Happy Birthday, Tolstoy!

Posted on 9th September 2014 by simonbeattie

As you may have seen from today’s Google Doodle, 9 September is Lev Tolstoy’s birthday:


But where did it all start?  How did Tolstoy become a writer?  It all began in 1852, when Tolstoy was 23 years old, and convalescing in Tiflis after mercury treatment for ‘the venereal sickness’ when he completed the first part of Childhood, his first attempt at fiction.  In the September of that year, the story duly appeared in a St Petersburg monthly, Sovremennik (The Contemporary), above the initials ‘L. N.’:


It created an immediate sensation, one reviewer writing: ‘If this is the first production of L. N. Russian literature must be congratulated on the appearance of a new and remarkable talent.’  It was Tolstoy’s first published work.

‘The original plan comprised a great novel (with the general title of Four Epochs of Growth) founded – but only founded – on the reminiscences and traditions of his family, so that Tolstoy was displeased when the magazine altered his Childhood to The History of My Childhood.  “The alteration is especially disagreeable,” he complained to the editor, “because, as I wrote to you, I meant Childhood to form the first part of a novel”’ (Rosemary Edmonds, preface to her translation, 1961).  That novel, Detstvo i otrochestvo (Childhood and Boyhood), was published in 1856.

Tolstoy 1

‘The History of My Childhood’, the title of Tolstoy’s story as it first appeared, altered by the editor of ‘Sovremennik’.

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