed our way through War and Peace – our personal Everests. We’ve stayed up nights reading Anna Karenina and cried over The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Leo Tolstoy is a name that has remained untarnished and his works unblemished through the course of nature, be it when he spoke about his experiences fighting through the bloody Crimean War or if he took us back among the swirling skirts and flamboyant grandeur of the royal court in all of its perfect decadence.
Leo Tolstoy, or Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, was born into Russian aristocracy and was thus sheltered from the life of conflict and strife that the layman was being subjected to. His parents passed away while he was still young, and thereafter he and his siblings were placed in the care of various relations. Amidst all of this, Tolstoy understood loss and separation – themes that would later form a central backdrop to the lives of his characters.
Never one for excelling at academics, he dropped out of the University of Kazan mid-year and returned to his parents’ estate, attempting to become an affluent farmer. However, he often absented himself from official social visits to Tula and Moscow, and thus his brief stint at farming ended abruptly. Few years following this debacle, his older brother Nikolay, who was enlisted in the army, came to visit and managed to convince Leo to join the army, following which Leo was transferred to Ukraine in 1854 where he fought in the Crimean War.
It was during his stint in the army that Tolstoy started working on his first autobiographical story in his spare time, Childhood, which was later published by The Contemporary, the most popular journal at the time. His writing career took a leap, and even through the Crimean War he managed to complete several short stories like Boyhood – a sequel to Childhood, and a three-part series called Sevastopol Tales. On his return from the army and in lieu of his escalating literary successes, people clamoured towards his philosophy. However, he refused to align with any school of thought and instead declared himself a “spiritual anarchist” and took off for Paris in 1857.
Leo Tolstoy wasn’t a man to be grounded or held back. He didn’t live his life according to the demands of the orthodox society of the time. On his 188th birthday, we’d like to pick a few of his most soul-stirring, iconic quotes that are sure to strike a deep chord within you.
- “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
- “If you look for perfection, you'll never be content.”
- “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”
- “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”
- “In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
- “Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs.”
- “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
- “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”
- “All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
- “Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them.”
- “The best stories don't come from ‘good vs. bad’ but ‘good vs. good’.”
- “If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed.”
- “Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.”
- “Whatever our fate is or may be, we have made it and do not complain of it.”
- “Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.”
Happy birthday, Leo Tolstoy!