In 1851 Tolstoy followed his brother into army service in the Caucasus, where he wrote Childhood (1852). This became the first part of an autobiographical trilogy, which includes Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1857). In 1854 he took part in the defense of Sevastopol, descriptions of which were published in Nekrasov's journal The Contemporary, attracting considerable attention for their unvarnished picture of war. He left army service in 1855 and for several years divided his time between his estate and the literary circles of St. Petersburg. His diary of the period reveals his intense dissatisfaction with his libertine existence. He set up a school for peasant children on his estate, emphasizing a spontaneous approach to learning. When his school proved impractical, he visited Western Europe and there began to question the bases of modern civilization.
In 1862 Tolstoy married Sophia Andreyevna Bers, a young, well-educated woman who bore him 13 children. His candor concerning his infidelities and his harsh conception of her wifely duties contributed to the instability of their marriage. During this time he wrote The Cossacks (1863) and his masterpieces War and Peace (1862–69) and Anna Karenina (1873–76). War and Peace is a vast prose epic of the Napoleonic invasion of 1812. It illustrates Tolstoy's view of history as proceeding inexorably to its own ends, a view in which mankind appears as an accidental instrument. This thesis is conveyed by a stream of brilliantly conceived characters and incidents. Anna Karenina, his most popular work, concerns the tragedy of a woman's faith in romantic love.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.