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Arts and Culture

The Life and Times of Mrs. Leo Tolstoy

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Posted on Dec 8, 2009
Sofia Tolstoy
amazon.com

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

The Guardian:

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.

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By Tenzing, December 10, 2009 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To pigeon-hole Tolstoy in a “religious guru” niche does Tolstoy’s memory and
influence a bit of a disservice, it seems to me. As the article points out, Tolstoy
opposed both institutionalized religion and the State. It is because of this that he
has been called by many an anarchist (So has Gandhi been called). This was a
label Tolstoy rejected during his lifetime, but the shoe does seem to fit pretty
well.

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By johannes, December 10, 2009 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

To David its not respectfull to make such dénigrer observations, about such great artists.

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By johannes, December 10, 2009 at 10:10 am Link to this comment

I am certain that not one of the commentators has visited the Tolstoy museum, if you do not have tasted the atmosphere of his house and belongings, and spoken with people who still love him and tell you about his books and writings, its hard to come to an just feeling about him, this for all Russian writers, and Russia it self and his people.

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By David, December 9, 2009 at 2:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

She needed a bigger golf club…

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By NYCartist, December 9, 2009 at 8:11 am Link to this comment

Diaries with a forward by Doris Lessing - that’s news.

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By NYCartist, December 9, 2009 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

KA (could we have a whole name, please): “the excitement of helping him achieve his loftiest artistic aims” (paraphrase)—A throwback to sexism’s vicarious satisfaction kind of language?  Ouch. ooooooooooooooooooo

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By radson, December 9, 2009 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

I guess in the end Leo became somewhat like Pierre in the book.

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By dihey, December 9, 2009 at 7:54 am Link to this comment

If there ever was a “giant” fraud it was Leon Tolstoy.

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