The three parts of Tolstoy's first fictional work were written separately and later combined into a single volume by publishers. There is a consistent voice throughout, and these works began to make a name for Tolstoy among other writers and with the Russian public. Resplendent with stories of the author's life in his childhood home of Iasnaia Poliana, these three works provide a good baseline for the philosophical arguments explored by Tolstoy in later works, and also a healthy understanding of his upbringing as an orphaned Count and landowner.
The Sevastopol Sketches By Leo Tolstoy
In his three sketches devoted to the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War—which were published separately as Sevastopol in December, Sevastopol in May and Sevastopol in August—Tolstoy uses his characteristic analysis to reveal hidden truths about the human condition. By making his reader a voyeur of this warlike state, he was successful in challenging many of the cultural norms his Russian readers brought along to their understanding of what had happened during the Crimean War. As with a few of the works that followed this one closely (War and Peace in particular), Tolstoy handles war in both frank and emotional terms.
The Cossocks By Leo Tolstoy
Originally titled Young Manhood, this volume is often considered the fourth state in the masterpiece of Tolstoy's youth begun by Childhood. The young Tolstoy's main aims as a writer were to recreate reality and to order it according to higher moral truth. He used his own self-observation, especially in this volume, to bring about his understanding of humanity and the human condition. Published in 1863 after nearly a decade of work, the volume received mixed reviews in the press but was greeted ecstatically by friends, family and some of his literary peers including fellow Russian novelist Turgenev, who considered it his favorite of Tolstoy's works.
War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy
Considered by many, along with Anna Karenina, to be the best Russian novel ever written, War and Peace is almost more a fictional history than a novel (and was considered as such by its author). Marked by its commitment to incomparable realism, the details of the novel are so finely realized that no matter how many times it is read, there is always a new detail to be found. Tolstoy dwells in many of the fallacies of social science and military philosophy, and manages to question just about everything in this sweeping, monumental book. Deliberately avoiding structure and closure (the novel is filled with endless plot lines that go nowhere and characters that appear only to disappear), Tolstoy achieves in writing a style that feels like the fluidity of actual life.
A Confession By Leo Tolstoy
Begun shortly after he finished Anna Karenina, this autobiographical text grew out of a massive rethinking of religion the author started in 1879. After visiting a monastery to discuss religion, Tolstoy began this volume, first titled An Introduction to an Unpublished Work. The thinking behind it is so controversial, it is banned from publication in Russia, and circulates illegally from 1884 until it is finally published in 1906. In this work, Tolstoy asks the enduring question, "Is there any meaning in my life which would not be destroyed by my inevitably approaching death?"
Gospels in Brief By Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy's short and fascinating philosophical explanation of the Bible, and how its teachings can be applied to the quest for living a good life. Unlike his earlier fiction, this volume is marked by a straightforwardness of language that represents the narrative shift he takes following his crisis of faith in his early 50s. Even today, his understanding of the gospels and their meaning is filled with wisdom.
The Death of Ivan Ilych By Leo Tolstoy
A long short story or novella, this was the first major fictional work Tolstoy undertook after he finished Anna Karenina. In its most basic form, the book is a discussion of the meaning of life after a man's death. Like many of his longer works, this one is marked by Tolstoy's realism and philosophical point of view—yet because of his crisis of faith, the shorter work is also much more stark in its questionings of a life worth living.
The Kreutzer Sonata By Leo Tolstoy
In none of his other works is Tolstoy's fatalistic attachment to trains (which is a major theme in Anna Karenina as well) more fully realized than this shorter novel published late in his life. Here, the juxtaposition of sexuality, music, death and murder coalesce into a complex world that is at once contained to the small stage of one train at the same time as it mirrors larger society. Nowhere in Tolstoy does he deal with sexuality so candidly or more forcefully. Many consider this his finest short work.
Hadji Murad By Leo Tostoy
Set out purely as a historical retelling of the story of a Russian military hero, the book is often compared with The Iliad in its structure. The hero died in battle in 1852 after having joined his enemy to fight against a corrupt leader. In Murad, Tolstoy creates a hero who is at once mature and potent, but—much like Achilles and other Homeric heroes—without savagery or purity of heart. Published after Tolstoy's death, many still consider this work one of the finest example of Tolstoy's storytelling abilities.