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Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography

30 review for Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This made me so angry at a dead guy, like you don't even know. This made me so angry at a dead guy, like you don't even know.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    Interesting, especially since the author says that Tolstoy used much of his life with Sophia as inspiration for "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina". Interesting, especially since the author says that Tolstoy used much of his life with Sophia as inspiration for "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina".

  3. 4 out of 5

    Quirkyreader

    This book was a good introduction to the wives of famous Russian writers. I had already read more in depth biographies about many of the people mentioned in this book. So, for a person unfamiliar with Russian writing they can get a taste and possibly go onto other books and learn more.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    The "The Last Station", portraying Tolstoy's last days when his wife Sophia learned of his secret will leaving his copyrights to the Russian people, piqued my interest in Tolstoy. Only so much can be shown in a film and what was missing was the background that underpinned Tolstoy's decision. In this book, Alexandra Popoff, though reconstructing Sophia's life, provided the information and insight I was seeking. Popoff shows Tolstoy's beliefs to have a Christian foundation and that they were lifelo The "The Last Station", portraying Tolstoy's last days when his wife Sophia learned of his secret will leaving his copyrights to the Russian people, piqued my interest in Tolstoy. Only so much can be shown in a film and what was missing was the background that underpinned Tolstoy's decision. In this book, Alexandra Popoff, though reconstructing Sophia's life, provided the information and insight I was seeking. Popoff shows Tolstoy's beliefs to have a Christian foundation and that they were lifelong. The movie emphasized the secular effects (poverty, chastity, the commune of followers, etc.) and only chronicled the drama it caused at the end of his life. Both the movie and this book show Tolstoy as sincere in his beliefs. Both show the contrast with his lifestyle, but the book brings to life how his life depended on Sophia's unappreciated toil. The film shows the large estate and has an affectionate/playful bedroom scene, but the book points out more clearly, how over the course of his life, Tolstoy's wealth and marriage ran counter to his writings. Popoff shows how Sophia was a necessary victim. Tolstoy had to blame someone for the disconnect between his beliefs and his comparative (not much considering the wealth in St. Petersburg) wealth and marriage. The movie shows only the end of life distress for Sophia, the book shows how she labored and suffered under Tolstoy's contradictions for a very long time. He tried to keep his ultimate wishes from her - most likely - Popoff does not say - because he was ashamed, knowing she deserved better. Tolstoy's letters and diaries show him to be cruel or oblivious to the effect of his words and actions on his wife. Their wedding night is a rape. He has a venereal disease and a son, which he reveals after the marriage. His words show that he has little regard for the risks of childbearing, and even children. He doesn't appreciate what it takes to meet the needs of so many children, run a household and manage the business end of the estate and self publishing. His requests were many. Some needed skill and ingenuity such as getting his works uncensored or shipping 45 horses from point A to point B. My heart went out to Sophia. Being trapped in an exploitative marriage might not be so unusual in the 19th century, but what was striking was how her extraordinary efforts and ability served Tolstoy's talent, demands and idealism. I believe that were she not capable of handling so many things successfully Tolstoy a) would have had to take responsibility for his decisions or b) would have abandoned his wife entirely as did at least one disciple, whose cast off wife Sophia spoke for and sheltered. Servants are mentioned, but how the work is distributed is unclear. What is clear is that Sophia was working very hard and like all humans, needed love. Popoff shows how Tolstoy provided criticism and humiliation along with some love and appreciation. It is hard to determine the proportions, but it is clear that his denial of emotional support and undermining of the authority necessary to her role drove her to near breaking on several occasions. Vladimir Chertkov, Tolsoty's disciple and de facto beneficiary to the copyrights, felt no need to give away his wealth when he was among Tolstoyians or later with the communists. It is interesting that Sophia considered that Chertkov may have had a sexual relationship with her husband. For the time, this would be quite a radical thought. This is an excellent work. Popoff fleshes out all the above and more. Reading this gave me the understanding I was looking for and it was a page turner. I read it in every available minute over two days.

  5. 4 out of 5

    False

    I've read a great deal about Tolstoy and his family, especially his troubled relationship with his wife, and this ongoing battle to be near the "Master" by his acolytes. He made his family's life a living hell with his egomania and poor decisions. I have special ordered on loan a copy of Countess Tolstoy's "My Life" which wasn't quite yet printed (and has been surpressed since it was written, leaving Sophia with black marks against her life as some controlling, vengeful creature who didn't honor I've read a great deal about Tolstoy and his family, especially his troubled relationship with his wife, and this ongoing battle to be near the "Master" by his acolytes. He made his family's life a living hell with his egomania and poor decisions. I have special ordered on loan a copy of Countess Tolstoy's "My Life" which wasn't quite yet printed (and has been surpressed since it was written, leaving Sophia with black marks against her life as some controlling, vengeful creature who didn't honor her husband or his beliefs. Quite the contrary. She sacrificed her life for him. She did it ALL. And when you read of her life, from the time of her marriage at 16, and her wedding night rape in the carriage, the loss and bearing of so many children, the conflicts her husband brought into their lives, you wonder how she survived it with such dignity. I am glad that books are finally coming out about her, and setting history straight. I'm sure wherever she is, that it gladdens her heart as well. I can hear her saying "Finally."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Karen Mosley

    "Fear of madness is so great that I cannot overcome it. Such personalities as mine, which cannot be broken by physical strain, break down mentally." "I believe that there are obligations which are ordained by God, that no one has the right to deny them, and that these obligations actually promote, rather than hinder, the spiritual life." She believed looking after one's family was a godly responsibility. "There are always plenty of opportunities for grief in our life. The question is whether we "Fear of madness is so great that I cannot overcome it. Such personalities as mine, which cannot be broken by physical strain, break down mentally." "I believe that there are obligations which are ordained by God, that no one has the right to deny them, and that these obligations actually promote, rather than hinder, the spiritual life." She believed looking after one's family was a godly responsibility. "There are always plenty of opportunities for grief in our life. The question is whether we have the strength to survive them and control ourselves." "I was wondering today why there were no women writers, artists or composers of genius. It's because all the passion and all the abilities of an energetic woman are consumed by her family... When she has finished bearing and educating her children, her artistic needs awaken, but by then it's too late." "Life is energy and struggle, constantly changing feelings, the ebb and flow of good and evil--life is life, there's no stopping it. . . Although when the time comes to stop it naturally, we must greet the end calmly and joyfully; then, contemplating God and submitting to His Will, we shall be spiritually reunited with Him and physically reunited with Nature. And there can be nothing but good there." These are some of the quotes from Sophia Tolstoy's writings that I found thought-provoking. Although I don't agree completely with everything she said, I could relate to her in so many ways. Tolstoy's behavior could by today's standards possibly be called ADHD, and the challenges of loving, caring for, and 'cleaning up after' people with that challenge is much of my daily life. I did not like the 'book', however, as it jumped around chronologically, assumed you already knew about many things, such as the 'secret will', constantly repeated and reiterated points already made clear, and often said, "he/she felt this way today, but that would change later". It was often written as a rebuttal to previous writings rather than a biography in its own right. It was frustrating and could have been written so much better with the rich biographical material now available to work with.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rwildfon

    This was a fascinating read having just finished Alexandra Tolstoy's book + seeing the movie, "The Last Station" which is about the last days of Tolstoy's life. I was so glad to see that someone researched Sophia's life. The old saying: "Behind every great man is a great woman" was true for this couple. While Tolstoy was writing, she was rewriting every word for publication, then publishing those words, giving birth to his 16 children, cooking, sewing, teaching, planting, and writing her own sto This was a fascinating read having just finished Alexandra Tolstoy's book + seeing the movie, "The Last Station" which is about the last days of Tolstoy's life. I was so glad to see that someone researched Sophia's life. The old saying: "Behind every great man is a great woman" was true for this couple. While Tolstoy was writing, she was rewriting every word for publication, then publishing those words, giving birth to his 16 children, cooking, sewing, teaching, planting, and writing her own stories. She was a whirlwind. Tolstoy was given a long leash on which he became the great writer that he was. Tolstoy became more famous than he probably wished. The numbers of people who congregated to see him, hear his words, cheer him at train stations is epic. The Tolstoyian Movement was international. Sophia was dragged through the mud by the movement's leader, Vladimir Chertkov. His edited versions of Tolstoy's letters influenced bias against Sophia. She found refuge in painting, music (piano playing) and photography. She published a book of photos she took of Yasna Polyana, I wish I could see it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paige

    This was super fascinating to read. I've loved Tolstoy's work but I really hadn't done any homework concerning his context or background. So it was nice to get that peripherally in this book while focusing on this amazing woman. Reading about her life made me feel like I've had a very easy life and that I'm a very lazy person. She was so diligent and went through so much, it was fascinating to learn about all the ins and outs of being married to a literary genius at the turn of the century. Also This was super fascinating to read. I've loved Tolstoy's work but I really hadn't done any homework concerning his context or background. So it was nice to get that peripherally in this book while focusing on this amazing woman. Reading about her life made me feel like I've had a very easy life and that I'm a very lazy person. She was so diligent and went through so much, it was fascinating to learn about all the ins and outs of being married to a literary genius at the turn of the century. Also there were great descriptions and even pictures (that she herself took) so that really augmented the reading experience, brought it to life. And as far as bias go, I haven't read any others but it seemed as if this was coming in, weighing more in Sophia's favor than most biographers of the Tolstoy's have in the past, so I suppose it felt well balanced, in that regard. Certainly it was well researched.

  9. 4 out of 5

    PennsyLady (Bev)

    Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography by Alexandra Popoff (2010) Drawn on newly available archival material, including Sophia’s unpublished memoir. An exceptional biography defining Sophia's role in Tolstoy's legacy. Wife, mother, editor, archivist, publisher, businesswoman, intellectual...and so much more. Maligned by Tolstoy's acolyates, we meet a remarkably passionate woman and experience her perspective , her joy and despair in being married to a literary genius (great and volatile). It was an uncomplicated r Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography by Alexandra Popoff (2010) Drawn on newly available archival material, including Sophia’s unpublished memoir. An exceptional biography defining Sophia's role in Tolstoy's legacy. Wife, mother, editor, archivist, publisher, businesswoman, intellectual...and so much more. Maligned by Tolstoy's acolyates, we meet a remarkably passionate woman and experience her perspective , her joy and despair in being married to a literary genius (great and volatile). It was an uncomplicated read and teeming with historical detail and both an uplifting and equally tragic account of their union.

  10. 5 out of 5

    vk

    Reading this book [as a woman] was more than hard; challenging. The 19th century, a different country, a family. Life stories, a great author and a fantastic woman behind the back, being in the shadow all along. Without Sofja… would not have been Tolstoy either.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I saw this on heavy discount at a going-out-of-business Borders store - I'm always a sucker for biographies (picked up 2 others at same time). I was glancing through at the pictures and got caught up reading a little, liking the style of the book itself and finding Sophia to be quite interesting. So instead of putting this on the shelf for an "after I finish my yoga teacher certification" reward, it became my "escape from reading only about yoga", bedtime book. I found this book to be, in the wor I saw this on heavy discount at a going-out-of-business Borders store - I'm always a sucker for biographies (picked up 2 others at same time). I was glancing through at the pictures and got caught up reading a little, liking the style of the book itself and finding Sophia to be quite interesting. So instead of putting this on the shelf for an "after I finish my yoga teacher certification" reward, it became my "escape from reading only about yoga", bedtime book. I found this book to be, in the words of Spock, "FASCINATING." I'd known nothing about Sophia Tolstaia prior to this, and virtually nothing about Lev Tolstoy other that in late life he became a renunciant of the nobility lifestyle and worked side-by-side with the peasants back on his family estate in Yasnaia Polyana. I also had known nothing about his manic depression (I think he'd be classified with bipolar disorder these days), nor the heavy mental and physical burden it was for his wife to care for him, support his work, manage the "mundane" financial aspects of their family life, and give birth to 13 (?) children, some of whom died very young. What perserverance of spirit, what strength, all while her husband was against women's sufferage / rights and essentially left it to her alone to raise the children, clothe, feed and educate them alone, while he was off writing, philosophizing, and preaching about his lofty ideals. Great book, will probably read it again some years down the road.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    Leo Tolstoy is, without comparison, my favorite fiction writer. I had heard the story of his death...that his wife was giving the government documents about him...that he left her and collapsed, dead, in a train station trying to flee. Well, apparently there's a little more too it, as I discovered by reading this biography of his wife. The truth is that she was married (48 years) to a man who was a talented artist but also a radical. After studying the Gospels he developed his own religious view Leo Tolstoy is, without comparison, my favorite fiction writer. I had heard the story of his death...that his wife was giving the government documents about him...that he left her and collapsed, dead, in a train station trying to flee. Well, apparently there's a little more too it, as I discovered by reading this biography of his wife. The truth is that she was married (48 years) to a man who was a talented artist but also a radical. After studying the Gospels he developed his own religious view which included renouncing all property (as a Count he had extensive properties). Over time he had many followers, which lived with them much of the time. He treated Sophia with disdain and condescension and was a complete hypocrite in much of what he preached. For example, he preached celibacy and yet came home every few months after which Sophia found herself pregnant (by the way, she had 16 pregnancies...9 surviving children). And the real story of his death is nothing short of sad and pathetic and does not involve his wife at all. He was going to live with some of his followers (like he always did), he had pneumonia and died. Needless to say, my view of Tolstoy has been a little tarnished. I guess that's what happens when one makes the mistake of thinking the artist must be as perfect as his art.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zareen

    A thoroughly researched biography of Sophia Tolstoy from which I learnt a great deal about her & Tolstoys’ complex lives together. I came across Sofia Tolstoy through a collection of her diaries in the library which I dipped into but didn’t borrow at the time. When I went back to the library to borrow the tome at a later date, the book had been withdrawn, but the librarian had suggested that I could read Alexandra Popoff’s biography instead. I came away with little respect for Tolstoy who had been A thoroughly researched biography of Sophia Tolstoy from which I learnt a great deal about her & Tolstoys’ complex lives together. I came across Sofia Tolstoy through a collection of her diaries in the library which I dipped into but didn’t borrow at the time. When I went back to the library to borrow the tome at a later date, the book had been withdrawn, but the librarian had suggested that I could read Alexandra Popoff’s biography instead. I came away with little respect for Tolstoy who had been put on a pedestal by many in the past. While Sophia has been demonised and written out of history through the vigorous efforts of one or two disciples of Tolstoy, chiefly Chertkov Alexandra Popoff readdresses the balance to a great extent. The ‘disciples of Tolstoy’ under the domination of Chertkov have enthralled & captivated Tolstoy & his legacy. Chertkov had poisoned the mind of Leo Tolstoy against his wife and some of his children, those who refused to go along with his program of a complete myth creation of Tolstoy. Tolstoy and Sophia were married for 48 years but he encouraged Tolstoy to abandon his home in the last ten days of his life so that he died at a station masters cottage in Astapovo. Miles from their home. Chertkov was an evil man who used his power over Tolstoy to dominate, divide & destroy his family relationships.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This book, drawing for the first time from recently released information and documents that show this often misunderstood woman, gives a more balanced look into the life of two powerful, well-matched people who loved and warren in equal measure. I finally understood Sophia's position and realized the difficulty of living with the iconic figure who valued ideology above all else. On the negative side, I didn't find the threw line that marks a biography as exceptional0--the prism through which one This book, drawing for the first time from recently released information and documents that show this often misunderstood woman, gives a more balanced look into the life of two powerful, well-matched people who loved and warren in equal measure. I finally understood Sophia's position and realized the difficulty of living with the iconic figure who valued ideology above all else. On the negative side, I didn't find the threw line that marks a biography as exceptional0--the prism through which one "gets" the way isolated scenes come together. There was a lot of to and fro and here and there--often unexplained and then abaondoned. I at times felt that the biographer was no longer even handed when it came to some of the other characters. Still, for anyone who wants both sides of this complex and fascinating story, this is not to be missed.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amandalynn

    I got turned onto reading this after watching The Last Station(which I had to watch after I had finished listening to Anna Karenina). Tolstoy would have been fascinating to have met and to be married to him would have been a whole other issue. I really enjoyed reading this and my heart went out to Sophia, her life was not an easy one yet better than a lot of Russians. Their love for each other is so layered and complicated but so pure and unbreakable. To have lived with a man as interestingly co I got turned onto reading this after watching The Last Station(which I had to watch after I had finished listening to Anna Karenina). Tolstoy would have been fascinating to have met and to be married to him would have been a whole other issue. I really enjoyed reading this and my heart went out to Sophia, her life was not an easy one yet better than a lot of Russians. Their love for each other is so layered and complicated but so pure and unbreakable. To have lived with a man as interestingly complicated as Tolstoy I don't even know how to put words to how I felt as I read. What I did find interesting was how any of Sophia's writings were just kept hidden from being able to be published(good old censorship of Russia). A good read especially if Russian History fascinates you as much as it does me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cyndi Dionigi-Huffman

    This book made me so sad. Of course, everyone reveres Tolstoy, the great author. I didn't know that he had charmed a virginal gem of a brilliant woman into marrying him, then used and abused her all of her life -- and like any person caught in the cycle of abuse, she kept going back to him. She sacrificed her career and her life for him, and without her, little of his best work would remain the the public realm. Read it, and you'll see how amazing she was, although the book seems to be repeating This book made me so sad. Of course, everyone reveres Tolstoy, the great author. I didn't know that he had charmed a virginal gem of a brilliant woman into marrying him, then used and abused her all of her life -- and like any person caught in the cycle of abuse, she kept going back to him. She sacrificed her career and her life for him, and without her, little of his best work would remain the the public realm. Read it, and you'll see how amazing she was, although the book seems to be repeating the same scenes over and over again as Leo takes advantage of his wife and leaves all of the mundane parts of life to her so that he can be the beloved writer. Was it love? Was she trapped by her choices and enraptured by his writing? Was she a victim of the times? What could she have become if she weren't tied to this man? An amazing read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Daniela Romo

    If you like a very historically detailed account about the depressing life of a famous author's wife, then this may be for you. This book just really isn't all that great. Maybe if this had been told by Sophia's first person point of view instead of written like a history book, it would have been better. If you like a very historically detailed account about the depressing life of a famous author's wife, then this may be for you. This book just really isn't all that great. Maybe if this had been told by Sophia's first person point of view instead of written like a history book, it would have been better.

  18. 5 out of 5

    rose

    Sophia Tolstoy from her wedding night until the day Leo Tolstoy died had a blind love for his genius to a high tolerance for his faults. And faults he had in an abundance. Popoff gives an even view of the highs and lows of Sophia's life who often got a bum rap in other biographies. High praise for this book. Sophia Tolstoy from her wedding night until the day Leo Tolstoy died had a blind love for his genius to a high tolerance for his faults. And faults he had in an abundance. Popoff gives an even view of the highs and lows of Sophia's life who often got a bum rap in other biographies. High praise for this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jodi

    This is an important book for anyone who appreciates Tolstoy's works. Without Sophia, we might not have had War and Peace or Anna Karenina. However, Tolstoy's genius cost his wife dearly, both in her reputation and her own personal interests. She's became one of the most maligned figures in literary history. This book makes no secret of telling Tolstoy's story from Sophia's point of view. This is an important book for anyone who appreciates Tolstoy's works. Without Sophia, we might not have had War and Peace or Anna Karenina. However, Tolstoy's genius cost his wife dearly, both in her reputation and her own personal interests. She's became one of the most maligned figures in literary history. This book makes no secret of telling Tolstoy's story from Sophia's point of view.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Quite the amazing story. I knew little about the Tolstoys until I read Jay Parini's The Last Station, and then I wanted to know more. Further thoughts here. Quite the amazing story. I knew little about the Tolstoys until I read Jay Parini's The Last Station, and then I wanted to know more. Further thoughts here.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Suzie

    One of the reasons I hesitate to read and sing the praises of Leo Tolstoy's work is that I know that it came out of great sacrifice on the part of his wife. People don't give Sophia a fair shake. I want to hear her side of the story first. One of the reasons I hesitate to read and sing the praises of Leo Tolstoy's work is that I know that it came out of great sacrifice on the part of his wife. People don't give Sophia a fair shake. I want to hear her side of the story first.

  22. 4 out of 5

    K C

    Very disappointing. Fascinating subject drily presented. Chronologically presented letter and diary excerpts became tedious with little context or analysis so that the banal was mixed in with the significant. That's how life is, but I expect more from a well written biography. Very disappointing. Fascinating subject drily presented. Chronologically presented letter and diary excerpts became tedious with little context or analysis so that the banal was mixed in with the significant. That's how life is, but I expect more from a well written biography.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Galina

    I think it is about time we find out more about Sophia Tolstoy and her relationship with Lev. She and Lev had an incredibly special friendship and marriage.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Read with The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy's Last Year. Read with The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy's Last Year.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Now I can't wait to see the Last Station. Now I can't wait to see the Last Station.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    I began reading this after watching the movie with Helen Mirren. It is an excellent read so far.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Well written, if occasionally dry, this biography of the very misunderstood, and much maligned wife of Leo Tolstoy is a must read for anyone who loves Russian literature.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    Enjoying this book. Fasinating life.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    Great book, if a little slight. Great information, fascinating read, but can't help thinking it lacks some detail. The book could have easily gone on another couple hundred pages. Great book, if a little slight. Great information, fascinating read, but can't help thinking it lacks some detail. The book could have easily gone on another couple hundred pages.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nicole~

    3.5 stars

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