Alexey Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1883 - 1945)
Novelist, playwright, historian, and short story writer, former nobleman who immigrated to western Europa after the Bolshevik Revolution. Tolstoy returned to Russia in 1923. He became supporter of Communist Party and honoured artist receiving three Stalin Prizes.
Aleksey Tolstoy was born in Nikolaevsk, in Samara Province, in an aristocratic family distantly related to Lev Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev. He grew up without knowing his real father, Count Nikolai Aleksandrovich Tolstoy, who was a member of the elite of Russian society and a wealthy landowner. His mother had left her husband and three children, and moved with Aleksei's stepfather, Aleksey Apollonovich Bostrom, to a farm in the Samara region.
Until the age of 13, Tolstoy was educated at home, then at secondary school in Samara (1894-1901), and at St. Petersgurg Technological Institute (1901-08). His first literary experiments were born under the influence of the Symbolist movement. Among his early works were some realistic short stories depicting his childhood. As a writer Tolstoi made his breakthrough with a series of novels exploring the historical process of the impoverishment of the nobility's country estates and the spiritual decline of their owners.
Between the years 1914 and 1916 Tolstoy served as a war correspondent for the newspaper Russkie vedomosti, sided with the Whites. He made several visits to the Front line, and travelled in France and England. In 1917 Tolstoi worked for General Denikin's propaganda section. Unable to accept the Russian Revolution, he emigrated next year with his family to Paris. A few years later he moved to Berlin where he became the editor of the Bolshevik newspaper Nakanune. With a change in his political beliefs, Tolstoy broke with the emigre circles and returned to the Soviet Union.
After an uneasy period, when he was suspected because of his aristocratic origins, Tolstoy establised himself among the leading Soviet writers. During the 1920s Tolstoy wrote several plays, including adaptations of works by Eugene O'Neill and Carel Capek. He participated in the anti-fascist congress in Paris and London in 1935-36 and took part in the 2nd International Congress of Writers in Madrid during the Spanish Civil war (1936). In 1936 he was elected Chairman of the Writer's Union and a deputy to the Supreme Soviet in 1937. Two years later he was elected member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Tolstoy died in Moskow on February 23, 1945.
Tolstoy's major works include Nikita's Childhood (1922), a lyrical story with autobiographical elemets of a childhood in a Russian village, and Road to Cavalry (1920-1942), a trilogy about the life of four people, sisters Dasha and Katia, and Telgin and Roshchin, from the eve of World War I to end of the Russian Civil War. It covered the same period as Sholokhov's Quiet Flows the Don (1928-40), but from the viewpoint of the progressive intelligentsia. Peter the First (1929-45) was a historical novel, which made a strong comeback in the 1930s. It followed the myth of Peter the Great as a progressive ruler who made Russia strong, while also having a heart for the people.
"When a man's at war and constantly facing death he rises above his ordinary self. All the trashy stuff that doesn't matter peels off him, like dead skin after sunburn, and only the kernel, the real man, is left." (from 'The Russian Character', 1944)
Among Tolstoy's political novels were Chornoe zoloto (1932), which painted uncharitable caricatures of Russian йmigrйs, and Khleb (1937), in which history was shamelessly falsified to laud Stalin and denigrate Trotsky. In his last plays, Oryol i orlitsa (1942) and Trudnye gody (1943) Tolstoi idealized Ivan the Terrible and then drew parallels between him and Stalin - an idea that the film director Sergei Eisenstein used in his monumental film production, Ivan the Terrible (1945-46). Stalin disliked especially the second part, although the first part won a Stalin Prize.
Tolstoy also published two science fiction novels, both of which appeared in the experimental 1920s and which were revised during the following decades of Stalinist terror. Aelita (1923) was a science-fiction fantasy in the manner of H.G. Wells, telling the story of a Soviet expedition to Mars with the aim of establishing communism. A Red Army officer forments a rebellion of the native Martians, who are in fact long-ago emigrants from Atlantis. The story was adapted into screen in 1924. Its futuristic, Expressionistic sets were designed by Isaac Rabinovich of the Kamerny Theatre. The film influenced the design in Flash Gordon, an space opera, which was created by the artist Alex Raymond in 1934 and led to a popular radio serial and several films. Giperboloid inzhenera Garina (1926, The Death Box) described an attempt of an unscrupulous inventor to use his death ray to conquer the world. He manages to rule a decadently capitalist USA for a short period.