Posts Tagged ‘Sophia Tolstoy’

Leo Tolstoy (September 9th 1828 - November 20th 1910)
















“… And you say that a man cannot, of himself, understand what is good
and evil; that it is all environment, that the environment swamps the
man. But I believe it is all chance. Take my own case . . .”

Thus spoke our excellent friend, Ivan Vasilievich, after a conversation
between us on the impossibility of improving individual character
without a change of the conditions under which men live. Nobody had
actually said that one could not of oneself understand good and evil;
but it was a habit of Ivan Vasilievich to answer in this way the
thoughts aroused in his own mind by conversation, and to illustrate
those thoughts by relating incidents in his own life. He often quite
forgot the reason for his story in telling it; but he always told it
with great sincerity and feeling.

He did so now.

“Take my own case. My whole life was moulded, not by environment, but by
something quite different.”

“By what, then?” we asked.

“Oh, that is a long story. I should have to tell you about a great many
things to make you understand.”

“Well, tell us then.”

Ivan Vasilievich thought a little, and shook his head.

“My whole life,” he said, “was changed in one night, or, rather,

“Why, what happened?” one of us asked.

“What happened was that I was very much in love. I have been in love
many times, but this was the most serious of all. It is a thing of
the past; she has married daughters now. It was Varinka B—-.” Ivan
Vasilievich mentioned her surname. “Even at fifty she is remarkably
handsome; but in her youth, at eighteen, she was exquisite–tall,
slender, graceful, and stately. Yes, stately is the word; she held
herself very erect, by instinct as it were; and carried her head high,
and that together with her beauty and height gave her a queenly air in
spite of being thin, even bony one might say. It might indeed have
been deterring had it not been for her smile, which was always gay and
cordial, and for the charming light in her eyes and for her youthful

“What an entrancing description you give, Ivan Vasilievich!”

“Description, indeed! I could not possibly describe her so that you
could appreciate her. But that does not matter; what I am going to
tell you happened in the forties. I was at that time a student in a
provincial university. I don’t know whether it was a good thing or no,
but we had no political clubs, no theories in our universities then.
We were simply young and spent our time as young men do, studying and
amusing ourselves. I was a very gay, lively, careless fellow, and had
plenty of money too. I had a fine horse, and used to go tobogganing
with the young ladies. Skating had not yet come into fashion. I went to
drinking parties with my comrades–in those days we drank nothing but
champagne–if we had no champagne we drank nothing at all. We never
drank vodka, as they do now. Evening parties and balls were my favourite
amusements. I danced well, and was not an ugly fellow.”

“Come, there is no need to be modest,” interrupted a lady near him.
“We have seen your photograph. Not ugly, indeed! You were a handsome

“Handsome, if you like. That does not matter. When my love for her was
at its strongest, on the last day of the carnival, I was at a ball at
the provincial marshal’s, a good-natured old man, rich and hospitable,
and a court chamberlain. The guests were welcomed by his wife, who was
as good-natured as himself. She was dressed in puce-coloured velvet, and
had a diamond diadem on her forehead, and her plump, old white shoulders
and bosom were bare like the portraits of Empress Elizabeth, the
daughter of Peter the Great.

It was a delightful ball. It was a splendid room, with a gallery for
the orchestra, which was famous at the time, and consisted of serfs
belonging to a musical landowner. The refreshments were magnificent, and
the champagne flowed in rivers. Though I was fond of champagne I did not
drink that night, because without it I was drunk with love. But I made
up for it by dancing waltzes and polkas till I was ready to drop–of
course, whenever possible, with Varinka. She wore a white dress with a
pink sash, white shoes, and white kid gloves, which did not quite reach
to her thin pointed elbows. A disgusting engineer named Anisimov robbed
me of the mazurka with her–to this day I cannot forgive him. He asked
her for the dance the minute she arrived, while I had driven to the
hair-dresser’s to get a pair of gloves, and was late. So I did not dance
the mazurka with her, but with a German girl to whom I had previously
paid a little attention; but I am afraid I did not behave very politely
to her that evening. I hardly spoke or looked at her, and saw nothing
but the tall, slender figure in a white dress, with a pink sash, a
flushed, beaming, dimpled face, and sweet, kind eyes. I was not alone;
they were all looking at her with admiration, the men and women alike,
although she outshone all of them. They could not help admiring her.

Although I was not nominally her partner for the mazurka, I did as a
matter of fact dance nearly the whole time with her. She always came
forward boldly the whole length of the room to pick me out. I flew to
meet her without waiting to be chosen, and she thanked me with a smile
for my intuition. When I was brought up to her with somebody else, and
she guessed wrongly, she took the other man’s hand with a shrug of her
slim shoulders, and smiled at me regretfully.

Whenever there was a waltz figure in the mazurka, I waltzed with
her for a long time, and breathing fast and smiling, she would say,
‘Encore’; and I went on waltzing and waltzing, as though unconscious of
any bodily existence.”

“Come now, how could you be unconscious of it with your arm round her
waist? You must have been conscious, not only of your own existence, but
of hers,” said one of the party.

Ivan Vasilievich cried out, almost shouting in anger: “There you are,
moderns all over! Nowadays you think of nothing but the body. It was
different in our day. The more I was in love the less corporeal was she
in my eyes. Nowadays you think of nothing but the body. It was different
in our day. The more I was in love the less corporeal was she in my
eyes. Nowadays you set legs, ankles, and I don’t know what. You undress
the women you are in love with. In my eyes, as Alphonse Karr said–and
he was a good writer–‘ the one I loved was always draped in robes of
bronze.’ We never thought of doing so; we tried to veil her nakedness,
like Noah’s good-natured son. Oh, well, you can’t understand.”

“Don’t pay any attention to him. Go on,” said one of them.

“Well, I danced for the most part with her, and did not notice how time

was passing. The musicians kept playing the same mazurka tunes over and
over again in desperate exhaustion–you know what it is towards the end
of a ball. Papas and mammas were already getting up from the card-tables
in the drawing-room in expectation of supper, the men-servants were
running to and fro bringing in things. It was nearly three o’clock.
I had to make the most of the last minutes. I chose her again for the
mazurka, and for the hundredth time we danced across the room.”

“The quadrille after supper is mine, ” I said, taking her to her place.

“Of course, if I am not carried off home,” she said, with a smile.

“I won’t give you up,” I said.

“Give me my fan, anyhow,” she answered.

“I am so sorry to part with it,” I said, handing her a cheap white fan.

“Well, here’s something to console you,” she said, plucking a feather
out of the fan, and giving it to me.

“I took the feather, and could only express my rapture and gratitude
with my eyes. I was not only pleased and gay, I was happy, delighted;
I was good, I was not myself but some being not of this earth, knowing
nothing of evil. I hid the feather in my glove, and stood there unable
to tear myself away from her.”

“Look, they are urging father to dance,” she said to me, pointing
to the tall, stately figure of her father, a colonel with silver
epaulettes, who was standing in the doorway with some ladies.

“Varinka, come here!” exclaimed our hostess, the lady with the diamond
ferronniere and with shoulders like Elizabeth, in a loud voice.

“Varinka went to the door, and I followed her”.

“Persuade your father to dance the mazurka with you, ma chere.–Do,
please, Peter Valdislavovich,” she said, turning to the colonel.

“Varinka’s father was a very handsome, well-preserved old man. He had
a good colour, moustaches curled in the style of Nicolas I., and
white whiskers which met the moustaches. His hair was combed on to his
forehead, and a bright smile, like his daughter’s, was on his lips and
in his eyes. He was splendidly set up, with a broad military chest, on
which he wore some decorations, and he had powerful shoulders and long
slim legs. He was that ultra-military type produced by the discipline of
Emperor Nicolas I.

When we approached the door the colonel was just refusing to dance,
saying that he had quite forgotten how; but at that instant he smiled,
swung his arm gracefully around to the left, drew his sword from its
sheath, handed it to an obliging young man who stood near, and smoothed

his suede glove on his right hand”.

“Everything must be done according to rule,” he said with a smile. He
took the hand of his daughter, and stood one-quarter turned, waiting for
the music.

At the first sound of the mazurka, he stamped one foot smartly, threw
the other forward, and, at first slowly and smoothly, then buoyantly
and impetuously, with stamping of feet and clicking of boots, his tall,
imposing figure moved the length of the room. Varinka swayed gracefully
beside him, rhythmically and easily, making her steps short or long,
with her little feet in their white satin slippers.

All the people in the room followed every movement of the couple. As
for me I not only admired, I regarded them with enraptured sympathy. I
was particularly impressed with the old gentleman’s boots. They were
not the modern pointed affairs, but were made of cheap leather,
squared-toed, and evidently built by the regimental cobbler. In order
that his daughter might dress and go out in society, he did not buy
fashionable boots, but wore home-made ones, I thought, and his square
toes seemed to me most touching. It was obvious that in his time he
had been a good dancer; but now he was too heavy, and his legs had not
spring enough for all the beautiful steps he tried to take. Still, he
contrived to go twice round the room. When at the end, standing with
legs apart, he suddenly clicked his feet together and fell on one
knee, a bit heavily, and she danced gracefully around him, smiling and
adjusting her skirt, the whole room applauded.

Rising with an effort, he tenderly took his daughter’s face between his
hands. He kissed her on the forehead, and brought her to me, under the
impression that I was her partner for the mazurka. I said I was not.
‘Well, never mind, just go around the room once with her,’ he said,
smiling kindly, as he replaced his sword in the sheath.

As the contents of a bottle flow readily when the first drop has been
poured, so my love for Varinka seemed to set free the whole force of
loving within me. In surrounding her it embraced the world. I loved
the hostess with her diadem and her shoulders like Elizabeth, and her
husband and her guests and her footmen, and even the engineer Anisimov
who felt peevish towards me. As for Varinka’s father, with his home-made
boots and his kind smile, so like her own, I felt a sort of tenderness
for him that was almost rapture.

After supper I danced the promised quadrille with her, and though I had
been infinitely happy before, I grew still happier every moment.

We did not speak of love. I neither asked myself nor her whether she
loved me. It was quite enough to know that I loved her. And I had only

one fear–that something might come to interfere with my great joy.

When I went home, and began to undress for the night, I found it quite
out of the question. I held the little feather out of her fan in my hand,
and one of her gloves which she gave me when I helped her into the
carriage after her mother. Looking at these things, and without closing
my eyes I could see her before me as she was for an instant when she had
to choose between two partners. She tried to guess what kind of person
was represented in me, and I could hear her sweet voice as she said,
‘Pride–am I right?’ and merrily gave me her hand. At supper she took
the first sip from my glass of champagne, looking at me over the rim
with her caressing glance. But, plainest of all, I could see her as she
danced with her father, gliding along beside him, and looking at the
admiring observers with pride and happiness.

He and she were united in my mind in one rush of pathetic tenderness.

I was living then with my brother, who has since died. He disliked
going out, and never went to dances; and besides, he was busy preparing
for his last university examinations, and was leading a very regular
life. He was asleep. I looked at him, his head buried in the pillow and
half covered with the quilt; and I affectionately pitied him, pitied him
for his ignorance of the bliss I was experiencing. Our serf Petrusha
had met me with a candle, ready to undress me, but I sent him away. His
sleepy face and tousled hair seemed to me so touching. Trying not to
make a noise, I went to my room on tiptoe and sat down on my bed. No, I
was too happy; I could not sleep. Besides, it was too hot in the rooms.
Without taking off my uniform, I went quietly into the hall, put on my
overcoat, opened the front door and stepped out into the street.

It was after four when I had left the ball; going home and stopping
there a while had occupied two hours, so by the time I went out it
was dawn. It was regular carnival weather–foggy, and the road full
of water-soaked snow just melting, and water dripping from the eaves.
Varinka’s family lived on the edge of town near a large field, one end
of which was a parade ground: at the other end was a boarding-school for
young ladies. I passed through our empty little street and came to the
main thoroughfare, where I met pedestrians and sledges laden with
wood, the runners grating the road. The horses swung with regular paces
beneath their shining yokes, their backs covered with straw mats
and their heads wet with rain; while the drivers, in enormous boots,
splashed through the mud beside the sledges. All this, the very
horses themselves, seemed to me stimulating and fascinating, full of

When I approached the field near their house, I saw at one end of it,
in the direction of the parade ground, something very huge and black,

and I heard sounds of fife and drum proceeding from it. My heart had
been full of song, and I had heard in imagination the tune of the
mazurka, but this was very harsh music. It was not pleasant.

What can that be?’ I thought, and went towards the sound by a slippery
path through the centre of the field. Walking about a hundred paces,
I began to distinguish many black objects through the mist. They were
evidently soldiers. ‘It is probably a drill,’ I thought.

So I went along in that direction in company with a blacksmith, who
wore a dirty coat and an apron, and was carrying something. He walked
ahead of me as we approached the place. The soldiers in black uniforms
stood in two rows, facing each other motionless, their guns at rest.
Behind them stood the fifes and drums, incessantly repeating the same
unpleasant tune.

“‘What are they doing?” I asked the blacksmith, who halted at my side.

“‘A Tartar is being beaten through the ranks for his attempt to desert,”
said the blacksmith in an angry tone, as he looked intently at the far
end of the line.

I looked in the same direction, and saw between the files something
horrid approaching me. The thing that approached was a man, stripped
to the waist, fastened with cords to the guns of two soldiers who were
leading him. At his side an officer in overcoat and cap was walking,
whose figure had a familiar look. The victim advanced under the blows
that rained upon him from both sides, his whole body plunging, his
feet dragging through the snow. Now he threw himself backward, and the
subalterns who led him thrust him forward. Now he fell forward, and they
pulled him up short; while ever at his side marched the tall officer,
with firm and nervous pace. It was Varinka’s father, with his rosy face
and white moustache.

At each stroke the man, as if amazed, turned his face, grimacing with
pain, towards the side whence the blow came, and showing his white teeth
repeated the same words over and over. But I could only hear what the
words were when he came quite near. He did not speak them, he sobbed
them out,–“‘Brothers, have mercy on me! Brothers, have mercy on me!’
But the brothers had, no mercy, and when the procession came close to
me, I saw how a soldier who stood opposite me took a firm step forward
and lifting his stick with a whirr, brought it down upon the man’s back.
The man plunged forward, but the subalterns pulled him back, and another
blow came down from the other side, then from this side and then from
the other. The colonel marched beside him, and looking now at his feet
and now at the man, inhaled the air, puffed out his cheeks, and breathed
it out between his protruded lips. When they passed the place where I

stood, I caught a glimpse between the two files of the back of the man
that was being punished. It was something so many-coloured, wet, red,
unnatural, that I could hardly believe it was a human body.

“‘My God!”‘ muttered the blacksmith.

The procession moved farther away. The blows continued to rain upon the
writhing, falling creature; the fifes shrilled and the drums beat, and
the tall imposing figure of the colonel moved along-side the man, just
as before. Then, suddenly, the colonel stopped, and rapidly approached a
man in the ranks.

“I’ll teach you to hit him gently,” I heard his furious voice say.
“Will you pat him like that? Will you?” and I saw how his strong hand
in the suede glove struck the weak, bloodless, terrified soldier for not
bringing down his stick with sufficient strength on the red neck of the

“‘Bring new sticks!” he cried, and looking round, he saw me. Assuming
an air of not knowing me, and with a ferocious, angry frown, he hastily
turned away. I felt so utterly ashamed that I didn’t know where to look.
It was as if I had been detected in a disgraceful act. I dropped my
eyes, and quickly hurried home. All the way I had the drums beating and
the fifes whistling in my ears. And I heard the words, ‘Brothers, have
mercy on me!’ or ‘Will you pat him? Will you?’ My heart was full of
physical disgust that was almost sickness. So much so that I halted
several times on my way, for I had the feeling that I was going to be
really sick from all the horrors that possessed me at that sight. I do
not remember how I got home and got to bed. But the moment I was about
to fall asleep I heard and saw again all that had happened, and I sprang

“Evidently he knows something I do not know,” I thought about
the colonel. “If I knew what he knows I should certainly
grasp–understand–what I have just seen, and it would not cause me such

But however much I thought about it, I could not understand the thing
that the colonel knew. It was evening before I could get to sleep,
and then only after calling on a friend and drinking till I was quite

“Do you think I had come to the conclusion that the deed I had witnessed
was wicked? Oh, no. Since it was done with such assurance, and was
recognised by every one as indispensable, they doubtless knew something
which I did not know. So I thought, and tried to understand. But no
matter, I could never understand it, then or afterwards. And not being
able to grasp it, I could not enter the service as I had intended. I
don’t mean only the military service: I did not enter the Civil Service
either. And so I have been of no use whatever, as you can see.”

“Yes, we know how useless you’ve been,” said one of us. “Tell us,
rather, how many people would be of any use at all if it hadn’t been for

“Oh, that’s utter nonsense,” said Ivan Vasilievich, with genuine

“Well; and what about the love affair?”

“My love? It decreased from that day. When, as often happened, she
looked dreamy and meditative, I instantly recollected the colonel on the
parade ground, and I felt so awkward and uncomfortable that I began to
see her less frequently. So my love came to naught. Yes; such chances
arise, and they alter and direct a man’s whole life,” he said in summing
up. “And you say . . .”













If I had to describe with one word the overall distillation of this short story by Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, I would have to choose the word ‘confused’.

On the face it of it, it would seem quite clear why Ivan Vasilievich suddenly fell out of love with Varinka B, after he witnessed, on the same night of the ball,  the brutal assault her father the Colonel urged on a Tartar deserter in his command. A clear case, one would suppose, of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children.

Earlier that evening, Vasilievich had watched the touching scene of a gallant old military man dancing  the Mazurka with his his beautiful young daughter: now before his very eyes, the  image of the quaint old general had been transformed into that of a sadistic bully.

The intense attraction Vasilievich felt for Varinka was gradually transformed into avoidance and then aversion, and suddenly the very personal nature of love, which is focused on an individual object becomes impersonal, and detached, because of something that is manifestly extrinsic to that object. Nothing substantial of significant happened to cause Vasilievich’s  irrational detachment from the willowy elegance of this slender young woman.  That he felt a sentimental surge of affection for the two of them when he saw them dancing together, and that the daughter’s smile resembled her father’s, is far too slender a thread to bind them together so firmly in any permanent association of opprobrium. There was nothing to show that Varinka approved of, or even knew of her father’s actions or propensities – so why then the dramatic volte-face? Vasilievich’s assertion that “He” (meaning the old Colonel) “and she were united in my mind in one rush of pathetic tenderness”  and “… his kind smile, so like her own… ” sound extremely lame and unpersuasive as reasons for his change of heart.

To answer that question we have to look not at Vasilievich, but at Tolstoy himself. Tolstoy was a man of contradictions. Like other humanitarians such as Mohandas Gandhi (a fervent admirer of Tolstoy) and Martin Luther King Jr, (a fervent admirer of Gandhi) his personal ethical behaviour diverged hugely from what he projected as his public image.

Like Gandhi, Tolstoy was a hypocrite, and a sexist exploiter (one for ‘spiritual’ and the other for ‘moral’ reasons)  of the women who were in his power.  During his early life as a soldier, and by his own admission, he indulged freely in “adultery, lies, theft and brutality.”  The diaries he kept during this time were full of his exploits of womanising and worse, the  outright rape of his serfs, which he felt he was entitled to as their owner.

Even though Tolstoy in his persona of pacifist and anarchist despised and derided the state for its treatment of its citizens, he himself presided over his estate and his wife and family as an absolute and unapologetic despot and it would appear that he considered  power and authority to be intrinsically evil, unless it was safely reposed in his own hands.

When Tolstoy was thirty two, on September 23rd 1862, following a hurried courtship, he married Sophia Andreevna Behrs, then a girl of sixteen, whom he brutally raped on their wedding night. More cruelly, he compelled this inexperienced young girl to read his diaries, with all their sordid details of his exploits as a frequenter of brothels and  sexual exploiter of gypsies, serfs, female servants, and the wives of his colleagues. The diaries, which covered a period of 20 years, also include the account of his contraction and treatment of gonorrhoea.

Perhaps Tolstoy supposed  he was being fair and honest in making these  detailed pre-nuptual disclosures, and if so, it was an alarming demonstration of his failure to grasp that the effect of some of his ‘morally inspired’ actions, while they satisfied some quasi-ethical need in himself, could be less than beneficial to others. In this particular case, Tolstoy may have ostensibly been sanitising his conscience in the interests of full disclosure, while filling the mind of a young girl with horrors she could not ever have imagined.

Throughout their marriage Sophia Andreevna suffered Tolstoy’s bullying and tyrannising even as she served him as secretary and proof-reader and copyist of his diaries, as well as  obedient wife and mother of their thirteen children. Sophia considered herself to be treated by Tolstoy as a brood-mare, and bitterly resented the “humiliation” of her constant pregnancies, but her options as the wife of a man who was emphatic in his denunciation of women who did not bear children as ‘whores’, were severely limited.

Tolstoy freely exploited his  inheritance of 40,000 silver rubles and the 330 slaves on his estate Yasnaya Polyana. He fathered at least one illegitimate child on one of his serfs, and his mistress and child continued to live on the estate after his marriage to Sophia. Tolstoy’s fierce misogynism demanded that his wife remain continuously pregnant and breast-feeding each of his thirteen children despite her excruciatingly painful mastitis.

During his 38 year marriage, Tolstoy continually bullied and abused his wife in ways that were appallingly cruel, and unlike his character Vasilievich in ‘After the Ball’ he did not scruple to flogg his defenseless underlings both as a military officer and as an owner of serfs.  Thus it would seem that Vasilievich, the shrinking violet, abjures the very sins that Tolstoy enthusiastically committed, and withdraws his affections from the the innocent daughter of the old Colonel who demanded the men of his command to mercilessly flog a man even as he begged for mercy, even though that daughter was not even remotely connected with her father’s actions.

As frequently happens with many rakes and reprobates when faced with the defeating inevitability of advanced age and physical debility that prevent any further indulgence in their former habitual vices, Tolstoy too became a champion of asceticism.  The narrowness of mind which made him completely unable to grasp anything of the moral complexity of Shakespeare (whom he dismissed as being utterly undeserving of either admiration or regard) and the fervent admirer of his fellow misogynist Schopenhauer, are symptomatic of Tolstoy’s propensity to fixate on a single idea (in this case religious ‘purity’)  to the exclusion of all others.

Tolstoy wrote his unfinished short story ‘After the Dance’, also known as ‘The Morning After the Ball’ at the turn of the previous century – probably around 1903 –  when he was 80 years old. By which time he was beginning to distance himself from his own historical past, and the terrible cruelties of his younger years.  But, in rejecting his sinful past, Tolstoy was not able to apply discrimination. He was only able to distance himself from the symbols of his sin, and continued as a cruel and capricious old man who vexed and inconvenienced his family to the very last.  He did not apply his political and spiritual principles in his private life: Rather they were a position he assumed in relation to the outside world. This strangely illogical inconsistency is common among men who see their wives and families as their personal possessions, and who are accustomed to being the central pivot around which the daily life of the family revolves. Much as he espoused political anarchy, Tolstoy the domestic autocrat, did not tolerate it from his spouse or under his own roof.

Tolstoy was undoubtedly a literary rambler, War and Peace  manifestly being the mother of all literary rambles. This tendency of Tolstoy’s once again surfaces In ‘After the Dance’, where he appears to grow forgetful and and lose the thread of his thoughts. Like many old people, the memories of his youth appear to be detailed  vivid and immediate, whereas the challenge of remaining focused on the conversation he is having proves to be too much, and so  he starts to drift….

Tolstoy’s final ramble of course was a literal one. Sometime in October-November of 1910 (the dates are unclear) he set off to begin his quixotic new life adventure as an ascetic renunciant peasant. It is unclear how he supposed this new career would play out, but by the time he got no further than Astopovo railway station close to his home in Yasnaya Polyana, it was apparent that that he was too ill to proceed.

The station master at Astopovo, Ivan Ivanovich Ozoli, took the ailing Tostoy in, and in an act of the most disinterested kindness and generosity to a complete stranger, later vacated his house, taking his family to live elsewhere while Tolstoy , surrounded by his doctors and minions  (including his daughter Alexandra) went about the prolonged business of dying.  There appears to be no evidence to suggest that Tolstoy ever repaid Ozoli’s kindness, and he probably took it as the deference due to the great man he supposed himself to be.

In the months closely preceding his death, Tolstoy’s sinister ‘disciple’, Vladimir Grigoryevich Chertkov was successful in getting Tolstoy to change his will, and name Chertkov himself as his literary executor. He had also  been largely instrumental in instigating Tolstoy’s last flight from his home.

Tolstoy may have been merely vain and quixotic – all his attempts to improve the lives of his serfs ended in dismal failure – but

The room in Astopovo where Tolstoy died.

Chertkov was self-serving and evil. It was he who promulgated the exaggerated legend of Tostoy as saint and Sophia as shrew. In his senescence, Tolstoy was pliable to Chertov’s ambitions, and far from being a saint, Tolstoy was a willing accomplice in the final injustice done to his wife Sophia, which was changing his will in Chertkov’s favour instead of making her the beneficiary of his literary estate. Tolstoy’s papers and the rights to his publications should have rightfully gone to Sophia, since throughout her married life as Tolstoy’s secretary and editor, a great deal of her time and talent had gone into it as well.

After Tolstoy’s death, Chertkov, who harboured a relentless animus against Sophia Tolstoy, managed to suppress her writing, and insert  himself as Tolstoy’s literary and spiritual heir. He worked assiduously during Tolstoy’s later years to separate him from his wife, and after Tolstoy’s death he was equally assiduous in calumniating Sophia and  vilifying her character and reputation.

In this he followed the example of St Peter, who after Jesus’s death, usurped Mary Magdalene’s  rightful position and replaced her royal and spiritual legacy with the thoroughly false and contrived substution with that of a harlot. By doing this he was able to insert himself as Christ’s successor and the head of the church. If Chertkov could have completely erased any evidence of Sophia’s existence, and removed her from the picture altogether, he would have done so, and then future generations would have been left with the legend of an unmarried Tolstoy with Chertkov at his side as his chosen and most devoted disciple.

So in the end, Tolstoy did indeed achieve his cherished desire of become  Christlike – but only in a way he would never have expected –  or could ever  even have recognised.








Here are two urls for recordings of Tolstoy’s voice.

Sophia Tolstoy and daughter Alexandra.
















And an interesting article about about how Sophia Tolstoy’s life and work and reputation were ruthlessly dismantled by  Vladimir  Chertkov.


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