Tolstoy is one of the world’s most famous novelists, best known for “War and Peace” (1862-1869) and, to a lesser extent, “Anna Karenina” (1873-1876). His work as a writer stretches from 1851 to his death in 1910 and includes short stories, autobiography, and plays, but it is his two longest novels, realistic style, and search for authenticity which led to his fame. His work explores philosophy and religion, and ultimately concludes that a life of simple virtue is best. He believed that life is too complex and unpredictable for intellectual models, patterns, or rules. His doctrine of nonviolence, that evil cannot be fought with evil, is said to have inspired Gandhi. He believed that art was either good or bad depending upon the moral impact upon its audience. Overall, Tolstoy believed in appreciating every day life, and in making choices based on particular circumstances rather than absolute rules.
Tolstoy was born to aristocratic parents on his family estate, but both his parents, as well as two successive guardians, died while he was very young. His early influences included English novelists Laurence Sterne and Charles Dickens and, most importantly, French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He joined the army and fought in the Crimean War of 1853-1856. In 1862 Tolstoy married; he and his wife had 13 children, of whom 10 survived infancy. Neither his wife nor children embraced his teachings, and his marriage dissolved over time. In 1910 Tolstoy secretly left his estate to travel incognito; he caught pneumonia and died a few days later.