A GIANT AND PYGMIES: LEO TOLSTOY AND CONTEMPORARY WRITERS, says the caption under this old caricature by unknown artist. Only a few minutes ago Google stopped to remind me of Leo Tolstoy’s 186 birthday: the author of War and Piece and Anna Karenina was born September 9,1828.
Leo Tolstoy enjoyed what would ordinarily be considered an extremely successful and comfortable life. By the end of it, however, he was plagued by a feeling that each individual act he undertook, and the totality of his life, were completely devoid of meaning. His life felt like a “stupid, mean trick played on me by somebody.”
Meaninglessness of life and a kind of intellectual crisis he found himself at the dawn of his life, and how he struggled with these issues and — so he thought — recovered from it is at the heart of his short and powerful essay A Confession.
Art, too, lost its lure and significance for the writer. Art is insignificant because life is, for art is a reflection of life in one form or another. At the very best, Tolstoy notes, art provides empirical description of human life and even its content, but it is unable to explain what, in anything, is the meaning of life.
Only one of the photographs in the gallery above is slightly photoshopped. Which one?
In A Confession, Tolstoy confides that after long observation, he came to believe that faith alone could provide meaning to human life. The great majority of people do not agonize over meaninglessness of their lives, although great many live in extremely dismal circumstances. What these people have in common?
Tolstoy thinks, it is their faith. Faith alone fills human existence with purpose and value. Tolstoy — for most of his life — believed faith is in constant conflict with reason. Still, he came to believe that faith was the ultimate answer to the questions that so wholly consumed him. In the end, he seemed to have embraced it.