David Wiles

Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Place of Publication

Perth, Western Australia


Faculty of Health and Human Sciences


Centre for the Development od Human Resources


Wiles, D. (1990). Tolstoy and Clio: An exploration in historiography through literature. Perth, Australia: Edith Cowan University.


This paper explores issues in historiography and history as reflected in some of the literary and didactic works of Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). An artist of eternal merit, Tolstoy's creativity manifests his intense personal, artistic, and philosophical conflicts. In addressing the 'accursed questions' afflicting his times and society, Tolstoy became the muse of nineteenth-century Russia, but his works embody essential themes in historiography, literature, and history. Attempting to impose a unitary vision upon the rich diversity of reality, yet failing, in his literary works Tolstoy explores the inaccessibility and multiplicity of historical causation, and the dilemmas of freedom and necessity, along with their inherent interpretive difficulties. The role of the 'actor' in Tolstoy's view of history is delineated, along with an examination of historical progress as the embodiment of the collective will of the masses. Tolstoy's philosophies are depicted including his preferences for anarchism, pacifism, Christianity, and his anticipation of existentialism. The treatment of various historical problems of nineteenth-century Russian society in the works of the novelist is explored, including issues of gender, class, bureaucracy, and social revolution. Tolstoy's essential creative tension, in which detailed diversity prevents the imposition of a single vision, constitutes the genius of his art, and illustrates the moral and cognitive relativity of humankind. Tolstoy's novels refract, rather than reflect, the Russian history of his day. Tolstoy's artistry illustrates the folly of all attempts - historical, sociological, theological, and philosophical - to impose 'grand theory' upon reality. Tolstoy's philosophy of history, then, is not compelling, yet his artistic expression of eternal themes in the nature of human knowing and being remains sublime.