Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Last Station Sonja Tolstoy

This is one of the saddest real photos I have ever seen. I saw the moving picture of 1910 in black and white on my grandfather's television in about 1949 along with Belsen and George Bernard Shaw. TV was pretty basic in those days and one saw everything with little or no editing or placement. Few had TV sets.

This shows Countess Sonya Tolstoy peering in the window of the waiting room at Astapovo station where her husband Leo Tolstoy the novelist lay dying of pneumonia while in the process of running away from her. The film ordered by Monsieur Pathe  was the pre curser of the photographic preditors so common today and depicted vividly this poor woman who had given her life to Tolstoy and his 13 children, five of whom died, shut out from the final curtain.

The film showed her slowly walking along the long platform and eventually peering in the window on tip toe. I remember the commentator said she was denied admittance but it seems now that she did get just ten minutes with him. I wonder if she did or if it looks better for posterity. Anyway at the time I thought she didn't.

It took a long search. The film is not to be found on YouTube. I expect Tolstoy fans would find it disturbing as I did years ago but I did eventually find it on this web site The Thinking  Housewife along with a well written article which has saved me a lot of effort.

One comment on  the blog I think said it all ' 'Wife sacrifices a lot, husband takes her for granted and ultimately treats her like garbage.  Where’s the greatness in that?'

There is no doubt that Sonja Tolstoy's contribution was undervalued by society. She was made out to be the evil villainess where in fact she was a young innocent girl who was used.

I realized this at the age of eight. I have to thank the BBC for my entire education as I sure did not get it at school. Leo Tolstoy and 'War & Peace' were never mentioned and yet I had read it by the age of ten as it was in my grandfather's library. I read it knowing how the author had treated his wife. The BBC news item had mentioned how the countess had copied out the entire work eight times!

This picture made a lasting impression on me. It colored my life. At the time I had no idea of just how difficult being a woman in a man's world was and as I found out that women were not wanted on voyage and were to be seen and not heard I thought of Countess Tolstoy and her bravery in front of the world of showing how a woman could be so publicly humiliated and yet retain a certain dignity.

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