Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why I love Carmela Soprano, Clara Schumann, Laura Bush, and Countess Sophia Tolstoy

Perhaps because their stories have so often over the centuries been lost or ignored or simply never told, I have always found fascinating the lives of women who have been largely defined by who they married. There are those who are mere addendums to biography: "He married and had twelve children". There are those whose own prodigious talents are, if not sacrificed, at least altered and redirected in service to their husbands. There are those whose husbands lead them to discover unimagined riches and strength within themselves. And there are those who come to find that their youthful choice of a partner has exacted a psychic or spiritual toll of an astonishing magnitude.

Countess Sophia Tolstoy could be described by any of the above. She was only 18 when she married Count Leo Tolstoy, who was then 34. Sophia held traditional views about marriage and expected to serve her husband. When, later, she came to believe that her husband was, in fact, a true genius, this only strengthened her devotion to duty. But geniuses, real or imagined, can be difficult to serve. Sophia's description of the care and feeding of geniuses, in a remarkably bitter and succinct diary entry in 1902, has delighted wives everywhere ever since its publication.

This entry is part of a display at The Urbana Free Library right now and Sophia Tolstoy is the topic of a presentation to be given by Faith Wilson Stein in the library's front reading rooms this Friday, April 18, 2008, at 7:30 as part of the Urbana Champaign Big Read Tolstoy. The Russian and Eurasian Ensemble will be playing and Tolstoy-esque refreshments will be served. Don't miss it!

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