Leo Tolstoy’s earliest published work, the trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, was written when he was in his twenties, offering a tantalizing first glimpse of the literary talents that would come to fruition in his later masterpieces.
Chronicling the experiences of a wealthy landowner’s son as he grows up and becomes aware of the world and his place in it, these three short novels were only loosely inspired by Tolstoy’s own memories. In old age he condemned the work as “an awkward mixture of fact and fiction,” but the imaginative powers that enabled him to capture so vividly the universal emotions and sensations of childhood have enthralled generations of readers. We are blessed to have, alongside the mature writer of Anna Karenina and War and Peace and the revolutionary mystic of the later years, the young Tolstoy who wrote these elegiac tales. In their sensitivity to nature and their evocations of fugitive feelings, they reveal his genius in all its untroubled early splendor.