A Confession

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A Confession
Author Leo Tolstoy
Country Russia
Language Russian
Published 1882 (publication year)
Media type Print (paperback, hardcover)
Text A Confession at Wikisource

A Confession (Russian: Исповедь [Ispoved']) is a short work (confession) on the subject of melancholia, philosophy and religion by the acclaimed Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. It was written in 1879 to 1880, when Tolstoy was of late-middle age.[1]


The book is a brief autobiographical story of the author's struggle with a mid-life existential crisis of melancholia. It describes his search for answers to the profound questions: "What will come of my life?" and "What is the meaning of life?", without answers to which life, for him, had become "impossible".

Tolstoy reflects on the arc of his philosophical life till then: His childhood abandonment of his Russian orthodox faith; His mastery of strength, will power, and reason; And how, after he had achieved tremendous financial success and social status, his life became meaningless.

After despairing of his attempts to find answers in science, philosophy, eastern wisdom, and his fellow men of letters, he "confesses" that he found the answer to his trouble in the deep orthodox religious convictions of ordinary citizens. He describes how he subdued his rational scepticism and abhorrence of "superstition within the Christian truths" in order to gain the peace of mind that he needed to furnish his "survival".

The term "a confession" was used because Tolstoy was acutely aware that he was going against the anti-religious / atheistic biases which predominated much of the secular Russian and European elite (by default of the shortcomings of orthodoxy).


The book was originally titled "An Introduction to a Criticism of Dogmatic Theology", as the first part of a four-part work that also included "A Criticism of Dogmatic Theology", "The Four Gospels Harmonized and Translated" (the basis for "The Gospel in Brief") and "What I Believe" (also published in English as "My Religion" and "My Faith").[2]

The first attempt at its publication took place in 1882 (Russkaya Mysl, No 5), but Tolstoy's work was removed virtually from the whole edition of the journal[clarification needed] by Orthodox Church censorship. Text was later published in Geneva (1884), in Russia as late as 1906 (Vsemirnyj Vestnik, No 1).[3]