23 SEPTEMBER 1960, Page 36

An Impossible Marriage ?

Married to Tolstoy. By Cynthia Asquith. (Hutchinson, 30s.)

THE bother with the story of the Tolstoys' mar- riage is that everything is on such an uncomfort- able scale. Tolstoy, of course, never did things by halves. His debaucheries were more thorough than other men's, his repentances correspond- ingly more intense. He enjoyed life more pas- sionately, and he feared death more urgently. He also loved most deeply and suffered more deeply in love. Inevitably for Tolstoy matrimony was a drama of epic dimensions. Every aspect of it was heightened—the bliss of the early days' the passion that lasted into late old age, the joys of prolific parenthood, the grief of bereavements' and the tensions and quarrels. It is as if every' thing that has ever happened in every marring° were concentrated into this single case. As once again we read the story we find our selves asking the same old questions. Would the final tragedy have been averted if the TolstoYs had possessed a greater sense of privacy (in the a last year no fewer than seven observers, prt from the Tolstoys themselves, were keeping copious diaries)? Would it have helped if Talstcl had made fewer demands on Sonia's allegiance.° his religious views, or if Sonia could have been more tolerant of them? Or was marriage with genius like Tolstoy impossible, and a tragic N' lision between two such temperaments inevit. 11, able? In all fairness could Sonia under the circumstances have avoided some kind of mental breakdown—or Tolstoy done anything else On Ill

e to I, leave her? In spite of all this is it possible

doubt that to the very end husband and e loved each other deeply and sincerely? And b admitting this must we conclude that in stteli cases love is not enough? This book answers none of these questions, ei and really what is the point—I for one czon ot b

help feeling—of telling the painful story once r,

more? In her preface the late Lady CY1111119 Asquith calls herself 'a self-appointed Counsel

for the Defence.' She is, however, too fair' p

minded to see .only Sonia's side of the questicIri; f; She does not conceal, for example, that she ha


early shown symptoms of mental instability. °1

. •

gloss over what she calls 'the nauseating tone ° Sonia's diary' in the latter 'demented days.' She is just to tolstoy in pointing out that he was never as dogmatic as his joyless followers, that time after, time, quite simply and naturally, he allowed instinct and emotion to override theory, that he made genuine efforts to adjust himself to Sofia's point of view. She admits that to the end he retained what Sonia so notably lacked, a Pose of humour and a sense of fun. There are, H. is true, some shrewd and timely comments "'cll the woman's point of view on Sonia's many

trials. But there is nothing in the book that has not been said a dozen times before.

It is, after all, the magnitude of Tolstoy's genius that gives the personal story its scale, and as the fiftieth anniversary of his death in the stationmaster's house at Astopovo approaches, surely it is this that needs further attention rather than the private miseries? As Tolstoy himself said, the best part of a writer is to be found in