Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tolstoi's Wife

Yesterday I went to the Lev Tolstoi Estate, a three hour train journey from Moscow. Every well educated person in the world knows Tolstoi, I'm sure. When Time.com decided to publish the Top 10 Greatest Books of All Time, Lev Tolstoi's 'Anna Karenina' and 'War and Peace' hit the First and Third ranks resp.

So I went to his house, the gardens, the apple orchards and the enormous stretch of land that belonged to the noble family of Tolstois. Funny story, Tolstoi's dad 'fathered a child' with a servant maid when he was just 16 years old. Imagine what it would have been like, for the servant maid! She goes into the young master's room daily to fix the bed, and ends up getting raped by the abominable adoloscent! The boy grew up to be Count Nicolay Tolstoi, and 'excellent man who was awarded the honour of St.Vladimir for his service'.

'That's exactly the kind of a thing that caused the Revolution in Russia!' said one of my friends on the tour. I agreed!

Our hero Lev (or spelt Leo sometimes) however was a less indulgent man, content with criticizing the prevalent social order through his books. Lot of people agree that he sowed the seeds of the literary revolution that spurred the Bolshevik-led uprising.

One remarkable thing about the entire thing though, was my discovery about Tolstoi's wife, Sofia (Sonya) Tolstoi. I read about her a few months ago in a Moscow Times article. They printed a 19th century photo of a bored looking Tolstoi with his well-dressed, a bit pompous wife. The article said she was a nagging woman, and he complained about it frequently, and that the photo bears a testimony to that. 'You too!', I thought. One more member of the Nag-Lok! People say that Tolstoi even indirectly alluded to his misery through the opening line of Anna Karenina:

"All happy families look the same; but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Genius stuff, eh?

So before we started our guided tour, I asked a member of our group, Olga, what she thought about Sonya. She said, 'Well, she bore him 12 children! I think I know why she was so unhappy in life!' Whoa! I didn't know she gave birth to twelve children! That significantly alters the state of things.

We went through the tour and the interesting grounds. All the oaken furniture and the sepia photographs on the walls. Drank in the whole scenery, to sum it up. Somewhere in between, our Guide told us that Tolstoi's handwriting was so bad, sometimes he himself couldn't understand what he wrote. Like me, I thought! Good, someone invented the computer. Tolsoi didn't have that benefit, poor chap!

His wife, however, could read everything he wrote and copy it down legibly. Now that's interesting, I thought! So she effectively rewrote each one of his books in her own hand as soon as he finished them! She reportedly wrote the entire book of War and Peace seven times! Do you know how many pages that book has? About 1500 pages!!! And she wrote that seven times over.

I felt the woman was wronged! I guess this universal sympathy for a hen-pecked husband and the resultant franchise of comedy & satire is totally unjustified in this case! Granted, Tolstoi was a genius in his own right, but I'm sure he just didn't understand his wife enough. She comes across to be a splendid woman! Pretty one too, btw. The portraits of her youth were worth a second look! ;)

That gives me doubts about Socrates and his wife Xanthippe now! Was she really the infamous nag like they say?

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