The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy
By Cathy Porter
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780061997419, 656pp.)
Publication Date: September 2010
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After marrying Count Leo Tolstoy, the renowned author of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Sofia Tolstoy kept a detailed diary until his death in 1910. Her life was not an easy one: she idealized her husband but was tormented by him. She lived against the background of one of the most turbulent periods in her countrys history, as old feudal Russia was transformed by three revolutions and three major international wars.
Yet it is as Sofia Tolstoys own life storythe study of one womans private experiencethat these diaries are most valuable and moving. They reveal a woman of tremendous vital energy and poetic sensibility who, in the face of provocation and suffering, continued to strive for the higher things in life and to remain indomitable.
Cathy Porter has published biographies of the Russian women revolutionaries Alexandra Kollontai and Larissa Reisner, as well as books about women terrorists of the 1860s, Russias 1905 revolution, and the Battle of Moscow. She has translated more than thirty books and works for the stage, including plays by Gorky and the Czech Karel Capek. She lives in Oxford.
“Beautifully translated and edited…. Provides a harrowing portrait of a marriage…. [The] 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.”
-Michael Dirda, Washington Post
“The hundreds of pages offered by Porter in this selection are testament to a great spirit, a woman who lived in terrifying proximity to one of the greatest writers of all time, and who understood exactly the high price she would have to pay for this privilege.”
“Hauntingly revealing and gorgeously sad, these entries reveal a wife’s desperate love and estrangement from her brilliant but complex and troubled husband.”
“How she remained married to the beyond difficult Tolstoy for close on half a century remains one of life’s great mysteries, and Sofia’s diaries provide rich, at times peevish, but invariably vivid insights to the Russia of her lifetime.”
-Irish Times (Best Non-fiction Citation)
“It is simplistic to see Sofia as the victim of her husband’s genius. Her diaries show that she was a formidable storyteller in her own right.”