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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy

Overview

After marrying Count Leo Tolstoy, the renowned author of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Sofia Tolstoy kept a detailed diary until his death in 1910. Her life was not an easy one: she idealized her husband but was tormented by him. She lived against the background of one of the most turbulent periods in her country’s history, as old feudal Russia was transformed by three revolutions and three major international wars.

Yet it is as Sofia Tolstoy’s own life story—the study of one...

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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy

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Overview

After marrying Count Leo Tolstoy, the renowned author of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Sofia Tolstoy kept a detailed diary until his death in 1910. Her life was not an easy one: she idealized her husband but was tormented by him. She lived against the background of one of the most turbulent periods in her country’s history, as old feudal Russia was transformed by three revolutions and three major international wars.

Yet it is as Sofia Tolstoy’s own life story—the study of one woman’s private experience—that these diaries are most valuable and moving. They reveal a woman of tremendous vital energy and poetic sensibility who, in the face of provocation and suffering, continued to strive for the higher things in life and to remain indomitable.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Spanning 57 years, Sofia Tolstoy's diaries are an extraordinary chronicle of a woman who was her husband's secretary, proofreader, editor, housekeeper, agent, and nurse. Though she notes countless quarrels, the marriage grew from a youthful romance and had many happy moments. "Could any marriage be more... harmonious than ours?" But as the years pass, marital discord flares up more often. Spurning worldly concerns, Tolstoy leaves his wife in charge of the estate and children ("A man of genius is always so much better in his works than his life!" she laments). As she works tirelessly on his behalf, resentments accumulate and by the end of Tolstoy's life their relationship is marred by power struggles between Sofia, her children, and acolyte Vladimir Chertov over ownership of the Tolstoy's work. No doubt Sofia could be vain ("I want people to... say how pretty I am," she writes, "to my own horror"), but she was a remarkable woman, tireless worker, and an unrelenting advocate for her husband to the end of his life. She yearned for the pleasure of her own creative pursuits, often questioned her fate, and even contemplated suicide, but she never doubted Leo's genius or wavered in her commitment to his legacy. For that, generations of readers owe her a debt of gratitude. (Sept.)
Michael Dirda
“Beautifully translated and edited…. Provides a harrowing portrait of a marriage…. [The] diaries, so rich in acute psychological awareness and observation, should be read for themselves, not just as a social document or biographical resource. They are infuriating, heartbreaking, unputdownable.”
Jay Parini
“The hundreds of pages offered by Porter in this selection are testament to a great spirit, a woman who lived in terrifying proximity to one of the greatest writers of all time, and who understood exactly the high price she would have to pay for this privilege.”
Irish Times
"How she remained married to the beyond difficult Tolstoy for close on half a century remains one of life’s great mysteries, and Sofia’s diaries provide rich, at times peevish, but invariably vivid insights to the Russia of her lifetime."
London Times
“It is simplistic to see Sofia as the victim of her husband’s genius. Her diaries show that she was a formidable storyteller in her own right.”
Irish Times (Best Non-fiction Citation)
“How she remained married to the beyond difficult Tolstoy for close on half a century remains one of life’s great mysteries, and Sofia’s diaries provide rich, at times peevish, but invariably vivid insights to the Russia of her lifetime.”
London Times
“It is simplistic to see Sofia as the victim of her husband’s genius. Her diaries show that she was a formidable storyteller in her own right.”
Irish Times (Best Non-fiction Citation)
“How she remained married to the beyond difficult Tolstoy for close on half a century remains one of life’s great mysteries, and Sofia’s diaries provide rich, at times peevish, but invariably vivid insights to the Russia of her lifetime.”
Kirkus Reviews
A lively reworked translation of Sofia Tolstoy's diaries, first published in Russia in 1978 and the United Kingdom in 1985. Sixteen years younger than the already famous Russian novelist, as well as self-consciously less educated and worldly, Sofia Behrs was 18 when they married in 1862. For most of the next five decades the couple lived at his ancestral 4,000-acre estate at Yasnaya Polyana, a perennial bane to upkeep, especially as Sofia was absorbed in the care and education of their 13 children (several died of illnesses) while her husband was engrossed in his writing and fame. In this diary she kept from 1862 until her death in 1919 (her husband died in 1910), Sofia indicated early on troubling fissures between the two that grew wider and more perilous as the years passed. There was a large rift between Tolstoy's idealized version of family life and what Sofia learned was truly the case-his emotional coldness (which he made up in sexual ardor), disregard for the care of the children and belittling of her role in his greatness. "There are times in this useless life of mine," she wrote in 1890, "when I am overwhelmed with despair and long to kill myself, run away, fall in love with someone else-anything not to have to live with this man who for some reason I have always loved." Despite the domestic drudgery, she insisted on copying out his corrected pages, which kept her involved in his life and immersed in his artistry. "Nothing touches me so deeply as his ideas, his genius," she wrote in late 1866, when she was copying War and Peace. However, the bitterness continued to seep in, as well as a yearning for "some personal happiness, a private life and work of my own"-and, above all, the desire to feel needed and have her love returned. Uneven, hauntingly revealing and gorgeously sad, these entries reveal a wife's desperate love and estrangement from her brilliant but complex and troubled husband.
Michael Dirda
Beautifully translated and edited by Cathy Porter, The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy provides a harrowing portrait of a marriage. Tolstoy was clearly a fanatic as well as a genius, and Sofia was often half crazy from self-denial and the strains of living with such an intense man. Still, she never left him, and she lived on until 1919, safeguarding his memory and reputation. Her diaries, so rich in acute psychological awareness and observation, should be read for themselves, not just as a social document or biographical resource. They are infuriating, heartbreaking, unputdownable.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061997419
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/7/2010
  • Series: P. S. Series
  • Pages: 607
  • Sales rank: 813,206
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Cathy Porter has published biographies of the Russianwomen revolutionaries Alexandra Kollontai and Larissa Reisner, as well as books about women terrorists of the 1860s, Russia’s 1905 revolution, and the Battle of Moscow. She has translated more than thirty books and works for the stage, including plays by Gorky and the Czech Karel Capek. She lives in Oxford.

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