Love and Hatred

In the autumn of 1810, thirty-four-year-old Leo Tolstoy, a writer of some fame and a renowned rake, married eighteen-year-old Sofya Behrs, whom he would call Sonya. In order, he said, to get their marriage off to an open, honest start, he insisted that she read his bachelor diaries; in turn, she should share with him the diary she had started to keep shortly after they were wed. Thus began the interplay of external and internal, the cycle of love and recrimination that was to lead to Sonya’s mental deterioration and Leo’s final flight from domesticity.

Initially, although the two powerful personalities frequently warred, the union was relatively stable, with Sonya patiently acting as midwife to her husband’s greatest works, WAR AND PEACE and ANNA KARENINA, published in 1869 and 1876, respectively. In his fifties, however, Tolstoy underwent a midlife crisis of towering proportions, emerging as a mystic and an ascetic. This Sonya could not tolerate: In addition to the jealousy inspired by his earlier diary entries chronicling his sexual escapades, she now had to bear lectures on the virtues of chastity and self-denial. Moreover, Leo wanted to deny her and the children he continued to father with her (they had thirteen together) his literary rights. To the Russian peasants, Leo Tolstoy was a saint; to Sonya, he was a hypocrite. Yet she could not let him go.

Leo, for his part, found his wife’s rejection of his ideals nearly unbearable. While she refused to renounce the aristocratic luxury which surrounded them, she also refused to allow him to live as his conscience dictated. The arrival of a scheming disciple, Vladimir Chertkov, drove home the wedge between Tolstoy and his wife. At the age of eighty-two, Tolstoy fled his possessive wife and ancestral home. Ten days later he died in a stationmaster’s cottage at a remote railway stop, a victim of the Russian winter, the appalling conditions of third-class rail travel, and his long battle with Sonya.

LOVE AND HATRED was William L. Shirer’s fifteenth book, completed shortly before his own death in 1993 at age eighty-nine. Although occasionally repetitious, it is an engrossing account of another writer’s old age and ultimate demise.