Leo Tolstoy – “The Greatest Author of All Time”


Eliana Posin, Journalist

When one thinks of Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy -more commonly known as Leo Tolstoy- they think of the 1,225-page book, War and Peace. The monstrosity of a book would probably take months to read. If a person read one page a day, it would take over three years to finish the entire book. Even his second most famous book, Anna Karenina, lies at a whopping 864 pages. While most may be thinking about how long it takes to read, there is also the underlying question of; how long did it take to write


Leo Tolstoy, a Russian writer, is a very famous name all over the world. Many refer to him as one of the greatest authors in the world due to his very well-developed novels. The 19th-century writer is seen as a master of literature all over the world.


In an introduction to one of his last great novels, Resurrection, Anthony Briggs provides a very in-depth background on Tolstoy. Born on September 9, 1828, young Tolstoy grew up in a stable household despite the deaths of both of his parents when he was still in the single digits. Into his late teen years, he found little interest in studying and dropped out of University before getting the chance to graduate. (Similar situation with Albert Einstein; some of history’s greatest minds didn’t even finish school. Ironic, no?) He then got launched into the military world, in which he experienced many dangerous encounters in battle. “Many passages in War and Peace wouldn’t have been written without his direct experience with survival in close combat,” Briggs wrote. 


Later into his life, Tolstoy decided to settle down and get married. He and his wife bore thirteen children, six of which didn’t make it through adolescence. From this point on, his mental health ran down a quickly declining downward spiral. He and his wife’s marriage ended as their long-lasting love for each other decayed into long-lasting loathing. After her departure, he spent the last thirty years of his life by himself. 


The years he spent solo are when he started writing. Instead of for self-leisure, he wrote to feed his obsession with finding self-righteousness and moral purity. He set the bar unreasonably high for himself and others, holding the world accountable to reach a level of righteousness that was unreachable. “The remarkable thing about this period,” Briggs continued in his introduction, “is that it produced a series of literary masterpieces that broke their own author’s self-imposed rules by following the paths of good, entertaining, and challenging literature.” 


Many people tend to shy away from Tolstoy’s literature, despite his exceeding reputation as an author. Although his literary genius no doubt shines through in his works, the age and length of the books can frighten most young readers. Think of Shakespeare; a similar situation. Shakespeare is known by nearly everyone as one of the greatest -if not the greatest- playwrights of all time. Yet, the sheer fact that all of his plays are written in Elizabethan English and can have a total performance time of 6 hours, drives some audience members away. The Tolstoy parallel is that the entirety of his books are translated from 19th century Russian, and contain multiple inches in physical depth. 


However, the ones that aren’t daunted by Tolstoy’s writing understand Tolstoy’s notoriety. Trident interviewed two CdM students, both of whom have read one of Tolstoy’s greatest works. 


Ashleigh Weinstock, a senior here at CdM, has read the entirety of War and Peace. Twice. “It took me about four months to read,” she laughed, as the interviewer looked at her wide-eyed and in awe. As a Russian literature enthusiast, Weinstock gave the famous work a 10/10 rating. The dimension of each character in the book is what captivated her and kept the pages turning without breaks. “Since the book is so long, you really get to spend a lot of time with each character,” She said. She emphasized on how touching it was to her to grow with the characters and see themselves and their relationships evolve as the plot progresses. 


When she decided to tackle the novel, Weinstock had just finished reading Les Miserable by Victor Hugo, another European novelist. After finishing that 1,000-page book, proud of her feat, Weinstock thought to herself, “Why not go for the longest?” After reading some of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work as well, she found a deep appreciation for Russian writing styles, “I really like the tone they take which is very dark and emotional, while still being empathetic,” she said. 


While War and Peace was the work that put Tolstoy on the map, it was not his only classic. Senior Anna Linn read his second most famous work, Anna Karenina. “I read it for the challenge,” Linn shared, while also confiding that she actually had to put the book down for a short while due to its intensity.


Both Linn and Weinstock shared some common opinions about Tolstoy and his writing style. Anna Karenina scored a 10/10 as well on Linn’s roster; she felt that she got to live through Tolstoy’s society and relate to his opinions, through his writing. Like Weinstock, she really admired the intensity of the characters and their backgrounds in the novel.  


According to the readers of Leo Tolstoy at CdM, his works of literature live up to society’s standards. All of the hard work, dedication, and turmoil Tolstoy spent alone, has touched the hearts and souls of readers all around the world. 


If you are interested in reading one of Leo Tolstoy’s books, both Weinstock and Linn have shared some advice: Definitely do some background research on the book and read a small synopsis on your novel of choice. Educating yourself on the time period (1847-1910 Russia) can also come in handy, possibly clearing up the confusion you may encounter while reading. 


If you do decide to conquer Tolstoy, whether it is War and Peace, Anna Karenina, or one of his smaller prose works, Trident sincerely hopes you enjoy it as much as our CdM students did.