Leo Tolstoy lived from 1828 to 1910, and was probably just as famous for his political and religious/social beliefs as he was for his writing (maybe even more so). Tolstoy was a Titan of energy and creativity who later in life attracted many followers and hangers-on eager to surf the wave of the Great Man.
He also gave his wife quite a roller coaster ride, particularly in later life when he became a fanatic of self-denial but still was part of the landed nobility with a large estate and many dependents, a situation over which he and his wife struggled for decades. You can read about the Tolstoys’ astoundingly complex (and literary; both kept voluminous diaries) marriage—one that produced fourteen children, several novels, and lots of angst—here, here, and here.
Tolstoi began early adulthood as a pleasure-seeking aristocrat, fond of gambling and licentiousness, but still (in his very Russian way) mulling over those deeper questions of life and existence. With his marriage in his late 30s to a lovely young woman of 18, he embarked on a passage through husband- and fatherhood, and later in midlife had a serious spiritual crisis and depression from which he emerged a very changed man. From henceforth on, he considered literature that lacked a didactic spiritual massage to be garbage, and a life without self-abnegation and sacrifice and a simple faith was likewise. This is the extremely famous later-life Tolstoy whom many people revered as a near-saint, the one with whom you may be familiar from the many photos taken of him (at first I thought this one was colorized, but according to Wiki it’s the first color photo portrait ever taken in Russia):
Many people seem to think that Tolstoy was a man of the left, and some even blame him for influencing the Russian Communist Revolution. But he was not a statist; he could better have been described as an anarchist with a Christian bent (he is actually considered the founder of something called Christian anarchism). Is anarchy left or right? That’s an ancient and complex argument and I don’t want to mire myself in it right now. Suffice to say that anarchists are not statists; they want the state obliterated, and so did Tolstoy.
Tolstoy’s own anarchy seems to have been rooted in his personal crisis, which seems in turn to have been activated (at least in part) by his very strong sense of guilt. Here’s an excerpt from the book Married to Tolstoy (Sonya was the name of Tolstoy’s wife):
But how, without government, could civilization survive? wondered Sonya, who had no more hope than Turgenev of what he called “Christian Nihilism.”…Tolstoy must have known that there were appalling slums in Moscow, but because [during his crisis] for the first time he had been to look at them, he was so much shocked by social injustice that all of a sudden he couldn’t even bear to see his family enjoying their meals—the kind of meals at which he himself habitually ate far more than anyone else. And his personality was so strong that in his presence no one could be so little sensitive as to suffer from his disapproval, even if it remained unvoiced. Everyone developed a sense of guilt and became miserable. Why, indignantly asked Sonya, should innocent children suddenly be made to feel in disgrace for living in the way in which their father had himself been brought up? Did Leo assume that people who behaved normally were necessarily indifferent—that no one but himself was capable of compassion?
The ever-mercurial Tolstoy wasn’t always in such a bad mood, even during that period. But the self-denying strain in his personality become more marked as he got older, and disciples came to visit and at times to live with the family at the country estate where they spent most of their time. Tolstoy did not live to see the Revolution, although his wife (who outlived him by nine years) did. But he showed his prescience by writing in 1904 (also from the book Married to Tolstoy):
The greatest enemy to mankind is this Social Democracy [the Bolshevik Party]. It is preparing for new slavery. It teaches a future good without a present betterment. It promises golden streets without the bloody Gethesmane. It will regulate everything. It will destroy the individual. It will enslave him. It will make chaos out of cosmos, breed terrorism and confusion, which only brute force will be able to destroy.
I think you could safely say he was not a fan.
[NOTE: I put this post in the category “literary leftists,” a series of mine. I don’t think it fits, exactly, because I don’t think Tolstoy was a leftist. But I put it there anyway because as an anarchist he occupied a sort-of-leftist sort-of-rightist gray area. He was also a political changer, too, although not of the conventional sort.]