"The biography of the literary career of one of the world's greatest novelists and thinkers" is the phrase used to describe this book by its author, Ernest J. Simmons, who is himself one of the great authorities on Russian literature. In this brief book, Mr. Simmons describes, explains, and criticizes all those works of Tolstoy which have had enduring significance.
Tolstoy's writings on education, religion, aesthetics, social, political, and moral problems cannot, Mr. Simmons believes, be separated from his total literary experience, and interact upon his fiction and plays. In discussing War and Peace, for instance, Tolstoy wrote:
"My thoughts about the limits of freedom and independence, and my views on history are not a mere paradox that has occupied me in passing. These thoughts are the fruits of all the intellectual efforts of my life, and they are an inseparable part of that philosophy which I have achieved, God alone knows with what striving and suffering, and it has given me complete calm and happiness."
Tolstoy's thoughts on moral responsibility are reflected in the theme of Anna Karenina. His interest in the theory and practice of education exemplified in the school for peasant children which he established and taught in and the educational journal which he founded and wrote for — reflects his belief that great art should be for all people and that all people should be given the means to learn to appreciate it.
This book is not intended for the scholarly specialist but as a guide for any reader making a first approach to Tolstoy's voluminous works. Mr. Simmons has drawn upon his own writings on Tolstoy over the last twenty years articles, introductions, and longer works. All this material has been thoroughly revised, while deletions from original texts and additions of fresh matter make the book a wholly new summation of Mr. Simmons' view of Tolstoy as a literary genius and intellectual influence on many issues which still have relevance today.