September 23

This Day in History

Literary

Sep 23, 1862:

Leo Tolstoy marries Sophie Andreyevna Behrs

On this day, Count Leo Tolstoy married Sophie Andreyevna Behrs. The 34-year-old Tolstoy was nearly twice the age of his teenage bride.

After losing his parents as a child, Tolstoy inherited a large estate and was raised by relatives. He began studies at Kazan University at age 16 but was disappointed in the quality of education and returned to his estate in 1847 without a degree. He proceeded to live a wild and dissolute life in Moscow and St. Petersburg for the next four years. In 1851, he joined the army and fought in the Crimean war. He wrote about his wartime experiences in the successful Sebastapol Sketches, published in 1855. He also wrote several other autobiographical works while in the army.

In 1857, Tolstoy visited Europe and became interested in education. He started a school for peasant children on his estate and studied progressive educational techniques. The year after his marriage, he published his first successful novel, The Cossacks. Tolstoy and his wife proceeded to have 13 children over the next 17 years.

Tolstoy was constantly engaged in a spiritual struggle between his responsibilities as a wealthy landlord and his desire to renounce his property altogether. Some of his inner turmoil appeared in his great masterpieces War and Peace (1865-1869) and Anna Karenina (1875-1877). Later in his life, he tried to give away the rights to his works, but his wife gained control of the copyrights for all his work published before 1880. Tolstoy became increasingly radical, embraced anarchism, and was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1910, he fled his home secretly with his youngest daughter but caught pneumonia and died at a remote railway station a few days later.

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