Books from Leo Tolstoy's bookshelf
In 1891, a fan wrote Tolstoy asking him to make a list of 100 books that were most important to him. Ever fond of making lists, Tolstoy rose to the challenge.
Tolstoy rated the magnitude of influence these books had on him, using a scale of "enormous," "very great" and "great." He also thought it important to point out that different books were vital to him at different stages in his life and so he divided his list accordingly. Tolstoy came up with a list of around 50 books, but then gave up on the project. 

See what Tolstoy included on his list, and a few others you could find on his bookshelves.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: The Story of Joseph from Genesis
The Story of Joseph, from the Book of Genesis
Tolstoy singled out the story of Joseph from Genesis as one that was "enormously" meaningful to him in his early years. It is easy to imagine that Tolstoy would have identified with the story of Joseph, a dreamy younger brother who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and forced to make it on his own in exile. Joseph, as the story goes, rises from slavery to a position of power and ends up being the one to save his family from starvation. Tolstoy was orphaned at any early age and he and his siblings were eventually forced to move from their childhood home, the family estate of Iasnaia Poliana, to the distant city of Kazan. For much of his youth, he felt like the biblical Joseph, yearning to return to the bosom of his family while making a life for himself elsewhere. Although Tolstoy eventually returned to his maternal home, he never got over the sense of abandonment, betrayal and yearning that characterized his early years. In this way, his story diverges from Joseph's in Genesis, which has a happier ending.

Whereas in his youth Tolstoy singled out the story of Joseph as having been personally meaningful, he cites the whole book of Genesis as a work that had an enormous impact on him later in life, from ages 50 to 63, when he read it in Hebrew. At this point, Tolstoy was pondering issues relating to sin and sex, which were ever closely linked in his mind. Tolstoy tended to blame sexuality for what was wrong with the world around him. The world would be better off—and the dangers of sex contained somewhat—if men returned to manual labor in the fields and women concentrated all their energies on what he regarded as their one and only purpose in life: motherhood. The solution Tolstoy comes up with is in essence a reenactment of Yahweh's punishment of Adam and Eve for their transgression: Adam is condemned to till the earth by the sweat of his brow and Eve is condemned to have her sorrows multiplied in labor (Gen. 3:16-19).
Confessions, Emile and Julie by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Confessions, Émile and Julie
By Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Tolstoy idolized Rousseau (1712-1778) from an early age, and even, for a period, wore a medallion with a picture of Rousseau around his neck. Tolstoy was still praising him to the skies late in his life. In 1905, Tolstoy wrote, "Rousseau and the Gospels are the two strongest and most positive influences on my life." It's important to take into account the context in which Tolstoy made this remark. He sent this tribute to the president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Society in Geneva, who wrote asking for his support. Still, the fact that he puts Rousseau on the same level of importance as the Gospels is somewhat shocking. It attests the supreme importance of Rousseau for Tolstoy. Although Tolstoy prided himself for having read "all twenty volumes" of Rousseau's works and declared that "many of his pages are so kindred to me that it seems to me that I wrote them myself," he singled out three works, Confessions, Émile, and Julie for their particular influence.

From Rousseau's Confessions, Tolstoy adapted the technique of self-involved self-examination—and possibly of self-justification, whereby he expected his version of what he experienced to be the last word. In confessing, Rousseau has a characteristic way of admitting that he has done something reprehensible (such as letting a servant girl be blamed for a theft he committed or abandoning his children) while making himself seem innocent and society or other individuals seem guilty for what he has done.

From Émile, a discourse on child-centered pedagogy and the corrupting effects of civilization, Tolstoy adapted ideas that he used in the experimental schools he set up for peasants on his estate. Rousseau sets forth proscriptive views on family life, motherhood and, interestingly enough, maternal breastfeeding, all of which Tolstoy found kindred. Tolstoy is reported to have mercilessly hectored his wife about breastfeeding their children herself, instead of following common practice and hiring peasant wet nurses. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy pays quite a bit of attention to the nursing of infants. Kitty earns Rousseau's highest seal of approval by breastfeeding Mitya herself.

From Rousseau's novel Julie, Tolstoy learned the thematics of adultery, love, marriage and family life. Most readers will probably find Tolstoy's novels more engrossing and realistic than Julie, but they may be interested to find that Tolstoy applied some of Rousseau's psychological dynamics and ideology to a different kind of novel with a different plot—there are comparisons to be made between its plot and that of Anna Karenina.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'Eugene Onegin' by Alexander Pushkin
Eugene Onegin
By Alexander Pushkin

Universally admired in Russia, and yet little known elsewhere, short-story writer and novelist Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) is usually regarded as the father of Russian literature. Russians are typically exposed to Pushkin at a very young age. Tolstoy was no exception, at least as far as Pushkin's poetry goes. He cites the poetry as an important childhood influence. But, for whatever reasons, Tolstoy did not read Eugene Onegin, a novel written in verse and considered to be one of Pushkin's major works, until he was 18. It appears to be only by chance that he read it then: he was spending the summer at Iasnaia Poliana and went to a neighbor's estate to see about buying some cattle. He ended up spending the night and picked this book up at random and started to read it before falling asleep. He was so engrossed, he finished the book and started reading it a second time before morning.

Eugene Onegin tells the tale of a disenchanted, cosmopolitan hero initially incapable not just of commitment, but of feeling. He finds himself in the provinces where a very appealing young woman, Tatyana, falls in love with him. The novel traces their relations. Tatyana eventually marries another, an older man for whom she clearly feels no passion. Eugene resurfaces in her life and declares himself to be madly in love with her. Tatyana proves able to say no to the temptation that arises, whether because she realizes that the man tempting her is unworthy or because she puts duty—and the welfare of her husband—ahead of her own personal happiness. Some readers, especially the liberals of Pushkin's era, felt that it was criminal for Tatyana to waste her life in this way. Other readers, Dostoevsky among them, embraced Tatyana as the ideal Russian woman, to be praised for her selflessness and self-respect. Tolstoy's contemporary Russian readers could not have read Anna Karenina without comparing these two heroines, who find themselves in loveless marriages and make very different choices.
Books Tolstoy Read - A Sportsman's Notebook by Ivan Turgenev
A Sportsman's Notebook
By Ivan Turgenev

When Tolstoy was first emerging as a writer, Turgenev took him under his wing. But it soon became clear that Tolstoy and Turgenev were destined to get on each other's nerves, both as men and as writers. After minor tensions and incidents, a major rift developed in 1861 after Tolstoy made nasty remarks about how Turgenev was bringing up his daughter (she had been born to a peasant with whom Turgenev had had an affair and instead of abandoning her, as many men did under such circumstances, Turgenev watched over her upbringing.) The insults escalated and Tolstoy took the step of challenging Turgenev to a duel, which Turgenev avoided by blaming the whole affair on himself. The two men didn't communicate again until 1878, when Tolstoy wrote him a reconciliatory letter. Turgenev regretted that Tolstoy withdrew from the literary scene after writing Anna Karenina. He wrote to Tolstoy from his deathbed in 1883, begging him to return to writing literature.

Tolstoy singles out A Sportsman's Notebook, Turgenev's first major prose work, as the one that influenced him. It is a series of vignettes about peasant life, written from the point of view of a member of the gentry class. This work was written in 1852, about ten years before the emancipation of the serfs. It raised consciousness about the plight of the serfs.

Why Tolstoy singled out this work is curious. After reading A Sportsman's Notebook, Tolstoy wrote in his diary that he found Turgenev a hard act to follow. Tolstoy, then having trouble with the "Youth" section of his trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, may well have been overwhelmed by Turgenev's lyrical ability to evoke the inner world of his subjects. At least when the book came out, Tolstoy was still trying to convince himself that serfdom in Russia was a benign institution. Turgenev went on to write a series of other novels related to topical issues. One of them, Home of the Gentry (also translated as Nest of Gentlefolk) treats many of the same themes as Anna Karenina, such as adultery, peasant-gentry relations and the conflict between Russian and Western values. Like Anna Karenina, this novel was a reaction against Flaubert's novel of adultery, Madame Bovary.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield
By Charles Dickens

Dickens was one author Tolstoy praised unabashedly. Tolstoy found there to be something infectious about the love and good will that Dickens exuded. He accounted for the popularity of Dickens in this way: he thought that Dickens forced readers to love him because he himself showed such great love for his own literary creations.

Reading Dickens had the effect of making Tolstoy want to sit down and write. His wife recorded in her diary, in 1878, that she could always tell that when "Levochka starts reading English novels," he was getting ready to write himself. Dickens also was at least partly responsible for Tolstoy's decision to write fiction to start with. Reading David Copperfield, which he pronounced "a delight," was a major impetus for Tolstoy's decision to write "Childhood," the first segment of his trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. This work has many features that smack of David Copperfield, starting with a hero who is a momma's boy but suffers the loss of his beloved mother. Tolstoy's hero, like Dickens' David, must learn to make it in a man's world, but retains a sensitivity that sets him apart.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey' by Homer
The Iliad and The Odyssey
By Homer

Homer's epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, were important to Tolstoy in his youth and again in his middle age, when he read them in their original Greek. These narrative poems about the Trojan War and its aftermath, composed around 700 B.C.E., may seem far removed from the world of Tolstoy's novels. Yet, in them, as in everything he read, Tolstoy found kindred features and made them his own.

Tolstoy admired, among other things, the way that Homer gave "a picture of manner and customs based on historical event." This is what he himself had done in War and Peace. The epic proportions of War and Peace, its depiction of the chaos and suffering of warfare, its concern with collective and individual identity, its extended similes, along with the way it blurs the boundaries between war and peace, between the masculine and the feminine, between enemy and friend—all these are features of War and Peace that make it a worthy successor to Homer's epics.

The plot of Anna Karenina, like The Iliad, is set in motion by adultery. According to legend, the Trojan War was waged because Helen of Troy, the wife of Menelaus, falls in love with Paris and follows him home to Troy, leaving her husband and child behind. Menelaus and the other Greeks wage war to get her back. At various points they ask whether it was all worth it. Anna Karenina contains a number of references to the adultery of Helen of Troy. The cuckolded Karenin is tempted to behave heroically, but he's not sure what this entails. What measures should he take? Challenging Vronsky to a duel is one possibility. But forgiveness is another.

Whereas adultery sets The Iliad in motion, the goal of The Odyssey is marriage and family happiness. This epic describes Odysseus's tortuous homecoming after the Trojan War ends. His faithful wife and dutiful son are waiting for him back in Ithaca and this is what draws him home, despite the temptations along the way. Levin's plotline is more along the lines of The Odyssey and it arrives at the same destination.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'Symposium' and 'Phaedo' by Plato
Symposium and Phaedo
By Plato

Tolstoy first read the philosophical dialogues of Plato, who lived from 427 B.C.E. to 347 B.C.E., in French translation as a young man. He returned to them when he learned to read Greek in the period just before writing Anna Karenina. Plato's dialogues showcase Plato's teacher, Socrates, often even presenting him in an almost beatific light. They usually also show Socrates in action—or rather in dialogue with his pupils. Using what has come to be known as the "Socratic method," Socrates does not come out and tell them the truth, but rather involves his pupils in the process. He asks a series of leading questions, designed to lead to the truth indirectly. Scholars have felt that Tolstoy engages in a similar process in his novels.

The two works that Tolstoy singles out, the Symposium and the Phaedo, are about love and death, respectively. These are two topics at the heart of Anna Karenina. In the Symposium, friends discuss different forms of love at a gathering that features drink and food. The dialogue culminates with Socrates advancing the notion that there is, in addition to physical love, a love of the soul. (He does not necessarily exclude physical love but suggests that under the right circumstances lovers may move from physical love to something higher.) Tolstoy pays direct tribute to the Symposium in Anna Karenina. Chapters 10 and 11 of Part One (pp. 33-43) are a remake of Plato's Symposium featuring Oblonsky and Levin, eating and drinking while discussing love. Oblonsky argues that there's nothing he can do about his sexual appetites and what's wrong with indulging in pleasure anyway? Levin takes a different line, arguing that love can be clear and pure. He even cites the Symposium to back it up (p. 42).

In the Phaedo, Plato meditates on death and the immortality of the soul. In this dialogue, Socrates and his friends gather together one last time in his prison cell. Socrates was tried and condemned to death by the Athenian state. (The parallels between what happened to him and what happened to Jesus were certainly not lost on Tolstoy.) The dialogue reenacts what takes place between him and his friends in his final hours as Socrates takes the poison hemlock that kills him. Socrates faces death with equanimity as he argues for the immortality of the soul. Facing death is a major concern of all of Tolstoy's writings and Anna Karenina is no exception. Part Eight shows Levin struggling to achieve a Socratic acceptance of his own mortality. Tolstoy pays tribute to Plato the philosopher by having a peasant with the same name—Platon is the Russian form of this name—serve as an example to Levin of what it means to love God and live for the soul. (p. 794)
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'Les Miserables' by Victor Hugo
Les Misérables
By Victor Hugo

In his 1898 treatise What Is Art? Tolstoy singles out the novels of Victor Hugo, as well as those of Dickens and Dostoevsky, as rare positive models of contemporary art. Tolstoy approves of them because they promote "unity" and "brotherhood among people." Hugo stood out among his fellow French novelists for his passionate engagement in the plight of the downtrodden.

Tolstoy lists Les Misérables (published in 1862) as the only work whose influence on him was "enormous" during the middle stage of his life (from ages 35 to 50). During this period, Tolstoy was composing his masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, which may include cameo appearances by wise peasants but nevertheless focus on upper class life. By contrast, Hugo was known for portraying and championing the down and out, in Les Misérables and elsewhere. Furthermore, Tolstoy's major works are known for their celebrations of family in its more traditional (biological) format, whereas Hugo's novel reaches into new frontiers of family life. Poverty and suffering have forced his heroes to form new kinds of loving family, not necessarily based on blood or marriage. Tolstoy may well have found in Les Misérables inklings of new territory that he would explore in what he wrote after the change of heart about family life that he experienced along with his religious crisis. Tolstoy's late novel Resurrection describes an upper-class hero's attempt to penetrate an environment that was Hugo's novelistic stomping grounds.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'Middlemarch' and other novels by George Eliot
Middlemarch and other novels
By George Eliot (pen name of writer Mary Anne Evans)

In enumerating the works that influenced him greatly during his middle years—when he wrote his great novels—Tolstoy mentions the novels of George Eliot without singling out a particular one. Parallels between Anna Karenina and Middlemarch, which appeared a few years earlier and was in Tolstoy's library, are especially revealing. Dorothea Brooke, one of the heroines of Middlemarch, finds herself in a stifling marriage and ends up falling in love with a more passionate, more articulate, more dashing younger man. The novelistic solution that George Eliot creates, however, is quite different from the tragic outcome of Anna Karenina. The contrast highlights both Tolstoy's pessimism and his take on women in relationships.

Middlemarch and Anna Karenina interweave the fates of many different characters. Instead of having all her characters related by blood or marriage, George Eliot has them all live in the same place —Middlemarch. They are neighbors. This novel explores the possibilities of neighborly love. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy is more concerned with family love, but he is also questioning this institution, by constantly pointing to the conflict between love of family and love of others. "If one has a family, can there be love left over for others?" is one question that Anna Karenina poses.

Both George Eliot and Leo Tolstoy have breadth of vision, in addition to a penetrating eye that allows them to reveal the meaning hidden in tiny events that usually go unnoticed and sans narration. And, they both create situations that force characters to choose between selfish and selfless behavior or "living for the belly" and "living for the soul," as a peasant puts it to Levin. (p. 794)
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'East Lynne' and other novels by Ellen Wood
East Lynne and other novels
By Ellen Wood

Ellen Wood was an enormously popular, bestselling British author in the mid-19th century. She wrote "sensational novels" with complicated, juicy plots full of dramatic incident. Lots of critics dismissed these novels for being poorly written and/or weak in showing the workings of the soul. Tolstoy, however, read the novels of Ellen Wood and Mary Elizabeth Braddon (another similar writer) with enthusiasm and was man enough to acknowledge their influence on his own work.

East Lynne was a runaway sensation when it appeared in 1861. In terms of its plot, it is quite relevant to Anna Karenina. Like Anna Karenina, it is a tale of adultery, of maternal longing, of shame and of suffering. It has its own railroad accidents and biblical quotations. East Lynne may be read as a warning against adultery, but it nevertheless shows that the suffering brought about by vice can have a purifying effect in the end. Some contemporary English readers found this scenario too subversive, they wanted their adulteresses to grovel and die without ever being redeemed. Ellen Wood had a different vision.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'Madame Bovary' by Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary
By Gustave Flaubert

Tolstoy wrote to his wife in 1892 that Madame Bovary "has great merits" and that the French admired it "for good reason." But this novel certainly did not make it onto his list of works that influenced him. It is probably best described as a novel that Tolstoy reacted to (or against!) when he was writing Anna Karenina. When it was first published in 1857, the novel caused an enormous uproar because of content deemed lascivious and reprehensible. Tolstoy happened to be in Paris in the midst of this scandal.

Because Madame Bovary is often regarded as the classic novel of adultery, it has been the fate of Anna Karenina to be constantly compared to it. One Russian poet dubbed Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary's "Russian cousin." Readers and scholars have found a number of juicy parallels between the two novels because Anna's fate is similar to Emma Bovary's. Both novels are often cited as examples of realism and yet both draw the very concept of reality into question. Both meditate on the limits of language. Even more interesting is the common symbolism between the two novels.

For all the similarities, there are profound differences. English Poet Matthew Arnold, one of the first critics to respond in English to Anna Karenina and one of the first to compare it to Madame Bovary, has the following to say: "Emma Bovary follows a course in some respects like that of Anna, but where, in Emma Bovary, is Anna's charm? The treasures of compassion, tenderness, insight, which alone, amid such guilt and misery, can enable charm to subsist and to emerge, are wanting to Flaubert. He is cruel, with the cruelty of petrified feeling, to his poor heroine..." In this way, Tolstoy is often seen as a kinder, gentler chronicler of the harrows of adultery.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf - the Gospels

Tolstoy lists the Gospels as having had an "enormous" impact on him during two key periods, his youth (from age 14 to 20) and the period from age 50 to age 63, his age when he drew up his list of influences. It is safe to say that the Gospels remained enormously important to him for the remainder of his life. In his Confession, Tolstoy describes how his childhood faith in the Russian Orthodox Church declined during his youth, how he led a dissolute life as a young man, how he diverted himself "from any search for the meaning of life" for the first 15 years or so after his marriage. Then things changed. Tolstoy would increasingly experience bouts of despair and bewilderment when "Why [live]?" became a question that he needed to answer. Tolstoy found that he literally could not go on living unless he found answers to questions about the meaning of life.

At this point, Tolstoy returned to the Gospels, which he studied in their original Greek. The Gospels contained Jesus' teaching in what Tolstoy considered to be its purest form. Tolstoy was quick to point out that the Russian Orthodox Church, along with other churches, had incorporated as doctrine many beliefs and had developed many rituals that distorted and detracted from Jesus' teaching. Tolstoy wanted to go back to basics.

The Gospel in Brief is Tolstoy's version of the Gospels. Tolstoy integrated the canonical accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John into one unified version of Jesus' life and teaching. As he did this, Tolstoy also left out the material from the Gospels that he felt was extraneous, such as the accounts of his miracles and of Jesus' resurrection. (Tolstoy was aware that Thomas Jefferson had undertaken a similar "revision" of the Gospels.) For Tolstoy, Jesus' teaching was a "light" that gave life meaning, and the rest didn't matter or even got in the way.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'Thoughts' by Blaise Pascal
By Blaise Pascal

As he was working on Anna Karenina, Tolstoy underwent a spiritual crisis, like the one he shows Levin going through in the last part of the novel. Tolstoy describes how Levin had sought answers to existential questions in the works of the philosophers Plato, Spinoza, Kand, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer (p. 787), but found no lasting satisfaction in their works. Where Tolstoy himself found religious comfort during this period is in the Thoughts of Blaise Pascal. After discovering Pascal in 1876 (or rediscovering him, because it's likely that he had read him earlier as well), Tolstoy enthusiastically recommended him to relatives, friends, and eventually his reading public. Quotations from Pascal appear in Tolstoy's later works.

When Pascal died in 1662, he left behind a collection of written fragments about the very matters that drove Tolstoy, along with his fictional hero, to despair. Pascal writes, in a searing way, about terror in the face of death, about humankind being like convicts awaiting execution, about fears that God has forsaken the universe and us along with it, about the individual's isolation as he or she faces death, as well as about frustration about the limits of language—words often seem inadequate to express what he feels in his soul. But in the midst of this despair, Pascal also writes about the necessity of faith, about the need to search actively for God. According to Pascal, the human lot is to feel an unbearable sense of emptiness, which can only be filled by God. All other human endeavors, whether worthwhile or destructive, are incapable of filling this void. Tolstoy shows Levin and perhaps Anna as well coming to the same conclusion.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: Novels by Dostoevsky
Notes from the House of the Dead and The Brothers Karamazov
By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Tolstoy does not list Dostoevsky among his literary influences. In fact, throughout Dostoevsky's life (Dostoevsky died in 1881) Tolstoy professed indifference for Dostoevsky, who by contrast showed great interest in Tolstoy, both the man and his works. Dostoevsky had wanted very much to meet Tolstoy, but this meeting never took place. Dostoevsky wrote extensive reviews of Anna Karenina, and engaged Tolstoy overtly in his works. Tolstoy's tributes to Dostoevsky are much more covert. Scholars have found convincing evidence of Tolstoy reacting to Dostoevsky in his works, despite Tolstoy's possible attempts to underplay this feature.

When Dostoevsky died, Tolstoy wrote the following to a mutual friend, expressing his regret: "When he died, I understood that he was such a very kindred, dear and necessary person to me. I was a man of letters, and men of letters are all vain, jealous, I at least was that kind of man of letters. But never did it enter my head to compare myself to him, never. All that he did (what he did that was good and real) was such that the more he did, the better it was for me. Art arouses envy in me, intellect does, too, but matters of the heart [arouse] only joy. I thus considered him my friend and never imagined that we wouldn't meet. And suddenly, over dinner [...] I read that he is dead. Some kind of support was taken away from under me. I fell apart, and at that point it became clear how dear he was to me and I wept and I weep still."

In What is Art?, which Tolstoy wrote in 1898, he praises Dostoevsky for promoting "unity among humankind" and brotherhood in his works. For all his appreciation of these qualities in Dostoevsky, Tolstoy's response to actually reading Dostoevsky was mixed. The work of Dostoevsky that Tolstoy appears to have admired most is Notes from the House of the Dead (1860-62), a work of fiction based on Dostoevsky's experience in penal servitude. Dostoevsky gives us a first hand view of life inside a penal colony. Tolstoy's rationale for choosing this work no doubt has to do with the subject matter, which was something that was beyond his personal experience.

In 1910, in the last few weeks of his life, Tolstoy started reading The Brothers Karamazov, which had appeared in 1880. Earlier attempts at reading it had left him dissatisfied. Tolstoy complained in a letter and his diary about Dostoevsky's writing style. But he still wanted to read on. On October 28th, after abandoning his family and setting off from home on what became his final journey, Tolstoy wrote his daughter asking her to send him a few books, including the second volume of The Brothers Karamazov. Tolstoy was dead within ten days. The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky's final novel, is filled with religious searching and a yearning for brotherly love. These are features we can surely imagine that Tolstoy could identify with.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: Teachings of the Buddha
Teaching of the Buddha

In his Confession (1879), Tolstoy describes how during his spiritual crisis he turned to religious thinkers in the hope of finding answers to his questions about the meaning of life. At this point, he found in the life and teaching of Buddha confirmation of his current state of mind. Like Buddha, Tolstoy saw death, suffering, sickness and old age everywhere and felt that he could not simply forget about it or go through life ignoring it. He quotes the following saying of Buddha: "It is impossible to live in the consciousness that suffering, weakening, old age and death are inevitable; we must free ourselves from life, from all possibility of life." Although Tolstoy continued to associate Buddha with a renunciation of earthly life, he was able also to find in Buddha's teaching more positive models for moral behavior, ones that he found kindred.

In Tolstoy's later attempts to produce edifying literature that was accessible to all, Tolstoy edited, translated, and composed a number of pieces about Buddha and his teaching. He found in Buddha's example and teachings a new expression of principles that he held most dear: of selfless love and of non-violence. Scholars have noted that in embracing Buddhism Tolstoy did what he did with any system: he never adopted a whole system of beliefs but rather picked and chose what he could relate to and ignored everything alien to him.
Tolstoy's Bookshelf: 'The Way of Life' by Lao Tzu
The Way of Life
By Lao Tzu

Tolstoy first became acquainted with the teaching of Lao Tzu in 1878, the year after he completed Anna Karenina, but he started studying him seriously in 1884, as part of his effort to find religious truth wherever he could. Tolstoy found much that was kindred to him in the figure of the Taoist sage as it emerges in Lao Tzu's teaching. Among the qualities of this sage are simplicity, patience, harmony of nature, the suppression of desire, non-violence, and love for all men.

Tolstoy sought ways of making the wisdom he found in Lao Tzu available to the Russian reading public. He included a number of sayings by Lao Tzu in the Calendars that he produced during this period. Tolstoy also collaborated on a translation of The Way of Life, which was published just before his death. In introducing the Way of Lao Tzu in this work, Tolstoy begins: "The basis of Lao Tzu's teaching is the same as the basis of all great, truth religious teachings. It is the following: Man can live for the body or he can live for the spirit. If man lives for the body, then life is grief, because the body suffers, sickens and dies. If he lives for the spirit, then life is joy, because for the spirit there is neither suffering, nor illness, nor death." Tolstoy continues to explain that Lao Tzu's means of living for the soul and being united with God is "the Way." Tolstoy then concludes that Lao Tzu's teaching is just like the teaching of John in his First Epistle where he writes that "God is love." (1 John 4:8) Here we see at work Tolstoy's drive to draw world religions together in a common cause, the cause of love.


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