As mentioned, I recently got into a class on Tolstoy for my final semester at Sarah Lawrence. For our first reading, we were assigned the first 119 pages of Tolstoy by A. N. Wilson. I have to admit right off the bat, the texture of the pages used in the book are phenomenal on the fingers. I’m definitely quite fond of them. Pen writes pretty smoothly upon them as well.
It’s not a bad biography–it’s certainly well researched and balances the truth and appearance of Tolstoy’s diaries as well as his fictions. So far I have read up from the years 1828 to 1855 and Wilson manages to throw in a decent amount of contextual history to account for the environment that Tolstoy was existing in. However, I have one major qualm. Throughout the 119 pages I have read so far, Wilson repeatedly makes Freudian Oedipal references about Tolstoy and his mother. Tolstoy’s mother died when he was only two, so his memory of her, or any memory of her that he claims to have, is only the jagged reimaginings of a young child recreating a mother figure. And I don’t think that the love that Tolstoy speaks of when he is talking about his mother is in anyway a physical love. Even when Tolstoy says that he has never loved a woman, though he has loved men, he acknowledges that there was no sensual, erotic attraction. It is a different sort of love that Tolstoy has put his finger on. And it is this love that Tolstoy feels for his mother, not an Oedipal love.
Wilson points to the notion that Princess Marya from War and Peace was based off of Tolstoy’s own mother, and that Tolstoy made his father Prince Andrei, in an attempt to unwed his parents by making them brother and sister and removing any sexual nature from their relationship. But in my opinion, this is a gross misreading of Prince Andrei. Andrei is half of Tolstoy if anything (the other half residing in Pierre); they had similar aspirations of acquiring all knowledge, they both attempted to seclude themselves in their estates to learn, only to find that they got bored. Andrei is that part of Tolstoy that craved individuation, yet knew that he must attempt to participate in the world. And throwing an Oedipal sheet over the character of Andrei is an insult if anything.