Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Last Station, Sophia Tolstoy

"The Last Station" gives us a warped, inaccurate portrayal of Sophia Andreevna Tolstaya, the wife of Leo Tolstoy. In the film, Sophia (played by Helen Mirren) is wildly emotional and often hysterical as she battles Chertov, her husband's disciple, for control of the rights to Tolstoy's literary works. Yes, Sophia fought; yes, she had emotions, but that is all we see of this remarkable woman, who was accomplished and tremendously energetic. She managed the estate of four thousand acres, advised Tolstoy on his writing, copied each day's work, staying up most of the night so she could present fresh pages to him the next day, gave birth to thirteen children, oversaw their education, doctored the peasants who came to her for help. She was a skilled painter, musician and photographer, developing her own prints. (Her self portrait, top photograph, is reproduced on the book jacket of Song Without Words.) None of this is in the film. I would have liked to have seen one glimpse of her at work, keeping the estate ledgers, for instance.

Here is another of her photographs: Chekhov, on the left, with Tolstoy.


  1. thank you for putting this in perspective, mim. it's beyond my capacity to imagine, the 13 children alone are impossible to envision ( i arbitrarily planted 13 small beings around my living got very crowded here very fast!)

  2. Susan: You are welcome! Here's a portion from Sophia's diary:
    "For a genius one has to create a peaceful, cheerful, comfortable home; a genius must be fed, washed, dressed, must have his works copied out innumerable time, must be loved and spared all cause for jealousy, so that he can be calm; then one must feed and educate the innumerable children fathered by this genius, whom he cannot be bothered to care for himself, as he has to commune with all the Epictetuses, Socrateses and Buddhas, and aspire to like them himself.
    And when the members of his family circle have sacrificed their youth, beauty--everything--to serve his genius, they are then blamed for not understanding the geniuses properly . . . "

  3. Goodness, Mim, the mind boggles.

    Sophia eloquently describes the half-life (or is it a double-life?) of the muse. Not an easy place to occupy, especially in the days when it was assumed that one person's talents and impulses (usually the man's) should be given precedence over the other's? How capacious yet admirably forthright Sophia sounds. No romantic blurring going on here! I'm going to have to hunt out her diary. Thanks for bringing her to our notice. L, C x

  4. what a good blog, Mim... Don't you hate what's done to women figures in the name of a good sexy movie! Yes, you do hate it...and thanks for writing about it. 13 children, working at night to present good copy?

    I glad I read it. Glad to be almost back.
    I send you much love, many thanks....

  5. Melissa, yes, I hated the portrayal of Sophia. An insult! Come to think of it, the portrayal of Leo was also a simple one, but not as stereotyped and distorted. He was shown as a worker, but Sophia just emoted. In actuality she was a tremendous worker. It would have been wonderful to see her in her dark room. I wouldn't have minded that much-used shot of a photographic image emerging in the developing bath.


  6. I am inspired to read more of her diaries - but not to see the film.

    I've always had the impression that Tolstoy was a bit of a monster - on the domestic front, that is.

  7. Signs, there are photographs of the Tolstoys' bathing house, a hut really, to give the bathers privacy.

  8. Hi Miriam-- I found a link to your blog and found this an astute and fascinating post. The photos are terrific. I am a poet; I blog at -- I've been in a bit of a "state" over online women's communities and the subject of betrayal of late-- hence today's post and yesterday's draft but I invite you to partake of my site. All best to you- Jenne' Andrews .