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.