Sofia & Leo

Sunday, November 27, 2022

I’m reading (on my Kindle) the “Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy” and learning about her difficulties and stresses during her life with the author of War and Peace. These dairies that span the couple’s fifty-some years of marriage paint a frightening portrait of Leo Tolstoy.

He married Sophia when she was 19. He was wealthy and famous, and she was very bright and eager to marry. Aside from being his wife, and ultimately pregnant at least 15 times, she was Tolstoy’s secretary. When his writing day ended, he passed page drafts to Sophia who spent nights rewriting and clarifying his scribbles. The next morning, she would give Tolstoy the new pages, receiving that evening his re-drafted and re-scribbled pages which all night she re-copied and clarified.

Besides that work, her days were consumed with doing housework herself and overseeing the household and estate workers. As children were born, she cared for them while continuing all else she had been doing. Her dairies were where she turned, to address stress, worries, and fears about her husband.

This work reveals Leo Tolstoy as a monster to live with. Russian politics in the late Nineteenth Century were all about a “man’s world.” Tolstoy, before and during the marriage, was a product of free social experimentation and personal degradation. Sophia coped with that outwardly loveless man. He had strict behavioral rules governing her wifely role and behavior, and her role as the mother of his children. She confessed her feelings and responses to her dairies.

In modern days of Hemmingway-like clean and clear writing, I hesitate to pick up and re-read a great Russian novel; but I’m curious as to how Tolstoy portrayed in fiction his relationship with Sofia. Since he was unable to communicate directly to her his deep feelings about love and commitment, maybe he fictionalized that part of himself. It makes sense considering Sofia’s willingness to rewrite his drafts over and over. Maybe they communicated what she needed.

Before the Twentieth Century, women’s roles strictly were confined. I can’t forget Jill Lepore’s explanation of social and marital restrictions confronting Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane. There was a huge contrast between Ben’s and Jane’s life opportunities. Even in the more enlightened Twentieth Century, but before the advent of birth control pills, only slightly were women’s roles less confining.

I will continue reading Sofia’s dairies. They have me vividly remembering social changes inspired during the 1960s, and their positive affect on my life’s choices. Reading also has me worrying about recent and current politics that would limit our current roles and freedoms.

Dear Friends: An eternal question is, Why can’t we all just get along? Diana

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