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My tribute to Leo Tolstoy

Posted On : September 27 2017

One of the greatest authors of all time, Leo Tolstoy, was born on September 9. He was born to an

aristocratic Russian family in 1828, he is best known for the novels War and Peace (1869) and

Anna Karenina (1877), often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction.

I was introduced to Russian literature at a friend’s home when I was in school, her father was a

voracious reader and I would often stand by his bookshelves and browse through his collections.

Soon, I started reading from his collection, this is when I got hold of Anna Karenina. The novel

mesmerised me, I found the story romantic, passionate, wonderful then, and still do. In those

days, in Bhopal there was a small Russian literature bookshop in New Market, just across the

road from Top n Town ice cream parlour, I remember spending whatever little pocket-money I

had on Russian literature and magazines. It was my favourite haunt.

Later on, I was lucky to marry into a family of literature lovers, here every family member had

read and loved Russian literature. My father-in- law Dr Vijay Mohan Singh was a renowned

literary figure from the Hindi literature world, he was a talking walking encyclopedia as far as

books and authors were concerned. Once he came to know of my love for books, he encouraged

me, discussed with me and suggested books and authors to read. I learnt a lot about Leo Tolstoy

from him. I remember discussing War and Peace at length with him. Same with my spouse, an

ex-army man now in central police service. He believes that reading Leo Tolstoy inspired him to

join the army.

So, my association and love for Russian literature has been long.

I have always believed that Leo Tolstoy deserved a Nobel Prize for Literature. But he was not

awarded one; I read an interesting piece on why he was not awarded the prize and what his

reaction was. For the very first Nobel Prize award Leo Tolstoy was in the reckoning, but the first

Nobel Prize was awarded to French poet Sully Prudhomme in 1901. The public opinion in

Sweden and other countries showed the shock of such a decision of the Nobel Academy. A

month after the award, Leo Tolstoy received a letter from a group of Swedish writers and artists


“In connection with the first award of the Nobel Prize, we would like to express our admiration

to you. We see you not only as a respectable patriarch of the up-to- date literature. We also see

you as one of those powerfully moving poets that are worth recalling first and foremost. We feel

the need to address to you with this welcoming letter, because we believe that the institution that

was in charge of the award does not represent either the public, or writers’ opinion. Let

everybody know that the true art is the art that is based on the freedom of thought and


The letter was signed by more than 40 conspicuous Swedish writers and artists. Everybody in the

world knew: there was only one writer that deserved the highest award in the world. This writer

is Leo Tolstoy.

Numerous letters and addresses made Leo Tolstoy write something in response: “Dear friends, I

was very happy to know that the Nobel Prize was not awarded to me. First of all, it deprived me

of a big problem of how to use this money. I am certain that this money, as well as money as it

is, can only bring evil. Second of all, I was honoured to get so many letters of sympathy and

support from the people that I don’t know. I really enjoyed them. Please accept my sincerest

gratitude”- Leo Tolstoy

The story continues thus…Tolstoy’s new work Great Sin was published in 1905. The Russian

Academy of Sciences decided to nominate Tolstoy for the competition to win the Nobel Prize in

literature. The nomination note was approved by Russia’s highest literature institutions. In 1906

the note was sent to Sweden together with a copy of Tolstoy’s Great Sin.”

As soon as Tolstoy learnt about this honour, he wrote a letter to his Finnish friend, writer Arvid

Ernefeld: “If it was meant to happen, then it would be very unpleasant for me to refuse it. That is

why; I have a favour to ask. If you have any links in Sweden (I think you have), please try to

make it so I would not be awarded with the prize. Please, try to do the best you can to avoid the

award of the prize to me.”

So, why did he not want the prize? We all know money makes the world go round. But it also

brings along with it evil. It seems that Leo Tolstoy was the first to realise that. He did not want

his name to be used for such a horrid idea. So, why wasn’t the Nobel Prize awarded to Tolstoy?

He wouldn’t have accepted it…this is what I would like to believe…he was beyond all awards

and recognition!

If anybody wants to read Leo Tolstoy…here are some recommendations…

1. War and Peace

2. Anna Karenina

3. The first novel in Leo Tolstoy's autobiographical trilogy - Childhood (1852), Boyhood

(1854), and Youth (1856). These works launched his writing career.

4. The Resurrection

5. The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886)

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