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Tolstoy was a self-improvement junkie…in every way

 
Tolstoy
 
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Inspired in part by the 13 virtues Benjamin Franklin spelled out in his autobiography, Tolstoy created a seemingly endless list of rules by which he aspired to live.

While some seem pretty accessible by today’s standards (in bed by 10 and up at 5, with no more than a 2-hour nap; eat moderately and avoid sweet foods), others offer insight into Tolstoy’s lifelong struggle with his personal demons; such as his desire to limit his brothel visits to just two a month, and his self-admonition over his youthful gambling habits.

Tolstoy at age 20, 1848Tolstoy at age 20, 1848. Source

Beginning in his late teens, he would sporadically keep a “Journal of Daily Occupations,” minutely accounting for how he spent his day and clearly plotting out how he intended to spend the following day.

As if that wasn’t enough, he also compiled an ever-growing list of his moral failures and even found time to create guides governing everything from listening to music to playing cards while in Moscow.

Tolstoy in his study in 1908Tolstoy in his study in 1908. Source

Following the successful publication of “Anna Karenina” in the 1870s, Tolstoy, increasingly uncomfortable with his aristocratic background and ever-increasing wealth, underwent a series of emotional and spiritual crises that ultimately left him questioning his belief in the tenets of organized religion, which he saw as corrupt and at odds with his interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Tolstoy’s rejection of religious rituals—and his attacks on the role of the state and the concept of property rights — put him on a collision course with Russia’s two most powerful entities. Despite his aristocratic lineage, the czarist government put him under police surveillance, and the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him in 1901.

Tolstoy in May, 1908, four months before his 80th birthdayTolstoy in May 1908, four months before his 80th birthday. Source

While Russia’s religious and royal leaders hoped to diminish Tolstoy’s popularity, he quickly began to attract adherents to his new faith, which mixed pacifism with Christian anarchism and advocated living a morally and physically ascetic lifestyle.

Dozens of these new “Tolstoyans” moved onto the author’s estate to be nearer to their spiritual leader, while thousands of others established settlements in Russia and around the world. While many of these communes were short-lived, some remain operational to this day, including at least two in England.

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