TASK: What can you find out about Tolstoy’s belief in the value of the working class?
Born in 1828 and dying in 1910, Tolstoy lived in a time when the Russian Empire was at its height and lived to see the start of its decline in the early 20th century. Tolstoy was born into an aristocratic family and so, had a front-row seat and a free pass to all the pleasures and luxuries life could offer the wealthy, without a thought as to what the poor or the working class (the proletariats) were being denied. As a young adult, he indulged in all these pleasures and luxuries, truly living the life of an aristocrat, but as he grew older and grew disenchanted with these frivolities, Tolstoy found more merit in the Russian working class than the aristocracy.
Tolstoy had a spiritual awakening – an epiphany – setting him on the right path, in his 30s and returned to Russia to open schools for the poorer classes and he sided with the serfs when they were liberated in 1861: something unprecedented for a wealthy landowner. In the 1880s, after he had published one of his most famous works, Anna Karenina, he was very much involved in public work and helping the poor and proletariats wherever and however he could, including distributing pamphlets and writing articles about religion, education and the redistribution of wealth.
While he may have started out as just another ridiculously wealthy, privileged aristocrat, regarding the proletariats as nothing more than the dirt beneath his shoes, he grew to become one of the proletariats’ greatest advocates and really believed in them, championing their cause wherever he could and with whatever means he could. He died in 1910 at the age of 82 but, had he lived just 7 more years, he would’ve seen the 1917 February Revolution – where the proletariats prevailed and overthrew the monarchy, hoping for a fairer world.