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Leo Tolstoy's 191st birthday: 5 facts you might not know about the Russian writer

"There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth." - War and Peace

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy - or Leo Tolstoy as he's widely known - is one of the world's greatest authors. He penned the complex classics Anna Karenina and War and Peace, as well as a semi-autobiographical trilogy and shorter works in the form of novellas, short stories, plays and non-fiction.

Here are 5 facts you might not know about the Russian writer.

1. He went to university but never received a degree

Having been home schooled by tutors, Tolstoy studied Oriental languages at the University of Kazan, before transferring to a law programme due to poor grades. The son of prominent Russian aristocrats who both died when he was young, Tolstoy enjoyed a life of excessive drinking, gambling and socialising, eventually leaving university four years later without a degree.

2. He fought in the Crimean War

In his twenties, Tolstoy was convinced by his older brother, Nikolay, to join military service. Beginning as a junker in the Caucasus, he transferred to Ukraine in late 1854 and fought in the Crimean War until the late summer of 1855. The end of the war coincided with Tolstoy's twenty-seventh birthday and his experiences in the army would inform his 1869 novel War and Peace.

3. His wife was instrumental in the publication of Tolstoy's novels

Tolstoy married 18-year-old Sophia Behrs in 1862. The daughter of a court physician, she was sixteen years younger than him and supported her husband's writing. Whilst Tolstoy revised and edited his works, Sophia would trawl through his handwritten scribblings (which were notoriously disorganised) and rewrite every page so that the manuscript would be legible for his editors.

 

4. He was a 19th century influencer

Tolstoy had an existential crisis after the publication of Anna Karenina and, shunning the organised religion of Christian churches, he developed his own beliefs, establishing himself as a moral leader. He believed in a non-violent resistance to evil and is said to have influenced the likes of Gandhi with his peaceable ideals.

5. He liked Dickens but not Shakespeare

Tolstoy was very opinionated when it came to other writers. He enjoyed the works of Laurence Sterne, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Charles Dickens. However, he was not a fan of William Shakespeare. He couldn't understand the Bard's popularity and felt an "irresistible repulsion and tedium" when reading the likes of Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. His negative opinion on Shakespeare never wavered.

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