Intriguing collection of biographies of six extraordinary women who devoted their lives to their husbands’ art.
As Popoff (Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography, 2010) demonstrates, the extreme difficulty of surviving as a writer in repressive Russia reflected the formidable characters of each of these women. They fiercely adhered to the Russian philosophy that their husbands’ careers took precedence over all—even, to a point, their children. Their husbands ignored everything: government, money, survival and even family, although perhaps not Mother Russia itself. Taking in turn the wives of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Mandelstam, Nabokov, Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn, Popoff shows the nunlike devotion of these women. They took dictation, transcribed, suggested changes and even memorized their husbands’ works, and they sacrificed promising careers, gentle upbringings and even comfortable marriages to dedicate their entire being to the artists. Throughout their lives, they all suffered dictatorial suppression from the days of the revolution. Stories of papers hidden, lost and smuggled abroad indicate the massive difficulties of life in 20th-century Russia. Tolstoy decided to renounce his copyrights, forego all his properties and give everything to charity—except Yasnaya Polyana, the estate where he retired to write. At this point, his wife, Sophia, actually stood up to him. After 19 pregnancies, 3 miscarriages and 5 infant deaths, she still had children to feed and educate. While all the other wives silently suffered abject poverty, hunger and homelessness, Sophia would have none of it. For that, Tolstoy left rights to his work to another and to her only the estate. Even so, she worked the rest of her life to chronicle his works and organize his archive, devoting even her widowhood to promoting and preserving her husband’s legacy.
Fascinating proof that being a writer’s wife is a profession in itself.