the ledge files
the ledge - nl - uk
Leo N. Tolstoy
Yasnaya Polyana 28 Aug. 1828 - Astapovo 7 Nov. 1910 • Russian novelist

full text search:

the ledge - flash version*


Leo Tolstoy was born on August 28, 1828 at Yasnaya Polyana, in Tula Province, the fourth of five children. His parents died when he was a child, and he was brought up by relatives. In 1844 Tolstoy started his studies of law and oriental languages at Kazan University, but he never took a degree. Dissatisfied with the standard of education, he returned in the middle of his studies back to Yasnaya Polyana, and then spent much of his time in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Tolstoy was treated for venereal disease in 1847, and for most of the rest of his life was troubled by his tendency to debauch himself on a grand scale. After contracting heavy gambling debts, Tolstoy accompanied his elder brother to the Caucasus in 1851, and joined an artillery regiment. In the 1850s Tolstoy also began his literary career, publishing the autobiographical trilogy Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854), and Youth (1857).

In 1857 Tolstoy visited France, Switzerland, and Germany to learn more about society and how to reform it. After his travels Tolstoy settled in Yasnya Polyana, where he started a school for peasant children. He believed that the secret of changing the world lay in education. He investigated educational theory and practice, and published magazines and textbooks on the subject. In 1862 he married Sonya Andreyevna Behrs (1844-1919) who bore him 13 children. Sonya also acted as her husband's devoted secretary.

Tolstoy's fiction grew originally out of his diaries, in
which he tried to understand his own feelings and actions so as to control them. Tolstoy's major work, War and Peace, appeared between the years 1865 and 1869. The epic tale depicted the story of five families against the background of Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

Tolstoy's other masterpiece, Anna Karenina (1873-77), told a tragic story of a married woman, who follows her lover, but finally commits suicide. Tolstoy juxtaposed in the work crises of family life with the quest for the meaning of life.

After finishing Anna Karenina Tolstoy renounced all his earlier works and wrote Conversion (1879) to explain his doctrines. Voskresenia (1899, Resurrection) was Tolstoy's last major novel.

By this time, Tolstoy started to see himself more as a sage and moral leader than an artist. In 1901 the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated the author. Tolstoy became seriously ill and he recuperated in Crimea.

After leaving his estate to his disciple Vladimir Chertkov so as to follow the urge to live as a wandering ascetic, Tolstoy died of pneumonia on November 20, 1910, at a remote railway junction. His collected works, which were published in the Soviet Union in 1928-58, consists of 90 volumes.
(see also:

The Iliad
Homer, ca. 750 v.Chr.
Homer's Iliad tells the story of the darkest episode in the Trojan War. At its centre is Achilles' withdrawal from the fighting and his return to kill the Trojan hero, Hector. The tragic events are interwoven with moving descriptions of the ebb and flow of battle.

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
The story follows the life and vissitudes of Uncle Tom, a noble negro, and portrays the humanity of an enslaved black people and the moral evil of their enslavement. (Tolstoy said it was better than King Lear.)

Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol, 1842
Russian 'critical realism'. In this quintessentially Russian novel, the reader follows Chichikov, a dismissed civil servant turned con-man, through the countryside in pursuit of his shady enterprise.

Ivan Goncharov, 1859
Russian 'critical realism'. Written with sympathetic humour and compassion, Oblomov made Goncharov famous throughout Russia on its publication in 1859, as readers saw in this story of a man whose defining characteristic is indolence, the portrait of an entire class in decline.

Fathers and Sons
Ivan Turgenev, 1862
Russian 'critical realism'. Arkady Petrovitch returns from college under the spell of a young nihilist called Bazarov, a character who shocked Arkady's father and the Russian public of 1862 with his criticisms of the traditional values of Russian society. In Bazarov, Turgenev created the prototype 'angry young man'.

Vanity Fair
William Thackeray, 1847-1848
In Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, the advantaged Amelia Smedley is in stark contrast to the poor, but sharp-witted Becky Sharp. However, fate is not always kind as their lives become entwined with the likes of the coarse bully, Sir Pitt Crawley and his brother.

Bleak House
Charles Dickens, 1852-1853
A savage, but often comic, indictment of a society that is rotten to the core, Bleak House is one of Dickens' s most ambitious novels, with a range that extends from the drawing rooms of the aristocracy to the poorest of London slums.

Emile: or, On Education
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762
This is Rousseau's influential, fictional treatise on education, whose doctrine of the return to nature led to the book's condemnation by the Paris Parlement and to Rousseau's subsequent exile from France.

The Charterhouse of Parma
Stendhal, 1839
Follows the adventures of young Fabrizio del Dongo as he joins Napoleon's army just before Waterloo and struggles to keep hidden his love for Clelia amid the intrigues and secrets of the small court of Parma.

The Mill on the Floss
George Eliot, 1860
As Maggie Tulliver approaches adulthood, her spirited temperament brings her into conflict with her family, her community, and her much-loved brother Tom. Still more painfully, she finds her own nature divided between the claims of moral responsibility and her


War and Peace
This massive chronicle, to which Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) devoted five whole years shortly after his marriage, portrays Russian family life during and after the Napoleonic war.

Les misérables
Victor Hugo, 1862
France in the first quarter of the 19th century: Jean Valjean, a poor man, steals a loaf of bread and then spends years trying to escape his reputation as a criminal. In later years he rises to become a respectable member of society; but policeman Javert will not allow him to forget his past.

Rebellion in the Backlands
Euclides da Cunha, 1902
Examining the brutal campaign against religious mystic Antonio Conselheiro and his rebels, this work is an account of the resistance of the backland natives at the seige of Canudos in 1896-1897, and a treatise on the geography, climatology and anthropology of Brazil's back countries and peoples.

The Betrothed
Alessandro Manzoni, 1825-1827
Set in Lombardy in the years 1628-30, The Betrothed tells the tale of two young lovers in a time of war, famine, and plague.

John Dos Passos, 1930-1936
In this experimental trilogy, Dos Passos uses 'camera eye' and 'newsreel' sections to create a fragmented atmosphere. Through the testimony of numerous characters, both fictional and historical figures, he builds up a composite picture of American society in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Generations of Winter
Vassily Aksyonov, 1992
Follows the lives and fortunes of members of the Gradov family of Moscow through the turbulent years of 1928 to 1945, through Stalin's rise in the 1930s and the terror of World War II.

A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway, 1929
This is the story of Lieutenant Henry, an American, and Catherine Barkley, a British nurse. The two meet in Italy, and almost immediately Hemingway sets up the central tension of the novel: the tenuous nature of love in a time of war.

Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell, 1936
The story of the tempestuous romance between Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara is set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War.

Doctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak, 1957
Epic novel of post-revolutionary Russia focuses on the torments and dreams of a doctor-poet who attempts to avoid the struggles of his turbulent era.

The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky, 1880
Three sons find their violent and vengeful lives exposed when their despicable father is murdered, and each man struggles to come to terms with his guilt over his involvement in the crime.

Michael Strogoff: a Courier of the Czar
Jules Verne, 1876
While in the service of Alexander II, Michael Strogoff faces almost insurmountable obstacles as he carries a message from Moscow to Irkutsk during the time of a Tatar rebellion.

Foma Gordeyev
Maxim Gorky, 1899
Gorky's first novel illustrates his admiration for strength of body and will in the masterful barge owner and rising capitalist Ignat Gordeyev, who is contrasted with his relatively feeble and intellectual son Foma, a 'seeker after the meaning of life'.

The Life of Arseniev: Youth
Ivan Bunin, 1933
Arseniev is born into the shabby gentry (like Bunin) and weathers youth's storms in the heart of his loving yet eccentric family.


Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina abandons her empty existence as a society wife and embarks on a doomed love affair with the passionate but emotionally bankrupt Vronsky.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
The physical decline and spiritual awakening of a worldly, successful man who is faced with his own mortality. Only in his last agonizing moments does Ivan Ilyich finally confront his true nature, and gain the forgiveness of his wife and son for his cruelty towards them.
Kreutzer Sonata
–› Excerpt

When Pozdnyshev suspects his wife of having an affair with her music partner, his jealousy consumes him and drives him to murder.
Hadji Murat
1904 (posthumous)
It is 1852 and Hadji Murat is one of the most feared mountain chiefs and the scourge of the Russian army. When he comes to surrender, the Russians are delighted. Or have they naively welcomed a double-agent into their midst?
make a note


Code (above)

The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht,
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn

Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.