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Biography & Autobiography Historical

Tolstoy and Tolstaya

A Portrait of a Life in Letters

edited by Andrew Donskov

translated by John Woodsworth, Arkadi Klioutchanski & Liudmila Gladkova

University of Ottawa Press
Initial publish date
May 2017
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2017
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  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2017
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  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Jul 2019
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Both Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828–1910) and his wife Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya (1844–1919) were prolific letterwriters.
Lev Nikolaevich wrote approximately 10,000 letters over his lifetime — 840 of these addressed to his wife. Letters written by (or to) Sofia Andreevna over her lifetime also numbered in the thousands. When Tolstaya published Lev Nikolaevich’s letters to her, she declined to include any of her 644 letters to her husband. The absence of half their correspondence obscured the underlying significance of many of his comments to her and occasionally led the reader to wrong conclusions.
The current volume, in presenting a constantly unfolding dialogue between the Tolstoy-Tolstaya couple — mostly for the first time in English translation — offers unique insights into the minds of two fascinating individuals over the 48-year period of their conjugal life. Not only do we ’peer into the souls’ of these deep-thinking correspondents by penetrating their immediate and extended family life — full of joy and sadness, bliss and tragedy but we also observe, as in a generation-spanning chronicle, a variety of scenes of Russian society, from rural peasants to lords and ladies. 
This hard-cover, illustrated critical edition includes a foreword by Vladimir Il’ich Tolstoy (Lev Tolstoy’s great-great-grandson), introduction, maps, genealogy, as well as eleven additional letters by Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya published here for the very first time in either Russian or English translation. It is a beautiful complement to My Life, a collection of Sofia Tolstaya’s memoirs published in English in 2010 at the University of Ottawa Press.
Ce livre est publié en anglais.

About the authors

Andrew Donskov (author and editor) is Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Distinguished University Professor and Founding Director, Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa. He has authored and/or edited many critical studies on nineteenth-century Russian literature, notably on Leo Tolstoy and Sofia Tolstaya. Another focus of his research and publication has been on Tolstoy’s relationship to the Canadian Doukhobors as well as Russian peasant sectarian writers.


Andrew Donskov's profile page

John Woodsworth (co-translator) is a former ATIO-certified translator, Member of the Literary Translators Association of Canada, and Member of the Russian Interregional Union of Writers. He has translated and/or edited many books and articles from Russian to English, including the nine-volume Ringing Cedars Series by Vladimir Megré and the thirteen-volume Teaching of the Heart series by Zinovia Dushkova. One of his specialties is the translation of rhyming poetry into English.


John Woodsworth's profile page

Arkadi Klioutchanski (co-translator) is Instructor in Russian Studies and Co-ordinator of the Russian programme in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Ottawa. His special area of research is nineteenth-century Russian literature, in particular Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Several volumes of his poetry in Russian have also been published.


Arkadi Klioutchanski's profile page

Liudmila Gladkova's profile page


  • Runner-up, Paris Book Festival

Editorial Reviews

So how did the written memoirs of Tolstoy's indomitable wife, Sofia Tolstaya (the Russian feminine version of Tolstoy), one of the most important and anticipated works in modern Tolstoy scholarship, land at a university press in Canada's capital city? As with most things in academia, it involves an almost obsessive love of the subject, and lots of time. (...) To publish on Tolstoy you need permission from one of the two directors. Or, as [Andrew] Donskov jokingly puts it: "The only way to get something from Russians is to know them." (...) When Tolstaya's memoirs were scheduled to be printed in Russia as a coffee-table book, Donskov was entrusted with creating the full scholarly edition, as well as the obligation to treat the material as seriously as it deserved.

"How a Canadian University nabbed the rights to the memoirs of Tolstoy's wife"

Tolstoy and Tolstaya: A Portrait of a Life in Letters offers 239 of more than 1500 letters the couple wrote to each other in the decades ahead, as Tolstoy became a celebrated author and Sonya his respected wife. It's a weigthy, fluently translated book of 400 large-format pages, a solemn product of serious scholarship, announcing itself, a little self-righteously, as an important tool for future Tolstoy studies.

Vol.40, No.8, “No Company, No Carpets”

"Andrew Donskov and his team based at the University of Ottawa have just produced a new gem: a collection of the correspondence between the Tolstoys from their courtship in the early 1860s through to Tolstaya's last unsent letter on the eve of her husband's death. (...) Tolstoy and Tolstaya: A Portrait of a Life in Letters is the epistolary novel of one of the world's greatest literary couples. And for the first time, both have an equal voice."

Anna A. Berman

This is truly a magisterial book: a welcome and valuable addition to the library of any Tol­stoy scholar and to those interested in the life and works of Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya. 

62.1 (Spring 2018)

The Tolstoys had things to say — to each other and to the world. And because that communication was written down in the form of letters to each other, it is possible to compile their thoughts into a book. (...) It is a companion book to [Andrew Donskov] earlier, highly regarded collection of Sofia Tolstoy’s memoirs called My Life, published in 2010. Donskov is a distinguished professor of languages at the University of Ottawa and a respected expert on Tolstoy and his wife.


"Tolstoy and Tolstoya includes the letters Sofia and Lev wrote to each other (...) not without occasional arguments and indeed fierce fights, deaths of children, and problems with peasants."

“The Resident and The Stranger”

There are elements in their relationship that are so very universal, particularly the weighing and measuring and comparing of the contributions of each of the spouses to the union and to the household.  It is refreshing to have this unvarnished, un-romanticized window on the relationship of such a famous and fascinating couple. It is almost literary voyeurism.  Imagine having one's own relationship laid bare for public consumption in this way.  

Gerald Dust

Andrew Donskov and his team based at the University of Ottawa have just produced a new gem (...) The volume also includes a wealth of contextualizing information—from detailed family trees and a list of Russian geographical names to a lengthy introduction by the editor, photographs of the Tolstoy family, a chronology and detailed index. The editors have done everything they can to make the book both broadly accessible and also of interest to experts. It succeeds in both of these tasks. As a Tolstoy scholar well versed in the vicissitudes of his life and thought, and as a human being who cares about questions of love and intimacy, I found it illuminating and at times heart-wrenching to immerse myself in this correspondence. It brings to life both the writers and their intense relationship. Even the many letters I had read before took on a new meaning when placed in the context of this greater dialogue.

Literary Review of Canada

It is a treasure! (...) such a fine volume. It will stand for ages as the book in its field. 

David Staines

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