Anyone unfamiliar with the life and oeuvre of Sofia Tolstaya, the wife of Lev Tolstoy, would be forgiven for basing their opinion of her on something like the movie The Last Station. It shows the last months of Tolstoy’s life, marred by the conflict between Sofia and Vladimir Chertkov – the writer’s disciple – for his legacy and writings that culminated in Tolstoy leaving his estate and Sofia behind, only to die ten days later at a remote train station, with Sofia shut outside until the very final moments.
But that is only a part of the story – the story of an eighteen-year-old girl virtually thrust into marrying the 34-year-old Tolstoy, by that time already a published author. He met her just once and proposed within a month, when she made a stopover at his estate on her way to visit relatives. The wedding took place just a week later. As she wrote, fully aware of the fact that people had differing views of her role in Tolstoy’s life: “Let people be charitable to the woman, who, perhaps, from a very young age, had the overwhelming task of the higher calling – to be a wife of genius and a great man.”
She gave birth to 13 children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. In a diary entry dated December 16, 1887, she described her life:
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