On Tolstoy, Feminism, and 1%ers

I’m reading a new biography of Leo Tolstoy by Pavel Basinsky. There is no translation yet, so I can’t link to it, but I wanted to share my impressions nonetheless. (If you read in Russian, though, here is the book.)

First of all, I’m really traumatized by the story of Tolstoy’s poor wife, Sonia. If you have read Tolstoy’s Kreutzer’s Sonata, you probably already can imagine the extent of Tolstoy’s contempt for women. It turns out, however, that the writer’s wife wrote her own response to Kreutzer’s Sonata and narrated her side of their marital drama. When Tolstoy married Sonia, he was a very sexually experienced man of 35, while she was a very innocent young girl of barely 18. The way young women from “good families” were brought up at that time made them more ignorant of human sexuality than any of today’s 5-year-olds. Sonia saw her entire married life with Tolstoy as a series of rapes he constantly perpetrated against her. And this was Tolstoy, a great humanist, a deeply religious person, a philosopher whose ideas of non-violent resistance to evil later inspired Gandhi. One can only imagine what less humanistically inspired men did to their wives.

Sonia gave birth to 13 children, eight of whom survived. She spent 10 years of her life pregnant and 13 years nursing. Tolstoy insisted that she keep having children as long as she physically could, even though doctors insisted it put her life at risk. He also prevented her from getting wet nurses for her children because he believed that “breast is best.” Those who are still not sure of the value of feminism will be well-served to read about Sonia’s life and ask themselves how fair is the system where Sonia’s kind of existence was actually the best a woman could hope for.

Tolstoy was a count, a landowner, a celebrity, and a very rich man. In the last decades of his life, however, he became deeply ashamed of his existence as a 1%er and dreamt of joining the 99% in their life of hardship, poverty, and hard labor. For years, he tried to convince his family to get rid of all their property and begin living the life of poor peasants. When it became clear that they were not interested, Tolstoy ran away from home and started putting into practice his plan of being a 99%er. Of course, in the very first village he reached on his journey, he discovered that he had left behind his nail-brush, his favorite cushion, and a special ink-well that had been created especially for him. And what peasant can do without an ink-well and a nail-brush? It is not surprising that Tolstoy only survived 10 days of living as a regular Russian 99%.

I read all 14 volumes of Tolstoy’s Collected Works when I was a teenager and I always considered all of the fiction he wrote to be of very little value, except one novel, Resurrection. From Basinsky’s biography of Tolstoy, I discovered that there was one person who agreed with my evaluation of the writer’s novelistic production: Tolstoy himself. In his later years, he repudiated everything he wrote before Resurrection, including the supremely boring War and Peace and the failed attempt at imitating the French realists that is Anna Karenina.

Wall Decorations

I don’t feel envy often but there is one thing that makes me envious to the point of giving me heartburn. It’s wall decorations. Sometimes, you walk into an apartment, and the walls are so beautifully decorated with original framed posters, quilts, and what not.

I’ve moved so many times that, of course, the number of things I own had to be reduced to the bare minimum. Besides, I come from a culture where the art of decorating walls did not exist. Our walls were papered, and then nobody was allowed tot ouch them, lean against them, or breath on them. So now I sit here, surrounded by mostly bare white walls, feeling vastly inferior to all those people who have mastered the art of wall decoration.

So I decided to ask my readers for advice. What do you have on your walls? Any suggestions are welcome, except photos of relatives. I don’t think I can deal with having relatives stare at me as I try to live my life. If people want to leave links to things they bought for their walls or always wanted to buy, that will be highly appreciated, too. If you have links to photos you posted of your own walls anywhere, feel free to leave them as well.

Thank you!

“I Like Women Without Makeup”

I keep getting asked whether men who say they like women with no makeup are to be trusted. So here is the answer.

Anybody who makes the following statements:

– I am attracted to women with / without makeup / in pants / in dresses / young / old, etc.;

– I am attracted to men who wear jeans / business suits / young / old / look like Brad Pitt, etc.

. . . is either extremely immature or represents a clinical case of unhealthy sexuality that needs to be avoided. Mature people feel attraction for specific individuals. The number of those individuals is immaterial and can vary widely. In any case, mature sexuality doesn’t get excited about concepts (women in skirts, rich men, young women, men who play a guitar). It gets aroused by concrete, existing people. (Brad Pitt doesn’t count unless you know him in person.)