The Countess Tolstoy’s diaries detail the ups and downs of living with a literary legend.
Turns out that being married to Russian literary giant Leo Tolstoy wasn’t always a recipe for a good time. Sure, there was the excitement of helping him realize his loftiest artistic ambitions, but Sofia Tolstoy, wife of 48 years and mother of the author’s 13 children, eventually discovered that she would lose her husband to his religious convictions before losing him for good. It also turns out that Mrs. Tolstoy kept very detailed diaries, which are available for public consumption—and she wasn’t a bad writer herself. —KA
Tolstoy was of noble lineage, with a large estate and many celebrated books to his name. He had travelled widely in the west, and gambling and whoring were particular obsessions. Yet he seemed willing, even eager, to settle down with an innocent girl of 19, who eventually bore him 13 children, helped him in his work (she personally copied out War and Peace as well as Anna Karenina many times), and supervised a complex estate.
It was a wild ride for Sofia, but she proved equal to the task. Her husband appreciated her intelligence, and she loved not only him but his reputation. It seemed, to her, a privilege to live in proximity to a man whose fame grew exponentially as he aged. The problem was that Tolstoy shifted gears dramatically in midlife, becoming a religious guru, turning his back on fiction. He evolved into a kind of saint, attracting disciples from around the world (including Gandhi). He shaped his own version of Christianity, discounting its miraculous aspects. Worse, from Sofia’s viewpoint, he threatened to give away all his property, including the copyright to his work, to the Russian people. A psychodrama emerged, with Sofia battling Tolstoy’s disciples for access to his soul.