During the last twenty years I have published a considerable number of items on Tolstoy's life and on his separate works. A friend, familiar with the bulk of this varied material, suggested that I carve out of it a kind of guide to introduce students and interested readers in general to the writings of Leo Tolstoy. The proposal was attractive as one that would enable me to impose organization and thus a sense of development on a favourite subject which I had never previously studied as a connected whole.
Any sensible idea of this sort, the execution of which seems so easy at first sight, soon turns into a rugged and time-consuming experience of hard choices in design, inclusions and exclusions, revisions, and bringing up to date. What has emerged is a book - consisting in large measure of a selection of material from my published works - that attempts to describe and discuss all those writings of Tolstoy which appear to have enduring significance. With few exceptions, they are works that have been translated into English. His fiction and plays have been considered with some regard for chronological order in an effort to trace Tolstoy's development as a creative artist. But I have also included treatments of major non-literary works in order to show his concurrent development as a thinker and reformer in such diverse fields as education, religious thought, aesthetics, and social, political, and moral problems. For these writings, so often ignored, are intrinsically important; they are also a tangible part of his total literary experience, and they enable us to evaluate his position as a leading thinker of the nineteenth century, one whose ideas have not lost their significance for us today.
The book is not intended for scholarly specialists on Tolstoy, though they might gain some insights here and there from its pages, nor does it pretend to offer studies in higher criticism of his famous novels. The effort is what its title indicates - an introduction to the writings of Tolstoy for those readers who wish initially to find their way among his voluminous works. Nowadays we are used to political biographies of great leaders of governments; this book, in a sense, is a brief literary biography, or more precisely, the biography of the literary career of one of the world's greatest novelists and thinkers.