I’m almost done reading Tolstoy’s recent biography, so I promise to stop bugging everybody with posts on Tolstoy. Just bear with me for a little longer, OK?
Tolstoy never cheated on his wife Sonia in the 48 years they lived together. He was deeply religious and considered marriage to be one of life’s two most important events (the second one being death, which for a Christian is not a negative thing). This is why physical infidelity was unimaginable for Tolstoy. He did, however, have an emotional affair that made his wife suffer tortures of jealousy. She referred to her husband’s spiritual paramour as “a beautiful idol” and “family-breaker.”
“Every day I wait for your letters, I see you in my dreams, I think about you in my every waking moment. What is happening to you? Did I do anything to upset you? I keep thinking about it but have no idea what it is I might have done wrong” writes 62-year-old Tolstoy to the much younger object of his affections.
“Thank you for your recent letter,” writes Tolstoy in response to a missive where nasty insinuations were made about the writer’s wife. “You probably cannot even imagine how happy it made me feel. . . I feel joyous and I love you.”
So who was this person seen by aging Tolstoy as his only true spiritual companion and who undermined the writer’s long marriage, separating him eventually from his wife of 48 years and children?
It was Vladimir Chertkov, a young, mentally disturbed officer who became Tolstoy’s most ardent follower.
In a patriarchal society, such a chasm exists between men and women that even a marriage of 30 or 40 years cannot bridge it. Tolstoy was dying for somebody to share his intellectual, emotional and spiritual life, but it never occurred to him to turn to his wife for the fulfillment of these needs. The curious thing is that the writer’s wife was a lot better suited to the role of Tolstoy’s spiritual companion than Chertkov. She was a much better writer, she understood her husband’s work in a more profound way, and she had a much more varied sphere of intellectual interests.
Yet, no true communion between men and women is possible in patriarchal societies. Homosociality is the only option for people who have emotional and spiritual needs but cannot even imagine turning to their partners in life for the fulfillment of these needs. And this is yet another tragedy of the patriarchy.
“Women who have liberated themselves from the yoke are horrible,” wrote Tolstoy. His intense spiritual loneliness in his own family and the humiliating groveling before young men who used him were the price he paid for this belief.