scientists  |  astronauts  |  politicians  |  writers  |  artists  |  actors  |  tv hosts  |  singers  |  athletes    

Leo Tolstoy

eo Tolstoy is a Russian author, one of the greatest of all novelists. Tolstoy's life in often seen to form two distinct parts: first comes the author of great novels, and later a prophet and moral reformer.

eo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was born at Yasnaya Polyana, in Tula Province, the fourth of five children. The title of Count had been conferred on his ancestor in the early 18th century by Peter the Great. His mother shortly passed away and having no surviving photographs Tolstoy had no recollection of what his mother looked liked.

Leo Tolstoy, 1849.At age nine the family rented a house and moved to Moscow. Soon his father "turned up dead" while visiting a friend. Shortly afterwards his grandmother passed away.
Losing two close family member in such a short period of time Tolstoy began formulating serious ideas about death and happiness.

In 1844 Tolstoy started his studies of law and oriental languages at Kazan University, but he never took a degree, dissatisfied with the standard education. In 1857 he visited France, Switzerland, and Germany. After his travels Tolstoy settled in Yasnaya Polyana, where he started a school for peasant children. He saw that the secret of changing the world lay in education. He investigated during further travels to Europe (1860-61) educational theory and practice, and published magazines and textbooks on the subject. In 1862 he married Sonya Behrs, who bore him 13 children. Sonya also acted as her husband's devoted secretary.

Leo Tolstoy, 1909.Tolstoy's fiction grew originally out of his diaries, in which he tried to understand his own feelings and actions so as to control them. He read widely fiction and philosophy - Plato and Rousseau, Dickens and Sterne; through the 1850s he also read and admired Goethe, Stendhal, Thackeray, and George Eliot.

Tolstoy's major work, "War and Peace", appeared between the years 1865 and 1869. The epic tale depicted the story of five families against the background of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Its vast canvas includes 580 characters, many historical, others fictional. The story moves from family life to the headquarters of Napoleon, from the court of Alexander l to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino.

Tolstoy's other masterpiece, "Anna Karenina", which stands alongside Flaubert's Madame Bovary, as perhaps the most prominent 19th-century European novel of adultery. The novel opens with the famous sentence: "Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy juxtaposed in the work crises of family life with the quest for the meaning of life and social justice.

Tolstoy's novels promote critical thinkings, empathy and in the process, contribution to peace. Sometimes Tolstoy comes across as a bit preachy, but he is nevertheless one of the greatest writers. He presents a range of thought-provoking ideas and writes in a beautifully descriptive style.

In the 1880s Tolstoy wrote such philosophical works as "A Confession" and "What I Believe in", which were banned in 1884. He started to see himself more as a sage and moral leader than an artist. In 1884 occurred his first attempt to leave home. He gave up his estate to his family, and tried to live as a poor, celibate peasant. Attracted by Tolstoy's writings, Yasnaya Polyana was visited by hundreds of people from all over the world. Tolstoy's teachings influenced Gandhi in India, and the kibbutz movement in Palestine, and in Russia his moral authority rivaled that of the tsar.

After leaving his estate on the urge to live as a wandering ascetic, Tolstoy died of pneumonia on November 7, 1910, at a remote railway junction. Eight years after his death, his wife was heard to remark, "I lived with Leo for forty-eight years, but I never really lerned what kind of a man he was."

Tolstoy's collected works, which were published in the Soviet Union in 1928-58, consisted of 90 volumes.

Sergey Esenin,  1919.Sergey Esenin

ergey Esenin (1895-1925) is without doubt the most profoundly Russian of all the poets of the Revolution. Sometimes dismissed by elitist poetic circles, Yesenin was in fact an extremely gifted lyricist, an intellectual and a celebrity. He was the poet of the people, not only during the early days of the Revolution but long after his death in 1925 at age 30. His poetry survived through the Stalinist period, despite official disapproval of his works. His little books of poetry, often in tatters, could be found in the hands of migrant workers and Red Army soldiers. Many of his poems are learnt by heart at school. They have been set to music and are popular songs in modern Russia. His poetry, deceptively simple in structure, is fresh, sincere, melancholy and full of fire.

Sergey Esenin was born on 3 October 1895 in the village of Konstantinovo in the Ryazan province. In 1899, he went to live with his maternal grandparents. His chilhood was full of strange events. When he was three and a half, his uncles put him on a horse with no saddle and set it galloping off. Young Sergei had to hold on for dear life. He learned to swim in a similar fashion. They took him out in a boat, stripped him naked, and tossed him into the water. When he was eight, he would act as hunting dog for an uncle, swimming in the lake after ducks which had been shot. He began writing poetry when he was nine.

e was a striking figure with his blonde hair like fields of rye, sparkling cornflower blue eyes, beautiful looks and a deep resonant voice. Donned in his blue peasant blouse, with golden silk cord, he attracted huge admiring audiences wherever he traveled in Russia.

Zinaida Raikh, Esenin's second wife.In 1914 he married Anna Izryadnova, and they had a son in January of 1915. Izryanova describes Esenin as arrogant, proud, ambitious, and possessive. Soon, he abandoned the family and Moscow for Petrograd (later renamed to St. Petersburg), which he saw as the real literary capital. On 9 March 1915 he met with famous poet Blok, who gave Esenin encouragement and help, calling him a "naturally gifted peasant poet".

Esenin was married five times in his short but very full life. His second wife was Zinaida Riykh, an actress. They were married in 1918 and she bore him a daughter Tatiana and a son Konstantin the following year. He was divorced from Riykh in October 1921 at the time when he first became acquainted with Isadora Duncan, the famouse American dancer. In 1922 they were married and sailed for America.

Isadora Duncan and Sergey Esenin, 1922.Their short stormy marriage was more remarkable, not that he was 17 years younger, but because he spoke no English and she no Russian.

Traveling with her on dance tours, he acted the role of the hooligan in the most fashionable hotels and restaurants in America and Europe. He feared losing his spiritual sense of art. As his mental and physical health declined, he and Duncan returned to Paris. His struggles with drinking continued and one night, he smashed all the mirrors and woodwork in his room at the Crillon Hotel. Influential friends succeeded in freeing Esenin from the police, and Duncan moved him to a mental hospital. By August 5th 1923, they were back in Moscow. By the end of October, their relationship was over.

I don't pity, don't call, don't cry,
All will be gone, like haze from the white apple trees.
Seized by the gold of withering,
I will never be young again.

Next there was a civil marriage to Galina Benislavskaya, his secretary. Also in that same year he had a son Alexander by the poet Nadezhda Volpin. Esenin never saw his son Alexander. Ironically, Alexander Volpin-Esenin later became a well known poet in the dissident movement in Russia in the 1960s. In March 1925, Yesenin became acquainted with the grandaughter of Leo Tolstoy, Sophia Tolstoya. She became his last wife.

In 1918 or 1919, Esenin applied to join the Communist Party, but he was considered too individual and "alien to any and all discipline". His collection "Hooligan's Confession" was published in 1921.

Despite his intensely social life, slowly, a sense of alienation and lonliness grew in him. In 1921 he notes, "Generally speaking, a lyric poet should not live long." Esenin was bored and deeply depressed, suffering from alcoholism and hallucinations.

e took a room in the Hotel d'Angletrre, and hung himself from the water pipes in the icon corner on December 28, 1925. He left a suicide poem written in his own blood. He was only 30 years old.

Poet Aleksander Pushkin, Palekh School of painting.
Poet Aleksander Pushkin, Palekh School of painting.

Aleksander Pushkin.Aleksander Pushkin

"Live by the pen; die by the sword" - This statement directly applies to the way Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) lived his life.

The greatest poet in Russian history lived his life just like it would have happened to a romantic character in one of his stories or poems. Greatly influenced by his heritage and by one of the greatest Romantic poets of all time, Lord Byron, Pushkin breathed life, adventure, and personal anguish into his literature. Using his great knowledge of his native language and blending it in with raw emotion and romantic ideals made Pushkin the most explosive and influential writer to have ever been born as a Russian. Pushkin wrote some 800 lyrics with a dozen narrative poems.

"Love passed, the muse appeared, the weather
of mind got clarity newfound;
now free, I once more weave together
emotion, thought, and magic sound."

Pushkin's Farewell to the Sea. 1887. Oil on canvas. Ivan Aivazovsky and Ilya Repin.>A</b>leksander 
                    Pushkin was born in Moscow into a cultured, but poor aristocratic 
                    family. Pushkin's great-grandfather was brought from Africa 
                    as a gift to Peter the Great, who treated him as his own, 
                    gave him noble status, and made him his comrade in arms. Even 
                    before Alexander was born his path in life was destined to 
                    be an unusual one. <br>
                    <b>I</b>n his childhood the future poet was entrusted to nursemaids, 
                    French tutors, and governesses. He learned Russian from household 
                    serfs and from his nanny Arina. Pushkin started to write poems 
                    from an early age. His first published poem was written when 
                    he was only 14.<br>
<b>I</b>n 1811 Tsar Alexander I opened a school 
                    for boys, the Lyceum, which Pushkin was to attend. By his 
                    graduation from the Lyceum in 1817, Pushkin was already famous 
                    all throughout Russia. His first legitimate work, "Ruslan 
                    and Ludmila," was completed as his graduation project. 
                    To this day it is argued that, "Ruslan and Ludmila," 
                    is his greatest literary work.<i><font color=Pushkin was not outwardly attractive, but his demeanor and charm was able to win over the heart of any woman. As soon as Pushkin was outside the confines of the Lyceum he was able to live out his playboy lifestyle. He had affairs with many women and many lovers that all found it hard to resist his smooth talking style and the passion in his eyes. He even kept a list for himself that divided the women who he had sexual relations with and the relationships that were purely platonic.

His leisurely lifestyle and his provocative literature eventually earned him an exile that was implemented by the Tsar. The Tsar and the authorities, felt that it would be better to have Pushkin stationed in the south of Russia so as not to add fuel to the talk of revolution and reform. Pushkin was sent to the small town of Kishinev where he was in no mood to slow down his fast paced life.

Pushkin in Mihailovskoye,  N. Ge, 1875.

e fought in many duels, had more affairs, and was heavy into gambling. At one of his duels he arrived late eating a bag of cherries. Taunting the officer by spitting the pits in his direction he avoided a gunshot wound when the officer fired and missed. Without even returning the gunfire he nonchalantly walked away from the duel still eating his cherries.

Natalia Goncharova, Pushkin's wife.In the winter of 1828 Russia's most famous poet laid his eyes upon his future wife, Natalia Goncharova (1812-1863), who was 16 at a time, and was rumored to be the most beautiful woman in Moscow. At that time Natalia still had not read any of Pushkin's poetry. He met her at the first ball that she attended and from the first moment his intentions were to marry her. For the next two years Pushkin would be in pursuit of Natalia until her mother finally agreed for the couple to marry.

Two days before the ceremony the poet went to see Nashchokin, who had a famous Gypsy singer, Tatyana Demyanova, staying with him. Pushkin was rather melancholy, and said to Tatyana: "Tanya, sing me something to bring me happiness; perhaps you've heard I'm getting married." So, in a rather melancholy way, she sang a song which people said was a bad omen. Suddenly, listening to the song, Pushkin began to sob his heart out. Nashchokin ran over to him. Pushkin said: "This song has turned my insides out. It foretells of a great loss."
Prior to this insident, a fortune teller predicted poet an early death, which involved his wife.

At the wedding in 1831 ceremony a few bad omens fell upon the service. Pushkin's ring fell to the floor and his candle blew out. Pushkin took this very seriously, which he saw as signs of the problems that were to come.

After wedding, Natalia continued to frequent St. Petersburg's balls and social royal functions, which made her an object of the Tsar's affection. Rumors of her numerous affairs made life for Pushkin miserable. Among her affectionate followers was the French baron Dantes. Eventually the allegations of her romance with the Frenchman led to a duel between Dantes and Pushkin, who ended up fatally wounded.

Pushkin's writing table in Mihailovskoe.Russia's most famous poet died two days later with his wife at his bedside along with many of his close friends. At the age of 37 Pushkin's fate had been acted out like that of a romantic character in one of his poems or novels. As Pushkin passed from one life to another Natalia was in tears, kissing his forehead, chest and arms. She cried for him to forgive her.

He was buried at his family estate in Mikhailovskoe, where he spent two years of his exile, where he found his love for literature in his father's library, and where his creative energy was structured by his nanny with her fantastic stories.

Pushkin's daughter Maria Gartung.Pushkin's eldest daughter, Maria Gartung, who didn't even remember her famous father, left live flowers by his monument in Moscow almost every day of her life. Flowers were missing the day she died. When Leo Tolstoy met Maria Gartung, he was taken by her beauty and intellegence. His Anna Karenina charecter was based on Maria Gartung.


To learn more about Leo Tolstoy check out, his biography, about Pushkin Puchkin and Lyceum, To learn more about Soviet writers check out Enciclopedia of Soviet writers. (English).

scientists  |  astronauts  |  politicians  |  writers  |  artists  |  actors  |  tv hosts  |  singers  |  athletes

Site Produced by --- Contact --- Disclaimer --- Last updated in April 2003.