Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

A man's spiritual crisis leads him to question the meaning of life and his own existence.


"A Confession" is a profound and introspective work by Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest novelists in world literature. This autobiographical account delves into the author's personal struggles and spiritual crisis, offering deep insights into the human condition, morality, and the search for meaning in life. Tolstoy's candid exploration of his own existential crisis and the turmoil he experienced provides readers with a compelling and thought-provoking narrative.

Brief Synopsis

Leo Tolstoy's "A Confession" is a candid and deeply personal account of the author's spiritual and philosophical journey. It begins with Tolstoy's description of his privileged and comfortable life as a successful and celebrated writer. However, despite his material wealth and social status, Tolstoy grapples with an overwhelming sense of despair and emptiness. This profound inner turmoil leads him to question the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the nature of happiness.

The setting of the book spans from Tolstoy's early adulthood to his mid-life crisis, taking place in Russia during the 19th century. The societal and cultural backdrop of this period greatly influences Tolstoy's philosophical and existential contemplations.

Main Events

Chapters 1-3Tolstoy reflects on his early life, his education, and his experiences that shaped his worldview. He describes his success as a writer and the material comforts he enjoys, yet he grapples with a profound sense of despair and meaninglessness.
Chapters 4-6Tolstoy's existential crisis deepens as he questions the beliefs and teachings of the Orthodox Church and seeks answers in various philosophical and religious ideologies. He struggles with the contradictions between his privileged life and the suffering of the less fortunate.
Chapters 7-9The author embarks on a philosophical and spiritual quest, seeking to reconcile his inner turmoil with his search for the ultimate truth. He examines the nature of faith, reason, and the human quest for meaning, leading to profound insights into the nature of existence.

Main Characters

Leo Tolstoy

A celebrated Russian writer and thinker, Tolstoy grapples with a profound spiritual crisis and existential despair, leading him to question the meaning of life and the nature of happiness.

Sophia Andreevna Tolstaya

Tolstoy's wife, who plays a supportive role in his life and is a source of comfort during his tumultuous spiritual journey.

Various Philosophers and Religious Thinkers

Tolstoy engages with the ideas and writings of a wide range of philosophers, theologians, and thinkers, including Schopenhauer, Buddha, and the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

Themes and Insights

Quest for Meaning

Tolstoy's exploration of his existential crisis delves into the fundamental human quest for meaning and purpose. He grapples with the challenges of reconciling personal fulfillment with the broader significance of life.

Morality and Ethics

The book delves into questions of morality and ethics, exploring the principles that guide human behavior and the implications of living a virtuous life.

Spiritual and Philosophical Inquiry

Tolstoy's introspective journey encompasses a deep examination of spiritual and philosophical truths, leading to profound insights into the nature of faith, reason, and the human condition.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Confession" offers readers a deeply introspective and thought-provoking exploration of the human experience. Through Tolstoy's candid and impassioned narrative, readers are invited to contemplate their own search for meaning, grapple with the complexities of morality and ethics, and engage in a profound exploration of spirituality and philosophy.


Leo Tolstoy's "A Confession" stands as a timeless and deeply moving work that continues to resonate with readers across generations. Through his candid and introspective account, Tolstoy invites readers to contemplate the profound questions of existence, morality, and spirituality, offering a compelling narrative that sparks introspection and self-examination. This autobiographical work remains a testament to the enduring human quest for meaning and the timeless pursuit of spiritual and philosophical truth.

A Confession FAQ

  1. What is 'A Confession' about?

    A Confession is a non-fiction work by Leo Tolstoy in which he reflects on his existential crisis and spiritual journey, exploring his thoughts on life, death, and the meaning of existence.

  2. Is 'A Confession' a novel?

    No, 'A Confession' is not a novel. It is a philosophical and autobiographical work in which Tolstoy shares his personal thoughts and experiences.

  3. What themes are explored in 'A Confession'?

    The book delves into themes such as the search for meaning, the nature of faith, the fear of death, and the struggle with existential questions. Tolstoy grapples with the purpose of life and the role of religion in his own spiritual journey.

  4. Is 'A Confession' a religious book?

    While 'A Confession' delves into spiritual and philosophical themes, it is not a traditional religious text. It reflects Tolstoy's personal struggles with faith and his exploration of various religious and philosophical ideas.

  5. What is the writing style of 'A Confession'?

    Tolstoy's writing in 'A Confession' is introspective and deeply personal. He candidly shares his inner turmoil and philosophical reflections, making it a thought-provoking and contemplative read.