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Leo Tolstoy and Sophia Bers Leo Tolstoy and Sophia Bers

23 September

On September 23, 1862, Count Leo Tolstoy married Sophia, the daughter of his friend Andrey Behrs. The wedding took place in the court church of the Kremlin, the groom being thirty-four and the bride eighteen years of age. The union of almost fifty years produced 13 children and some of Tolstoy's best works of literature, but eventually turned bitterly unhappy.

Like many of his contemporaries, Tolstoy lived an overindulgent life style that involved gambling and drinking. Believing that married people should have no secrets, in the week between his proposal and their wedding Tolstoy asked his fiancée Sophia to read the intimate diaries he had kept for much of his life.

In them, Sophia discovered details of his extensive sexual past, drunken parties, escapades with gypsies, parlor maids and married women, and finally the most recent love affair with a peasant woman, with whom he fathered a son just a few months before proposing to Sophia.

Sophia was outraged and jealous, but despite this the first years of their marriage were the happiest and they were madly in love. Tolstoy wrote in a letter to his friend shortly after the wedding:

“Incredible happiness…I hear the voice of my wife, whom I love more than the whole world. I have lived to the age of thirty-four without knowing that it was possible to love, and to be so happy. When I am more tranquil I will write you a long letter. I should not say 'more tranquil', for I am now more tranquil and clear than I have ever been, but I should say, 'when I am accustomed to it'. At present I have a constant feeling of having stolen an undeserved, illicit, and not-for-me-intended happiness. There…she is coming! I hear her, and it is so good!...And why do such good people as you, and, most wonderful of all, such a being as my wife, love me.”

Throughout the many years together, Sophia remained a loyal assistant to her husband in his work. When Tolstoy was writing his most famous novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Sophia served as his secretary, copying the lengthy manuscripts, in addition to fulfilling her duties as a housewife and a mother. Between 1863 and 1889, Sophia gave birth to 13 children, only eight of whom lived to adulthood.

Sophia, or “Sonya” as her husband called her, was an eminent figure on her own. She had a flair for literature and wrote many short novels, children stories and memoir essays. Most of her life she kept a diary and had a passion for music, painting and photography.

In the 1880's, Tolstoy had a spiritual crisis. He converted to extreme rationalism, rejected many government and church doctrines, disavowed lust and private property, and was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church. This greatly affected his marriage - fights and misunderstandings arose between Tolstoy and his wife as they drifted apart.

In his last weeks, at age eighty-two, Tolstoy fled from his home in the middle of the night. "My position in the house is becoming - has already become - intolerable," he wrote in a letter to Sonya. "I am doing what people of my age very often do: giving up the world, in order to spend my last days alone and in silence."

Tolstoy made it as far as the train station at Astapovo, where he caught pneumonia and collapsed. He refused Sophia entry to the stationmaster’s house where he lay on his deathbed. She was only permitted to see him after he had lost consciousness and knelt by his bed as he died.

Tolstoy's death deeply affected Sophia; she was overwhelmed with feeling of regret that she was unable to say good-bye to her husband. In her diaries she wrote “Unbearable grief, remorse, weakness, sorrow for my dead husband…I can't live any longer”. She passed away nine years later, on November 4, 1919. Despite her hopes that she be buried by Tolstoy's side on the estate, Yasnaya Polyana, where they had lived for most of their marriage, Sonya was laid to rest in the cemetery at Kochaky, two miles from her husband’s grave.