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LEO TOLSTOY (1828-1910)

The following biography was originally published in The Continental Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914. pp. 48-9.

Leo Tolstoy was born August 28, 1828, at Yasnaya Polyana, Russia. Soon after the early death of his parents he was sent in turn to live with his two aunts, the second of whom exerted an influence -- As Tolstoy was only eleven years old -- which was far from good. Four years later he entered the University of Kazan, and subsequently studied in the School of Eastern Languages and the law school. In 1847 he left the law school, tired of the life of comparative idleness and dissipation which he was then leading. After spending a few months at his home, he went to St. Petersburg with his brother, "carousing with Zigani dancers, and throwing all serious thoughts to the winds." In 1851 he joined the army in the Caucasus, whence he began sending back vivid accounts of the battles in which he participated. The Czar was soon attracted by the "Tales from Sebastopol," and had Tolstoy brought back to the capital. In 1857 he left his native country to travel in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, England, returning home from time to time to Russia. In 1861 he was once more at Yasnaya Polyana; the next year he was married. The remainder of his life was devoted to the consideration of many political questions of the day, upon which he wrote numerous tracts; besides these, he published novels, stories, longer political and philosophical works and plays. For political and religious reasons he was in 1901 excommunicated from the Orthodox Church. He died nine years later at Astapovo.

Tolstoy's best work is not in his plays, but there is much good in them in spite of occasional scenes of brutal and revolting realism. Nor is he great among Russian dramatists; [many] of the Russians ... are better craftsmen. But the development of the drama [was] everywhere so rapid, that it is interesting to study a comparatively early example of modern Russian drama. Tolstoy wrote his plays for special and private performances, and their technical requirements were not such as would be made in the case of plays intended for professional production. Tolstoy shares with other dramatists of his country their lack of the sense of form ... preferring to lay greater stress on the delineation of character. Whatever the reason, the plays of Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gorky, and Andreyev are interesting primarily as revealing their authors' insight into humanity at large.