Alexandra Lvovna Tolstoy, heroine and villain

DEA / AMBROSIANA LIBRARY

The situation of the Tolstoy family during the childhood of Alexandra, nicknamed Sasha, was, in short, complicated. By 1884, when she was born, Tolstoy had already experienced his own existential crisis and began his transformation that made him rethink his entire life to follow moral principles which he thought was fair. that as a 19th-century Russian aristocrat, involves enormous contradictions. Also, in his case, he had decided to give up writing novels as frivolous –there would be no more War and Peace or Anna Karenina; The resurrection would be an exception, as would sex and marriage for being bourgeois distractions far from spiritual perfection. Of course, while he was proclaiming all these ideas, he kept impregnating his wife. His wish was to dispose of all his property and royalties to give to the poor or to the world.. Sofia, his wife, refuses, rightly believing that this leaves her and her children without a livelihood, in addition to taking care of the management of her husband’s Yasna Polyana estate alone for years.

Leo Tolstoy and his family

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Sasha was Tolstoy’s daughter, who most resolutely and bitterly sided with her father in the civil war that devastated the family. Allied with Vladimir Chertkov, her father’s assistant, she eventually served as Tolstoy’s secretary and confidante. He shares his humanistic vision, the deep desire for social and personal change and revival, and considers his mother an obstacle to his father’s noble desires. Living together was hell in Yasna Polyana. There were suicide attempts, displays of madness, hatred, intrigue and mistrust. The recent vindication of the figure of Sophia, Tolstoy’s wife, showed in the face of Sasha a staunch enemy, implacable and more papist than the Pope, i.e. more Tolstoy than Tolstoy.

When Tolstoy decided to run away from home in 1910, Sasha and his doctor accompanied him on his flight, an unfortunate journey as the 82-year-old writer was very ill with pneumonia. A few days later he died at Astapovo station. Sasha, merciless, did not allow her mother to enter the station master’s room, where the genie was dying, until she lost consciousness.

Sofia outlives her husband by another nine years, during which Sasha will reconcile with her. By that time, the hurricane of history had already subsided: with the First World War, Sasha participated as a nurse and organized hospitals for wounded Russian soldiers, she suffered from the effects of chemical weapons attacks, for which she was awarded for her bravery. And in 1917, while the war was still raging, the revolution broke out and everything changed forever.

alexandra tolstoy in 1929 on a cane farm

Alexandra Tolstoy in 1929 at Reed Farm.

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Sasha was arrested five times for allowing “white” Russians to congregate in her home, and sentenced to prison for a year by the Bolsheviks. Nevertheless, she continued to serve as the custodian of Tolstoy’s archives in Yasna Polyana and the inheritor of his spirit until, in 1929, she left the Soviet Union with permission to study in Japan for six months. I wouldn’t go back. After a year and a half in Japan, in which he survived by teaching Russian and thanks to his contacts with the cultural world, he moved to the United States. There he raised his voice against Stalin, the purges, the persecution of dissidents and the policies that condemned the population of his country to starvation and misery.

converted into a an active participant in Russian dissidence and the cultural world in exile, in 1939, together with Tatiana Schaufuss, he established the Tolstoy Foundation, and a few years later he bought Reed Farm, in upstate New York, a farm where he established a home for the refugees who continued to arrive with the Second World War. Among the many people – as many as 500,000 – whom he helped settle in the country was the writer Vladimir Nabokov, the future author of Lolita. A countess by birth, Alexandra worked tirelessly with the animals and the orchard, published a biography of her father in 1953, and for the rest of her life worked as a lecturer and defender of refugee rights. He died in 1979 at the age of 96. Those who lived with her on the Reed farm affectionately called her “Aunt Sasha.”.

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