Leo Tolstoy, or Count Lyev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Никола́евич Толсто́й) (September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910), was a Russian writer of realist fiction and philosophical essays. His works War and Peace and Anna Karenina represent, in their scope, breadth and vivid depiction of 19th-century Russian life and attitudes, a peak of realist fiction. Tolstoy was born in Yasnaya Polyana, the family estate in the Tula region of Russia. The Tolstoys were a well-known family of old Russian nobility. He was the fourth of five children of Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy, a veteran of the 1812 French invasion of Russia, and Countess Mariya Tolstaya (Volkonskaya). Tolstoy's parents died when he was young, so he and his siblings were brought up by relatives. In 1844, he began studying law and oriental languages at Kazan University. His teachers described him as "both unable and unwilling to learn."Tolstoy left university in the middle of his studies, returned to Yasnaya Polyana and then spent much of his time in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In 1851, after running up heavy gambling debts, he went with his older brother to the Caucasus and joined the army. It was about this time that he started writing.His conversion from a dissolute and privileged society author to the non-violent and spiritual anarchist of his latter days was brought about by his experience in the army as well as two trips around Europe in 1857 and 1860–61. Others who followed the same path were Alexander Herzen, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin. During his 1857 visit, Tolstoy witnessed a public execution in Paris, a traumatic experience that would mark the rest of his life. Writing in a letter to his friend V. P. Botkin: "The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens ... Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere."
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