You can't deny that Tolstoy left behind quite the legacy; his works have been transformed into films and TV shows, and his novels are studied and analyzed all over the world even today. But who was the man behind the masterpieces? Read on for 5 facts you probably didn't know about Leo Tolstoy!
1. Anna Karenina is considered the greatest novel ever written
Tolstoy's tale of family, passion, love and death is often touted as one of, if not the greatest, novel ever written. That's a pretty big achievement for an author, especially considering that Tolstoy's other famous novel War and Peace is consistently featured on top ten lists as well. So what exactly makes Anna Karenina so wonderful? Well, Tolstoy had a keen eye for the nuances of human nature, and he was incredibly capable at writing characters that would live and breathe their way right off the page. There are few authors who can tackle huge life questions while weaving romance, family drama, and farming into the story so seamlessly the way Tolstoy does. Is it time to add Anna Karenina to your reading list? We say yes. Our stunning Anna Karenina poster, created using the words from Tolstoy's novel, can serve up a little reading inspiration for you too!
2. Tolstoy almost one a Nobel Prize 6 years in a row
When the first Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded in 1901, Tolstoy was a clear heavyweight contender. By that point, Tolstoy had become a legend and was already considered one of the greatest living writers. However, he didn't win in 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, or 1905, despite his name being presented each year. The reluctance to award the prize to the famous Russian writer came down to what some members on the Nobel Committee considered to be his anarchist points of view. One member in particular, Carl Wirsen, believed Tolstoy didn't deserve the Nobel Prize because he was "divorced from all institutions of high culture." To this day, the fact that Tolstoy never won remains one of the greatest Nobel Prize controversies.
3. Tolstoy asked for his name to be withdrawn from the Nobel Prize running
It appears that in 1906 Tolstoy finally got sick of being jerked around by the Nobel Committee and, much to the disappointment of his fans, asked that his name be kept out of the running. According to Tolstoy, he preferred not having to deal with the prize money anyway. At that point in his life the nearly 80-year-old Tolstoy had given up on the pursuit of wealth in favor of a physically ascetic lifestyle. Winning a Nobel would mean having to decide what to do with the hefty monetary prize, which Tolstoy believed would only bring evil into his life.
4. Tolstoy's wife played a huge role in his writing
Tolstoy's wife, Sophia, was a vital part of Tolstoy's ability to produce some of his greatest masterpieces, mostly due to the fact that he had atrocious handwriting. Sophia would take all Tolstoy's manuscripts, decipher, and rewrite them to make them legible. Tolstoy spent an impressive 7 years revising his enormous novel War and Peace. Sophia helped rewrite each revision an impressive 8 times—all this while giving birth to four children and managing their business affairs and estate, I might add.
5. Tolstoy was a vegetarian
It could be said that the great writer was a man ahead of the trend when he became an outspoken vegetarian at the age of 50. While vegetarianism preceded Tolstoy by hundreds of years as a cornerstone of Hinduism and Buddhism, Tolstoy was considered a bit of an oddball in his native country of Russia for his rather strange views on food choices. For Tolstoy, vegetarianism was closely tied to his personal Christian beliefs where he strove to find harmony with nature—a common theme in both Anna Karenina and War and Peace. His religious beliefs advocated for turning away from all forms of violence, including the killing of animals for food and the consumption of meat. Over time, Tolstoy's wife and two daughters also adopted vegetarianism and even published a book of vegetarian recipes in 1874!
Do you have a favorite book or story by Leo Tolstoy? Share your top reads in the comments below, and be sure to check out our Anna Karenina poster in the Proseposters shop for some Tolstoy-esque inspiration.