Tolstoy’s Birthday

August 28 marks the day in 1828 of the birth of one of my most favorite historical and literary figures, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy known in the anglosphere as Leo Tolstoy. You may have seen his birthday cited as September 9, but the Gregorian calendar was very late in coming to Russia and was not fully incorporated until 1918.

His two most famous works are, of course, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and he is considered one of the world’s greatest novelists, both by the populace and his fellow writers. Anton Chekhov, another one of my favorite people, wrote, “When literature possesses a Tolstoy, it is easy and pleasant to be a writer; even when you know you have achieved nothing yourself and are still achieving nothing, this is not as terrible as it might otherwise be, because Tolstoy achieves for everyone. What he does serves to justify all the hopes and aspirations invested in literature.”

However what endears him to me as much as anything else is his passionate Christianity. In artistic circles Christians are usually prejudged, stereotyped and dismissed. When this happens, I point to some of my heroes, Bono and Tolstoy.

This image is Tolstoy in May, 1908, four months before his 80th birthday. It was taken at the Tolstoy family home in Vasnaya Polvana by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky and is the first color photograph taken in Russia. It is in the public domain according to the Civil Code of the Russian Federation.




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