In this biography of Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, A. N. Wilson narrates the complex drama of the writer's life: his childhood of aristocratic privilege but emotional deprivation, his discovery of his literary genius after aimless years of gambling and womanizing, and his increasingly disastrous marriage.
Wilson sweeps away the long-held belief that Tolstoy's works were the exact mirror of his life and instead traces the roots of Tolstoy's art to his relationship with God, with women, and with Russia.
He also re-creates the world that shaped the great novelist's life and art - the turmoil of ideas and politics in 19th-century Russia and the literary renaissance that made Tolstoy's work possible.
©1988 A.N. Wilson (P)2014 Audible, Ltd.
This biography is a towering achievement setting out Tolstoy’s life in intimate detail. I’ve just read War and Peace and was intrigued by the biographer’s illustrations of how Tolstoy grafted aspects of the personalities and experiences of his family, including himself, onto his characters. Tolstoy the man was full of contradictions who lurched to extremes in his behaviour as well as in his political and religious beliefs.
He was no doubt a genius who wrote some of the greatest books in European literature but he was a monster in his treatment of his long-suffering wife, Sophia. Even by the standards of his day he was an extreme chauvinist who regarded child-bearing as women’s only real purpose. He didn’t acknowledge the vital part that his wife played in laboriously writing out the numerous drafts of his books and without whom they would probably never have reached publication. His creative drive sadly got buried by his obsession in later life with theology to which he devoted much of his writings. As a consequence the later part of the book has a lot of religious content that I found less riveting than the rest of the book, but that’s more due to my disinterest in the subject.
Turbulent times in Russian history add a backdrop to a fascinating and mainly productive life told with scholarship and verve. I enjoyed listening even if I ended up disliking the man but still loving his books.
The narrator is very good aided by the lively style of writing.
This is a great book. I read it when it first came out, and the revisions and updatings seem most apparent in its first chapter, but this is not a problem. Wilson is fair-handed and wise about Tolstoy's marriage and religion - stumbling blocks to sympathy. A massive and world-sized character, Tolstoy fascinates and Wilson is unabashed and makes him human-sized. while not minimising his work or impact. A definition of a good read.
This is a superb reading of a great biography. The drama of Tolstoy's last years is made as compelling as his fictional writing by Wilson and the reading sparkles with subdued passion and intelligent phrasing.
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