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Sophia Tolstoy

Sophia Tolstaya
Spouse(s) Leo Tolstoy


13 children; 8 survived childhood
Father Andrey Evstafievich Behrs
Mother Liubov Alexandrovna Islavinoy
Born (1844-08-22)22 August 1844
Died 4 November 1919(1919-11-04) (aged 75)
Yasnaya Polyana, Tula Governorate, Soviet Russia

Countess Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya (née Behrs) (Russian: Со́фья Андре́евна Толста́я, German: Sofja Andrejewna Tolstaja, sometimes Anglicised as Sophia Tolstoy; 22 August 1844 – 4 November 1919), was a Russian diarist and the wife of Russian novelist and thinker Leo Tolstoy.


  • Biography 1
  • Works 2
  • Bibliography 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Sophia was one of three daughters of the physician Andrey Evstafievich Behrs (1808-1868), and his wife, Liubov Alexandrovna Behrs, née Islavinoy (1826-1886). She was first introduced to Leo Tolstoy in 1862, when she was 18 years-old. At 34, Tolstoy was 16 years her senior. On 17 September 1862 the couple became formally engaged after Tolstoy gave Sophia a written proposal of marriage,[1] marrying a week later in Moscow.[2] At the time of their marriage, Leo Tolstoy was already well known as a novelist after the publication of The Cossacks. On the eve of their marriage, Tolstoy gave Sophia his diaries detailing his sexual relations with female serfs. In Anna Karenina, 34-year-old Constantine Levin, a semi-autobiographical character behaves similarly, asking his 19-year-old fiancée Kitty to read his diaries and learn of his past transgressions.

The diary included the fact that he had fathered a child by a woman who remained on the Yasnaya Polyana estate. In Anne Edward's Sonya, she describes Sophia as having a deep fear that Tolstoy would somehow re-enter a relationship with the woman.

Sophia Tolstaya and daughter Alexandra Tolstaya

The Tolstoys had 13 children, eight of whom survived childhood.[3] The family was prosperous, owing to Tolstoy's efficient management of his estates and to the sales of his works, making it possible to provide adequately for the family.

Tolstaya was a devoted help to her husband in his literary work. She acted more than a copyist of War and Peace, copying and editing the manuscript seven times from beginning to end.[2] In 1887, Tolstaya took up the relatively new art of photography.[4] She took over a thousand photographs that documented her life, including with Tolstoy, and the decline of pre-Soviet Tsarist Russia.[5] She was also a diarist and documented her life with Leo Tolstoy in a series of diaries which were published in English translation in the 1980s.[6] Tolstaya wrote her memoirs as well, which she titled My Life.[7]

Family of Leo Tolstoy, 1887

After many years of an increasingly troubled marriage—the couple argued over Tolstoy's desire to give away all his private property[8]—Leo left Sophia abruptly in 1910, aged 82, with his doctor, Dushan Makovicki (Dušan Makovický), and daughter Alexandra. Tolstoy died 10 days later in a railway station, whilst Sophia was kept away from him (as depicted in the film, The Last Station).[4] Following the death of her husband, Sophia continued to live in Yasnaya Polyana and survived the Russian Revolution in relative peace. She died in 1919.

With recent increased interest in Sophia Tolstaya some new biographical works, based on her memoirs and diaries, have been published:

  • Ursula Keller/Natalja Sharandak: Sofja Andrejewna Tolstaja: Ein Leben an der Seite Tolstojs. Frankfurt am Main, Germany 2009
  • Nina Niktina. Sofja Tolstaja. Moskow 2010
  • Alexandra Popoff. Sophia Tolstoya. A Biography. Free Press 2010


The family circle at Yasnaya Polyana. c. 1905
  • Autobiography of Sophie Andreevna Tolstoi online at
  • The memoirs of Sofia Tolstoy, which she titled "My Life" – at University of Ottawa Press
  • Who's to blame (Russian: Чья вина?), Oktyabr 1994/10, 6-59. German Translation: Eine Frage der Schuld, Zürich 2008.[9]
  • Song without Words (Russian: Песня без слов), unpublished in Russia. German Translation: Lied ohne Worte, Zürich 2010.[10]
  • Cathy Porter (tr), The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy (London: HarperCollins, 2010).


  • Ursula Keller, Natalja Sharandak. Sofja Andrejewna Tolstaja. Ein Leben an der Seite Tolstojs, Frankfurt, M. Leipzig: Insel Verlag. 2009.
  • Lew Tolstoj - Sofja Tolstaja: Eine Ehe in Briefen. Ed. and trans. from Russian by Ursula Keller, Natalja Sharandak. Berlin: Insel Verlag, 2010.[11]
  • Leah Bendavid-Val. Song without words: the photographs & diaries of countess Sophia Tolstoy. Washington, DC: National Geographic. 2007.
  • Anne Edwards. Sonya: The Life of Countess Tolstoy. 1981.
  • Cynthia Asquith. Married to Tolstoy. 1960.

In popular culture

She was portrayed by Helen Mirren in the 2009 biographical film, The Last Station, based on the 1990 biographical novel of the same name by Jay Parini,[12] while the role of her husband Leo Tolstoy was portrayed by Christopher Plummer. Both actors were nominated for Academy Awards in their respective categories. Her life was also serialised in August 2010 by BBC's Radio 4 with the title A Simple Life.


  1. ^ "The autobiography of Countess Sophie Tolstoi". Retrieved 8 October 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Michael Hoffman (7 March 2010). (Interview). Bob Edwards Weekend. 
  3. ^ Feuer, Kathryn B. (1996). Tolstoy and the Genesis of War and Peace.  
  4. ^ a b Shonk, Catherine (21 December 2007). "What Mrs Tolstoy Saw".  
  5. ^ Bendavid-Val, Leah (2007). "Song Without Words: The Photographs & Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy".  
  6. ^ The latest condensed version, The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, translated by Cathy Porter, was published by Alma Books, London, in 2009 (ISBN 9781846880803).
  7. ^ Tolstaya, Sophia (2010),  
  8. ^ "Infobase Learning". Retrieved 2013-05-31. (subscription required)
  9. ^ "Sofja Tolstaja: Eine Frage der Schuld. Manesse Verlag (Gebundenes Buch, Literatur aus Russland und Osteuropa)" (in Deutsch). Retrieved 2012-10-03. 
  10. ^ "Sofja Tolstaja: Lied ohne Worte. Manesse Verlag (Gebundenes Buch, Literatur aus Russland und Osteuropa)" (in Deutsch). 2011-01-23. Retrieved 2012-10-03. 
  11. ^ "Lew Tolstoj - Sofja Tolstaja, Eine Ehe in Briefen von Lew Tolstoj, Sofja Tolstaja - Suhrkamp Insel Bц╪cher Buchdetail" (in Deutsch). 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2012-10-03. 
  12. ^ Ed Meza (2008-03-31). "'"Mirren, Plummer to star in 'Station.  

External links

  • Sophia Tolstoy, A Biography by Alexandra Popoff
  • Writers and their wives: Together in love, work and legacy
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