Leo Tolstoy's wife Sophia is getting her say

Michael R. Katz's forthcoming book 'The Kreutzer Sonata Variations' will include two previously untranslated works by Sophia Andreevna Tolstoy which she wrote in response to her husband's controversial story 'The Kreutzer Sonata.'

By , Staff Writer

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    'The Kreutzer Sonata Variations' is edited by Michael R. Katz.
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Author Leo Tolstoy’s wife Sophia Andreevna Tolstoy is now getting a chance to tell her story.

Two novellas written by Sophia following the publication of her husband’s work “The Kreutzer Sonata” were recently discovered in the archives of the State Museum of L.N. Tolstoy in Moscow and will be released in English, according to The New York Times. This will be the first time the works by Sophia will be available in English, according to publisher Yale University Press.

"The Kreutzer Sonata” airs views on sexuality and marriage that were unorthodox for Tolstoy’s time – and finishes with the protagonist's murder of his wife. Many readers – then and now – have assumed that Tolstoy based the novel on his own marriage and his feelings about his wife.

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According to the NYT, Sophia wrote in her diary, “I do not know how or why everyone connected ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ with our own married life, but this is what has happened…. And it isn’t just other people. I, too, know in my heart that this story is directed against me, and that it has done me a great wrong, humiliated me in the eyes of the world and destroyed the last vestiges of love between us.” She said that her husband's book was “untrue in everything relating to a young woman’s experiences.” 

So she decided to write some stories of her own. Her work “Whose Fault?” focuses on a teenage girl who dreams of marriage being an intellectual pairing in which the husband and wife can participate in the same pursuits. In the story, the protagonist, Anna, is pursued by a man much older than she is, mirroring the age difference between Leo and Sophia Tolstoy. Meanwhile, “Song” centers on a heroine who loves music and soon comes to be attracted to a composer. According to the NYT, it is widely believed that this story is based on Sophia’s friendship with composer Sergei Taneyev. 

“The Kreutzer Sonata Variations,” compiled and translated by Michael R. Katz, includes not only Sophia’s novellas but also Tolstoy’s original work, Sophia’s memoir “My Life” as well as other writings by her, and a story written by Leo Tolstoy’s son Lev Lvovich Tolstoy, “Chopin’s Prelude,” that criticized “Kreutzer.”

Over the past few years, more work by Sophia Tolstoy has appeared, with an English version of “My Life” which was translated into English by Andrew Donskov being published in 2010. A biography by Alexandra Popoff, “Sophia Tolstoy,” was also released in 2010. (In a Monitor review of this biography, reviewer Bob Blaisdell wrote that – thanks to the diaries and letters of the Tolstoys available to researchers – it is "possible to know more about the Tolstoy marriage than most of us know about our own.")

Katz is publishing his book “Variations” on Aug. 26. According to the NYT, he said of Sophia’s pieces “Whose Fault?” and “Song,” “My first reaction on reading the stories was astonishment that they had existed, and nobody knew about them. My second reaction was: These aren’t bad stories. They may not be first-rate literature, but they come from an educated, cultured, reflective woman of strong character who not only had views different from her husband’s but dared to express them, initially with the idea that they would be published.” 

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