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On The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy

It's hard to read this and to know what to say here. Tolstoy has never been an author I liked. His books? Yes, I like his books. But his own personal story and diaries paint him as the worst kind of pompous poser, self-involved to the point of monstrosity. Basically, if an honest Tolstoy movie was made he would be played by Will Arnett, reprising his role as G.O.B. The diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, Tolstoy's wife, paint a picture of what it meant to be the devoted wife of a literary "genius" in the 19th century. (HINT: It was not good times.) The reviewer below lays out the schematic. 'The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy,' reviewed by Michael Dirda
So you think you have an unhappy marriage? On Oct. 8, 1862, just two weeks after she wed the 34-year-old novelist Leo Tolstoy, the former Sofia Behrs was writing in her diary: "The whole of my husband's past is so ghastly that I don't think I shall ever be able to accept it." Tolstoy had just let his sheltered, 18-year-old bride read his own youthful diaries, in which he described his gambling, drunkenness and debaucheries. A few days later, Sofia confesses that she doesn't make her husband happy and that his "coldness will soon be unbearable." By Nov. 23, she is talking of killing him. Later, she spoke frequently of killing herself and attempted to do so on at least two occasions. On Nov. 13, 1863, the young wife describes her existence: "I am left alone morning, afternoon and night. I am to gratify his pleasure and nurse his child, I am a piece of household furniture. I am a woman. I try to suppress all human feelings. When the machine is working properly it heats the milk, knits a blanket, makes little requests and bustles about trying not to think -- and life is tolerable. But the moment I am alone and allow myself to think, everything seems insufferable." Whenever Sofia shows a little spirit or playfulness, Tolstoy finds her "stupid and irritating." She starts to copy his manuscripts for him -- she would go on to transcribe the manuscript of "War and Peace" over and over, parts of it seven times -- and there she does find a kind of peace: "As I copy I experience a whole new world of emotions, thoughts and impressions. Nothing touches me so deeply as his ideas, his genius." At the same time, though, she is kept constantly pregnant, eventually bearing 13 children. . . . . . . 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.

October 06, 2010

Dean of St. John's University accused of enslaving students, stealing a million dollars

Ex-St. John’s Dean Accused of Using Students as Servants - NYTimes.com
The ex-administrator, Cecilia Chang, who served as a dean and vice president at the university, was charged with forced labor and bribery, according to a complaint made public by federal prosecutors on Thursday. As the dean of the Institute of Asian Studies at St. John’s, Ms. Chang had the authority to grant 15 scholarships a year. The recipients, most of whom were from overseas, were told they had to work 20 hours a week under her supervision. The students thought they would be doing work related to the university. Instead, according to the prosecutors, she forced them to perform menial tasks at her home in Jamaica Estates, Queens. One of the students had to drive Ms. Chang’s son to the airport at 3 a.m., the complaint says, and another had to deliver cash to her at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. And she made it clear that if the students did not perform their extracurricular duties, they would lose their scholarships, which were worth at least $5,000, the complaint says. The loss of the scholarships might have forced some of the students to drop out, it adds. “In addition to the outrageous way she treated her students, in exchange for scholarships, she had them falsify documents,” Charles Kleinberg, an assistant United States attorney, said at Ms. Chang’s bail hearing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. . . . In that case, Ms. Chang is accused of stealing about $1 million from St. John’s. Prosecutors say she used the money to pay for lingerie, casino trips and her son’s tuition.