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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A consideration of the influence of certain women on Leo Tolstoy Kournossoff, Michael V.


It is the purpose of this thesis to trace the influence on the development of Tolstoy as a literary genius of several women with whom he came in close contact during his long life. The first woman considered is Countess Mary Tolstoy, the saintly mother who died when her son was less than two years old. All that he knew of her, he learned indirectly from her letters and diary, from old servants, friends, and relatives, and more especially from "Aunt" Tatyana Yergolskaya. However, her influence was so great, inspite of the fact that he never remembered her personally, that she must occupy a prominent place in this work. She became for her famous son an ideal, a seeker for truth, a mother-image and a standard of self-sacrificing womanhood against which, throughout his life all women were measured and fell short. Another woman whose influence on Tolstoy was somewhat indirect was his "Aunt" Alexandra Andreievna Tolstoy, to whom he wrote and in whom he confided from his early manhood till her death in 1903, but whom he rarely met. His correspondence with her has been used in this thesis. The woman who had the most direct influence on Tolstoy during his early formative years was Tatyana Yergolskaya. It was she who not only kept always before him the image of his saintly mother, but who herself became its reflection. It was she who created the warm nest, protecting him from the cold realities of life and making his future adjustment so difficult; who through, her loving self-sacrifice developed his egoism; and who first inspired him to write. Amongst the women with whom Tolstoy fell in love, Valeria Arseniev held a unique position. It was not that she influenced him directly, but indirectly she contributed to his development, in that during his courtship, while weighing the advisability of marriage, Tolstoy crystalized his ideas of what a wife should be, and what role she should play in his life. Valeria fell short of his ideal of womanhood and his conception of a help-mate. He searched elsewhere. The greatest influence on his genius was undoubtedly his wife, Sophia. Having found the woman who, he felt, measured up as closely as possible to his requirements of a self-sacrificing worker, an intellectual companion and literary helper, a loyal, dedicated loving mother, he married in haste. Prom 1862-1877 Sophia's influence was paramount. Believing in her mission, to.be nurse to his genius, she created the atmosphere conducive to his writing; she gave him the stable home life with a large family that he wanted and needed as anchor; she encouraged him to write by her unflagging belief in his talent and her adroit use of flattery, cajolery, and gentle prodding; she made it possible for him to devote all his powers to purely creative work by tirelessly transcribing and intelligently criticizing his work; and she cared for his physical and mental wellbeing by taking off his shoulders, as far as she was able, the weight of mundane matters to do with family, estate, business, and publishing. But even she fell short of the mother-image. In later life the moralist and the seeker transcended the creative artist. Here, Sophia would not, and indeed could not, follow her husband. She could not see the god for the feet of clay. With his last artistic work, Resurrection, her influence ceased and her work ended. She who had been his help-mate in his literary work became his cross in his moral labour. Tolstoy owed a tremendous debt to the women who had influenced his life, but for once, the seer was blind — he could not see the forest for the trees. At seventy-one he said that his opinion of women had been falling for seventy years — this enigmatic statement can be explained. Each woman in his life fell short of his ideal mother-image.

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