Leo Tolstoy novels

Leo Tolstoy novels



Leo Tolstoy novels

Bible Editor
Cook Communications
Elgin, IL

I. Literary Tribute
F. W. Boreham asserted that "no other author has ever attained during his own lifetime such universal fame as Tolstoy."1 William Lyon Phelps, a Christian professor of literature at Yale University, claimed: "During the last ten years of his life [Tolstoy] held an absolutely unchallenged position as the greatest living writer in the world…"2 Tolstoy’s earlier contemporary, Fyodor Dostoevsky, declared that Tolstoy was "unquestionably…the most beloved writer among the Russian public of all shades."3 The great composer Tchaikovsky stated: "Tolstoy in my opinion is the greatest of all the writers the world has ever known."4 Tolstoy was also Lenin’s favorite writer. Biographer Ernest Simmons observed that Tolstoy "probably had the largest personal mail of any man in the world" of that time.5 Many specialists in the field of literature would pleace Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Anna Karenina (or both) on the list of the top ten world’s greatest novels.
Professor Phelps, a Christian, claimed that "the Christian religion is the dominating force in the works of [the Russian writers] Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky."6 While no one would deny that religious themes are certainly operative in Tolstoy’s novels, the brunt of this article will show that Tolstoy was not really a Christian at all—as is bountifully evidenced by his antisupernaturalistic theology.
Precisely because the bulk of this theological critique will be negative, at the outset a few of Tolstoy’s noteworthy personal features should be listed. First, on more than one occasion Tolstoy got personally involved in famine relief for Russian peasants. He donated sizable amounts of his ow funds, travled, organized, and solicited help from others on behalf of the starving peasants. In Gal 2:10, the apostle Paul encouraged Christians to "remember the poor," which he was "eager to do"—and often some modern Evangelicals seem reluctant to do. Second, the world-famous author was an educational innovator in launching and teaching at a free school for peasant children. He also grieved over his own family’s wealth when so many around them were living at the barest minimum. Furthermore, he vehemently indicted legalized oppression of the poor. Consistent with his own theology, he practiced Matt 25:42-43.

II. Extensive Documentation
There is no need for biographers and critics to scratch around among a dearth of data on Tolstoy! Indeed, one would wonder if there has ever been as much firsthand material on any famous subject accessible for analysis. Tolstoy himself left an extensive diary covering long time periods. His wife Sonya began her diarying at age 16. Two of Tolstoy’s daughters (Tatyana and Alexandra), three of his sons (Sergei, Ilya, and Leo), his wife, his sister-in-law, a governess, and other contemporary friends all wrote biographies of Tolstoy (based on reminiscences, diaries, letters, etc.). Phelps remarked that "no author ever told us so much about himself as Tolstoy."7
As of 1987, Aylmer Maude, an English biographer of Tolstoy who knew him personally, said that a Russian edition of over 100 volumes of Tolstoy’s writings was scheduled to appear!8 In 1985, R. F. Christian commented: "Tolstoy’s diaries and notebooks taken together occupy thirteen volumes of the ninety volume Soviet edition of his words…"9 Furthermore, Tolstoy himself quipped: "The diaries are me."10 In summary, the primary resource documentary material on Tolstoy is massive—though even his own family members give widely diverging interpretations of their controversies on the subject.

III. His Monumental Novels
Very few novelists could vie with Tolstoy in offering two written works as candidates for the all-time top ten list of world classic novels. War and Peace is "commonly designated Russia’s national epic."11 And epic it is, for the books-on-tape reader will discover that the unabridged War and Peace consists of over forty recorded tapes! Concerning the fourth section of War and Peace,Tolstoy’s contemporary and rival, Turgenev, [pronounced tour-GAIN-yev] lyricized: "It is doubtful whether anything as good has been written."12 Thus, William Lyon Phelps summarized: "War and Peace is the greatest romance in the Russian language, perhaps the greatest in any language."13
War and Peace is an intertwining of the international panorama with individual ingredients. The fortunes of three families–the Rostovs (represented most unforgettably by the pixie-like Natasha), the Bezukofs (presented in Tolstoy’s semi-autobiographical style through the awkward Pierre), and the Bolkonskys (embodied in the cold military officer, Prince Andrei)—are traced through the Russian army’s battles with Napoleon. War and Peace fills a sprawling, spacious terrain—literally and literarily. The book climaxes with (what some would consider an anticlimactic) philosophy of history.
Tolstoy’s rival, Dostoevsky, paid him the following compliment: "Anna Karenina as an artistic production is perfection. It appears…as a thing to which European literature of our epoch offers no equal."14 William Lyon Phelps was even more laudatory: "It is surely the most powerful novel written by any man of our time, and it would be difficult to name a novel of any period that surpasses it in strength."15
Anna Karenina is a world-class fictional commentary on the seventh commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." It narrates the story of a charming woman married to a starched, upright civil servant. Anna falls in love iwth and has an affair with Vronsky. Eventually her life unravels in her social disgrace, separation from her little boy, and her taking of drugs. Anna Karenina ends with an ominous outcome already forecast at the beginning of the book—when she commits suicide by throwing herself under a train.
Tolstoy’s last major novel certainly possessed a biblical title—Resurrection (oddly for a writer who did not actually believe in a bodily resurrection). It is a molodramatic and didactic story of a young nobleman (Count Nekhludov) who seduces a poor girl (Katusha Maslova) only to see the results of his crime when she is later tried for murder and sentenced to Siberia. The novel narrates Nekhludov’s struggle with what to do (that is morally right) about the situation in which he had embroiled Maslova.

IV. A Brief Biography
Before attempting a formal formulation of Tolstoy’s theology, considerable insight can be gleaned by tracing selectively a spiritual slant on our biographical subject. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was born at, and most of his life revolved around, his estate at Yasnaya Polyana, 130 miles southwest of Moscow. His mother died in 1830 and his father in 1837. He entered Kazan University in 1844 and left it three years later with venereal disease. In his diary for March 17, 1847, Tolstoy recounted: "I caught gonorrhea where one usually catches it from…"16 About that time he inherited Yasnaya Polyana with at least 5,000 acres and 330 male serfs and their families. One indicator of their family wealth was that the later Tolstoys sent all their laundry out once a year from Russia to Holland in order to have it done!"17
Tolstoy submitted to his diary on June 14, 1850: "The last three years…I have spent so dissolutely…"18 Reflecting upon his early religious upbringing, Tolstoy penned: "I was baptized in the [Russian] Orthodox Christian faith. I was taught it from childhood and through the whole time of my boyhood and youth. But…I at eighteen years of age…no longer believed any of the things I had been taught."19 He says that his apostasy began at fifteen. By sixteen he had quit praying and taking communion, yet "I believed in something…I did not deny God, but what kind of a God, I should have been at a loss to say."20 Meanwhile, while his guardian aunt discouraged his gambling (without good success), she ("a pure soul") encouraged him to adultery ("that I should have a liaison with a married woman")!21
Tolstoy's first publication came in 1852 before he went as a soldier to the Caucasus. He wrestled frequently with purity and life's purpose. On March 5, 1 855, he diaried: "Aconversation about divinity has suggested to me a great…idea…the founding of a new religion…:the religion of Christianity, but purged of dogmatism and mysticism; a practical religion not promising future bliss, but giving bliss on earth."22 Later, after tunneling through a period of severe struggle, Tolstoy affempted to do just that.
In 1861 the Tsar emancipated the serfs. Later in life Tolstoy told a Russian biographer: "When I was young, I led a very evil life…[involving] a liaison with a peasant girl [named Aksinya]…before I was married [resulting in an illegitimate son named Timofei]…and the second was the crime I perpetuated on Gasha, the maid who lived in my aunt's house. She was innocent. I seduced her, they drove her out of the house, and she came to grief"23 (This latter incident is the basis of the tale behind Resurrection.)
When his admired brother Nicholas died in 1860, Tolstoy diaried that the idea had occurred to him to write a materialist (or rationalist) life of Christ. In 1862 he married Sophia (Sonya) Behrs. When he gave his wife his diaries of his bachelor escapades to read, it dealt her a shock from which she never fully recovered. Together they had thirteen children, six of whom died while young.
During 1862-1869 Tolstoy was writing War and Peace.During 1870-1873 he was working on Anna Karenina. Helen Muchnic wrote concerning Anna's brother in the latter book: "Levin [pronounced LAY-vinn]…is one of Tolstoy's most unmistakable self-portraits" and "Levin's search for faith is a pale outline of Tolstoy's own spiritual autobiography."24 Levin inwardly admitted that "he was not a believer."25 Through a conversation with a peasant, Levin arrived at a spiritual discovery. He discovered "he had been living rightly, but thinking wrongly." He believed he had discovered the meaning of life—to live for God and the soul. Thus, by 1873 Tolstoy was formulating a form of faith to live by.
In Sonya's diary for October 12, 1875 she referred to her husband's "gloomy" condition, his "mental death."26 In 1876 she could refer to Tolstoy's "religious struggle…over these last two years."27 In 1873 to 1876 the Tolstoys had three of their children die. From 1875 to 1877 Tolstoy once again attended the Russian Orthodox Church in his spiritual quest. Tolstoy's biographer, Aylmer Maude, refers to his "fierce five-year inner struggle with doubt."28 During this period the Tolstoys came into contact with English Evangelicals. (More will be said about this experience later.) In his Confession Tolstoy stated: "I felt there was nothing beneath my feet anymore…And I no longer had any prop to help me live…"29 About age 50 he thought of suicide. His reason found life unreasonable.
In a fable Tolstoy said he felt as if he had fallen into a well, only to discover a dragon was waiting at the bottom. The twig he was holding on to was being eaten by two mice. He tried to lick some honey that he spotted on the twig's leaves, but how could the honey drops (syrnbolizing family and fame) prove all that sweet when the dragon of death waited to devour him as he hung on?
Tolstoy's wife penned (on March 3, 1877) that he had "said today that he couldn't endure much more of this terrible religious conflict with which he has been struggling these past two years, and hoped that the time was near when he could become a thoroughly religious man…"30 This spiritual struggle is reflected in Pierre (in War and Peace),in Levin (in Anna Karenina),and in Prince Nekhludov (in Resurrection). Prince Nekhludov had been feeling the need for "cleansing of the soul." As a result, "The discord between the demands of conscience and the life he was leading was greater than it had ever been before."31 This disequilibrium was experienced right before Nekhludov's "newly awakened spiritual being."32
Concerning 1875-77Tolstoy wrote: "I accepted everything [in the Russian Orthodox Church], attended services, stood up in the morning and in the evening to pray, fasted, prepared myself for the communion, and at first my reason did not revolt against all that."33 His daughter Tatyana verified this: "I can remember going to mass with him every Sunday."34 Finally his reason revolted to the breaking point with the Russian Orthodox dogma and ceremony, and Tolstoy abandoned church-going. During the summer of 1877 Tolstoy visited the Optina Monastery with his friend Strakhov.
Aylmer Maude penned concerning the 50 year-old Tolstoy "that from about the year 1878 Tolstoy became sure of himself …"35 As one son (Sergei) assessed the situation: "1877 was a year of crisis in my father's life. It was then that the complete change in his outlook described by him in A Confession took place."36 As Tolstoy documented this charge in My Confession, he summarized: "Thus I lived for about two years, and within me took place a transformation, which had long been working within me, and the germ of which had always been in me."37 Again, he asserted: "Now everything became clear to me."38 Sophia Tolstoy specified an 1879 date when she diaried (for June 5, 1891): "He said that twelve years ago [or 1879] he had undergone a great change, and that I too should have changed with him…"39 Also, in June of 1879 Tolstoy visited the monastery at Kiev and returned dissatisfied.
In 1878 Tolstoy again had begun to write in his diary after desisting from it for thirteen years. My Confession was written in 1879 and depicts Tolstoy’s 1874-1879 experience. Biographer R. F. Christian declared about this book: "It is the best introduction to the spiritual struggle he was to wage for the remaining years of his life…"40
In 1880 Tolstoy wrote his Critique of Dogmatic Theology. As the title indicated, Tolstoy subjected the dogmas of the Russian Orthodox Church (including many broader Christian essentials) to rigorous review and rejection. Having taught himself Greek, Tolstoy also published a harmony and translation of the Gospels (1881-1882). He insisted that this publication "was more important than anything he had written."41 His wife wrote to her brother (February 3, 1881) concerning her husband: "He has become a most sincere and firm Christian [yet he is] more depressed."42 His son Sergei said of that same year: "Father…acted on the basis that he had been one kind of man up to 1881 when that man had died leaving his property to his family and a new man was born who had different ideas about the whole thing."43 The wealthy Tolstoy had come to believe that property ownership was evil, so he willed his estate to his family members. Ernest Simmons spoke of "Tolstoy’s distraught state of mind from September 1881 to the end of 1883…"44
In 1883 and 1884 Tolstoy wrote What I Believe (also called My Religion). This book was followed in turn by What Then Must We Do? in 1884 and 1885. Along the way Tolstoy gradually renounced meat-eating, hunting, smoking, and alcohol. In 1886 he wrote The Death of Ivan Ilych, in 1889 The Kreutzer Sonata, in 1894 The Kingdom of God Is Within You, in 1897 What Is Art?, in 1898-1899 Resurrection, and in 1902 a scathing indictment of the church called Appeal to the Clergy. In 1901 Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. The latter end of the life of the author who wrote Family Happiness was family unhappiness. When he could no longer put up with the dissension at home (chiefly over his wife’s quarrels with his first lieutenant [Chertkov] over Tolstoy’s future book rights), he left home and died shortly thereafter in 1910.

V. Tolstoy’s Theology
A. The Bible and Supernaturalism
R. Poggioli remarked that Tolstoy was inclined to treat Christianity "neither as a divine revelation nor as a historical phenomenon, but as a teaching which gives us the meaning of life."45 Dean F. W. Farrar asserted that Tolstoy "rejects the divine inspiration of the Old Testament and of the epistles…"46 Tolstoy placed the words of Jesus on a higher plane than any of those in the Epistles.
When Tolstoy read S. G. Verus’s volume on the Gospels, which denied that Jesus was even a historical person, he asserted that such an approach was valuable "for it makes it unnecessary to wrangle any further over refuting the authenticity of the Gospel stories about miracles…"47 His own translation took the same approach as Thomas Jefferson’s—simply to omit anything miraculous he so chose to disregard.
In Russian usage of that time the expression "the Bible" referred only to the OT.48 Tolstoy preferred the reading of the OT stories verbatim to peasant children above any other book. To enable the child to appreciate knowledge, Tolstoy said that "there is no book but the Bible."49 However, along with its excellent parts was also material in the OT that was "crude, primitive, and immoral," he felt.50
Like the Scottish translator James Moffatt, Tolstoy felt free to rearrange the Gospels in their chapters and verses according to his own discretion. He was interested in the morals, not the miracles. Tolstoy subscribed to the liberal or example treatment of the feeding of the 5,000. He even claimed that part of Matthew 22 had been copied from the Talmud!51
Aylmer Maude, Tolstoy’s friend, wrote that Tolstoy "frankly disliked and disapproved of much in the Epistles of Paul, whom he accused of having given a false bias to Christianity…"52 Most conspicuously, he abhorred Romans 13, for Tolstoy was overtly opposed to all human government. (Writers commonly call Tolstoy a "Christian anarchist.") Thus, it can be seen that Tolstoy’s view of Scripture had little in common with that of historic mainstream Christianity. Tolstoy believed in reason rather than revelation as the vehicle for religious choice.
Even one of Tolstoy’s best friends, the poet Fet (himself an atheist), said: "Tolstoy…want[ed] to draw pictures that would destroy the people’s faith in miracles."53 Tolstoy referred to "those offensive miracles with which the [book of] Acts [is] filled…"54 In The Kingdom of God Is Within You Tolstoy declared that "for us [modern people] these [biblical] words [about God, creation, the ascension, etc.] have no meaning whatsoever."55 In other words, Tolstoy was in harmony with much of religious liberalism that, while the supernatural must be ousted, religious faith must be retained.

B. God
Pinpointing Tolstoy’s view of God is like trying to get one’s fist on the mercury of a thermometer. Nevertheless, Tolstoy’s contemporary, Gorky, penned: "The thought which beyond all others most often and conspicuously gnaws at him is the thought of God."56 At age nineteem (June 16, 1847) the young Tolstoy spoke of God as "the highest, incomprehensible being, unlimited in space, time and power."57 Five years later he formulated a working creed: "I believe in one, incomprehensible God, the immortality of the soul and eternal retribution for our acts; I don’t understand the secret of the Trinity and the birth of the Son of God, but I do…not reject the faith of my fathers."58 As we will see, Tolstoy later did reject most of this credo.
One of Tolstoy’s principal characters, Prince Andrei in War and Peace (on which the author was working from 1862 through 1869), wrestled with the God-question. Andrei reflected on "to whom" he should ask mercy. "Either [there is] a power infinite, inconceivable to which I cannot appeal…or nothing."59 Christ is his second option or "there is nothing, nothing certain but the nothingness of all that is incomprehensible to us…"60 (That summary is—significantly—the end of Book I in War and Peace.)
Tolstoy denied any straightforward notion of God as supernatural Creator—as portrayed in Genesis 1. Aylmer Maude, his confidant, said that "Tolstoy prayed regularly and ardently, but he did not believe in a personal God…"61 In Tolstoy’s Thoughts on God (1900) he wrote, "Prayer is addressed to the personal God, not because he is personal (indeed, I know for certain that he is not personal, because personality is limitation, while God is unlimited)…"62 On February 11, 1891, Tolstoy diaried: "Father, help me. I know there is no Father as a person. But this form is natural to the expression of passionate longing."63 Consequently, his oldest daughter stated that for him to "say his prayers" was "to summon up all the best energies of his being."64
If Tolstoy was not a pantheist, he was close to it. Maude spoke of Tolstoy’s religion as a "cooperation with a Something greater than ourselves that makes for righteousness."65 In his diary, Tolstoy said, "God is the illimitable All…Or, even better—God is that illimitable All of which man is conscious of being a limited part…God is not love, but the more love there is in man…, the more truly does [God] exist."66 (Tolstoy denies 1 John 4:8 and 16! This note was written in the year of his death.)
Tolstoy commended Mathew Arnold’s Literature and Dogma "because he particularly insists on destroying the notion of God as something outside us, a ‘magnified man’ as he calls Him."67 Thus, when Pierre (in War and Peace) views the sky, he meditates: "this is me, and all that is within me, and it is all I!"68
With the erosion of a personal transcendent deity, naturally the doctrine of the Trinity could nt be espoused. On August 3, 1898, Tolstoy entered in his diary: "I say that the God who created the world in six days and who sent His son, and also his son himself, are not God, but that God is the one existing, incomparable good, the beginning of evrything…"69 This is a direct denial of the Trinity.
In his Critique of Dogmatic Theology Tolstoy owned that the Trinity "forms the radical, essentially [orthodox] Christian dogma."70 Yet in the same volume he concluded that "there are absolutely no proofs in Scripture in confirmation of the Trinity…"71 His final avowal is: "I reject this dogma."72
C. Christ
Tolstoy acknowledged: "From my childhood I had been taught that Jesus was God…"73 In the same book Tolstoy said: "According to the Church, [Jesus] taught that he was the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, and that he came into the world t atone by his death for Adams’ sin. Those, however, who have read the Gospels know that Jesus taught nothing of the sort…"74 Tolstoy wrote that "to consider [Christ] a God and pray to [Him], I esteem greatest blasphemy…"75 Dostoevsky realized "where Tolstoyan thought would lead—to a Christianity without Christ."76
Naturally, Evangelicals wonder how Tolstoy could dismiss what they consider to be determinative NT evidence on Christ's deity. As one would suspect, Tolstoy's hermeneutic was radicallyy different on the "Son of God" terminology. For example, commenting on Matthew 16, Tolstoy wrote; "Peter says to Christ what Christ has always said about all other people, that is, that they are sons of God…"77 Later he wrote that "the appellation of the Son of God is precisely what Christ teaches…men to call themselves, and so Christ, if he had intended to say that he stood in an exclusive relation to God, would have been compelled to choose another expression in order to give it that meaning."78 Further along Tolstoy penned that Jesus "taught that all men were the sons of God and must blend with God in life…"79 (The reader is invited to see pages 162-271 in his Critique of Dogmatic Theology,which is Tolstoy's doctrine-by-doctrine attempt to refute of the Russian Orthodox Church's dogmas.)
Concerning the resurrection Tolstoy asserted (June 13, 1889): "There is fabrication in Mohammed and Paul. There isn't with Christ…He would not have been turned into a religion had it not been for the fabrication of the resurrection, and the chief fabricator was Paul."80 Tolstoy, the Greek translator, even denied that there was a biblical word for "resurrection."

D. Sin
On the subject of sin (or, more broadly, evil) Tolstoy did not speak blithely, as if he were some Christian Scientist. This was not "the best of all possible worlds" for him. In a letter to one of his disciples (M. S. Dudehenko) two years before his death (July, 1908), Tolstoy declared: "…I have been a sinner and am a sinner."81 Even more revealing to his biographer Biryukov, Tolstoy owned: "To write about all my nastiness, stupidity, depravity, and meanness…entirely truthfully, even more truthfully than Rousseau, would make an alluring book…People would say: Beholdd…what a scoundrel he was…"82 Such statements would not normally classify one as falling within the liberal camp.
Despite Tolstoy's statements about personal depravity, sin, and evil, the question arises as to the human locus of that "sin." Probably his son Sergei hit the nail on the head when he wrote that his father "believed that false thinking is the reason for all evil in the world, that men were not evil by nature, but because of incorrect thinking…"83 (Contrast Sergei Tolstoy's approach with Eph 2:1-3.) Tolstoy's friend and biographer, Aylmer Maude, spoke with a group consciousness as a Toistoyan disciple when he penned: "we believe that evil does exist and that it is our duty to get rid of it."84 Yet Maude recorded that to Olga Nikolaevna's questions: "Could there be life without evil? Could man exist if there were no evil?" Tolstoy replied, "Man comes of good, not of evil."85 Tolstoy also claimed: "The theory of the fall of Adam…was unknown to Jesus; he never spoke of it…"86 As we will see in the next section, despite Tolstoy's litany of personal sins, it is hard (from an evangelical viewpoint) to credit him with any substantive (or at least biblical) view of sin, because of his repudiation of the biblical solution for sin.
Nevertheless, it is revealing (despite the dilution of the sin-question) that in his deathroom (November 1, 1910) Tolstoy said to his right-hand man (Chertkov): "Evidently I shall have to die in my sins!" To this exclamation Chertkov replied: "That is not sin, but love that surrounds you. You have done all you could to escape from sin!"87 (What Tolstoy meant in this context is uncertain. He may simply have been referring to his running away from the hellish situation at home during his final days.)
In relation to evil, two subcomments may be in order here. First, as in some theologies, Tolstoy had a garbled view of sex and viewed all sex (including marriage) as interconnected with sin. Lavrin stated that "sex in general was proclaimed by [Tolstoy] to be dirt and abomination, whereas desexualized love was raised on to the pedestal of…goodness…"88 (NaturalIy the wife of an author who had fathered 13 children was rather embarrassed by these public pronouncements. Actually, Tolstoy could never really forgive himself for his early sexual affairs, and that guilt haunted him to his dying day.)
Second, for Tolstoy the ownership of property was intrinsically evil. Consequently, even though he'd willed his large Russian estate over to his family members, for him to continue living on that property and reaping its benefits caused him considerable inner anguish.

E. Salvation
It is very easy for some readers to suppose—upon reading certain sections of War and Peace or Anna Karenina—thatTolstoy was a Christian because he freely uses the language of biblical soteriology ("saved," "regeneration," "new life," "begin anew," "believe," etc.). However, when this theological terminology is cast against the background of his prose expositions of later antisupernaturalism, it becomes obvious that Tolstoy borrows Christian vocabulary in a figurative, experiential, and nonorthodox way.
In War and Peace the semi-autobiographical character Pierre (wrestling with life's meaning) meets a Freemason. "This man knows the truth," Pierre thinks. Because of this, Pierre (a former atheist) wants "to begin anew." He wanted "regeneration."89 But when we inquire into the Freemason's formula for "regeneration," we get a muddled answer (from a NT perspective). Among the Freemason's answers given are: "He is in me. He is in you…a Being all-powerful, infinite, and eternal;"90 "only through the cleansing of my inner nature,"91 one must "undergo self-purification."92
When a Christian reads Tolstoy's last major novel, Resurrection, one would be apt to assume a Christian conversion has taken place. One reads of Nekhludev's "cleansing of the soul," of his "newly awakened spiritual being," and that he prays, "Lord, help me, teach me, come enter within me and purify me of all this abomination."93 However, in light of (1) the fact that Christ is never explicitly mentioned in the context of this "conversion;" (2) Tolstoy's espousal of antisupernaturalism elsewhere; and (3) how Nekhludov reacts to a gospel presentation from an Evangelical later in the same novel, there is ample reason for concluding that Nekhludov's experience is not equatable with biblical regeneration.
Tolstoy forged a pivotal statement which he formulated with clarity: "if obedience to the law is a condition of salvation, the salvation of men by the death of Christ is superfluous and quite useless. It is necessary to choose one or the other, and the church teaching in reality chooses the latter, i.e., it acknowledges the reality of the redemption…"94 If he had stopped there, we could heartily say, "Amen," based on Gal 2:16 and 21. However (presumably from the ceremonialism of his Russian Orthodox experience), Tolstoy went on to add: "but…it [the church] does not dare make the last necessary deduction that the law is superfluous…"95 Later in the same volume Tolstoy addressed "the question as to what saves, whether faith or good works…Some say that faith saves, and others say that works save."96 He then proceeded to quote a standard Russian Orthodox theology text: "No matter how great may be the value of faith…and although this faith is the first condition for the appropriation by man of Christ's deserts—it alone is not sufficient [emphasis mine]…By faith alone a man may receive his justification and cleanse himself from sin in the sacrament of baptism, only when he just enters the kingdom of Christ's grace; he may after that receive the…other sacraments of the church…that finally he may be able, after having completed his terrestrial activity, to appear as justified and sanctified at the terrible judgment of Christ—for all that, in addition to faith he needs good works…"97Thus, Tolstoy saw clearly that the major church of his acquaintance rejected salvation by grace through faith alone.
Despite Tolstoy's critique of the Russian Orthodox dogma, in the final analysis his view boiled down to the same thing—a do-it-yourself scheme of salvation. Lavrin asserted that Tolstoy declared: "Christ does not teach salvation by faith."98 To the relative Tolstoy affectionately called "Granny," the famous writer "belligerently declared that a thinking person could achieve his own salvation without the aid of anyone. She understood this ‘anyone' to mean God, and no doubt he had intended it in this sense for her benefit…"99
Note the emotionally loaded term blasphemous in Tolstoy's following assertion: "A man who is taught by the church the blasphemous doctrine about his not being able to be saved by his own efforts, but that there is another means, will inevitably have recourse to this means and not to his efforts, on which he is assured it is a sin to depend."100 On December 16, 1906, four years before his death, Tolstoy said, "I think a man can only filifill God's law by setting an example of good life, by purifying himself from evil, and increasing the good."101 He added: "The Kingdom of God is won by effort, said Christ; and that kingdom is not without, but within us."102 In another book Tolstoy wrote: "I do not want to think that [Christ] will redeem me, where I ought to redeem myself"103 Later in the same volume Tolstoy asked: "Why not permit me to think, as I do, that Christ has saved us by having discovered the law which gives salvation to those who follow it…?"104
Many are confused by Tolstoy's rebirth terminology. His eldest daughter referred to "what is termed Tolstoy's conversion or religious crisis (though he himself called it his second birth)."105 Even Christian professor William Lyon Phelps spoke of Tolstoy's "Christian conversion," which confuses many readers.106 Tolstoy interpreted "born again" in John 3 to mean that everyone "has a consciousness of a spiritual birth (John 3:5, 6, 7), of an inner liberty, of something within…"107 Despite an overlap with NT terminology, the bottom line for Tolstoy is expressed in My Religion:"There is no salvation aside from fulfillment of the doctrine of Jesus."108 By "doctrine of Jesus" Tolstoy meant carrying out Christ's commands. In a later section we will examine in what these chief commands consisted for him.

F. Evangelicalism
Because of the readership of this journal and because Tolstoy did interact with Evangelicals, we include here a separate section as it relates to soteriology.
Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina from 1870 to 1873. In the pages of the novel Anna's husband and brother interact with Evangelicalism (though it is not expressively labeled such). The Countess Lydia Ivanovna speaks of one whose "heart was made new."109 Anna's husband (Alexei) grasps that they are "talking of religion." The countess asserts that believers' "sin has been atoned for."110 To her comments Oblonsky objects (from James) that "faith without works is dead." She responds: "What harm has been done by the false interpretation of that passage [in James 2]. Nothing holds men back from belief like that misinterpretation." Anna's husband chimed in approvingly. "We are saved by Christ who suffered for us. We are saved by faith."111 The countess held the position: "To be saved one only need believe…"112
Tolstoy investigated Buddhism, Islam, and other major religions. "Even the popular 'New Christians' of that time, the Evangelicals, who professed salvation by faith in the Redemption, were sympathetically considered. Tolstoy knew followers of Lord Radstock, the…English Evangelical preacher…One of them, Count A. P. Bobrinski, Minister of Ways of Communication, visited [Tolstoy] in February 1876, and [Tolstoy] wrote to Granny of this prominent [Evangelical]: 'No one ever spoke better to me about faith than Bobrinski…you feel that he is happier than those who do not have his faith…And this I desire.’"113
In his diary for March 10, 1884, Tolstoy entered: "What a stupid phenomenon Luther's reformation was. A triumph of narrow-mindedness and folly. Salvation from original sin through faith and the vanity of good works are just as bad as all the superstitions of Catholicism."114 Two months later (May 27, 1884) he diaried: "Reading
Augustine: Thought a lot about the fact that Paul's, Augustine's, Luther's…teaching of redemption—the awareness of one's weakness and the absence of struggle—are of importance."115
In Resurrection (published in 1899) Prince Nekhludov encountered Evangelicals. He is invited to hear a preacher named Kiesewetter (an "adherent to that teaching which holds that the essence of Christianity lies in a belief in the Redemption…this teaching repudiated all ceremonies, icons, and sacraments…")116 Later in the book an Englishman comes into a prison preaching "that Christ pitied [the prisoners] and loved them and died for them. If they believe in this, they will be saved."117 In an earlier section Kiesewetter had told them "there is a way to be saved [from "everlasting torment"]. Here it is—a joyful, easy way. Salvation is in the blood shed for us by the only Son of God, who gave Himself up to torments for our sake."118 With the repeated mention of Christ's "blood," Nekhludov felt "disgusted" and secretly left the room. (This was Tolstoy's final reaction toward Evangelicalism.)
In the year Tolstoy died his wife recorded in her diary (July 2, 1910) that (Tolstoy's first lieutenant) Chertkov's mother was "a 'Radstockist'…and believes in redemption; she believes too that Christ dwells within her…"119 On July 12th of the same year Chertkov's mother had two Evangelical preachers visiting her. One preacher named Fetler (says Sonya Tolstoy) "tried assiduously to convert me to his faith—in Redemption. I argued with him only when he insisted on a material redemption, the shedding of blood, and the suffering and death of Christ's body."120 Then Fetler "got down on his knees and started praying for me, for [Leo Tolstoy], for the peace and happiness of our souls…It was a beautiful prayer, but it was all so strange!"121 Whether the Tolstoys got an adequate presentation of Evangelicalism or not, they rejected the brush that they had with it.

G. The Kingdom of God
Tolstoy's view of salvation was intensely bound up with his concept of the kingdom of God and the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. Lavrin summarized Tolstoyanism by saying: "the whole of Christ's teaching consists in giving the Kingdom of God, i.e., peace to man…Men need only trust in Christ's teaching and obey it, and there will be peace on earth."122 For Tolstoy, "the Kingdom of God must be established here and now on this earth and in this, the only real life that is accorded us."123 Said Alymer Maude (his friend): "He was sure that it is our business to establish the Kingdom of God on earth."124 Tolstoy declared: "Let all the world practice the [teaching] of Jesus and the reign of God will come upon earth."125
For Tolstoy the Gospels were the heart of the Bible, and the Sermon on the Mount was the heart of the Gospels, and Matt 5:39 ("resist not evil") was the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. Non-resistance to evil "involves [for Tolstoy] ultimately the entire abolition of compulsory legislation, law courts, police, and prison."126 Tolstoy was a humanitarian anarchist who stood opposed to all human government and violence.
Tolstoy boiled down the essence of what he thought Christianity was to obeying the five commands of Christ in Matt 5:21-48. If people would genuinely fulfill these commandments, then the kingdom of God would be activated on earth.
Interestingly, there were pilot communities set up to practice Tolstoyan principles, but they all inevitably met with failure and went defunct. His disciple, Aylmer Maude, who had been personally involved in a Tolstoy communal project, commented candidly that Tolstoy's teaching, which was supposed to save humanity, "alienated him from many friends, brought discord into his family life, strained his relations with his wife, and left him spiritually alone."127 At the communal level, Maude said: "not one single Colony or Group formed under the influence of [Tolstoy's] writings, either in Russia, or elsewhere in Europe or America, was able to hold to his principles and show a satisfactory record."128 In pragmatic, empirical reality Tolstoy's views of the kingdom of God never worked.

H. Future Immortality
While over the years Tolstoy revealed some ambivalence about a personal existence beyond this earthly existence, on the whole Tolstoy denied individual immortality. When he was 24 years old, Tolstoy encapsulated his embryonic "creed" as embracing "the immortality of the soul and eternal retribution for our acts."129 In War and Peace Pierre asks Andrei: "Do you believe in a future life?"130 After Andrei's death, Natasha wonders, "Where has he gone? Where is he now?"131
Aylmer Maude claimed that Tolstoy "expressed now one and now another view" on "a future life."132 [n 1871 Tolstoy's brother-in-law, Dr. Behrs, asked him: "How can a man live at peace so long as he has not solved the question of a future life?" Tolstoy (apparently sardonically) pointed to two horses grazing and so laying up for a future life. Behrs indicated he was speaking "of our spiritual, not our earthly life." To this Tolstoy replied: "Well, about that I neither know nor can know anything."133 On April 25, 1876, Tolstoy spoke of death and "Nirvana—the illimitable, the unknown."134 On September 12, 1884 he applauded Buddhism in that "one doesn't ask questions about eternal life."135 In 1885 in My Religion Tolstoy claimed (astoundingly!): "Jesus said nothing about…personal resurrection."136 He reiterated that "Jesus, who is supposed to have been raised in person, said nothing in affirmation of individual resurrection and individual immortality beyond the grave."137
Ernest Simmons tried to make a case that between 1884 and 1887 Tolstoy altered his position. He declared that "in one significant respect [Tolstoy] seems to have changed his view. In What I Believe (1884) he firmly indicated a disbelief in a personal resurrection and immortality…; in On Life [1887], however, he rather vaguely suggests the possibility of a future life."138 The evidence for this view, however, is not very strong.
The same set of conflicting viewpoints is found in later Tolstoy quotations. On December 25, 1894, Tolstoy diaried: "One may wish to, and believe one can, fly away to Heaven, or be resurrected after death, but it won't occur to anyone to wish for or believe that 2 + 2 will make 5…"139
Tolstoy wrote "Granny" in 1904: "It may be that we shall not see each other again in this world; if this pleases God, then it is well. Nor do I think that we shall meet in the other world, as we understand the meaning of 'meeting'; but I do think and am fully convinced that in the after-life all the kind, loving, and fine things that you have given me in this life will remain with me."140 This is a far cry from 1 Thess 4:16-17. However in 1908, two years before his death, Tolstoy said to Henry George's son: "We shall not see each other again. What message do you give me for your father in the other world?"141
The crystallization that seems more representative of Tolstoy's truest thought is found in My Religion:"As opposed to the personal life, Jesus taught us, not of a life beyond the grave, but of that universal life which comprises within itself the life of humanity, past, present, and to come."142 In his letter of excommunication the Russian Orthodox Church declared that Tolstoy (among other cardinal doctrines) denied a future life and any recompense after this life. "Belief in personal immortality always seems to me a misunderstanding," Tolstoy stated in 1896, calling such belief "superstition."143 Consequently, while Tolstoy's thought on the question of a future life was not static, his most representative position seems ambiguous and agnostic (at best) about any immortal personal existence and consistent in denying all future bodily resurrection.

VI. Conclusion
While a surface reading of War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Resurrection might make a Christian reader suspect that Leo Tolstoy was a Christian, his non-fiction prose reveals unquestionably that he was anything but that. Of course, Tolstoy believed that virtually he alone had discovered real Christianity and his family constantly spoke of him as a "Christian." From the vantage point of historic Christian orthodoxy, however, his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church was warranted.
Tolstoy was ambiguous about whether God was truly a personal being. He denied the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Naturally, corollaries of those denials meant that he did not believe in the virginal conception of Christ, His genuine miracles, His redemptive death, or His bodily resurrection. To Tolstoy Jesus was simply teaching that He was what all people were and potentially could be.
It is clear from Tolstoy's writings that eventually he was disgusted with (what he knew—for better or for worse—of) Evangelicalism. Whether he got an adequate picture of evangelical doctrine and personal attractiveness is not clear. Nevertheless, he stood adamantly against the notion of salvation by grace through faith alone. He expected people to be ushering in God’s kingdom by means of carrying out Christ’s commands found in the last part of Matthew 5. The genius of Tolstoyanism was embodied in the doctrine of non-resistance to violence (which for him implied the abolition of all governments, courts, and police).
Tolstoy was an eclectic on world religions, so for him Christ only meant a formulator of what was truest in all the great religions. Basically he was a religious naturalist. Despite being the world’s most famous writer at his death, Tolstoy died with a dysfunctional family and a set of disciples who couldn’t agree enough to form a cohesive unit. In his tragic death Tolstoy was the prodigal son reenacted—running away from home as an old man—but without any happy homecoming in the aftermath or conviction of individual immortality in the afterlife. Tolstoy may have achieved literary immortality, but he denied theological immortality. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (see Charlie’s comment here)


1F. W. Boreham, A Faggot of Torches (Chicago: The Judson Press, 1926), 212.

2William Lyon Phelps, Essays on Russian Novelists (New York: Macmillan Company, 1911), 171.

3George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky (New York; Vintage Books, 1959), 325. For further information on Dostoevsky see "Dostoevsky and His Theology" in Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Autumn, 1997): 49-68, by this writer.

4Sergei Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered by His Son (New York: Athenaum, 1962), 227.

5Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1946), 689.

6Phelps, Essays, 206.

7Ibid., 189.

8Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 2:524-25.

9R. F. Christian, ed., Tolstoy’s Diaries (New York: The Scribner Press, 1985), I:vii.

10Ibid., I:viii.

11Steiner, Tolstoy, 47.

12Maude, The Life of Tolstoy I:311.

13Phelps, Essays, 195.

14Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, I:437.

15Phelps, Essays, 198.

16Christian, Tolstoy’s Diaries, I:4.

17Tatyana Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1977), 248.

18Christian, Tolstoy's Diaries,I:17.

19Leo Tolstoy, My Confession (New York: Willey Book Co., 1904), 3.

20Ibid., 6.

21Ibid., 8.

22Janko Lavrin, Tolstoy (New York: Macmillan Co., 1946), 93.

23R.F. Christian, Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 218.

24Helen Muchnic, An Introduction to Russian Literature (Garden City, NY: The Country Life Press, 1947), 205, 207.

25Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (New York: Penguin Books, 1954), 433.

26Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, II: 9.

27Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 323.

28Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, I:360.

29Tatyana Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered, 186.

30Cathy Porter, translator, The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy (New York: Random House, 1985), 850.

31Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1899), 114.


33Tolstoy, My Confession,73.

34Tatyana Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered,188.

35Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy,I: 443.

36Sergei Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered by His Son, 161.

37Leo Tolstoy, My Confession, 60.

38Ibid., 63.

39Cathy Porter, translator, The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy, 146.

40R. F. Christian, ed., Tolstoy’s Diaries, I:172.

41Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 333.

42Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, II:59.

43Sergei Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered by His Son, 130.

44Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 374.

45George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, 286.

46Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You (Boston, MA: L. C. Page and Co., 1893), 43.

47Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 588.

48Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, I:264.

49Ibid., I:263.

50Ibid., II:39.

51Ibid., II:430.

52Ibid., II:39.

53Sergei Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered, 206.

54Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You, 59.

55Ibid., 84.

56George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, 246.

57Tolstoy’s Diaries, I:12.

58Ibid., 162.

59Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (Garden City, NY: The Literary Guild of America, 1949), 168.

60Ibid., 169.

61Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, II:58.

62Leo Tolstoy, Thoughts on God (New York: Willey Book Co., 1904), 416.

63Tolstoy’s Diaries, I:301.

64Tatyana Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered, 217.

65 Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, II:56.

66Ibid., II:509.

67Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 393.

68George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, 270.

69Tolstoy’s Diaries, II:461.

70Leo Tolstoy, Critique of Dogmatic Theology (New York: Willey Book Co., 1904), 162.

71Ibid., 182.

72Ibid., 189.

73Leo Tolstoy, My Religion (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell and Co., 1885), 15.

74Ibid., 58.

75R. F. Christian, Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction,269.

76George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky,326.

77Leo Tolstoy, Critique ofDogmatic Theology,178.

78Ibid., 253.

79Ibid., 269.

80Tolstoy’s Diaries, I, 237.

81Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy,707.

82Ibid., 626.

83Sergei Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered by His Son,63.

84Alymer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy,II:38.

85Ibid., II:180.

86Leo Tolstoy, My Religion, 154.

87Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy,II:510.

88Janko Lavrin, Tolstoy,128.

89Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace,212.

90Ibid., 207.

91Ibid., 208.


93Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection, 113-14.

94Leo Tolstoy, Critique of Dogmatic Theology,279.


96Ibid., 367.


98Janko Lavrin, Tolstoy, 102.

99Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy,529.

100Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You,79.

101Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, II:453.


103Leo Tolstoy, Critique of Dogmatic Theology, 247.

104Ibid., 302.

105Tatyana Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered, 19.

106William Lyon Phelps, Essays on Russian Novelists, 171.

107Leo Tolstoy, My Religion, 125.

108Ibid., 160.

109Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 766.

110Ibid., 768.


112Ibid., 770.

113Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 319.

114Tolstoy’s Diaries, I:204.

115Ibid., I:216.

116Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection, 284.

117Ibid., 504.

118Ibid., 299.

119The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy, 504.

120Ibid., 514.


122Janko Lavrin, Tolstoy, 101.

123George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, 254.

124Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, II:89.

125Leo Tolstoy, My Religion, 160.

126Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 332.

127Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy, II:71.

128Ibid., 202.

129Tolstoy’s Diaries, I:63.

130Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 210.


132Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy,I:216.

133Ibid., I:333.

134Ibid., I:360.

135Tolstoy's Diaries, I:224.

136Leo Tolstoy, My Religion,144.

137Ibid., 143.

138Ernest Simmons, Leo Tolstoy,421.

139Tolstoy’s Diaries,I:343.

140Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 640.

141Ibid., 711.

142Leo Tolstoy, My Religion, 151.

143Janko Lavrin, Tolstoy, 98.




Source: http://carnivalsage.com/articles/Biographies/luminaries/leo-tolstoy-author/leo-Tolstoy-N.doc

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Lev Tolstoy and the Freedom to Choose One’s Own Path

Andrea Rossing McDowell, PhD

It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion about them. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.                            
-- Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1988)


Committed to the idea that the lives of humans and animals are inextricably linked, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828–1910) promoted—through literature, essays, and letters—the animal world as another venue in which to practice concern and kindness, consequently leading to more peaceful, consonant human relations. The focal point of Tolstoy’s philosophy of human-animal relations, however, is susceptible to distortion or misinterpretation. On the one hand, some scholars minimize or dismiss as extremist Tolstoy’s renunciation of hunting, his vegetarian lifestyle, and his rejection of animal subjects for medical or scientific purposes. On the other, some vegetarians and animal rights scholars focus exclusively on the author’s later stance on antiviolence as concrete evidence of Tolstoy’s progressive outlook toward non-human animals. While Tolstoy voiced more modern concepts of animal rights and welfare than his contemporaries typically espoused, an argument preferencing any single component of Tolstoy’s philosophy misrepresents its inherent complexity. Although Tolstoy employs the animal theme as a literary device to reflect the external devaluation of humans, he also denounces human domination over living animals (in reducing them to “pets” or “beasts of burden”) as well as human abuse and destruction of living animals (through hunting or the slaughterhouse). These beliefs resonate with his larger social concerns, such as his opposition to serfdom, the role of women in society, the devolution of sexual mores, and the destruction of rural life through modernization. At the core of all of these issues lies his intrinsic concern: the impact of socio-historical factors on the morality, autonomy, and valuation of the individual being. Numerous scholars have studied the themes of individuation and ethics in his works, and many have written on his vegetarian and pacifist principles. But none has devoted sufficient attention to Tolstoy’s articulation of these concerns together in relation to the animal realm.
Tolstoy’s eschewal of meat, alcohol, tobacco, and sexual relations is reflected in his biography and discussed in his later philosophical writings. In his afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata (1889), Tolstoy encourages people to oppose debauchery and baseness by living a “natural life,” requiring a vegetarian lifestyle. A year later, he explicates these beliefs further in “The First Step” (1891), an introduction to a vegetarian cookbook. His adoption of an ascetic lifestyle does not represent a particular “conversion” experience, though, because his earlier writings espouse these same values and principles. Thus, his philosophy of human-animal relations develops from intrinsic connections between his personal beliefs and his literary creations, which feature non-human animals, located repeatedly alongside a series of objectified and subordinated “others,” devoid of or stripped of place and people to call one’s own, and frequently the power to execute decisions governing the self. In War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), Tolstoy creates a metaphorical link between animals and estranged or subjugated characters, particularly women. In “Kholstomer” (1885), similar themes of suppression and ostracization come literally from the horse’s mouth, as Tolstoy shifts into a convincing, albeit moralizing, animal narration. Foregrounding the animal realm throughout his oeuvre, Tolstoy underscores a recurring theme of social justice and admiration for individuals—literary or otherwise—who nourish an indomitable will against the crushing pressure of dehumanizing socio-historical forces, and who refrain from allowing governing circumstances to vanquish their individual psyche or moral judgment.

Christianity, Morality, and Beefsteaks


In the 1880s, Tolstoy became a vegetarian and renounced hunting because it reflected an “evil pastime ‘in which our killing habit and, consequently, our meat-eating habit merge together’” (LeBlanc 84). Tolstoy’s status within Russia and his international fame dynamically advanced the vegetarian cause, but he did not found the movement in Russia. Moreover, his vegetarianism relates to general Orthodox principles and to folk and sectarian beliefs. The Orthodox Church designated the flesh of several animals (beaver, squirrel, and horse, among others) as unfit for human consumption. As late as the seventeenth century, animals that were strangled and not bled (geese, ducks, grouse, and hares) were considered improper comestibles for Orthodox Christians (Smith 13). The greater dietary influence of the Orthodox Church required Russian believers to fast nearly two hundred days annually. During fasts, believers could not consume meat or dairy products such as milk, cheese, and eggs (Toomre 13). Additionally, many sectarians expanded the interpretation of Christian conduct to renounce all meat-eating (along with alcohol and tobacco use, profanity, and sexual activity) (Engelstein 14).
In “The First Step” (1891), Tolstoy likewise aligns the consumption of meat with moral vices, and warns of the “excitation of the passions caused by such food” (123). In this preface to a new Russian translation of The Ethics of Diet: A Catena of Authorities Deprecatory of the Practice of Flesh-Eating (1883) by British vegetarian Howard Williams, Tolstoy contends that self-control provides liberation from fundamental lusts such as gluttony, idleness, and sexual love; and he maintains that the first effort must include fasting, if one hopes to conquer the latter two desires (“First” 113). But his warnings do not concern bodily defilement alone. Tolstoy maintains that the use of animal flesh is “simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to moral feeling—killing” (123). He relates an encounter with a clergyman who, in criticizing religious asceticism, boasted of a Christianity not “of fasting and privations, but of beefsteaks” (117). He then provides a grisly account of a visit to a slaughter-house; and he censures the hypocrisy of those who eat meat yet claim to oppose suffering.
Despite Tolstoy’s passionate arguments in “The First Step,” many scholars minimize the connection between his vegetarianism and his compassion for the animal world. According to Darra Goldstein, ethical considerations did not initially motivate Tolstoy’s meat avoidance: “Tolstoy struggled against carnal and gustatory temptation alike, the renunciation of meat and sex being equally important for attaining moral purity” (103). Daniel Rancour-Laferrier and Ronald D. LeBlanc maintain that Tolstoy’s vegetarianism related primarily to issues of moral and physical discipline. LeBlanc notes:

Present day historians of the vegetarian movement in Russia tend to ignore the close association between absti­nence from meat and abstinence from sex posited by Tolstoy. Instead they emphasize the progressive, humani­tarian aspects of Tolstoy’s vegetarianism: how his refusal to eat meat stems from his ethical refusal to commit violence upon any of God’s living creatures …. (95)

He further argues that humanitarian claims sever Tolstoy’s vegetarianism “from two of its most defining philosophical bases: abstinence theory and Christian physiology” (97).
If one examines the fundamental reasoning behind Tolstoy’s abstinence argument, however, the core principle deals with the domination and destruction of others. In his “Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata” (1889), Tolstoy discusses the trend toward using prostitution to derive supposed health benefits from sexual relations when marriage may not be possible. He argues that institutionalized prostitution requires an entire class of women “to perish bodily and spiritually for the satisfaction of the passing demands of men” (“Afterword” 111). In clarifying his point, he further underscores the link between human and animal victims:

And what I wanted to say here was that [debauchery] is bad because it cannot be that it is necessary for the sake of the health of some people to destroy the body and soul of other people, in the same way that it cannot be necessary for the sake of the health of some people to drink the blood of others. (95)

            Based on other essays from this same period, his reference to “drink[ing] the blood of others” logically extends to the act of killing animals, draining blood, and partaking of meat. Here and elsewhere Tolstoy includes animals among those downtrodden, dominated beings whose own needs and protection are discounted for the “benefits” of those in control. Thus mindful of the subjugated Other, Tolstoy realizes he must “turn his back completely on the system of values accepted by the comfortable elite to which he belonged” (Walicki 326). Only in this way can a person freely live an ethical and humane existence: by disavowing society’s system of values—including the devaluation of non-human animals. These ultimate realizations and convictions at which Tolstoy arrived provides a valuable framework for recontextualizing earlier literary works, in that the animal realm aided his efforts to discern what it means to be human and humane, and to live by deed rather than words.

War and Peace

External Devaluation and Intrinsic Valuation: The Case of the Rostov’s “Kitten”


In War and Peace (Voina i mir 1869), the animal world serves as an extension of what Ginzburg calls Tolstoy’s “analytical, explanatory psychologism.” That is, a character is enriched by adding personality—“a dynamic, multidimen­sional system in which derived features emerged in complex fashion from initial social, biological, and psychological premises” (221–22). In this process, Tolstoy often associates a particular character with an animal, as in the case of Sonya, a poor relation living in Count Ilya Rostov’s household. Superficially addressed in Tolstoy studies, Sonya belongs to those characters whose lives—most often for reasons beyond their control—are governed for them, yet whose limited choices reflect moral strength and psychological independence. Tolstoy describes Sonya’s behavior and standing in terms of a housecat, thereby emphasizing her orphaned status and role of subservience. Her introduction in the novel concurrently highlights her feline attributes and her independence of spirit:

The smooth grace of her movements, the soft elasticity of her small limbs and a certain wary artfulness in her manner suggested a beautiful, half-grown kitten which promises to develop into a lovely cat. … in spite of herself her eyes under their long thick lashes watched her cousin [Nikolay] … with such passionate girlish adoration that her smile could not for a single instant deceive anyone, and it was plain to see that the kitten had only crouched down the more energetically to spring up and play with her cousin the moment they … could escape from the drawing room.
The little kitten, feasting her eyes on [Nikolay], seemed ready at a moment’s notice to start her gambolling and display her kittenish nature. (War and Peace 45–46)

            These passages provide a description in miniature of Sonya’s role: her grace and elasticity develop into charitable kindness and pliability of will, and she forgoes her desires to accommodate others’ wishes. A penniless orphan, Sonya is an unsuitable match for Nikolay Rostov, despite their mutual affection. Yet her love cannot be vanquished. The “kitten” remains at arm’s length, “feasting her eyes” on her beloved, and perpetually waiting for that which cannot occur. In the epilogue, after Nikolay has married Princess Maria Bolkonskaya, Sonya lives with the couple (a common arrangement for single females at the time). Maria admits feeling resentment toward Sonya, but her sister-in-law Natasha responds, “Sometimes I am sorry for her and sometimes I think that she doesn’t feel it as you or I would” (W&P 1363).
Those in positions of superiority frequently assume that “lesser” beings are less sensitive or perceptive, and therefore suffer less. But despite Sonya’s circumstances, Tolstoy does not present her as a victim, as John Bayley stresses (116). (In fact, Bayley notes that Sonya’s role is based on Tolstoy’s own Aunt Tatiana, whom he esteemed highly.) Sonya makes certain key decisions about her fate within the margin of her ability to do so. She refuses a socially advantageous marriage proposal from Dolokhov, and she releases Nikolay from his childhood promise by telling him: “I love you as a brother, and I shall always love you, and that’s all I want” (W&P 389). Her strength and courage render Sonya as one of Tolstoy’s “‘best’ women”—those who are “bodiless, deprived of all passions save those directed toward family, chastity, or the Christian ideals of self-effacement and asceticism” (Benson 11). Indeed, her position renders her irreproachable vis-à-vis Tolstoy’s later judgments in the “Kreutzter Sonata” afterword:

Carnal love and marriage are forms of service to oneself, and that is why in every case these are a hindrance to the service of God and to people; this is why, from the Christian point of view, carnal love and marriage are a degradation and a sin. (“Afterword” 117)
Never fully considered an equal by those around her, Sonya occupies a lower/dependent position within the Rostov family. Yet whatever her own desires may have been, her position as a pet (a housecat ) “exempts” her from marriage and accompanying sexual expectations. Thus, her animal status at the beginning of the novel paradoxically results in a higher moral (independent) status, freed from “animal” desires of the flesh and the “degradation” of marriage.

Hunting and the Price of “Peace” and “Harmony

Linked to the topic of dependence–independence is the theme of belonging, a life-long and largely unfulfilled need on the part of Tolstoy. The author develops this topic in particular through the motif of the hunt, in which he juxtaposes the harmony of belonging withdissonant loneliness. He also depicts the simultaneous connection and separation of human and animal in detailing the brutality of the hunt; namely, his description illuminates the paradox of the hunter’s heightened participation in nature at the instant of killing. But instead of extolling some universal, idealized image of nature in this moment, Tolstoy stresses the cruelty of the hunting act by unexpectedly entering the targeted animal’s mind, thereby individualizing the victim of violence.
The narrator lightly mocks young Nikolay Rostov, who fervently asks God to send the wolf toward him: “He prayed with that sense of passionate anxiety with which men pray at moments of great excitement arising from trivial causes” (W&P 588). When the wolf crosses Nikolay’s path, Tolstoy deliberately shifts the narrative perspective:

Suddenly the wolf’s whole appearance changed: she shud­dered, seeing what she had probably never seen before—human eyes fixed on her, and turning her head a little towards Rostov, she paused, in doubt whether to go back or forward. “Oh, no matter—forward …” the wolf seemed to say to herself, and she continued on, not looking round, with a quiet, long, easy yet resolute lope. (589)
With this brief paragraph, Tolstoy forces the reader to acknowledge the individuality of the animal. She is not “a” wolf, but a specific female wolf with a past (no experience with humans) and a consciousness (absence of fear). Consequently, he intensifies the violence of the animal’s capture and renders Nikolay’s cruel rapture more reprehensible:

That instant when Nikolai saw the wolf struggling in the gully with the dogs, saw the wolf’s grey coat under them, her outstretched hind leg, her panting, terrified head with ears laid back (Karay was pinning her by the throat), was the happiest moment of his life. (591)

            Richard F. Gustafson suggests that the hunt here “imitates the action and embodies the meaning of [the novel]” (42). While he and other scholars rightly underscore the significance of this sequence, their explications remain incomplete due to the exclusive focus on human perspectives. Acknowledging the individuality of the wolf and the barbarity of her fate further expands the implications of the hunt for the entire text. Cycles of aspiration, disappointment, achievement, and accord always exact a great price; and for each victor, a victim will suffer in agonizing defeat. Thus, when Gustafson concludes that the hunt “moves toward the paradigmatic restoration of that peace which is the harmony of all together and at one” (43), he ignores the sacrifice made by the animal (like the sacrifice made by myriad dehumanized soldiers in the war sequences) in order to achieve that “peace” and “harmony.”

Anna Karenina

Instinct and Understanding: Lessons from a Canine


In bestowing consciousness upon non-human characters, Tolstoy contributes to the developing portrayal of animal perception in literary history. Anna Karenina (1877) provides a more extended demonstration of this animal narration. In the hunting episode with Konstantin Levin and his dog, Laska, Tolstoy highlights the hunter’s reliance on his dog’s keen sense of smell. But in describing the scene from the dog’s perspective, he also demonstrates Laska’s ability to rationalize. José Ortega y Gasset suggests that the domesticated animal, such as the dog, represents an “intermediate reality between the pure animal and man,” in that human training partly subsumes natural instincts, thereby partially de-animalizing and humanizing the animal. Accordingly, domesticated animals possess “something like reason” (92). This combination of instinct and rudimentary reason renders Laska superior to Levin in what Ortega y Gasset describes as the venatic act. Here, one sees the folly of human efforts to override instinctual canine superiority. The second time Levin misdirects his companion, she knows she will lose the scent:

Well, if that’s what he wants I’ll do it, but I no longer ac­cept any responsibility for it now, she thought …. She was no longer on the scent, but simply used her eyes and ears without understanding anything (AK 635; italics mine).

Laska obeys the master’s commands, but sets aside her instinct and her key to understanding, thereby replaying an earlier scenario in which Levin experienced a similar disconnect between instinct and reason.
Just as Levin required Laska to chase after a non-existent snipe, Levin’s fiancée requires him to attend confession, a process meaningless to him because of unresolved theological questions. “I don’t understand anything,” Levin tells the priest, who nonetheless pronounces the absolution. Levin later describes feeling like a dog

being taught to jump through a hoop, and, that once it’s finally realized and accomplished what is being required of it, barks, and wagging its tail, jumps for joy onto the tables and window sills. (472)

            Once again, a link between animal and human critically underscores aspects of a human character’s psyche. Like his dog, Levin does as instructed; yet his doubts mark him as an outsider—one who fails to meet others’ expectations. In contrast to the hunting sequence in War and Peace, the alienation experienced by Levin sets the tone for the hunt in Anna Karenina. Gustafson notes that the high expectations for a “common fulfilling experience” result instead in rivalry and estrangement; and the “distance separating individuals expands throughout the scene, and in the end the moment of triumph is achieved only in isolation from others” (47–48). But this reading neglects the fact that Levin does not consider the event entirely unsuccessful because he did share a “common fulfilling experience”—with his dog.

Mares and Mistresses: the Dangers of Being Possessed

Not unlike Levin, Tolstoy himself endured perpetual conflict between longing for inclusion and self-inflicted, egotistical estrangement:

Although he … had a special capacity for a penetrating un­derstanding of others, even of animals, Tolstoy the Stranger spent most of his time alone. Furthermore, throughout his life, he not only destroyed the relationships he established, he also self-righteously and even self-pityingly blamed his resultant isolation on others. (Gustafson 15–16)

            Tolstoy bequeaths this same tormenting isolation on his heroine Anna Karenina for yielding to self-indulgence in a society where certain expectations must be met and tacit agreements cannot be broken, especially not by women. According to Ruth Crego Benson, Anna’s separation from “her ‘own kind’ [family, society] is perhaps the greatest deprivation Tolstoy can imagine for her.” Benson continues:

One by one, as all other relations are stripped from her, Anna loses her private identity and her individual character. For Tolstoy, the loss of her ‘sociological’ identity amounts to the loss of her personal identity as well. (98)

            Despite her independent spirit, Anna experiences a strong need to belong. Instead, she is primarily possessed, which ultimately destroys her individual identity. Her status as Karenin’s wife secures her place in society, but the absence of marital affection fetters her passionate nature. As Vronsky’s mistress, she forfeits her societal standing and her maternal role in exchange for Vronsky’s (tenuous) attention. In both scenarios, Anna is a commodity for the men who govern her life. For Karenin, she supplies youth, beauty, and social grace. For Vronsky, she is an exciting and ardent conquest. Tolstoy emphasizes this latter position through the parallels with Vronsky’s horse and the events of the steeplechase.
Of the many critical interpretations of the Frou-Frou/Anna correlation, only a few scholars have considered the historical context of the horse in literature. David M. Bethea suggests that the equestrian motif in Russian literature has become almost an “Ursymbol,” and identifies Anna as the “embodiment of Russia … at a crossroads of history” (78). Amy Mandelker, who maintains Vronsky’s guilt in destroying both Anna and Frou-Frou, notes that the “comparison of a woman to a horse and man’s command over woman to his horsemanship is a commonplace in literature” (155). With regard to Russian literature specifically, Mandelker points out that brutality toward horses

has traditionally been used as a metaphor for the abuse of women, from the exchange of a woman for a horse in Lermontov’s ‘Bela’ [in Hero of our Time] to the implicit connection between Raskolnikov’s dream vision of a horse flogged to death and his murder of Lizaveta and the pawnbroker [in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment]. (156)

In Mandelker’s examples, a horse provides either a physical or psychological substitute for a woman. Anna Karenina follows the same paradigm. Anna and horses encompass Vronsky’s two passions—that do not “interfere with each other” (AK 184). Both horse and heroine, responding to the excitement and desire of the moment, seal their fates in trying to please the master. In describing the symbolic importance of horses, Sarah Wintle points to the significance that “their use by humans is predicated on close physical contact.” Therefore, “a good rider is at one with his horse …. Riding well is thus to be in harmony with, and yet controlling and guiding powerful physical energies” (17). Vronsky, in attempting to command the energies of his horse and his lover, is neither in harmony nor in control. Thus, in both the seduction of Anna and the race, he errs grievously. He breaks Frou-Frou’s back, and the beautiful, championship mare must be shot. By “riding” Anna, he unhorses his opponent Karenin, but in so doing, he symbolically breaks Anna’s back, and destroys her as well. And although Vronsky accepts responsibility for his mistakes, he nonetheless continues to lash out brutally at his victims.
If Anna indeed represents the embodiment of Russia at a crossroads, as Bethea suggests, then Vronsky becomes a dark knight whose forces assemble chaos, suffering, and death—a knight whose actions breach numerous chivalric codes: upholding honor and virtue, defending Christian teachings and morals, and championing the Good. Perhaps his most egregious violation, however, lies in failing to respect and defend one who is weaker. Prior to their sexual relations, Anna’s infatuation with Vronsky leaves her possessed by a “spirit of evil and deceit” (156). Blithely ignoring the consequences of his pursuits (another Tolstoyan theme), Vronsky believes that those around him, human and nonhuman, exist solely for his personal use. Hence, when he and Anna consummate their affair, he appears as a dissolute conqueror, who has achieved the “sole and exclusive desire of [his] life for almost a whole year, taking the place of all previous desires” (156). Scholars often point to the description of Vronsky as a murderer after this first sexual encounter with Anna:

As she looked at him, she felt her own humiliation physically, and could say nothing further. But what he felt was what a murderer must feel looking at the body he has deprived of life. (AK 156)

But the oft-neglected conclusion of that same paragraph, provides the key to Vronsky’s real transgression—arrogantly continuing along a disastrous course instead of redressing his crime: “in spite of all the murderer’s horror in the face of the murdered body, that body had to be cut in pieces and hidden away; the murderer had to make use of what he had gained by the murder” (157; italics mine).
After succumbing to Vronsky, Anna tells him: “Everything is finished. […] I have nothing but you now. Remember that.” (157) But Tolstoy demonstrates that Vronsky cannot benefit from such a murderous “gain.” His conquest becomes “no more than an exhibition, a thrilling contest set in a closed, and ultimately deadly circle with no other goal in sight save an arbitrary finish line” (Bethea 79). Those close to him, who objectify Anna as a means (or hindrance) to an end, become disappointed with Vronsky’s conduct. His mother is displeased that instead of a “brilliant, elegant, worldly” affair, he engages in a “desperate Werther-like passion” (AK 184). His brother (who “kept a ballet girl” himself) cares not for the nature of the affair but disapproves that Vronsky’s actions displease Important Personages. No one demonstrates concern for Anna the individual, who turns to morphine and opium for relief before finally committing suicide. Like the mare, the mistress is ultimately destroyed by the misuse of those in control. Yet Tolstoy does not sanction his heroine’s actions: although her decision-making ability is compromised by the unethical acts of others, she must accept responsibility for her choices. For the author, this mandate of conscientious choice applies both on a narrow, individual scale and at the larger, societal level.

To Belong to Oneself: the Rights of a Piebald Gelding

Toward the end of Anna Karenina, Levin continues to ask: “What am I? Where am I? And what am I here for?” (842). As Levin ponders such existential questions, Tolstoy produces another intentional woman–horse parallel. Levin watches two peasant women working and muses that they will eventually be dead and buried with nothing remaining of them. His thoughts move to a piebald gelding: “a horse breathing heavily, its nostrils distended, and its belly heaving as it trod the slanting wheel round under it. That’ll be buried, too …” (842). During a visit with fellow author Ivan Turgenev, Tolstoy saw a decrepit gelding in the pasture and speculated on the horse’s thoughts and emotions. A “spellbound” Turgenev remarked, “Listen, Lev Nikolaevich, you must have been a horse once yourself” (Eikhenbaum 101). Undoubtedly, these moments provide the first glimpses of the animal narrator in Tolstoy’s “Kholstomer” (1885). The animal voice and the high moral tone often lead to the dismissal of the novella as a didactic animal fable; but through simulating an animal point of view and drawing on the centuries-old tradition of equine symbolism, Tolstoy expresses his metaphysical concerns in a unique, intensified manner.
Whereas in the 1860s Tolstoy merely tried to render animal consciousness, the story published in 1885 “bears the stamp of [his] spiritual transformation and reflects his new attitude toward material possessions” (Ryan-Hayes 231–32). In discussing the beast-narrator in “Kholstomer,” Karen Ryan-Hayes suggests that non-human characters in satire help to “palliate didacticism,” and that even though “animals, as caricatural extensions of humans, accentuate human weaknesses and vices, it is easier to accept a satirist’s criticism when a fixed distance is established between ‘us’ and ‘them’” (226). In contrast, Mikhail Bakhtin and Pavel Medvedev assert that the device of ostranenie (i.e., making something strange, defamiliarization) serves a highly ideological function: “It is not the thing that Tolstoy wants to deautomatize by means of the device, but this moral meaning [that the object screens and automatizes]” (60–61). Indeed, rather than softening the critical tone, the voice of Kholstomer as his own being accentuates Tolstoy’s weltanschauung. But the horse does not serve merely as a mouthpiece for a human author; rather, the animal, the conveyorof the message, demands fresh scrutiny as well.
Analyzing the Houyhnhnms of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Wintle explains that “horses, because of their ubiquity and their glamour, were used as symbols and metaphors for the articulation of ideas and feelings about such central human concerns as status and class, sexuality, and the body” (4). “Kholstomer” addresses these issues, but with the twist that the horse–hero is dispossessed of glamour, status, sexuality, and even his body. Furthermore, Kholstomer suffers further alienation and prejudice due to his piebald hide and gelding status. This extreme personalization of the animal tragedy makes Tolstoy’s tale doubly successful as an allegory of human society and a literal injunction to treat non-human species with greater consideration.
The structure of “Kholstomer” predicts the hero’s fate. Through the beginning of the fifth chapter, an omniscient, human narrator describes the persecution—by human and horse—of a broken-down piebald gelding. Over the next five nights/chapters, Scheherazade-style, the horse relates his own story. But throughout the tale of abuse and decline, the horse’s moral certitude solidifies, and he develops the conviction that no creature should possess another. Viktor Shklovsky quotes the passage where Kholstomer observes: “I was threefold unhappy: I was piebald: I was a gelding; and men imagined that I did not belong to God and myself, as is the prerogative of every living thing …” (“Kholstomer” 242). He then connects this fate to Anna Karenina’s:

Tolstoy wanted for each individual to be his/her own person.
Anna was not her own.
She was Karenin’s.
Then Anna was Vronskii’s.
If everything were arranged so that she would be Anna Vronskaia, she would still be surrounded by the same people, who themselves are not their own. (551–52)

            The quest to be one’s own person must not be confused with egotistic self-centeredness. Rather, escaping the restrictive expectations of others leaves one free to live a selfless, righteous life. For some Tolstoyan heroes (as in The Death of Ivan Ilych), this realization arrives as mortal life expires. Similarly, Kholstomer realizes the false nature of humankind as his physical self disintegrates. Like Anna, he struggles to achieve spiritual freedom as his physical and social autonomy are compromised. But unlike Ivan Ilych or Anna, Kholstomer provides a non-human perspective of the materialistic, spiritually infirm human realm. Moreover, Kholstomer remains blameless. His suffering occurs not due to his own choices, but because of his natural appearance. Hence, Ryan-Hayes views Tolstoy’s underlying goal as an attack on “racial and social bias” (231).
In 1889, Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata provoked great controversy, as people accused him of advocating a “celibacy so complete that it would, if practiced, result in the extinction of the human race” (Terras 479). Tolstoy later rebuts this opposition in the “Afterword,” in which he claims that chastity is “neither rule nor injunction, but an ideal” (115). Tolstoy believes that the desire for both spiritual and physical unions cannot coexist, and to achieve satisfaction in either realm weakens or destroys the other. He concludes that marriage, therefore, may be a “natural and desirable condition” for mature adults, and abstinence may not be possible, but that the most satisfying relationships will be those in which the spiritual union prevails (“On the Relations” 155). Four years earlier, Tolstoy already explored the spirit versus body dilemma by imposing extreme, “ideal” celibacy on the horse Kholstomer through castration, which operates paradoxically. The initial trauma represents an act of power and abomination that ravages the victim’s sense of self and precludes immortality through progeny; conversely, it frees the sufferer from “animal” desires of the flesh, thereby encouraging more virtuous contemplations.
The topic of castration in the domain of horse breeding allows Tolstoy to extend the metaphor of discrimination and deprivation to extreme injustice. Based on lineage alone, Kholstomer deserves breeding rights because he descends from the exceptional Orlov stud farm and has demonstrated exceptional skill in distance racing. But as a piebald, he fails to meet the second requirement for breeding: suitable appearance. On this point, Tolstoy highlights the difference in prejudices between human and equine society in the narrative. Other horses are attracted by Kholstomer’s variegated coat. Breeders’ standards, however, reject his differences; therefore, they forcibly terminate his reproductive power: “On the next day I had ceased forever to whinny; I became what I am now. All the light of my eyes was quenched …. Suddenly I comprehended it all, comprehen­ded how I was forever sundered from [other horses], every one” (238). Fellow horses react with contemptuous pity, as his altered state reduces him to less than a horse. The terror of emasculation, and by implication, loss of identity, is also a key motif in Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels:

[Castration] … is what the master Houyhnhnm finds most horrific and most memorable in Gulliver’s account of the human treatment of horses, and, once he has come to terms with the right kind of species definitions and reversals, this is the final insult he can offer to the Yahoos …. (Wintle 19)

            Tolstoy deliberately uses the horse and the castration motif to argue for the spiritual castration of human lust and passion, thereby inverting traditional equine symbolism of the horse/steed as a sexually powerful creature. Instead of the virile, masculine heroes of War and Peace, a meditative, celibate male—albeit one of noble ancestry—occupies the foreground. Disdained by horse and human, Kholstomer spends time contemplating the nature of the world, such as the falsity of “maternal and female affection.” But chiefly, he notes the weaknesses of human beings. He discerns in them a “low and animal, a human instinct, which they call the sentiment or right of property,” and he observes that “men struggle in life not to do what they consider good, but to call as many things as possible their own” (“Kholstomer” 241). He concludes that the lives of men are guided by words (specifically: my, mine, ours), while the “superior” horse lives a life of deeds. (Kholstomer inadvertently continues to serve through deed even post-mortem, when his corpse feeds a wolf family, and a peasant finds use for his bones.)

The Next Step

Undeniably, part of Tolstoy’s liberation philosophy includes an awareness of the sanctity of all life, which echoes Victorian humanitarian attitudes:

The treatment of animals could be seen as an index of the extent to which an individual had managed to control his or her lower urges. If animal suffering was caused by people in need of moral uplift, then to work for the protection of the brute creation was simultaneously to promote the salvation of human souls and the maintenance of social order. (Ritvo 132)

This connection between protecting the animal and promoting human salvation is expressed directly in “Kholstomer” by the animal himself. Tolstoy creates in the novella what Wintle calls (in regard to Swift) a “sense of species kinship” and “moral responsibility” (13). Even if one cannot escape the domination of others, change one’s social status or skin color, or alter one’s destiny, an individual can live in such a manner as to guide the inner, spiritual self by ethical choices and behavior. R.F. Christian concludes that Tolstoy tries to show the

small area of individual freedom of choice within the broader frame­work of necessity and inevitability which encompasses life on earth. Everyone is condemned to death when he is born, but he must act as though he is free, however limited his power really is to guide and control important events involving people other than himself. (287)

            Tolstoy dogmatically demands this and other actions in addressing the problems he explores in his fiction and non-fiction, leading George Orwell, among others, to question whether Tolstoy’s expectations and the practices of his disciples merely exchange one form of egoism for another. In his essay on Tolstoy and Shakespeare, Orwell includes the former among

people who are convinced of the wickedness both of armies and of police forces, but who are nevertheless much more intolerant and inquisitorial in outlook than the normal person who believes that it is necessary to use violence in certain circumstances. They will not say to somebody else, ‘Do this, that and the other or you will go to prison,’but they will, if they can, get inside his brain and dictate his thoughts for him in the minutest particulars. (1941)

            Perhaps Orwell’s quote sheds light on the tendency to stress certain Tolstoyan beliefs above others. Tolstoy does not so much muse as pontificate. He doesn’t speculate, he sermonizes. Scholars who focus on Tolstoy the Intellectual may deem his animal focus as lacking substance and gravitas, a bias often encountered in academia. Those who champion Tolstoy the Vegetarian and Animal Advocate may be less comfortable with—or in truth may not know of—his pious antipathy toward marriage and sexuality. Feminist readings of Tolstoy highlight his advocacy for women’s education and liberation from domestic slavery, antiquated childbirth practices, and so forth; yet the same author cynically casts woman in the role of sexual temptress who promotes evil sensuality. In actuality, Tolstoy seems to show more understanding and compassion toward non-human animals than toward women.

            Although he wears his birthright uncomfortably, Count Tolstoy fails to make a clean break from his aristocratic heritage and liberate himself from a stratified worldview. Furthermore, his Christianity is an egocentric faith that concentrates foremost on an individual’s moral core and relationship with God from which follows compassion toward others (quite the opposite of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s primary emphasis on charity and pity). In the role of exemplar, then, Tolstoy concerns himself with the tutelage and trusteeship of the Other (human and animal), occupying a secondary status to the Self. Some may well question whether such “flaws,” which preclude venerating Tolstoy as a total liberationist, geld—like poor Kholstomer—the potency of the author’s philosophical positions. A holistic consideration of his life and work, however, allows one to recognize and appreciate the pioneering strengths of his legacy with regard to non-human animals while acknowledging the limitations of his historical time. Nowhere does Tolstoy advocate freeing animals from their cages (nor women from their corsets). His hierarchical Christianity prevents him from placing humans and animals on the same metaphysical plane. Yet his emphasis on making responsible, conscientious choices in consideration of all living things surely is an important first step toward a modern view of animal relations, especially in the nineteenth century. Also, his attempts to portray animal consciousness as accurately as possible represent an innovation within Russian literature. These contributions therefore provide a foundation for foregrounding the animal perspective in later works such as Mikhail Bulgakov’s Soviet satire, Heart of a Dog (1925), and Georgii Vladimov’s Gulag novel, Faithful Ruslan (1975). These authors engage the animal world partly in an allegorical manner, but like Tolstoy, they also uphold the interconnectedness of all species, the importance of making ethical decisions, and the right of all creatures to experience freedom from cruelty and oppression—to live a life of one’s own.


Also translated as “Strider,” “The Yardstick,” and “The Bachelor.” A kholstomer is a device for measuring cloth (kholst = canvas), thus “suggesting the greatest distance from finger to finger of the outstretched arms, and rapidity in accomplishing the motion” (“Kholstomer” 259).

The works discussed in this essay reflect Tolstoy’s use of the animal world in a significant and illuminating way, one through which a deeper understanding of a text and/or his philosophy emerges. The mere presence of animals in a work does not necessarily merit discussion. Tolstoy composed more than fifty animal stories and fables as educational materials for his estate serf schools, but these reflect fabular animals in one-dimensional roles. Similarly, certain characters may espouse values congruent with the author’s own, such as in Resurrection (1899), where Simonson believes in the interconnectedness of life, opposes war and slaughter, refuses to eat meat or wear the skin of animals, and practices celibacy. But the character’s views have little bearing on the novel in toto nor do they offer greater insights into Tolstoy’s philosophy. In fact, scholars point to various historical personages on whom Simonson might be based. For example, Aldanov (1944) suggests that Tolstoy’s model was Nikolai Konstantinovich Geins (a.k.a. “William Frey”), an acquaintance who espoused positivist ideals and helped to establish a Russian (vegetarian) commune near Wichita, Kansas, in the early twentieth century.

In 1878, a German pamphlet on vegetarianism created burgeoning interest in vegetarianism in Russia. In the early 1890s, more pamphlets and Tolstoy’s “First Step” further reinforced a movement, reported in widespread publications, including Konstantin Nikolayevich’s vegetarian journal The First Step, to which Tolstoy contributed. In St. Petersburg and Moscow, advocates began to assemble and vegetarian restaurants opened. (Russian authorities opposed the movement and the term “vegetarian” as radical, resulting in close supervision and interference of organizing bodies.) But by 1895, vegetarians numbered more than ten thousand (including religious sects and Tolstoyans) (“Russian Vegetarian Societies”). The first formal society was the St. Petersburg Vegetarian Society, founded in 1902, which “ushered in an era of intense activity and interest in vegetarianism in Russia” (Goldstein 106). One of the most notable Russian vegetarians, Natalia Borisovna Nordman-Severova, advocated eating hay and grass because “Russia would never again have to suffer from hunger, since hay was not only abundant, but free” (114).

Tolstoy also rejected killing animals for medical or scientific purposes. When asked for his opinion on vivisection by an American writer, Tolstoy responded: “Dear Sir, What I think about vivisection is that if people admit that they have the right to take or to endanger the life of living beings for the benefit of many, there will be no limit for their cruelty” (80: 24).

Surprisingly, in Women in Tolstoy: The Ideal and the Erotic (1973), Benson omits any discussion of Sonia.

Tolstoy apparently cared little for cats and preferred other rodent-catchers at his country estate:
Curled, or rather, coiled in the sunny patches in the Tolstoy house, protecting it from pestilential infestations, instead of the expected feline emblems of domesticity, there are now, and were in Tolstoy’s time, snakes: large garter snakes that rub their scales against the ankles of readers in Tolstoy’s library and usurp the warm windowsills and sunny spots usually occupied in country houses by somnolent, contented cats. (Mandelker 1)

Moreover, Ortega y Gasset points to the ability of dogs to communicate with humans through variations in their barking, and suggests that “through domestication, therefore, the dog has acquired in his bark a quasi-language, and this implies that a quasi-reason has begun to germinate in him” (94).

In early drafts of the novel, the heroine was named Tatiana, sharing the diminutive form—Tania—with the horse. The final version minimizes such an obvious equivalence, leading scholars to disagree on the significance of any remaining correlation. For a listing of key criticism related to this topic, see Mandelker p. 208, fn. 30.

Benson observes that in The Kreutzer Sonata, the character Poznyshev never refers to his wife by name but describes her as a “fresh, well-fed harness horse, whose bridle has been removed” (120).

On the other hand, Tolstoy does not idealize the institution of marriage. Through the character Dolly (Anna’s sister-in-law), he “exposes the cult of domesticity for what it often becomes in a bad marriage: an oppression of woman and a denial of her selfhood perpetuated by the myth of the glories of maternity and housekeeping” (Mandelker 53).

The story’s focus on sexuality/castration aroused critical disapproval; V. Sollogub, for example, encouraged Tolstoy to avoid the word ‘gelding’, a too blatant reference to sexual organs (Eikhenbaum 101–02).

The passage where Gulliver tells his Houyhnhnm master about the treatment of horses in England purportedly represents the first literary life history of a horse, and provides a near synopsis of Tolstoy’s “Kholstomer”:
I owned that the Houyhnhnms among us, whom we call Horses, were the most generous and comely Animal we had; that they excelled in Strength and Swiftness; and when they belonged to Persons of Quality, employed in Travelling, Racing, and drawing Chariots, they were treated with much Kindness and Care, till they fell into Diseases, or became foundered in the Feet; but then they were sold, and used to all kind of Drudgery till they died, after which their Skins were stripped and sold for what they were worth, and their Bodies left to be devoured by Dogs and Birds of Prey. (Swift 243)

This line of inquiry, concerning interrelated forms of oppression, lies beyond the scope of the present essay but undoubtedly deserves further critical attention.

Tolstoy knew about castration not only from rural farm practices but also through acquaintance with the local Skoptsy. Discovered in the late eighteenth century, the Skoptsy (literally, “self-castrators”) sect extended fleshly renunciation to physical dismemberment. They founded their beliefs on Matthew 19:12, where Christ speaks of becoming eunuchs “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” Tolstoy’s condemned such practices on religious and psychological grounds.

Accused at times of excessive anthropomorphism, Tolstoy would likely have appreciated the modern development of cognitive ethology, which “explicitly licenses hypotheses about the internal states of animals” (Bekoff 40).

Tolstoy never suggests such tasks will be simple. Just as anguish and estrangement guided Kholstomer toward sagacity, the author himself experienced extreme psychological distress in the course of his philosophical journey. After the success of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Tolstoy suffered severe depression and contemplated suicide.

Nevertheless, his argument against procreation seems compatible with certain contemporary societal trends:
Getting married cannot promote the service of God, even in the case of marriage for the purpose of continuing the human race. It would be infinitely simpler if these people, rather than getting married to produce children’s lives, would support and save those millions of children who are perishing around us from a lack of material (to say nothing of spiritual) sustenance. (Tolstoy “Afterward” 117)
This passage articulates one of the key reasons given by participants and proponents of today’s “childfree” movement: that millions of existing children remain in need of services and support. Judging by other writings, Tolstoy would likely agree with other “childfree” incentives as well, such as overpopulation, negative environmental impact, and harmful effects of children born to those lacking maternal/paternal tendencies, among others (“Selfish”).



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Tolstoy - Dr. Sara Comish

My first awareness of Tolstoy was through a serialization of Anna Karenina on british television, and I was mainly left with the impression that it was a Russian soap opera full of suppressed passion, and lots of costumes of Russian officers with fur, boots and riding crops.  All very exciting for some, but to be honest I actually prefer Pride and Prejudice.  More recently, though, I have discovered the moral and religious philosophy side to Tolstoy’s writing, and it is pretty interesting from a Unitarian perspective.  Tolstoy, it turns out, was a leading figure in the christian anarchist movement who championed non-resistance to evil, a social critic who wrote on a vast array of subjects, and the lead figure in a religious movement akin to unitarianism,
Tolstoy made a distinction between religious institutions and religious beliefs.  He decried the abuses of all the churches and argued instead that individuals would do well to follow what he saw as the prime rule - love others as you would be loved.  Taking this as his starting point, he spoke out against violence of any sort, wars, against armies, patriotism, the class system, and oppression.  His views were a key influence on a young lawyer in South Africa - Mohandas Gandhi, for one, but also for others in the non-violent movement. 
and I would like to share a bit of his ideas with you today.
Count Lev Nicolaievich Tolstoy  was born in 1828 into an aristocratic Russian family,   who owned extensive land and serfs.  His mother died when he was 2 and his father when he was 9.  He then lived with an aunt, until she too died when he was 13, and then with another aunt.  By the way, If I was hearing that kind of a history today from a client, I would talk about multiple losses and attachment issues and would not be surprised to see relationship problems and mood issues in adulthood.    He had what has been described as a “dissolute youth”, with relationships with peasant girls on the estate, and many liaisons, and at some point contracted a venereal disease.  He also had a troubled relationship with schooling.  He entered University to study oriental languages but then changed direction to Law, resisted applying himself, and finally left university without completing a program.  But he was a reader, and he continued to read widely throughout his life, and he wrote extensively in his journals.   He drifted for a while, gambled and had large debts, joined the army, and was promptly sent to Sevastapol during the crimean war.  What he saw there became a key influence for him, and of course influenced his writing of War and Peace.  After the military he travelled in Europe and when he was in France he witnessed a public guillotining, which also had a profound effect.  Throughout all, he wrote and he began publishing his novels, which were well received and he was well placed in the Russian literary circles.  In 1862 he married Sofya, daughter of a friend of his, 16 years younger than him.   He had inherited an estate from his mother’s family and he began spending more time on the estate.  Although his marriage would appear to have started well, and they had 13 children together, over time this became a relationship full of conflict, mainly due to the development of his moral philosophy and desire to make lifestyle changes.  In terms of social context, although the serfs were given some limited freedoms, there was still a great deal of brutal repression of dissent within Russia, and there were many different people both within and outside Russia advocating change, revolution, and anarchy during this time.  In response, Tolstoy began to develop his ideas of non-violence.  His writing moved from novels to more moral teachings, and he wrote variously about his religious beliefs, this issue of oppression, vegetarianism, education, and other topics.  He also started to want to lead a more ascetic life, moved away from the established church. and wrote more on the abuses of the ruling classes and the life of a landowner.  In his later years he wanted to give away his worldly goods, and started to have a number of followers who developed a religion, based on his teachings.  His wife, though, was not one of them.  Perhaps as the mother of so many children, she was more pragmatic.  In addition, she did not approve of the people that Tolstoy surrounded himself with. Finally, Tolstoy left her, and his estate, but he was not well when he left and he died very shortly afterwards at a rest stop.
Tolstoy was very outspoken about religion.  He was formally excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox church in 1901 - I’m surprised they waited so long given what Tolstoy had to say about the church - but he was deeply religious in a manner that resonates with a unitarian perspective.   Although he was instructed in the Russian Orthodox church, as a young man, he abandoned the church, but after several years of what sounds like a deep depression, he emerged with a definite belief in a god but not the church.  His then, was a personal religion.  Interestingly, Tolstoy analyzed the sections of the New Testament in much the same way as Thomas Jefferson and stripped the later additions away from the earlier gospels in an effort to focus on the original message, listing only that which Jesus is reputed to have said.  He saw Jesus as a prophet, teaching the main message of religion - love others as you would be loved.  As you’ll see, this then became the starting point from which Tolstoy derived his other principles.  - Jesus, though, was  not viewed  as a divine figure, and he promoted a return to the actual message of Jesus.  “The fulfillment of this teaching consists only in walking in the chosen way, in getting nearer to inward perfection in the imitation of Christ, and outward perfection in the establishment of the kingdom of God.”  Indeed, he titled one of his books “the kingdom of god is within you”
Tolstoy argued that the preposition “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” does not require miracles to justify it, but that we should be convinced of it by its own truth, and by its harmony with nature.  This then is his starting point, this is his main premise.  The miracles and doctrine of the established church have obscured the meaning, as does the outward observance of ritual.  He believed that religious institutions are co-opted by people who want power and then pervert the religious message to help them maintain that power.  And as part of this, religious institutions tend to call themselves infallible.  Christianity, for example, requires people to believe “in what the Church orders” them to believe in, the preachings of the priests, rather than the message of Jesus, even though Jesus himself spoke out against priests and argued for a personal religion.  Similarly, there is a discrepancy between the teachings of Jesus as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount to love others, and the encouragement and support within the Russian Orthodox church, and others, for its followers to participate in military service so that the soldiers can  murder other men? 
Tolstoy was very aware of the various techniques used by the church to evade this discrepancy.    He pointed out that the church copes with the discrepancy mainly by simply not answering questions - and encouraging others not to answer them either, using the power of the church, the solemnity and ritual to overawe the people so that they do not question, and by saying one thing, but doing another.  He stated that the church creed and all the church trappings are inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus - who made several references to not following the priests, not having to worship in a church, but to having a personal religion that does not require the intercession of a church.  Thus, Tolstoy concluded that one can follow either the message of Jesus or the church but not both. 
And, by the way, although he was most familiar with the Russian Orthodox church he explicitly included other churches in his condemnation - the Roman Catholic, and various Protestant churches including the Salvation Army - all he saw as  “pseudo-religion”  because they justified slavery, oppression and violence.  He was also amused that most churches claim to be the one true church - how can they each be true? 
Tolstoy’s work is great for quote mining - On the bible:  “is there in christendom a book that has done more harm to mankind than this terrible book” referring to a list of some of the appalling cruelties that are in the bible.   Biblical stories are “the inculcation of nonsensical beliefs” for children in order to deprive them of “the capacity to think clearly”
Science, however does not fair much better :  a collection of “haphazard, disconnected scraps of knowledge, many of them quite useless”.
Tolstoy is at his best when writing about the problems of the class system.  For example he describes four techniques that governments and the power elite use to maintain their position.  The first is intimidation, using the argument that the state is sacred, and thus any attempts to change it must be dealt with by cruel punishment.  The second is corruption, in that officials and middle men benefit from the system and so are motivated to continue to maintain it.  The third is through hypnosis - using educational and religious teaching to brainwash children into unthinking obedience and by encouraging religious and patriotic superstitions, banning books, and by allowing the use of alcohol and tobacco to stultify the population.  The fourth is by using military training to brutalize a portion of the population so that they will carry out acts of violence, separating them, dressing them in special clothes, using drums and cries to hypnotize them. 
Further he argues that we all participate in this class system - Again I quote “People who stand on the lowest ring of the ladder - partly as a result of being stupefied by patriotic and pseudo-religious education, and partly for the sake of personal advantages - cede their freedom and sense of human dignity at the bidding of those who stand above them and offer them material advantages.”  Those at  the top of ladder are “so perverted and stupified by the power of life and death which they hold over their fellow-men, and by the consequent servility and flattery of those who surround them, that without ceasing to do evil they feel quite assured that they are benefactors to the human race” and they use the flattery of their clergy to sanctify and bless their way of life.
Here’s one of the best quotes about the class system the  “apex of the core is seized by those who are more cunning, audacious and unscrupulous than the rest or happen to be the heir of someone who was” 
He thought that armies were tools of this class system, and people should refuse to serve in them.  Similarly, he spoke out against patriotism:  “an unnatural, irrational and harmful feeling and a cause of a great part of the ills from which mankind is suffering”  used to obtain power for one group at the expense of others that is  promoted because it is in the advantage of many classes to maintain the government through the use of patriotism.  He thought that instead it should be replaced by the brotherhood of man. 
He was also quite prophetic.  He warned that attempts to gain freedom from violence by forcibly overthrowing the government were likely to lead to another authority which would be as oppressive, if not more so, due to the intensified hatred that the revolution would bring.  And of course, look what happened.  It has been pointed out to me that Tolstoy was very aware of the seething hatred that was lying dormant, waiting for revolution, and this was a key motivator for his attempts to promote a non-violent alternative.  With regard to war he spoke of “the terrible weapons of destruction” that were being invented, (the best guess here is the Gatling Gun)  he predicted that they would not bring an end to war as was being touted by some, but would lead to men being slaughtered “by thousands, by millions” and warned “they may tear them to pieces and still they will March to war like senseless cattle”.  All of this in 1893 before World War I.
Tolstoy is particularly known for his message of  the non-resistance of evil.  This was derived from his basic premise - the message to love others as we would be loved ourselves.  If we do that then we cannot do evil - or violence to anyone.  No matter what.  Even in a situation where someone innocent will die unless we murder an evil murderer.  He said that there is no situation in which we should resist evil with violence. 
He was very clear that men should love one another and that this was god’s will, and that improved behaviour would follow from these feelings of love.  Increasing these feelings was the meaning of life.  Change he thought would not come from revolution but from truly religious people promoting love. For love is incompatible with violence.  He suggested that if you want to work for the welfare of others you should not  participate in welfare organizations but work to increase love within yourself eliminating mistakes sins and passions.  Rather than worrying about what others are doing we should focus on our own moral development.
Although he did not found a religion, one began to spring up around him - The Tolstoyans were people who chose to follow his message.  They were conscientious objectors who lived communally, were vegetarians, and practiced abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.  At one point there were up to 6,000 of them, but they were persecuted by the Bolsheviks and became practically non-existant. 
There’s a similarity here to the Dukhobors, a group for whom Tolstoy had great sympathy.  Indeed when they were persecuted in Russia for resisting the draft, Tolstoy intervened with the Czar and obtained permission for them to emigrate to Canada, and Tolstoy and many of the Tolstoyans, along with the Quakers helped pay their passage. 
Tolstoy’s message had a particular influence on Gandhi - Gandhi read Tolstoy’s book The Kingdom of God is Within You when he was a young lawyer in South Africa, and he described it  as one of the three most significant influences on his thinking and said that it convinced him to abandon violence and espouse nonviolent resistance.  Tolstoy and Gandhi went on to write to each other before Tolstoy’s death, and Gandhi called Tolstoy “the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced”.
After I gave this homily at Capital I also found out that Tolstoy had an influence on a community closer to home - his writing was much read on Sointula and was one of the key inspirations for the founder of the community. 
For us as unitarians, how does his message serve us today?
We could also do a lot worse than to think about Tolstoy’s central premise - love others - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  And perhaps this starts with trying to develop some insight - what has been our effect on others?  Have others felt loved by us? Trying to challenge ourselves to reflect on our behaviour and its impact, and to think about what we can do differently. 
But for some, though, Tolstoy’s approach to social change is too passive.  Indeed, Gandhi himself had a more active approach, advocating for truth through the use of organized civil disobedience.  Tolstoy really was promoting  an ascetic life, much more passive than that of non-violent social change advocates such as Martin Luther King, or groups like Amnesty International.  I think if I went to our own social justice committee and suggested that we simply work on our personal moral development, I would be gently led to the door.  Some might say that one of the best ways to love others is by taking action. 
I could not but help think about Tolstoy when it came to the Olympic Games, and Harper gave his speech saying we should be patriotic.  This directly contradicted what Tolstoy was saying and the patriotism jarred terribly with me.  While it is one thing to appreciate our luck at being Canadian, patriotism is the unthinking promotion of our interests at the expense of people in other countries. 
I think most of us can identify with Tolstoy’s depiction of the hypocrisy of organized creed based religions.  On the whole, unitarianism tends to avoid some of his criticism because our principles focus us back on our personal conscience rather than telling us how to live our lives.  For most of us, our church is less a place where we get told what to do, and more a  community where we can share with like-minded people.  Perhaps there is a message, though, for those times when we tend to get too caught up in being unitarian, or over-identify with our church, or when we find our selves saying “as unitarians we should …”  which tends to be code for  “you should do what I think is right”  Tolstoy might say that when that happens we have lost the essential message.  And we can also watch that we don’t get too hierarchical and watch out for charismatic leaders using the church to reify their own power.  Perhaps we need to be careful about moving from being a community to becoming an institution.   Although Tolstoy would like our principles, I think he would want us to question our use of ritual, and to make sure that it does not take on a life of its own or take away from the message. 
So would Tolstoy be a Russian Unitarian or are we Canadian Tolstoyans?  I leave that to you. Perhaps you’ll want to read further before making up your mind.  Certainly, the power of Tolstoy’s writing helps to drive his message home.
How accessible is Tolstoy?  War and Peace is notorious for its length, endless Russian names and for having 580 characters in it, far more than most of us can keep track of.  Tolstoy’s writing in the Kingdom of God is Within Us, the book where he extends his views on resistance to evil, however, is, relatively straight-forward to read.  There are references to writers that we are no longer familiar with, of course, but otherwise it feels as if he is chatting to the reader, and he could well be standing in front of us, giving a service.  I view it as much more accessible than a number of other writers of his era.  And it is certainly accessible in terms of cost.  All his work is now out of copyright and is in the public domain.  So not only is his work available at the library, you can also download the Kingdom of God is Within You as well other works by Tolstoy, for free through Project Gutenberg, or you can listen on audiobooks for free through Librivox.org.  I think Tolstoy would very much approve of having all his work in the public domain as it was in his latter life something that he believed in and in 1891 he renounced his copyright to all his books published after that date.  So why not take a look for yourselves. 

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Leo Tolstoy novels


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