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Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya: Literary Works.

Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya: Literary Works. Ed. Andrew Donskov. Ottawa: Slavic Research Group; Moscow: State L. N. Tolstoy Museum, 2011. 528 pp. Softcover. ISBN: 978-0889274198.

In 2011 a Russian-language volume of Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya's collected works was published in Ottawa with accompanying critical work by Professor Andrew Donskov, the Director of the Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa.

A year after the publication of an enormous tome and autobiography of Sofia Tolstaya, the 1125-page My Life, translated into English by John Woodsworth and Arkadi Klioutchanski, and edited and introduced by Andrew Donskov, the Slavic Research Group is releasing yet another volume. This latest work is dedicated to the wife of the great Russian writer--a wonderful boon to the memory of Sofia Tolstaya, surfacing on the eve of her marriage's 150-year anniversary.

This is a highly anticipated volume. The various publications of Tolstaya's works, scattered around disparate books, have almost never been the subject of focused research and academic comment. Indeed, they have never been published in a single anthology of her work. Andrew Donskov and the Slavic Research Group have made an important and long-awaited step toward the reader and researcher's familiarization with Tolstaya's work.

Without doubt, Sofia Andreevna--wife, mother of numerous children, creative assistant, editor, translator and publisher for her husband's work, mistress and custodian of Yasnaya Polyana--has long deserved this dedicated anthology, which has surfaced almost 150 years after she became the Countess Tolstoy on September 23, 1862.

In the work's introduction, Andrew Donskov writes that
   Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya's independent role as editor and publisher
   of Tolstoy's works is not to be underestimated, certainly not by
   Tolstoy's biographers, who have provided a good deal of
   documentation on her life (though sadly neglecting her own literary
   pursuits). (6)


In addition, he notes that until recently there was very little objective research on the life and work of Sofia Tolstaya. Donskov divides the vast majority of publications on Tolstoy's wife into two categories: In the first he includes material written by the Tolstoyans and their close associates, in which Sofia Tolstaya is generally portrayed in a negative light; in the second, the publications of her friends, visitors, and correspondents, who were persuaded of her talents, dedication to her family and the value of her assistance to her husband. In the latter category, Donskov mentions the names of the artists Ilya Repin and Leonid Pasternak, the composers Sergei Taneev and Anton Arensky, the philosophers Nikolai Grot and Pavel Bakunin, the directors Konstantin Stanislavskii and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, and the literary critics Nikolai Strakhov and Vladimir Stasov, as well as a great number of writers and publishers such as (amongst others) Fet, Turgenev, Gorky, Zinaida Gippius, Nikolai Leskov, and Anna Dostoevskaya. Many of these cultural figures noted, amongst her numerous merits, Sofia Andreevna's gift as a writer.

Exhaustively tracing the history of the publication of Tolstaya's works, Donskov notes the considerable interest in this topic both in Russia and the West over the past decade. As the centenary of her death in 2019 approaches, this interest will only grow; thus this edition of this impressive woman's work is of particular importance now. The appearance in academic circles of her works will play an important role in the preparation of a full critical biography of Sofia Tolstaya. Donskov notes in the introduction:
   The task, though obviously worthwhile, is indeed daunting: It must
   take into account the sum total of her works (including her
   autobiographies, letters and diaries) and the reminiscences
   authored by almost all the members of her extended family and wide
   circle of acquaintances. (11)


He sees the publication of a single anthology of the collected works of Tolstoy's wife as the first step in this direction.

A brief academic analysis precedes Tolstaya's works in the volume at hand. It outlines the history of the works' authorship, theme, and influence on and relationship with Tolstoy's works, which is undoubtedly of extreme importance and utility. The book's detailed chronology of Tolstaya's life is based on her diaries and autobiography. It introduces the reader to the fascinating, eventful, and multi-faceted life of Sofia Tolstaya, who managed to be not only the wife of one of the world's most renowned authors, but also the mother of numerous children, her husband's assistant and secretary, his advisor and co-author, his publisher, the manager of his estate, the custodian of his manuscripts, a photographer, artist, pianist, and, lastly, author in her own right. Thus before us in her entirety is presented the most worthy of companions to her genius husband:
   Finally, the comprehensive three-part bibliography will give the
   reader an idea not only of the extensive scope of her writings, but
   also of the vast number of references to Tolstaya and her literary
   pursuits that have appeared--over the hundred or more years that
   have passed since these works first came to public attention--not
   only in scholarly articles and dissertations, but in a whole
   variety of books, plays, and Internet publications. (11)


The book is comprised of two parts, accompanied by genealogical tables of the Tolstoy and Behrs families, a chronology of Tolstaya's life, a bibliography, table of names, and beautiful illustrations from the Moscow Tolstoy Museum's art and photo collections. In "Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya: A Literary Life in Context," Donskov uses Tolstaya's My Life to describe the three main periods of her life, which in his opinion, "left their mark on Tolstaya's career as a writer, and are worth exploring in some detail" (13). In special detail and with deep insight he writes of her formative years, using her letters, diaries, My Life, and Maksim Gorky's fine essay on the authoress. Donskov is sure that
   on the basis of all the information presented both in this current
   volume and her writings, especially My Life, it is evident that
   SAT's [Tolstaya's] own writing career was not completely atrophied,
   that she left to history a remarkable (given the constraints on her
   life) literary legacy worthy of study. (18)


Discussing Tolstaya's deep interest in philosophy, Donskov includes a list of philosophers who wrote to her over the course of the years. He also writes about her work on the translation into French of her favorite of Tolstoy's philosophical tracts, On Life. On this note, Donskov mentions Tolstaya's platonic relationship with Prince Leonid Urusov, who "was largely responsible for introducing her to study of philosophy" (21). She herself wrote in My Life that
   it was L. D. Urusov who set me and later guided me along this path.
   I became quite attached to him, and loved him for a long time
   because of this--in fact, I have never really stopped loving him
   either, even though he has been dead a long time. (3: 39)


Noting the important role of music in Sofia Tolstaya's life, Donskov writes in particular detail on the death in 1895 of Vanechka, her youngest son. Music was for Tolstaya a powerful means of consolation in this time of terrible grief. The composer Sergei Taneev then arrived at Yasnaya Polyana; his talent for performance appealed to Sofia Andreevna, and had on her a healing influence:
   Again, just as with Urusov, SAT took pains to deny any kind of
   romantic relationship with her musical muse: "I refused to
   entertain such a thought. I would always deny it and was actually
   afraid of it, even though there was one time when the influence of
   Taneev's personality was very strong. Once that kind of feeling
   surfaces, it kills any sense of importance in the music and art. I
   wrote a long piece on that." (24)


Editorial and publishing work occupied a great deal of Sofia Tolstaya's life, and on this subject, Donskov writes in detail of Tolstoy's renunciation of copyright, beginning in 1883, when he limited his royalty payments to those for works written before 1881 only. In 1891, Tolstoy announced a complete rejection of copyright. Naturally, this affected his wife. Nonetheless, between 1886 and 1911, she released eight volumes of his collected works and a large quantity of individual works, for which she also carried out all editorial and proofreading duties.

Through her intensive publishing work, Tolstaya befriended Nikolai Strakhov, who became a close colleague in issuing her husband's works:
   Her exchange of eighty-seven letters with Strakhov [1872-95,
   published in Donskov's Tolstoj I S.A. Tolstaja] is another
   testimony to her tireless efforts along this line. In addition,
   they offer a rare insight into both Lev Nikolaevich's and Sofia
   Andreevna's personal lives, as well as their thoughts on their
   family and acquaintances which they shared with one of their
   closest friends. (27)


Through Strakhov, Tolstaya also made the acquaintance of Anna Dostoevskaya, Dostoevsky's widow:
   Sofia Andreevna and Anna Grigor'evna developed not just a
   professional relationship but a personal friendship as well, which
   they continued to maintain through correspondence and occasional
   visits. Both these women aspired to preserve for posterity valuable
   archival materials as well as other representative samples of their
   husbands' personal effects. (30)


During the preparation for print of the fifth volume of Tolstoy's works, Sofia Andreevna encountered difficulties with censorship, especially with regard to Volume XII, which included works previously forbidden by the censorship such as Confession, What Then Must We Do?, and My Faith--in the fourth part of My Life, Tolstaya describes her meeting with Konstantin Pobedonostsev and Evgenii Feoktistov. A no less serious situation occurred in 1891 on the publication of The Kreutzer Sonata, which Tolstaya included in Volume XIII of her husband's collected works. She was obliged to attend a special audience with Alexander III himself, during which she
   managed to both make a personal impression on him and secure his
   permission for including The Kreutzer Sonata in her own edition of
   Tolstoy's Complete Collected Works. Her face-to-face meeting with
   both the Emperor and the Empress are vividly and engagingly
   described in My Life (Vol. 92-94). (35)


In the chapter titled "Autobiographical Writings," Donskov divides all of Tolstaya's autobiographical materials into three categories: her diaries, My Life, and a shorter version, Autobiography. He exhaustively analyses each of these elements in historical retrospect and in terms of structure and content. Chapter Four contains a short critical commentary on each of Tolstaya's literary works, which are printed in the second part of their book in the original:
   These comprise: (1) Natasha, a story she wrote in her maidenhood;
   (2) SAT's contributions to her husband's anthology A New Primer
   [Novaja azbuka]; (3) a series of five stories published in 1910
   under the collective title The Skeleton-Dolls and Other Stories
   [Kukolki-skelettsy I drugie rasskazy]; (4) her novella Who Is to
   Blame? [Chja vina?], penned in the early 1890s partly as a response
   to LNT's controversial novel The Kreutzer Sonata, though not
   published in her lifetime; (5) a subsequent narrative (written
   following the death of her last son Vanechka in 1895) entitled Song
   Without Words [Pesnja bez slov], which also remained unpublished
   until 2010; and finally, (6) Groanings [Stony], which was crafted
   as a "poem in prose" (a lyrical composition in poetic form but
   without traditional poetic devices such as metre or rhyme); this
   was published in 1904 in a Russian women's literary magazine. (65)


This volume of Sofia Tolstaya's literary works, which has been prepared appositely by Andrew Donskov, shows in its entirety the undoubted literary gift of the author. The early, now-lost story Natasha delighted Tolstoy by the "energy of its truth and simplicity." Sofia Andreevna's poetic experiments--especially her Groanings cycle, published in 1904 in the Journal For All ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) are not even known to every Tolstoy specialist. Andrew Donskov's invaluable work in preparing, academically commenting on, and editing Tolstaya's literary efforts has given us a fabulous opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the work of this surprising woman, Tolstoy's wife, mother to thirteen children, grandmother to twenty-five and--as is now entirely evident--gifted writer. Accordingly, the next task for the researcher is the preparation of a first real critical biography of Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya.

Works Cited

Donskov, Andrew, ed. L.N. Tolstoj i S.A. Tolstaja: Perepiska/The Tolstoys' correspondence with N.N. Strakhov. Ottawa: Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa; Moscow: State L.N. Tolstoy Museum, 2000.

Tolstaya, Sofia Andreevna. My Life. trans. John Woodsworth and Arkadi Klioutchanski. Ed. Andrew Donskov. Ottawa : U of Ottawa P, 2010.

Galina Alekseeva

Yasnaya Polyana Museum

(Translated by Ian Garner)
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Author:Alekseeva, Galina
Publication:Tolstoy Studies Journal
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Words:2043
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