The former Russian military Junker and world famous writer, Leo Tolstoy, is famously known for his two great works: ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’. Both are known even today as two of the finest pieces of literary works ever in the genre of fiction. However, very little is known internationally about his other works that are written in the form of short tales. These short tales were not just written to entertain the reader, but also to provide an insight into the life of Russian peasants and as a way of sending across messages from everyday lives of the people who lived in the region from around 100 years ago.
Here are some of Tolstoy’s lesser known, but powerful, tales:
1. ‘Little Girls Wiser Than Men’
The story revolves around two little girls who are playing around a pool of mud. They are both wearing new frocks and end up in an argument blaming each other after one of them ends up dirtying the other’s new frock. The argument is taken to the mothers who end up arguing about whose fault it is. The scene occurs in public where some peasants are dragged in as well and everyone ends up arguing about something. Meanwhile, both girls return to the pool after making peace with the mistake and start playing again. The story ends with the mothers asking everyone else to make their peace with the situation, as demonstrated by the wisdom of the two little girls, who do not think the argument is necessary any more.
2. ‘What Men Live By’
This story revolves around the family of a man who is a shoemaker. Once on his way back home, he meets an old man in a pitiful condition sitting on the corner of the road. He tries not to acknowledge him but fails to do so. He offers the old man his winter coat, brings him home, and after an initial fight with his wife convinces her that the man needs help. The old man then lives with the family for many years, working as a faithful assistant helping the shoemaker with his business. After a few strange incidents the shoemaker realizes one day that the old man is no ordinary man. When asked about who he really is, the old man explains that he is actually an angel who was sent by God to take a woman’s life. He disobeyed and kept the woman alive, as she begged him to, saying that there’d be no one to take care of her children. God, angry at his disobedience, kept him alive to find answers to three important questions. The story ends with the old man explaining what he found out about the human life: what dwells in man is love, what is not given to man is to know his own needs, regardless of being a stranger or a relation to each other, all men live not by care for themselves but by love. It is love and only love by which they live.
3. ‘How Much Land Does A Man Need?’
This story is pretty unique. It revolves around a greedy peasant and his conversation with Satan. When he finds his family quarrelling over farmland, he says that he wouldn’t have to fear Satan if he had it all. What he doesn’t know is that Satan listens to his conversation with himself and decides to accept his wish as a challenge. He then lets the man know that he would give him everything he wishes for, but take everything away from him at the same time. After this conversation happens, the peasant has one lucky streak after the another and is successful in making a decent living. He then finally arrives at a place where a family is willing to give him as much land as he covers on his two feet before sunset for a very cheap price. That night when the man goes to sleep he sees a dream where the devil is laughing out loudly and he is lying at his feet, without life running through his veins. When he gets up, he takes the family’s challenge and walks as far as possible covering a great deal of land on foot. When the time comes for the sun to set, he realizes he must hurry back so he runs back to the point where he started to finish the challenge. When he comes back the family accepts to give him the large piece of land he covers, but when he finally stops his body is exhausted from the long run and he dies. The story ends with the peasants servant burying him in a grave that is nothing but very ordinary, sending out an ironic message to the title of the story.
4. ‘A Tiny Spark Can Burn The House’
The story begins with the entry of two families that are peaceful neighbours who enjoy each other’s company until one day one of the hens of one family flies to the other family’s land and lays eggs. When the daughter of the other family goes to pick up some eggs, she is accused of stealing and a family feud starts. This is picked up by their children and lasts for about six years. This matter is eventually taken a court of law. At one point, one of the daughters of one family sets the the other house on fire, which eventually leads to her own house burning down as they are neighbours and the fire catches on. The house burns down and the head man of one of the families dies. On his deathbed he requests his son not to continue the fight any more and to try to bring the harmony back into everyone’s lives. The story ends with the children from both houses becoming friends, and becoming very prosperous after they learn to live in peace with each other.