LEV AND SONYA: The Story of the Tolstoy Marriage by Louise Smoluchowski

LEV AND SONYA: The Story of the Tolstoy Marriage

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Great love affairs abound in Tolstoy's fiction, but judging from this thoughtful biography, none rival in intensity or duration the real-life romance between Tolstoy himself and Sonya Bers. Smoluchowski bases her book primarily upon her own translation of the letters, diaries, and notes of Leo and Sonya, wishing to ""give a picture of their marriage as they saw it themselves."" By bridging these Tolstoyan excerpts with her own clear accounting, she successfully dramatizes the 48-year union of Leo (whom she calls Lev) and Sonya. When the two married in 1862, Leo was titled, rich, famous and 34; Sonya, bright, beautiful, and only 18. But at once the girl proved herself a match for the man, providing domesticity as well as an emotional wellspring from which Leo drew deeply (Smoluchowski argues that many of Tolstoy's heroines, particularly Anna Karenina, are in large part Sonya). And Sonya proved a willing bedmate too, carrying 13 children for Leo. As portrayed here, theirs was a happy life for 15-odd years; but as Leo settled into middle age, a deep depression (which the author regards as clinical) fell upon him. Unable to continue novel-writing, he turned to religion, pursuing a moral discipline that looked upon sex as evil (an added source of stress since lusty Leo couldn't keep his own commandments). This alienation of husband and wife coexisted with the inexorable passion between the two. The result: a hysterical Sonya, near breakdown. But Leo's successful return to writing at age 70 signaled a reconciliation that lasted until the writer fell under the spell of this book's villain, the ambitious V.G. Chertkov, who, angling for control of Leo's literary estate, drove a wedge between husband and wife that ultimately led to Leo's infamous desertion of Sonya shortly before his death. With careful scholarship, Smoluchowski sheds new light on a celebrated marriage and makes a worthy contribution to Tolstoyiana. An admirable biography, bright and brisk.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1987
Publisher: Putnam