No sooner am I happy, than he crushes me

The Tolstoys in 1910
Photo: Valentin Bulgakov via Wikimedia

It was on the eve of their wedding in September of 1862 that Russian writer Leo Tolstoy showed his diaries to 18-year-old Sofia Behrs, the young woman with whom he was to spend his life. Filled with lurid confessions and tales of past affairs, these notebooks made an instant, long-lasting, and negative impression on Behrs. However, for the first fortnight of their marriage, she managed to find happiness and simplicity in their relationship. The following diary entry was her first as a married woman, triggered by a crisis of trust and a sudden emotional chasm between her and Tolstoy, a volatile man whose erratic behaviour would shape their famously tumultuous marriage. Sofia would go on to bear thirteen children, manage the family’s estate, and as Tolstoy’s devoted copyist, transcribe War and Peace seven times.

The Diary Entry

October 8, 1862

My diary again! It’s sad to be going back to old habits I gave up since I got married. I used to write when I felt depressed – now I suppose it is for the same reason.

Relations with my husband have been so simple these past two weeks, and I felt so happy with him; he was my diary and I had nothing to hide from him.

But ever since yesterday, when he told me he didn’t trust my love, I have been feeling truly terrible. I know why he does not trust my love: I don’t think I shall be able to say or write what I really think. I always dreamt of the man I would love s a completely whole, new, pure person. In these childish dreams, which I still find hard to give up, I imagined that this man would always be with me, that I would know his slightest thought and feeling, that he would love nobody but me as long as he lived, and that he, like me and unlike others, would not have to sow his wild oats before becoming a respectable person. These dreams have always been so sweet to me. It was thanks to them that I almost fell in love with P.; for in loving my dreams I made P. a part of them.

It would not have been hard to take these feelings further and be quite carried away by them – but then I have never really stopped, I’ve just gone ahead without thinking. Since I got married I have had to recognise how foolish these dreams were, yet I cannot renounce them. The whole of his (my husband’s) past is so ghastly that I don’t think I shall ever be able to accept it. I can discover other interests in my life, like the children I long for, since they will give me a firm future and show me what real purity is, without all the abominations of his past and everything else that now makes me so bitter towards my husband. He cannot understand that his past life is another world to me, with thousands of different feelings, good and bad, which can never belong to me, just as his youth, squandered on God knows what or whom, can never be mine either. Another thing he doesn’t understand is that I am giving him everything, not one part of me had been wasted elsewhere, and only my childhood did not belong to him. And even that belonged to him. My fondest memories are of my first childish love for him, and it is not my fault if this love was destroyed, how can it be? Was it so wrong of me? He had to fritter away his life and strength, he had to experience so much evil before he could feel anything noble; now his love for me seems to him something strong and good – but only because it is such a long time since he lived a good life, as I do. There are bad things in my past too, but not so many as in his.

He loves to torment me and see me weep because he does not trust me. He wishes I had lived as evil a life as he, so that I might more fully appreciate goodness. It instinctively irritates him that happiness has come so easily to me, and that I accepted him without hesitation or remorse. But I have too much self-respect to cry. I don’t want him to see how I suffer, let him think it’s easy for me. Yesterday while Grandfather was here I went downstairs especially to see him, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by an extraordinary feeling of love and strength. At that moment I loved him so much that I longed to go up to him; but then I felt the moment I touched him I should not feel so happy – almost like a sacrilege. But I never shall or can let him know what is going on within me. I have so much foolish pride – the slightest hint that he misunderstands or mistrusts me throws me into despair. It makes me so angry. What is he doing to me? Little by little I shall withdraw completely from him and poison his life. Yet I feel so sorry for him at those times when he doesn’t trust me; his eyes fill with tears and his face is so gentle and sad. I could smother him with love at those moments, and yet the thought haunts me: “He doesn’t trust me, he doesn’t trust me.” Today, I began to feel that we were drifting further and further apart. I am creating my own sad world for myself and he is making himself a practical life filled with distrust. And I thought how vulgar this kind of relation was. And I began to distrust his love too. When he kisses me I am always thinking; “I am not the first woman he has loved.” It hurts me so much that my love for him – the dearest thing in the world to me because it is my first and last love – should not be enough for him. I too have loved other men, but only in my imagination – whereas he has loved and admired so many women, all so pretty and lively, all with different faces, characters and souls, just as he now loves and admires me. I know these thoughts are petty and vulgar but I can’t help it, it is his past that is to blame. I can’t help it, I can’t forgive God for so arranging things that people must sow their wild oats before they can become decent people. And I can’t help feeling bitterly hurt that my husband should come into this common category of person. And then, he thinks I don’t love him; why would I care so much about him if I didn’t love him? Why else would I try to understand his past and his present, and what my interest him in future? It’s a hopeless situation – how can a wife prove her love to a husband who tells her he married her only because he had to, even though she never loved him? As if I had ever, for one moment, regretted my past, or could so much as dream of not loving him – it’s unimaginable! Does he really enjoy seeing me cry when I realise how difficult our relations are, and how we shall gradually drift further and further apart spiritually. Toys for the cat are tears for the mouse. But this toy is fragile, and if he breaks it, it will be he who cries, I cannot bear the way he is slowly wearing me down. Yet he is a wonderful and good person. He too loathes everything evil, he cannot bear it either. I used to love everything beautiful, my soul knew the meaning of ecstasy then – now all that has died in me. No sooner am I happy, than he crushes me.

Further Reading

Sofia Tolstoy’s diaries were originally published in Russian by Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, Moscow in 1978. In 1985 they were published in English by Random House, translated by Cathy Porter, and the most recent edition, titled, The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, features an introduction by Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing.


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