Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910)
Tolstoy, the son of a nobleman landowner, was born on September 9, 1828, at Yasnaya Polyana, the family estate south of Moscow. At the age of 16, Tolstoy enrolled at Kazan' University, first studying languages and then law, but soon he became dissatisfied with formal study and in 1847 left without a degree. Then he plunged into the dissipations of Moscow's high society.
In 1851 Tolstoy joined the army in the Caucasus, where he came into contact with cossacks, and later focused on them in one of his best shorter novels, The Cossacks (1863). Between battles with the hill tribes, Tolstoy completed an autobiographical novel, Childhood (1852), followed by two others, Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1856), which without rhetoric or sentimentality draw on the psychologically significant memories common to all growing boys. These works received instant acclaim. He returned to Saint Petersburg in 1856 and became interested in the education of peasants. He visited French and German elementary schools, and at Yasnaya Polyana he started a village school that, in its teaching methods, foreshadowed the tenets of modern progressive education. In 1862 the novelist married Sonya (Sofya) Andreyevna Bers, a member of a cultured Moscow family. In the next 15 years he raised a large family, successfully managed his estate, and wrote his two greatest novels, War and Peace (1865-69) and Anna Karenina (1875-77).
War and Peace, considered one of the greatest novels ever written, is an epic of Russian society between 1805 and 1815, just before and after the Napoleonic invasion. It contains 559 characters, commemorates important military battles, and portrays famous historical personalities, but its main theme is the chronicle of the lives of five aristocratic families. The work is a masterpiece of realism.