Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and wife Sophia, who is Leo’s editor and fellow writer, had a very complicated relationship full of secrets, competitiveness, and betrayal. For many years, Sophia Tolstaia read and edited her husband’s stories. One controversial work of fiction called The Kreutzer Sonata was not so easy for her to digest, as it seemed to reveal far too much about their marriage. In the novella, he warns against the horrible consequences of sexual love and argues that there is no such thing as a happy marriage. He wanted everyone to be completely chaste, and he defended his arguments in the Afterword of the novel, as a response to the public confusion. Many people could not understand how a man with a wife and thirteen children could hole such ideals, and the only explanation was that Tolstoy was old and probably hated his wife. This painted Sophia Tolstaia in such a negative light, and she rightfully felt completely betrayed.
Sophia kept thorough diaries throughout her life and documents the initial shock of The Kreutzer Sonata. Primarily, she writes about her everyday life as a mother, wife, and editor. She is actually very judgemental and prejudiced toward other people. She is also very sad, so not much of her writing is about happy things. Her life is quite chaotic, and that is conveyed in her writing through the quick and often short diary entries. Her many children are always sick, and the relationships she has with the older children seem strained as well. Her husband definitely is not fond of her. Her situation is at least better than most because she has financial security and some outside help with her children from household employees, but there are so many of them and her husband is hardly around so the difficulty and pressure of her situation are still evident. Sophia has her flaws, as all real people do, but she deserved better than a complete showcase of her less-than-ideal marriage and conceited husband.
Around the middle of February of 1891 is a significant time because Sophia is dealing with the aftermath of The Kreutzer Sonata. On the 12th of February, she talks about the pain he and the book have caused for her. Sophia makes it clear that they can never come back from that, and that all their love is gone now, which is pretty sad for their marriage, even though it obviously had not been that great for some time. The betrayal she feels is really evident, and she just keeps saying how she had never done anything remotely similar to him, so she just could not fathom how he could do such a thing to her. It is frustrating for Sophia because it affects the way the outside world sees her and her marriage. Even if Leo didn’t intend to direct the story toward their marriage, that is exactly what people are seeing. When people suddenly knew these things about her husband, which were so different than the messages of his other works, that obviously reflected on her. That is a huge invasion of privacy, which she acknowledges many times in her diary entries. Sophia tells her husband about these feelings she’s having and they “agreed to try to live the rest of [their] lives as amicably as [they[ could” (94). That does not seem like a super productive reconciliation, but the damage had already been done, so maybe that was the best option for the moment.
At this point in her diary, it is apparent that Sophia has really lost all respect for her husband. Around this time she is also working on copying all of her journals from before they were married. Sophia finds a lot of disturbing things about her husband’s past life that she was never aware of before. He wants her to stop copying his journals, but she decides to keep doing it anyway because they make him sound so awful, and she thinks he kind of deserves that. Leo Tolstoy likes to think highly of himself, and Sophia does not buy it anymore. Sophia says that if she had known these things about him then maybe she would not have married him. Part of her reasoning for engaging with these journals and all the things that make him look horrible, mostly because they contradict everything he had been preaching, is to reconcile that mistake she is only now realizing was a mistake, and is forced to endure the aftermath of. Sophia Tolstaia also wrote a short story in response to the novella that caused her so many problems. The story is called ‘Whose Fault?” and it is clearly a way to get back at her husband for exposing her the way he did. It features an awful, hypocritical, jealous, self-absorbed husband who only wants to control his wife and never follow any of his own ridiculous demands. The wife in the story married young and realized only too late that she was not happy with the man she agreed to spend the rest of her life with, and the consequences of that are extremely dire. Sophia had a lot of barriers to getting this story published, mostly because her family and publishers did not want Leo Tolstoy’s reputation to be tainted.
Katz, Michael R., et al. The Kreutzer Sonata Variations: Lev Tolstoys Novella and Counterstories by Sofiya Tolstaya and Lev Lvovich Tolstoy. Yale University Press, 2014.
Popoff, Alexandra. Sophia Tolstoy a Biography. CNIB, 2011.
Tolstai︠a︡ S. A., and Cathy Porter. The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy. Richmond, 2010.