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200 × 130 × 14 mm
224 pages
40 illustrations
10 Feb 2020
Critical Lives

Leo Tolstoy Andrei Zorin

When he arrived in Moscow in 1851, a young Leo Tolstoy set himself three immediate aims: to gamble, to marry and to obtain a post. At that time he managed only the first. The writer’s momentous life would be full of forced breaks and abrupt departures, from the death of his beloved parents to an abandonment of the social class into which he had been born.

Andrei Zorin skilfully pieces together Tolstoy’s life, offering an account of the novelist’s deepest feelings and motives, and a brilliant interpretation of his major works, including the celebrated novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

‘[Tolstoy's] urge to shed distractions and commitments is one of the continuities that Andrei Zorin, a cultural historian at Oxford, traces in his beautiful account of Tolstoy's long, astonishing life . . . In an ingenious, seamless approach that distinguishes his biography from others, Mr Zorin treats the events of Tolstoy's life and his writing as a single, indivisible whole.’ — The Economist

‘Zorin provides a skeleton of nineteenth-century Russian history, but his strengths do not lie there, His governing metaphor is not socio-political but intensely emotional, taken from Tolstoy’s earliest memory as a swaddled infant: a helpless person irrationally bound, held down by others and desperately wanting out . . . Zorin helps us to move beyond the canonical image of Tolstoy as a fabulously fun-loving, life-affirming parent. Inventive, curious and charismatic he certainly was (these are the traits of a born teacher of children, and Zorin devotes much attention to Tolstoy’s pedagogical projects and peasant schools).’ — TLS

‘The figure that emerges from these pages is a complex one. For left-wing progressives, Tolstoy was a reactionary; while conservatives saw him as a self-destructive nihilist . . . A pious religious fanatic with a messianic complex might be somewhat closer to the truth. But even Christ himself would have found it impossible to live by the perfect moral order Tolstoy was always attempting to build: both in life and in art.’ — Sunday Independent, Dublin

‘I know of no other biography of Tolstoy as succinct, as objective, as readable or as thought-provoking as Andrei Zorin’s.’ — Donald Rayfield, Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian, Queen Mary University of London

‘After years of intense debate about the status and relevance of biographical knowledge within cultural history, Andrei Zorin’s life of Tolstoy marks the arrival of a new genre . . . it inverts the traditional assumption that describing an author’s world helps us understand his books. In four densely documented and beautifully written chapters this innovative “literary biography” offers the possibility of an immersion into Russian nineteenth-century culture, with an intensity that transcends what conventional history writing has achieved . . . Zorin has produced a masterpiece where erudition and intellectual elegance intersect.’ — Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Albert Guérard Professor in Literature, Emeritus, Stanford University

‘Andrei Zorin’s brilliant book not only tells the story of Tolstoy’s life vividly and concisely in the context of Russian history, but profoundly illuminates Tolstoy’s character, values, and sensibility, while providing new insights into the way that his personal story shaped his fictional creations.’ — Larry Wolff, New York University, author of Inventing Eastern Europe

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Andrei Zorin is Professor and Chair of Russian at the University of Oxford. He is the author of several books on Russian literature and culture, including On the Periphery of Europe, 1762–1825: The Self-invention of the Russian Elite (2018, co-authored with Andreas Schönle).

1 An Ambitious Orphan
2 A Married Genius
3 A Lonely Leader
4 A Fugitive Celebrity

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