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"The Trouble with Tolstoy" In Search of Happiness (2011)

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The Writer Morphs into Sage, Spiritualist, and Politically Committed Radical

Author: 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 Church.

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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