Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties

By Edmund Wilson | Go to book overview

THE ORIGINAL OF TOLSTOY'S NATASHA

THE PRINCIPAL MODEL for Natasha in Tolstoy War and Peace was his sister-in-law, Tatyana Andreyvna Behrs. She was sixteen when Tolstoy married, a gay, attractive and spirited girl, who was already a great favorite with him. She lived much in the Tolstoy household at Yasnaya Polyana in the country, and her brother-inlaw used to tell her that she was paying her way by sitting as a model for him. Later, when she married a young magistrate, she continued to visit the Tolstoys, bringing her family to stay with them in the summer. Her husband died in 1917, and she went to Yasnaya Polyana to live with Tolstoy's daughter Alexandra, on a small pension from the Soviet government. Here, at seventy-five, she set out to write her memoirs, but did not live to bring her story much beyond her marriage in 1867, at the age of twenty-one.

This chronicle has just been translated and brought out for the first time in English under the title Tolstoy as I Knew Him and signed with the author's married name, Tatyana A. Kuzminskaya. The original Russian title, here retained as subtitle, My Life at Home and at Yasnaya Polyana, describes the contents better, for the book is by no means all about the Tolstoys; it is an autobiography of Tatyana. As such, it is a rewarding document, though not infrequently a boring book. Tatyana- Natasha was writing as a very old lady, on the basis of

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