A welcome reassessment of the life of Sophia Tolstoy (1844–1919), the misunderstood wife of the renowned Russian author.
From the age of 18, when she married the much-older Leo Tolstoy, Sophia’s energy was wholly devoted to her husband, whom she had loved since childhood. She was the inspiration for many of his most accomplished literary characters, his “muse, assistant, and first reader.” She managed the household and raised 13 children, and she was his publisher and her family’s financial provider in later years. None of this was easy. Tolstoy was a man of strong opinions and a quick temper, and after the publication of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, he abruptly renounced all things material, including education, and turned against the church. This decision was not only unpractical in a household filled with children who were raised to love the arts and society, but also offensive to Sophia, whose faith was unshakable. Tolstoy remained moody and inconsistent for the rest of his life, turning from the kind and tender man she fell in love with to an incorrigible, sometimes cruel husband. As his beliefs and writings grew more political, a horde of devout “Tolstoyans” were a constant presence, creating a heartbreaking distance between the formerly inseparable couple. One particular disciple, Vladimir Chertkov, successfully turned Tolstoy against Sophia at the end of his life, and perpetrated a series of slanderous statements about her in the press and in later biographies of Tolstoy. “To portray Tolstoy as a martyr,” writes Popoff, “necessitated making Sophia evil.” As a result, for the last century Sophia’s name has been maligned, and her important contributions to Tolstoy’s legacy—especially her careful preparation of his archive—have been forgotten. Throughout their long and turbulent marriage, she and Tolstoy corresponded through ardent letters; she also penned an unpublished memoir. Popoff, a Russian journalist and scholar, uses her exclusive access to this material to compose a stunning new account of Sophia’s selfless life as a wife, mother, businesswoman, physician and intellectual, finally presenting this remarkable woman in a truthful light.
A sharp, compassionate literary biography.