THE DIARIES OF SOPHIA TOLSTOY by Sophia Tolstoy

THE DIARIES OF SOPHIA TOLSTOY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first complete English translation of the diaries of the much-maligned wife and widow of Russia's most renowned writer. She emerges here as an almost pathologically possessive and emotional woman, but also a person of near superhuman energies who unstintingly dedicated herself to her family, her husband and his work. She gave birth to 15 children, of whom 13 survived infancy. She devoted long hours to transcribing her husband's scrawls into the handwritten manuscripts that were to become War and Peace, Anna Karenina and later works; she served as his literary agent and proofreader. She also kept two diaries--which total 819 pages in this volume. The so-called daily diary--published here for the first time--is a no-nonsense clay-to-day account of the events of her busy life in her later years. The longer journal, which she kept from her marriage in 1862 to Tolstoy's death in 1910, is a sort of running substitute for husband-wife heart-to-heart communication. Here, she poured out her insecurities, her fits of jealousy, her unhappiness following marital disagreements--and promptly showed the entries to her husband. He, in turn, presented her with his innermost thoughts as recorded in his own diary. Her earliest entries, as a bride of 18, are obsessed with her distress at Tolstoy's promiscuity and crass attitude toward women in his bachelor days. (She learned of these because he insisted she read his diary right before their wedding.) But she also makes it plain she lives for him alone and is desolated by every cool glance, every absence. After two rocky years the marriage settles down, and the Tolstoys become as one, working together on his books and attending to their growing family. But 15 years later, disquieting incidents and emotions begin to surface. In 1882 Sophia writes, ""Today he shouted at the top of his lungs that his dearest wish was to leave his family."" Tolstoy is in the throes of the long and painful spiritual conversion which culminates in 1883 when he turns his estate over to Sophia, renounces sex and begins living as a simple peasant. At this turn of events, her entries become concerned less with her husband and more with ""life's forced bustle."" But gradually dementia takes over, triggered partly by her own illness and exhaustion, partly by her contempt for what she sees as her husband's hypocritical way of life and, finally, by her hostility to Vladimir Chertkov, the ""appalling"" disciple who had gained control over her aged husband. Her November 7, 1910, entry reads: ""At 6 o'clock in the morning, Lev. Nikol. died."" The 82-year-old author had contracted pneumonia and died in the home of the railway station master at Astapova; he had gone there to escape Sophia's harangues. In two biographies, daughter Aleksandra blamed Sophia for Tolstoy's death. Her mother's diaries reveal the other side of the marriage; and the reader is left with the impression that, despite her tragic emotional collapse in her husband's final days, Sophia was a driving force behind his genius, an instrumental force in helping him produce the masterworks that, even today, tower over most of the world's literature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Random House