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A Confession by Leo Tolstoy
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A Confession (1882)

by Leo Tolstoy

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Starting with the question, “What is the meaning of life?”, Tolstoy manages to reason himself into “life is evil”, may as well commit suicide. The tortuous twists of reasoning to get to such an answer seemed UNreasonable to me. But it’s HIS confession, so be it. Only in the last pages does he get to the part of his life where his reason leads him to faith. Interesting to look into the great mind. ( )
  countrylife | Mar 30, 2016 |
I'm so excited to discover this little window into Tolstoy's faith! How have I missed it? I love his commonsensical approach to faith: Start from bare experience; pay attention to what works--that is, what gives meaning to life--and from there draw conclusions about the nature of God and the place of the church. Faith is a response to the questions of life (64), not a social construct or a proscribed creed. I wish more writers laid bare their inner struggles with such clarity.

"But I do want to understand in order that I might be brought to the inevitably incomprehensible; I want all that is incomprehensible to be such not because the demands of the intellect are not sound (they are sound, and apart from them I understand nothing) but because I perceive the limits of the intellect. I want to understand, so that any instance of the incomprehensible occurs as a necessity of reason and not as an obligation to believe."
--Tolstoy, Confession, 91
( )
  ElizabethAndrew | May 13, 2013 |
A fascinating look into one of literature and history's great minds. Tolstoy takes us through his life in and out of the Orthodox faith and where it ultimately leaves him.

I did find one aspect of this book to be frustrating;Tolstoy spends a large portion of the book musing on "what is the meaning of life?" While this question is central to what becomes his reconciliation with the Orthodox church(albeit only shortly), it seems this constant dwelling and expanding on this line of thinking takes up the majority of the book. The main point of the story is in the last 15-20 pages.Even with this issue this is still a book worth reading, I am looking forward to reading his follow up to it. ( )
  Melkor81205 | Jan 1, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Tolstoy recounts how his faith grew out of a situation of total despair. As a youth, he was taught the tenets of religion, but by the age of eighteen he did not believe in any of them. He spent his early adult life proudly rational, a believer in progress, delighted in his own fame and cultivation. Creeping doubts, however, led him to question the meaning of everything he had devoted his life to.

"The questions seemed so stupid and simple, like questions asked by children. But the moment I faced up and tried to resolve them I became immediately convinced, first that they were not childish or stupid questions, they were the most important and profound questions in life, and, second, that however much thought I gave to them I could not, could not, resolve them. Before I could sort out my estate in Samara, my son's education or the writing of a book, I needed to know what I would be doing it for."

Tolstoy entered a state of total despair, convinced that life was empty and meaningless. The only way he resisted suicide was to tell himself that he needed to make a real effort to try and work out the puzzle - and that if he couldn't find a meaning, there would be plenty of time for him to kill himself in the future. "So there I was, a man favoured by fortune, removing rope from the room where every night I got undressed alone, to make sure I didn't hang myself from the beam that ran between the wardrobes".

Eventually, his effort leads him to faith, and the book moves on to the way that he developed his belief system.

A Confession is vivid, and powerfully written. I think the reason that it didn't work for me is entirely personal. I am happily and uncomplicatedly an atheist, and the fact that there is nothing outside this life does not cause me to despair. Tolstoy characterises his peers as fitting into four groups: "people who didn't understand the question; people who did understand the question, but blotted it out in an orgy of living; other people who did, and who put an end to their lives; or people who also did, but lived on in desperation, out of weakness." I guess I would be in the first category. And because of this, the tremendous repetitiveness of Tolstoy's self-examination began to get to me. I think if I was reading it as philosophy, or as a way of developing my personal views on meaningfulness, this repetition would have been a positive benefit, providing plenty of space for contemplation. And so I would certainly recommend this to anyone who would read it with those things in mind.
1 vote wandering_star | Jan 15, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Fascinating! Tolstoy here reflects on the emptiness of his early life--military service, writing ambition, strength frenzy, etc.--and his simultaneous loss of God. He does not see how he can go on in midlife without both the materialistic and spiritual philosophies denied him. What follows is a contemplation of death---a horror floridly expressed. He touches on both the fear and the inevitability in such a way that this reader felt terribly sorry for himself and all of his fellow earthling's final indignity. A CONFESSION touches on so many of the great themes of literature: man's inhumanity to man, the vanity of worldly ambition, the meaning of life. Highly recommended. P.S. What a wonderful surprise Hesperus Classics has turned out to be. I think I will check out their catalog. ( )
  Brasidas | Dec 5, 2010 |
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Briggs, AnthonyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dunmore, HelenForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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True religion is the establishment, in accord with reason and human knowledge, of a relationship between man and the infinity that surrounds him, which binds him to that infinity and also determines his actions. (Chapter Three)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393314758, Paperback)

Confession is Leo Tolstoy's memoir of midlife spiritual crisis. In 1879, having written War and Peace and Anna Karenina, the 51 year-old Tolstoy began to believe that his life was meaningless. Confession is his account of the limited satisfactions he derived from his aesthetic and intellectual triumphs, and of his first yearnings for real faith. This book marks the turning point in his career as a writer: after 1880 he would write almost exclusively about religious life, especially devotion among the peasantry (in works such as The Death of Ivan Ilych and Resurrection). Near the end of Confession, Tolstoy describes the desolation he felt upon deciding that he could not solve his crisis of faith by taking refuge in the church. "I have no doubt that there is truth in the doctrine," he writes, "but there can also be no doubt that it harbors a lie; and I must find the truth and the lie so I can tell them apart." Confession does not find the full Truth, but it offers an inspiring example of a man rejecting the lies that cling to unthinking orthodoxy. Its final, exhilarating, heart-rending account of a spiritually awakening dream ranks with the best of Christian mystical writing. --Michael Joseph Gross

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:15 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Does my life hold any significance that will outlast my death? This question haunted Tolstoy, even after the enormous success of 'Anna Karenina' & 'War and Peace'. 'A Confession' marks the author's switch from the pursuit of aesthetic ideals toward matters of religious & philosophical consequence.… (more)

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