Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Great Russian writer

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself"

A summary of Tolstoy’s “Youth”

The novel “Youth” by Tolstoy, written in 1857, was the conclusion of Leo Tolstoy’s famous trilogy (Childhood, Boyhood, Youth). The book describes the student years of the main character and his inner circle. The story is autobiographical and belongs to the “critical realism” trend. The work describes growing up and becoming a person.

The main characters

Nikolai Irteniev (Nikolenka) – a sixteen-year-old young man from the nobility.
Volodya is Nikolai’s older brother.
Dmitry Nekhludoff is a close friend of Nikolai.

Other characters

Papa – Nikolai’s father, a widower who later remarried.
Sonechka is Nikolai’s first love.
Avdotya is Nikolai’s stepmother.
Varenka Nekhludova is the sister of Dmitry, a friend of Nikolai.
Lyubochka is the sisters of Nikolai and Volodya.
Ikonin, Zukhin and Semyonov are students, Nikolai’s friends.

A brief description

Chapter I. What I consider to be the beginning of youth

The young nobleman Nikolay Irteniev is “sixteen years old”. He treasures his friendship with Dmitry Nekhludoff – an interesting and clever young man – thanks to whom Nikolay has become fascinated by the idea of self-development.

At present the hero dreams of successfully passing his entrance exams to the university.

Chapter II. Spring

Spring comes into its own, and Nikolai admires the changes in nature which inspire him.

Chapter III. Dreams

The young Irteniev dreams of going to university and giving part of his stipend “to the poor and so that nobody knows”. He will lead a simple, modest life and will definitely “graduate first in his class with two gold medals”.

Chapter IV. Our Family Circle

Nikolai’s father is away for long periods, but with his arrival the fun always begins in the house. Nicholas is becoming increasingly estranged from his older brother Volodya, despite the fact that the brothers still love each other. Sister Lyubochka has become quite grown-up and is now a bridegroom.

Chapter V. The Rules

Nikolai decides to draw up a “schedule of duties and activities for the next year”.  There were so many plans that the young man had to sew a notebook together from sheets of paper and call it “The Rules of Life”.

The father invites a confessor to the house, so that the whole family can confess.

Chapter VI. Confession

The Irtenievs take turns in going to the monk, and confess their sins. After confession, Nikolenka feels “completely clean, morally reborn and a new man”.  Before going to bed, he remembers the “shameful sin he concealed in confession” and becomes very worried about it. Nicholas decides to go to the monastery tomorrow and confess again.

Chapter VII. A trip to a monastery

After an anxious night, Nikolenka wakes up at dawn and immediately gets ready to go. With difficulty he catches a cabman on a deserted street, and is worried that the cabman will take him “to a blind alley and rob him”. But soon he calms down and safely comes to the monastery.

Chapter VIII. Second confession

Nicholas confesses again, and feels unspeakable relief after his confession. However, minor domestic troubles “soon dispel this feeling”.

Chapter IX. How I prepare for the examination

The entire Irteniev family, with the exception of Nikolai and Volodya, leaves for the countryside. “The consciousness of freedom and that spring feeling of expectation of something” and prevents Nikolai from concentrating on preparing for exams. Only the fear of disappointing Nekhludoff makes the young man study diligently.

Chapter X. A history examination

Nikolai wears a tailcoat to his first exam. He thinks he is simply “dazzling”, but his confidence is replaced by timidity as soon as he enters the auditorium. Nikolai finds a familiar ticket, and passes with “A”.

Chapter XI. A maths exam

The next examination is maths. He knows “the subject decently, but there were two algebra questions” with which he was completely unfamiliar. The young man is taught by his new acquaintance Ikonin who gives him his ticket. As a result Nikolenka passes the examination with flying colours.

Chapter XII. A Latin exam

Nikolenka discovers that the professor taking the Latin exam “was some kind of beast who enjoyed killing the young men” who he had failed in the exam.  The professor gives Irteniev a text which was not on the preparatory syllabus. The young man struggles to cope with it, and as a result receives an inferior grade.

Chapter XIII. I am a great

Nikolai successfully passes his final examination and becomes a student. He now has his own horse and coachman. To feel himself an adult, Nikolai smokes a pipe and starts to “smoke and inhale”, but soon he feels ill.

Chapter XIV. What Volodya and Dubkov are doing

Nikolai comes to congratulate Dmitri, and together they go to Dubkov’s, where they catch Volodya playing cards. Volodya loses and the whole company decides to go to a restaurant to congratulate Nikolai on his admission to university.

Chapter XV. I am congratulated

At the restaurant everyone congratulates Nikolai. He very much wants to appear grown-up and he orders “half a bottle of champagne” with his own money. Volodya, looking at his tipsy brother, is embarrassed.

Chapter XVI. Quarrel

In a restaurant Nikolai has a conflict with one of the customers, who calls him an ignoramus. The embarrassed boy fails to fight back and, ashamed of his behaviour, conceals the unfortunate incident from his friends. He will be grieved over it for a long time to come, believing that he was “a coward.

Chapter XVII. I am going to make visits

On the last day of his stay in Moscow, Nicholas was to “make, by order of the pope, visits.” He hoped that Volodya would keep him company, but his brother resolutely refused.

Chapter XVIII. Valakhins

Nikolenka pays his first visit to the Valakhins. He trembles as he awaits Sonechka’s appearance, for there is still “a living, touching remembrance of childhood love” in him. Nikolai knows that a couple of years ago “Sonyechka’s face was cut up by the windows of a carriage”, which had overturned in the process of moving. However, seeing the girl, the younger Irteniev does not notice any scars – he sees before him the same sweet girl he was once so much in love with.

Chapter XIX. The Kornakoffs

A visit to the Kornakoffs is less pleasant for Nicholas. During the talk with the Duchess and her daughters he discovers that the Kornakoffs and the Irtenievs are the only legitimate heirs of the rich Prince Ivan Ivanovich.

Chapter XX. The Ivins

At the Ivins’ house Nikolenka feels extremely uncomfortable. The General´s son shows politeness on meeting him, but at the same time makes it clear that he is not at all happy that Nikolai is here. As a result, Irteniev begins to “become irritable”. The princess embarrasses him with her unexpected tears, and the prince is cold and arrogant.

Chapter XXI. Prince Ivan Ivanovich

Nikolai pays his last visit to the Prince. As a child he has called Ivan Ivanovich Grandpa, but the news that he is one of his heirs makes Nikolai feel uncomfortable in the company of the kindly old man.

Chapter XXII. An intimate conversation with my friend

Nikolenka and Dmitriy go to the Nekhludovs’ cottage. On the way they are having a heart-to-heart talk, and Dimitri confesses his love for his lodger Lyubov Sergeyevna.

Chapter XXIII. The Nekhludoffs

At the dacha, Nikolai meets Dimitri´s mother and sister. He cannot understand how his friend could fall in love with an old woman Lyubov Sergeyevna, who “was not very pretty: red-haired and thin, short and slightly crooked.

Chapter XXIV. Lyubov

At the Nekhludoffs’ house Nikolai gets acquainted with Sofia Ivanovna, Dmitry’s aunt, a remarkably kind and loving woman.

Chapter XXV. I make the acquaintance

Nikolai notices that in the Nekhludoff family Dmitri´s feelings for the housekeeper are a sore subject. Irteniev is very pleased with the journey: he feels completely grown-up among these people.

Chapter XXVI. I am showing my best side

During a walk in the garden, Nikolai, wishing to impress everyone, brags about his kinship with Ivan Ivanovich. He embellishes his relations with the Prince, which makes him embarrassed and blushes.

Chapter XXVII. Dmitry

A severe toothache changes Dimitri´s mood for the worse. At first he lashes out at the maid, then “with all his might” hits the boy´s servant several times on the head with his fist. Noticing that Nikolai had witnessed his cruelty, Dimitri became ashamed.

Chapter XXVIII. In the village

Nikolai and Volodya join their family in the village. Nikolai occasionally reminisces about his love for Sonya, but soon village life takes hold of him. He notices that his father seems unusually cheerful of late.

Chapter XXIX. Relationship between us and the girls

Nikolenka “quite involuntarily in his look at the girls” imitates his elder brother, and treats his sister and Katya somewhat contemptuously. Meanwhile, the brothers are getting even closer to each other.

Chapter XXX. My lessons

Convinced that he has a “talent and passion for music”, Nikolenka spends all summer playing the piano lessons. Thus, he wants to charm the young ladies. Nikolai also enjoys reading French novels.

Chapter XXXI. Comme il faut

Wishing to imitate the characters of the novels, Nikolay strives to look impeccable at all times. He places particular emphasis on the condition of his nails.

Chapter XXXII. Youth

This summer Nikolenka feels keenly that he is “young, innocent and free and therefore almost happy”. He enjoys summer, admires nature and does what his soul yearns for.

Chapter XXXIII. Neighbours

Nikolenka is surprised to see that his father has changed his attitude towards his neighbours, the Epifanovs, with whom he had a long-standing “dispute about some land”. He often visits his neighbours, calling them “fine people”.

Chapter XXXIV. Father’s marriage

For the second time his father Nikolay gets married at the age of 48. His betrothed is Avdotya Vasilievna Epifanova – a young and beautiful woman.

Chapter XXXV. How do we accept this news?

Father’s marriage becomes the main subject of discussion in the Irteniev family. Volodya is very negatively disposed towards his future stepmother, and confesses that the reason for the marriage is some “dark history”.

Chapter XXXVI. The University

Classes start at the university and Volodya and Nikolai have to miss their father and Avdotya’s wedding. At university Nikolai cannot quickly and easily join “any company and, feeling lonely and incapable of bonding,” he begins to behave arrogantly with his classmates.

Chapter XXXVII. Affairs of the heart

Nikolenka often falls in love “with strangers and especially married women. However, all his affairs of the heart are very fleeting.

Chapter XXXVIII. Light

“Secular pleasures” disappoint Nikolenka. Finding himself at the long-awaited reception at the Kornakoffs’, the young man becomes timid and begins to behave in a most unnatural fashion, spouting all sorts of nonsense. He looks so foolish that even Volodya avoids him.

Chapter XXXIX. The revelry of

In winter Nikolai has the opportunity to take part in a revelry and he takes “an unpleasant feeling” out of it. He has long prepared for the forthcoming event, but in fact it is not as merry as he had expected. He is unspeakably surprised that the next day the revelers praised him in every way.

Chapter XL. Friendship with the Nekhludoffs

Nikolai becomes a frequent guest at the house of the Nekhludoffs. He enjoys being in the family, and soon becomes friendly with Varya, Dmitri´s sister.

Chapter XLI. Friendship with Nekhludoff

And while Nikolai’s friendship with Nekhludoff grows stronger, his relations with Dmitri himself at that time hang by a thread. Nikola ceases to understand his friend’s actions, he finds many faults in him, and one day there is a quarrel between the two friends.

Chapter XLII. The Stepmother

Nikolenka’s father and stepmother, whom he does not like or respect, arrive in Moscow. He is particularly irritated by Avdotya’s duplicity: when she is a guest she is invariably “a young, healthy and cold beauty,” while in ordinary life she is “a wistful woman, untidy and bored.

Chapter XLIII. New Comrades

Nikolai is preparing for his forthcoming exams. He meets poor but extremely intelligent and interesting students, who excel him in everything except belonging to the aristocracy.

Chapter XLIV. Zukhin and Semyonov

Among Nikolenka’s acquaintances, two students in particular stand out – Semenov and Zukhin. The latter “was unusually clever” and commanded great respect among the teachers, while Semyonov was a lover of dissipation. He ended up terribly in debt and was forced to quit university and join the army.

Chapter XLV. I Fail

Nikolenka fails his maths exam with a bang and is not promoted to the next course. Locked in his room, he weeps bitterly for three days, regretting that he did not adhere to his own “Rules of Life”. Nikolai vows “not to do anything wrong”, to work hard and not to betray his own principles.