Tolstoy, Aleksei Nikolaevich. Born 10 January 1882 (29 December 1882, Old Style), in the town of Nikolayevsk in the Sarmara guberniya. He was distantly related to Lev Tolstoy on his father's side, but he never stayed in the Tolstoy clan. While pregnant with the future writer, his mother, Aleksandra Leontevna nee Turgenev, left his father and ran off with another Samara landowner, A.A. Bostrom, whom Tolstoy remembered as an atheist and materialist. Aleksandra Leontevena herself was a writer, responsible for the novel Irrepressible Heart, the tale In The Backwaters, and several children's stories. At her urging, Aleksei, at age 10, wrote his first story, a tale of a young boy named Stepka. Nothing remains of this story save for one phrase: "The snow in the moonlight shone like diamonds."

After some years of harsh weather conditions, Bostrom was forced to sell his land, and the family moved to Samara in 1897. In 1901 Tolstoy moved to Petersburg and entered the Petersburg Technological Institute. At age 19, he married a medical student. He became involved in Social-Democratic organizations and took part in student demonstrations and strikes. In 1903 he was almost killed when he was hit in the chest with a pavement stone thrown during a demonstration by the Kazan Cathedral.

When the Institute was closed in 1905, Tolstoy went to study at the Polytechnic in Dresden, where he wrote some revolutionary and lyric verses. He returned to Samara in 1906, but his mother soon died and Tolstoy went back to Petersburg to continue his studies.

At this point, Tolstoy came under the influence of the Symbolists and produced some imitative lyric verses which were published in the collection Lyrika in 1907. He second volume of verse, Za Sinimi Rekami ("Beyond Blue Rivers") improved on the first, drawing on folklore, particularly Slavic mythology.

His first prose work, Starya Bashnya ("The Old Tower"), appeared in 1908. It was followed by Sorevnovatel ("The Competitor"), Yashmovaya Tetrad ("Jaspar Notebok"), Arkhip, Smert Nalymovikh ("Death of the Nalymovs"), and Nedelya V Tureneve ("Week in Turenev"). Of these beginning works of prose, Tolstoy said:

I began with imitation. That is to say, I had already felt out on what type of canvas, along what type of path I could direct my creative endeavors. But still, the road was someone else's, not mine.
The writer felt he began to find his own path with Sorochi Skazki (1911), an attempt to express his childhood impressions in the form of a fairy tale. Two novels followed shortly thereafter: Chudaki ("Eccentrics") (1911) and Khromoi Barin ("The Lame Baron") (1912) use comic realism similar to that of Gogol in their presentation of decaying, grotesque gentry life. With the novel Egor Abozov (1915), we see an abandonment of his "decadent" period and a commitment to realism. This work contains a satire on Symbolist and Futurist circles.

Tolstoy also undertook dramatic works. The play Nasilniki ("Aggressors") was staged in Moscow in 1913. It evoked a sharp reaction from the viewing public and was banned by the tsarist authorities. Between 1914 and 1917, Tolstoy penned five more plays: Vystrel ("The Shot"), Nechistaya Sila ("Evil Spirit"), Kasatka, Raketa ("Rocket"), and Gorky Tsvet ("Bitter Color").

During World War I, Tolstoy was a war correspondent for the newspaper Russkie Vedomosti, finding himself on the front, then in England and France. But he claims the tsarist censors never let him write what he really felt. Following the revolution of October 1917, Tolstoy produced the story Den Petra ("Peter's Day"), portraying an average day in the life of Tsar Peter the Great. Peter is shown as a crude, coarse, capricious, bestial, barbarian despot.

Thereafter, Tolstoy suffered a period of political and ideological confusion. He worked in General Deniken's propaganda section. Then he went abroad to live in Paris, where he began Detstvo Nikity ("Nikita's Childhood") (1921), a partly autobiographical study of a young boy's life. It was also in Paris that he started Syostry ("Sisters") (1922), the fist novel in his trilogy Khozhdeniye Po Mykam ("The Road To Calvary"), which tells the story of Russian intellectuals who convert to Bolshevism during the Civil War.

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In the autumn of 1921, Tolstoy moved to Berlin and linked up with the pro-Communist Nakanune group. He also met with Maksim Gorky and established good relations with him. While in Berlin, Tolstoy wrote his first great science-fiction novel, Aelita (1922). In the novel, a Soviet engineer-tinkerer and a demobilized Red Army soldier build a spaceship and travel to Mars. There, they find a civilization divided into the haves and have-nots. While the engineer searches for knowledge (and starts a steamy affair with Aelita, the daughter of the planet's ruler), the Red Army soldier fans the flames of revolution and leads an insurrection. Things go bad for the insurrectionists, however, and the Soviet heroes escape Mars just in the nick of time, as millions of giant spiders are surging up from the bowels of the planet. (The first Soviet prize in the field of science fiction, initiated in 1981, was named after this novel. And in 1982, the International Astronomical Union honored Aleksei N. Tolstoy by naming a crater on the planet Mars after him.)

During his Berlin period, he also produced the novels Chernaya Pyatnitsa ("Black Friday"), Ubistvo Antoine Rivo ("The Murder of Antoine Rivo") and Rukopis, Naidennaya Pod Krovatiu ("Manuscript Found Under A Bed").

In 1923, having fully accepted the Revolution, he moved back to Russia. Two more science fiction novels followed: The Revolt of the Machines (1924) and Engineer Garin's Hyperboloid (1926). The latter is a story of a power-hungry engineer who, with the help of a concentrated heat ray, uncovers a vast deposit of gold in the earth's core. Threatening the world with ecological disaster, he becomes dictator. But he is eventually foiled by by a good Soviet Chekist.

The hero of the short tale "Azure Cities" (1925) comes to a bad end because his fantastic dreams of a 21st century Moscow clash with the realities of building socialism in the period of the New Economic Policy.

Beginning in 1923, Tolstoy again began writing for the theater. He produced Izgnaniye Bludnovo Besa, Zagovor Imperatritsy, Azef, Chudesa V Reshetke, Vozrashchennaya Molodost and an adaptation of Revolt of the Machines. But pressure from RAPP soon forced Tolstoy to abandon dramatic work for a time. However, by 1929 he was back it with the play Na Dybe ("On The Rack"), another treatment of Peter the Great. While some of the hostile attitude to Peter is still apparent in this work, he is also shown as a statesman working for the good of the nation. The play underwent two revisions, in 1934 and 1937.

In 1928, Tolstoy finished 1918, Part Two of his "Road to Calvary" series. Then, in 1929, Tolstoy published Part One of Peter I, considered by many his masterpiece. Part Two appeared in 1933, and Part Three in 1945. The story begins with Peter's childhood and continues on through the Battle of Narva in 1701. Peter here is portrayed as a great genius who completely transformed Russia for the better. The work has a wide variety of characters and settings and has a great breath of social, historical, and geographic scope. Tolstoy began work on this epic a month after the February Revolution in, as he put it, an attempt to solve the mystery of the Russian people and the Russian state:

What attracted me to the epic "Peter I"? Undoubtedly, I chose that era as a projection of the modern world. I was attracted by the feeling of the fullness of the "uncombed" and creative force of that life when the Russian character was revealed with particular clarity.
In the 1930s, Tolstoy made several attempts to produce theatrical works, but he met with strong resistance from the Trotskyite forces in the RAPP. It was only when these elements were purged that Tolstoy felt that the "hostile encirclement" around him had ended and that we was able to give all his energies to his literary and social activities. He got a measure of revenge in the 1938 novel Khleb ("Bread"), concerning the defense of Czaritsyn by Reds in 1918-1919. The roles of Stalin and Voloshilov are glorified and the treachery of Trotsky is exposed. 1938 also saw publication of Put K Pobede ("Path To Victory") and and anti-Fascist pamphlet Chertov Most.

On the day the Great Patriotic War began--11 June 1941--he wrote the last lines of Khmupoye Utro ("Gloomy Morning"), the final installment in the "Road to Calvary" trilogy, which was now deemed worthy of a Stalin Prize. During the war, Tolstoy wrote many patriotic articles as well as the two-part Ivan Grozny ("Ivan The Terrible") (1943), which also won a Stalin Prize.

In 1936, Tolstoy was elected Chairman of the Writer's Union, and he was a deputy to the Supreme Soviet in 1937. In 1939, Tolstoy was elected to the Academy of Sciences. He wrote numerous children's stories, including The Golden Key, or The Adventures of Buratino (1936) and "Snow House", as well as more than 20 plays. Other works include Motherland (1943) and Stories of Ivan Sudarev (1944).

He died in Moscow on 23 February 1945.


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