The Writer Morphs into Sage, Spiritualist, and Politically Committed Radical
l_rawjalaurence from London
20 March 2016
In this second part of the Tolstoy biography, Alan Yentob tells the
story of how the writer underwent a transformation similar to that of
John Donne nearly three centuries previously.
From being a rake, a dissolute character fond of wine, women and song,
Tolstoy transformed himself into a passionate believer in religion as a
means of sustaining human life. He regularly espoused the cause of
Christianity, but found himself so at odds with the established Church
that they eventually excommunicated him.
From being a rather detached chronicler of historical events in WAR AND
PEACE, Tolstoy transformed himself into a humanist. In ANNA KARENINA he
was more interested in analyzing the heroine's state of mind as she
tried and failed to conform to an increasingly restrictive and
patriarchal society. In REVELATION he took the opportunity to lampoon
the established Church, calling on his readers to communicate directly
with the deity rather than relying on intermediaries appointed by the
As time passed, so his reputation increased, to such an extent that no
one could really contain him. The ruling oligarchy hated him, as he not
only commanded a huge following, but he embraced idiosyncratic views at
odds with their own. Yet there was little they could do about him other
than to tolerate him.
Tolstoy lived until the age of eighty-two, and right up until the end
of his life he was engaged in active writing, politicking and speaking.
He was truly a Renaissance man - someone who believed in talking
directly to the people rather than hiding himself behind the authorial
persona in his novels. Alan Yentob's biography offers a fascinating
portrait, one that offers an example to us all about the possibilities
we can achieve so long as we believe in them.
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