St. Petersburg: Eduard Prats, 1856. , 307 pp. 18,4x12 cm. Contemporary half-leather. Narrow strip of paper added to the top of the title page. Very good and clean copy.
First edition of Tolstoy’s second book. Rare.
Tolstoy’s second book encapsulates the first two parts of his well-known semi-autobiographical trilogy, Detstvo, Otrochestvo, Unost’ [i.e. Childhood, Boyhood, Youth].
In the early 1850s Tolstoy’s name was completely unknown in Russia’s literary circles. The Kazan University dropout (Tolstoy found the study at the faculty of law and Oriental languages a little difficult; 1847) was leading a dissolute lifestyle involving excessive drinking and gambling. After running up heavy debts, Leo went with his older brother to the Caucasus and joined the army as a Junker in 1851. It was there that Tolstoy wrote the first part of the trilogy (Detstvo), which he sent to one of the leading Russian magazines ‘Sovremennik’ [i.e. Contemporary] and signed it with the initials “L.N.T”. The manuscript was accompanied by Lev’s personal letter to the editor of the periodical, Nikolay Nekrasov: “I look forward to your verdict. It will either encourage me to continue my favorite activity, or make me burn everything I started”. Around the same time, the author, somewhat disenchanted with himself, made an entry in his diary: “I am 24 years old, and I haven’t accomplished anything…”. Nekrasov’s “verdict” arrived the very next day after the entry. Deeply impressed with the writing, the editor decided to publish the novel immediately. Printed under a different title, ‘Istoriya moyego detstva’ [i.e. The Story of My Childhood] - a fact that angered the author, ‘‘Who can be possibly interested in my childhood?!’’ - Detstvo became a huge success. Tolstoy’s name was immediately cemented in the upcoming generation of great Russian writers: ‘‘If this is the first production of L. N. Russian literature must be congratulated on the appearance of a new and remarkable talent’’, - wrote one of the reviewers.