Leo Tolstoy probably knew a thing about War and Peace...at least as it applied to life in his own home! He might've been a gifted writer, but Count Leo sucked at marriage and was a pretty terrible human.
An aristocrat himself, Leo first met his wife, Sophie, because he was a childhood friend of her mother's. Strike one. In her autobiography, Sophie recounted that, after hanging around her family quite a bit, Leo - who was nearly twenty years older than her! - passed her a piece of paper with a proposal on it. How romantic! Sophie accepted, and the two were married one week later. The year was 1862.
During the first years of the Tolstoys' marriage, they lived a secluded life in Russia while Leo toiled away on his stories. Unlike many literature students, Sophie loved her husband's work; she waxed lyrically about their honeymoon phase, saying, "I desired nothing else than to live with the characters of War and Peace." A helpful assistant to her husband, Sophie was so devoted to him that she happily transcribed parts of that giant book seven times.
But the good times didn't last too long. Not long before their wedding, Sophie read Leo's teenage diaries (with his permission), which shocked her to the core. In her diary, she wrote, "I don't think I ever recovered from the shock of reading Lyovochka's diaries when I was engaged to him - I can still remember the agonizing pangs of jealousy, the horror of that first appalling experience of male depravity..."
Leo and Sophia in 1902. Photo via Indian Express.
Leo's tales of debauchery stirred Sophia's jealousy, and the two began communicating ineffectively - by reading one another's diaries and uncovering one another's innermost thoughts and resentments. And after their wedding, Sophie's first sexual encounter with Leo was absolutely horrific; modern scholars consider it to have been an episode of marital rape.
Over nearly fifty years of marriage, Sophie bore Leo thirteen children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Although she cherished her kids, Sophie wasn't fully satisfied by motherhood and was understandably exhausted by so many pregnancies. On her twelfth pregnancy, she considered abortion; when a midwife wouldn't help her, she took hot baths in attempt to end her pregnancy and then jumped off a chest of drawers. None of these efforts worked, but Sophie, a brilliant, yet intellectually frustrated woman, chronicled her bouts of severe depression in her diaries, especially after she wound up raising most of her younger kids on her own.
Eventually, Leo started subscribing to a life of celibacy and stringency. By the 1880s, he'd resorted to making his own shoes and donning peasants' clothing; trying to raise their children on next to no money, Sophie demanded Leo's publishing royalties to support their family. He even forced her to give up most of her male friendships! And just before Leo's death in 1910, he left the family home - and his wife - for the last time.
Feature image via Rex Features/Daily Mail.