‘You’ll die and know all, or cease asking’

It was 100 years ago that Russian literary giant Leo Tolstoy died at age 82. In recognition of his immense contribution to the world of literature, this blog is reprinting excerpts from his works.

Tolstoy is probably best known for his epic work War and Peace, which details the events leading up to Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia and its impact of that country’s high society, as seen through the eyes of several aristocratic families. 

War and Peace has become noted first and foremost for its famous length, which is unfortunate because it’s a wonderful work of art. A brief example:

“Is this good or bad?” Pierre asked himself. “It is good for me, bad for another traveler, and for himself it’s unavoidable, because he needs money for food; the man said an officer had once given him a thrashing for letting a private traveler have the courier horses. But the officer thrashed him because he had to get on as quickly as possible. And I,” continued Pierre, “shot Dolokhov because I considered myself injured, and Louis XVI was executed because they considered him a criminal, and a year later they executed those who executed him—also for some reason. What is bad? What is good? What should one love and what hate? What does one live for? And what am I? What is life, and what is death? What power governs all?”

There was no answer to any of these questions, except one, and that not a logical answer and not at all a reply to them. The answer was: “You’ll die and all will end. You’ll die and know all, or cease asking.”

Is it ironic that a couple of life’s most basic questions – why are we here and what is our purpose – are summed up so eloquently in a massive work of historical fiction? 

Perhaps not so much if one understands Tolstoy’s belief in what has been described as Christian anarchism, along with Tolstoy’s belief that the most important concept of Christianity were not the precepts of the Church, but what Jesus himself had taught.

And those, according to Tolstoy, were pacifism, anarchism, no government, no army, no upper classes and no quest for wealth.

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