Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tortured Noble

At work on Tuesday, I walked past Tortured Noble: The Story of Leo Tolstoy by Neil Heims. Normally, I wouldn’t have paid too much attention to this biography. Although I'm addicted to all things Eastern European, I haven’t really gotten into Tolstoy. I’ve never read War and Peace. And although I enjoyed a Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Anna Karenina, I’ve started the book several times without finishing.

However, on Tuesday I also finished Into the Wild (see my previous post), and Chris McCandless was obsessed with Tolstoy. Tolstoy, in theory, had inspired McCandless to abandon his family, his possessions, and to burn all his money before embarking into the wilderness.

I was intrigued, then, by what kind of man could inspire such a loyal follower. I know I would be better served to actually read War and Peace, but Heims’ short biography was more accessible.

And the book is short—less than 150 pages with generous-sized print. As such, I suspect the text is actually meant for young people. Tolstoys’s life, though, was definitely juicy. Although he preached chastity, self-sacrifice, and poverty, Tolstoy had a difficult time actually following his own precepts.

Tolstoy went through periods of intense gambling and had a voracious sexual appetite (did I really just write that?). Even in his 60s, while preaching abstinence, he impregnated his wife for the thirteenth time.

Tolstoy did not inspire me, and I have no plans to abandon money and comforts. Yet, I do understand the feelings of guilt he experienced over his bad behavior. Fortunately, my guilt has nothing to do with gambling away my inheritance or visiting prostitutes.

Of course, what I think of Tolstoy himself has little to do with the book. It was a fast and informative, though I’m sure extremely edited, read—and that’s all I really required.

1 comment:

notaconnoisseur said...

Personally I think that biographies written for youth are the best ones! Just my speed. I made it all of the way through Anna Karenina when I was sixteen including the pages and pages of philosophy about the relationship between landowner and people working the land; however, it didn't really movitate me to read anything else he wrote. It certainly expressed grim consequences for adultery. Wonder how he really felt. Tortured apparently.