Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya
Со́фья Андре́евна Толста́я
Sophia Andreyevna Behrs
22 August 1844
|Died||4 November 1919 (aged 75)|
|Other names||Sophia Tolstoy, Sonya Tolstoy|
(m. 1862; died 1910)
Countess Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya (née Behrs; Russian: Со́фья Андре́евна Толста́я, sometimes anglicised as Sophia Tolstoy; 22 August 1844 – 4 November 1919), was a Russian diarist, and the wife of Russian writer Count Leo Tolstoy.
Sophia Behrs was one of three daughters of a German physician Andrey Evstafievich Behrs (1808–1868) and his Russian wife Liubov Alexandrovna Islavinа (1826–1886). Her maternal great-grandfather, Count Pyotr Zavadovsky, was the first Minister of education in Russia's history. Sophia was first introduced to Leo Tolstoy in 1862 when she was 18 years old. At 34, Tolstoy was 16 years her senior. On 17 September 1862 the couple became formally engaged after Tolstoy gave Sophia a written proposal of marriage, marrying a week later in Moscow. At the time of their marriage, Leo Tolstoy was well known as a novelist after the publication of The Cossacks. On the eve of their marriage, Tolstoy gave Sophia his diaries that detailed his sexual relations with female serfs. In Anna Karenina, 34-year-old Konstantin Levin, a semi-autobiographical character behaves similarly, asking his 19-year-old fiancée Kitty to read his diaries and learn of his past transgressions. The diary included the fact that Tolstoy had fathered a child by a woman who remained on the Yasnaya Polyana estate. In Anne Edwards' Sonya: The Life of Countess Tolstoy, she describes Sophia as having a deep fear that Tolstoy would re-enter a relationship with the other woman.
The Tolstoys had thirteen children, eight of whom survived childhood. The family was prosperous, owing to Tolstoy's efficient management of his estates and to the sales of his works, making it possible to provide adequately for the family. Sophia acted as copyist of War and Peace, copying and editing the manuscript seven times from beginning to end at home at night by candlelight after the children and servants had gone to bed, using an inkwell pen and sometimes requiring a magnifying glass to read her husband's notes.
In 1887, Tolstaya regained interest in the relatively new art of photography, which she had learned to practise at age 16. She took over 1,000 photographs that documented her life, including with Tolstoy, and the decline of the Russian Empire. She was a diarist and documented her life with Leo Tolstoy in a series of diaries which were published in English translation in the 1980s. Tolstaya wrote her memoirs as well, which she titled My Life.
After many years of an increasingly troubled marriage — the couple argued over Tolstoy's desire to give away all his private property — Leo left Sophia abruptly in 1910, aged 82, with their daughter Alexandra, and his doctor, Dushan Makovicki (Dušan Makovický). Tolstoy died 10 days later in a railway station, and Sophia was kept away from him (as depicted in the film The Last Station). Following the death of her husband, Sophia continued to live in Yasnaya Polyana and survived the Russian Revolution in relative peace. She died on 4 November 1919.
With recent increased interest in Sophia Tolstaya some new biographical works, based on her memoirs and diaries, have been published:
She was portrayed by Helen Mirren in the 2009 The Last Station, based on the 1990 biographical novel of the same name by Jay Parini, and Leo Tolstoy was portrayed by Christopher Plummer. Both actors were nominated for Academy Awards in their respective categories. Her life was also serialised in August 2010 by BBC's Radio 4 with the title A Simple Life.