I noticed a few weeks ago I received more interest in a post I did last year, detailing how a wife could possibly ruin her husband’s love for her. The post mentioned the marriage of Leo Tolstoi and Sofia, and how through decades, her attitude turned him into a man who could not even tolerate her presence when he was old.
I’ve only read accounts based on his own troubles with her – mostly the variety of ways she would seek to control him, berate him, endlessly try to kill herself or threaten suicide. However, I recently came across her literal thoughts and words in her diaries, and have had some time to get an insight into how this woman thought and dealt with the life God gave her.
I have to say, reading some of her diary entries only confirm what an extremely psychologically messed up woman she was from day one. I know that sounds so harsh, but it is remarkable how she viewed her life through a lens of martyrdom and suffering. After reading several pages (and I will read more to be sure) of her personal and constant complaining, I’m amazed Leo Tolstoy was able to create any masterpieces of literature at all with a wife who intellectually numbed and destroyed his senses. And the temperament of an artist’s wife (especially a writer) is crucial to his ability to work!
To her credit, she was a hard worker and helped him immensely in copying and writing out his vast manuscripts. She did, very painfully and resentfully, dedicate her entire life to his work. But it was at such a high cost he had to pay, with even her own son admitting she never was able to just be happy, to endure her constant complaining and resentful attitude. That her husband didn’t fully appreciate it, even though she did so much for him, was because her attitude and resentfulness cancelled her, “selfless acts,” out.
In other words, what she viewed as, “selfless acts of dedicating her entire life to him,” which she spoke endlessly about in her diary, were in reality, feeding her neurotic sense of self-righteousness and playing the ever-constant victim.
Her husband could do nothing right in her eyes, except write, and every little thing he did by his own accord, she says she, “rebuked,” him for, and made herself sick (literally ill) constantly worrying about him when he’d go out to do even the most normal of male activities such as hunting.
Here are some first thoughts on the few things I’ve read. I’m sure I’ll have more to work with later on, but her terrible example is something I’ll teach my own daughter what to avoid in becoming.
It could be said that Sofia, for all her self-righteous assuring us she was serving him selflessly, never allowed herself to be happy… because if she allowed herself that joy, she would have failed in being the perpetual victim she wanted to see herself as.
Some first notes…
- She frequently speaks in her diaries in classic, “victim mentality,” reference. It is always bad things happening to her, and many times Sofia seeking out opportunities to feel wounded and offended by her husband’s normal behavior.
- She denies him sex throughout their marriage, only having enough to produce children, but then resents him for not having sex while she was pregnant. She describes wanting more of a “spiritual marriage,” which in those days, often meant to be abstinent in marriage. She mentions frequently that he has too much passion for her, but that she only desires a, “pure,” and, “spiritual union.” As an aside note to historical references, there were often marriages like this where the woman would truly want to remain a virgin, or mostly sexless, to create this spiritual union, leaving the husband to have to find whores to have sex with. Those marriages were almost always very unhappy marriages, even in those days, men still needed sex from their wives.
- She frames everything he does as being done to “hurt,” her… and then she goes on and on, “rebuking,” him for his (in her mind) bad decisions. This from her diary is a direct example where she wouldn’t even let him decide when to go hunting without her permission… and her attitude when he came back is what destroys a man’s love and affection (the chastising and, “rebuking,” she felt she had a right to do to him).
- Before their marriage, Tolstoy had a romantic notion that his new wife should know everything he ever did that was horrible and wrong. Instead of hiding his sins, he wanted to, “bear all,” to her, confess everything, and know that she would still love him and accept him as he was – faults and past sins in total. He felt very ashamed of everything he’d done before finding a, “pure,” and proper wife, and her reading this and still accepting him, in a large way, would help him heal from his past promiscuity. I actually understand this very well, because my own husband did something very similar. We both told each other everything (his past being much more sordid and sinful than mine sexually), and I understand from my husband’s heart how much he needed to know that I *knew* how bad he had been, and yet would *still* choose to love him and receive him. Yes, I was sheltered and virginal like Sofia, but it still didn’t harm me to know his past sexual sins. If anything, it made me even more sympathetic to him because I could feel the shame he felt for having failed in that area. Men seem to understand that this kind of acceptance in marriage is a kind of redemption God uses to help ease the pain of past sins. It does for women, too, if they first acknowledge how sinful they were and are humbled enough to know their husband is doing them a great act of love in accepting them even though they come to him soiled and impure.
- Unfortunately for Tolstoy, his wife was horrifically repulsed by his past, and used it for the rest of their marriage to throw in his face and punish him for. She did not, at all, accept him as the man he was, and she ensured her own unhappiness by perpetually reminding herself in her diaries of how horrible his past was… how she could NEVER get over his former relationships.
- I do believe that even with this single, but monumental, rejection of him when he was so honest and open with her, that she may have ruined a lot of his love in those first years when she kept throwing it in his face. I think when he realized she could not, and would not, ever make peace with his past or love him beyond his past (without holding it against him constantly), that he fell into a depressive state that caused him to bristle at even her voice or presence (which is talked about both in his and her diaries). How different their marriage might have been if Sofia had been wise enough to realize the power she had when he was so romantically open with her about his past, in helping him heal and redeem his value before God and society.
- I’ve heard callers complain about things like this to Dr. Laura, where one spouse – it’s almost always the woman – can’t get over a husband’s past or long-gone sexual relationship, and her response is always that they are simply looking for (literally digging around in their spouse’s past) something to beat the other spouse with. This is a classic way a wife with a real psychological disorder seeks to continually, “punish,” her husband over his past sins.
- Continually using his past, especially his past relationship where he fathered a son who still lived on their land, to berate him for, was abusive. Sofia, again for all her endless self-proclamations of serving him selflessly and lovingly, was an abusive and toxic wife. Again, I am amazed he was able to create the masterpieces he did with the ever-present berating, punishing and abusive things she’d say to him. I should say here that I’m aware that our modern society views his treatment of her as, “abusive,” because she had to, in some authors’ words, endure his “slights and insults.” I wonder if he felt he almost had to be that way, in order to survive the war-like atmosphere she made sure she created at times (it’s notable that not all of their life was lived this way… they had short periods of happiness, again making me wonder from a psychological-standpoint, if she wasn’t bi-polar).
- Consider families where the wife really did sleep around for years before a husband married her, even producing offspring with a man she never even married. What if the husband acts like Sofia decided to do, and holds a huge grudge against his wife for those things done in her past, and never lets himself, “get over,” her past sexual experiences with other men, continually bringing them in to their current arguments and never allowing his wife to fully, “pay,” for the sins she’d committed? We’d then be able to see it clearly as the husband’s own psychological disturbance, and not attribute any further fault to his wife. With Leo Tolstoy, many people, including Nobel Laureates, side with Sofia in this being an excusable and logical offense she held against him for the length of their entire marriage, when obviously, it’s anything but excusable and logical.
- She, several times in her diary, expresses murderous intent toward his former lovers and the one son he had who still lived on their land! She obsesses over his sexual past to the extent of wanting to commit murder several times. Again, as much as I feel sorry for her, I am amazed at the extent of her insanity and what Tolstoy had to put up with for a lifetime of marriage. A healthy woman would have accepted him as he was, but Sofia still used his son’s mother against him in arguments even into their old age! I feel so sorry for him, and amazed he was still able to create the works he did.
- Side note – the more I read her words and the conclusions she comes to, the more I believe she probably had a severe psychological disorder. Her family described her as not having an easy time being happy in general… even as a child, it is noted she was never able to really be happy. I believe people are able to *choose* happiness, and I don’t excuse Sofia for literally ruining her life over the most mundane reasons to be unhappy. Her entire diary seems to be one of constant finding fault, constant taking offense (oftentimes where it’s unclear if she even understands it was intended!). She is a very sad and pathetic woman, what an eye-opening experience reading her mind’s workings.
- So back to this issue of holding a spouse’s past against them. My own husband has a past sexual history before he met me, and it’s something I’ve never held against him because when he married me, he committed to me wholly, just like Tolstoy did to Sofia. It would be incredibly foolish and perverted to continue to, “punish,” him for things he did in his past before he even knew me, or had taken vows to me. Like Tolstoy, my husband wasn’t even a real Christian back then, so to hold his sins against him would be wrong. Sofia’s immaturity and psychologically disturbed thinking gives me an even more sympathetic perspective to how Leo managed to live with her successfully all those years at all. The fact that he was able to produce such magnificent and powerful novels, even while being relentlessly torn down by such a mentally disturbed woman, shows remarkable strength and resilience. It’s sad that I although I do feel sorry for her, I also feel even more correct in my first assessment that she was one of the women who make sure they are chronically unhappy no matter what the circumstances may be. She constantly pities herself, and hates her life. She resents the life she could have had if she were a single woman.
- She absolutely hated him spending time with the peasants, teaching them and mentoring them. She hated having them around their house, taking care of them, and despised her husband for loving this service he desired to provide to the poor. My own great great grandparents also had peasants and homeless people living around on their estate property (which was not large… so they literally had homeless people living in their backyard)! Their adult children talked about this a lot in the document they left, which is the only reason why we know about it. My great-great grandfather was a doctor, one of the only ones in that entire area, so it made sense these people would flock to this strong Christian family, who were both husband and wife, very loving and kind people who would physically and spiritually care for them for free. They were probably like a beacon of hope to destitute people, and this is what Jesus said we should be like. I know they viewed this service as a beautiful charity, and I’m amazed in contrast, at Sofia’s selfishness and greed and disdain toward the poor. For all her admonitions and self-proclamations of thinking she was super religious and selfless, we see she was anything but! But that is how self-righteous people operate. They see themselves as put-upon, as an ever-perpetual victim, but in reality, their lives are much more complex with their causing their own problems. She hated the poor, hated serving them, and hated her own husband for loving them and having them on their property. I am so grateful my great-great grandmother did not feel this way, how awful it would have been for their marriage if she’d behaved like Sofia Tolstoy.
- Sofia would frequently use threats or actual attempts of suicide in order to manipulate him further in order to control her husband. This is classic psychological disorder-type actions. I believe she was probably bi-polar, or Cluster B-type, but it would take a very skilled psychologist to go through everything she did (and especially the disturbed way she thought) to untangle what she had. But it’s clear she was not mentally healthy, and probably wasn’t from a young age.
- Tolstoy went on to become a fervent and very strange, type of Christian (note that he wasn’t when we was whoring around in his young years). In his later years, he came to the strong convictions that it was morally wrong and horrible for young men to do what he had done, to sleep around so much before marriage, and praised and promoted abstinence before marriage for both sexes. I do admit he took his views a little too far in his old age, but after decades of living with a wife who tortured him mentally and emotionally, I think his views that people shouldn’t get married at all (or have sex – he became asexual in ideology) probably are the reason for his extreme views.
I’m sure I’ll write more when I have time. It’s interesting to read someone else’s diary… very eye-opening to see how someone else’s mind works.
I myself, am an avid diary-writer ever since I was 6 years old. My husband has read all my diaries LOL, so reading about Sofia and Leo reading each other’s diaries, and such, leads me to compare and contrast the differences between their relationship and ours. It’s so sad that she chooses to constantly write herself as the victim to her own life’s story… never taking ownership of her glaringly obvious faults, and everything always being other people’s fault… her always the perfect, selfless martyr who resentfully dedicates her life to others in a way that makes them feel they’re taking advantage of her. It just doesn’t have to be that way.
We’ve been through many trials in our marriage of different kinds, but we’ve remained remarkably happy and are closer together in every way through having gone through those trials. It’s strange how some of the very same things that caused so much hostility in the Tolstoy marriage, have only caused us to grow closer together and more strongly bonded. I do believe a lot of that has to do with how I chose to respond to our trials in ways that encouraged my husband, and didn’t tear him down or berate him for, “failing.”
Major outside stresses that could have broken us, didn’t, and when I read the old diaries, they’re filled with this stuff (getting kicked out for wanting to marry him, living in poverty for a few years, having a baby before we were financially ready, doing too much at one time like school, work, and child-rearing, extreme in-law problems, losing jobs early on that made it more financially stressful, miscarriage, parental health decline, caring for dying grand-parents, etc.)… the diaries hit on all those events, but at the same time they’re also filled with so much joy, optimism, and hope and ways/ideas to be better in the future. They read in stark contrast to the way Sofia wrote and thought about life. It’s been a very important spiritual lesson to see the way she saw things, how she couldn’t get past them, and then how those, “hang-ups,” caused her to destroy her own happiness or future chance at happiness.
When I went to a counselor a few years ago because my husband wanted me to after my dad had his stroke, he was amazed how good our marriage was even with going through as many difficulties we’d already been through. He had some kind of checklist for “major,” trials a couple may have experienced in marriage, and our marriage checked almost every one! By all accounts, we should have been in a horrible marriage where I resented and hated him for, “failing,” me as a husband. The counselor was very proud of how in love we still were, how strong our marriage was, and how even after everything we’d been through, we still had a joyful and cheerful outlook on life and the future.
It really makes me wonder how different Sofia’s marriage may have been, if she’d just been aware enough to understand how much she contributed to her own unhappiness? Do people like this ever know how off they are in their reasoning, or are they truly mentally disturbed?
Quick Link reference for those who don’t have a copy of her diary: