Tolstoy's eventful life impacted his works. Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy was born into a family of aristocratic landowners in 1828 at the family estate at Yasnaya Polyana, a place south of Moscow. His parents died in the 1930s when he was very young so his aunts raised him with an upper middle class lifestyle. His aunts were very important to him and when they died, he made them live on forever as characters in his stories (Alexander 16). While his aunts were still alive, they hired tutors to teach him out of Tolstoy's home (Tolstoi). After a few years of wandering about Russia, he recommenced his studies at sixteen years old at Kazan' University to study law and oriental language but preferred to educate himself independently and in 1847, he gave up his studies without finishing his degree (Troyat 28).
His next fifteen years were very unsettled. Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to manage the family estate, with the purpose to improve himself intellectually, morally, and physically. After less than two years, though, he abandoned rural life for the pleasures of Moscow. In 1851, Tolstoy traveled to the Caucasus, a region then part of southern Russia, where his brother was serving in the army. He enlisted as a volunteer, serving with distinction in the Crimean War from 1853-1856 (Magill 382).
Tolstoy started his literary career in the 1850s during his army service. His genre of work includes novels, short stories, fiction, plays, nonfiction and letters. His first literary work was a trilogy; each section of the trilogy including a different part of growing up: Childhood, written in 1852, noted for a lyrical and charming picture of the innocence and joy of life through a child's eyes; Boyhood, written in 1854; and Youth, written in 1857. This trilogy focuses on the psychological and moral development of the hero from age ten to his late teens (Minitex).
A series of short stories followed, and when he left the military in 1856, he was acknowledged as a rising new talent in literature. Experiences in the Crimean War provided the material fir his three "Sebastopol Tales," which pay tribute to the common soldier while forcefully condemning war (Nitze 43).
Another short novel, "The Cossacks," grew out of Tolstoy's service in the Caucasus. The hero of the book, Olenin, decides to escape the artificiality of Moscow society to attempt a more natural life among the Cossacks in a Caucasian village. He finds that he cannot abandon his civilized values, and the Cossacks never accept him (Encarta).
Even in his first work, like most of his others, it was apparent to see the psychological realism and the "breadth of their approach" that Tolstoy was most praised for, although some authors, including E. M. Forester and Henry James felt that Tolstoy's novels lacked elegant form (Magill 382).
Tolstoy was never comfortable in the literary world, however, and in 1859, he returned to Yasnaya Polyana to manage his estate, to set up a school for peasant children, and to write about his progressive theories of education.
In 1862, Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a Moscow physician. Married life at Yasnaya Polyana, a growing, happy family, and absorption in creating his finest literary work brought him stability for the next fifteen years (Pearlman 24).
War and Peace, another novel of Tolstoy, tells the story of the restless, questing Pierre Bezukhov and two upper-class families, the Belkonskys and the Rostovs, in the years leading up to and following French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Russia. The book depicts the everyday lives of four major...