The last station

No matter how brilliantly actors Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren portrayed the warring Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and his wife, Sofia, in the film The Last Station, there was a far richer story left untold.

Anyone who has read the diaries of Sofia would know that the film failed to capture the depth and devoted character of the Russian Countess, who has been much maligned by historians as the shrew who made Tolstoy’s life a misery.  The film was a missed opportunity to rewrite the poor image of Sofia and instead, only a few tangled threads of the rich human tapestry she created over almost 50 years.  A few strategic flashbacks would have captured their exquisite love for each other for much of their long fruitful marriage, which soured so horribly at the end.

Sofia kept a diary from the age of 11 to the month before her death, aged 75 and the whole delightful, encompassing story is recorded in The Diaries of Sofia Tolstaya, translated by Cathy Porter. Her diary, filled with  love, care, kindness and devotion to Leo and his works, has cast a startling new light on their tempestuous – and at the end, tragic – family life.

From her first stirrings of love for the man, a regular visitor to their family who was 16 years older to his utterance that he preferred Chertkov the diary is rivetting. “At first I didn’t think his visits had anything to do with me,’’ she wrote when she was 17.  “But gradually I began to realise that my feelings for him were growing serious. I remember I once ran upstairs in a state of great agitation to our bedroom with its French window overlooking the pond and beyond it the church and as  I stood at the window, my heart pounding, my sister Tanya came in and immediately realised how agitated I was Read more »