Saturday, July 31, 2010

Collage 136

The scene from this page in the English translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky is from Volume I, Part Three, chapter III. I happen to have noted in my translation copy where we are in the collage sequence. This is the scene where Prince Marya decides not to marry the scoundrel Anatole. Her prayers were answered. "And she had barely asked this question, when God answered her in her own heart: 'Desire nothing for yourself, do not seek, do not worry, do not envy. The future of people and your own fate must be unknown to you; but live so as to be ready for anything. If God should see fit to rest you in the duties of marriage, be ready to fulfill His will.' With this reassuring thought (but still with a hope that her forbidden earthly dream would be fulfilled), Princess Marya sighed, crossed herself, and went downstairs without thinking about her dress, or her hairstyle, or how she would walk in, or what she would say."

Lulu has pointed out that this is a Buddhist approach. From the contemporary perspective, I agree! But back then women had so few choices. If not marriage, then what? -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 279-280 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/25/10

Friday, July 30, 2010

Collage 135

Today Lulu, Lynn and I met in the studio. We have finished 185 collages! We have had an ongoing discussion about whether and how to respond to the text as we do our pieces. Today I took a completely different approach -- I read the text and responded directly to the imagery. For example, I did one today that mentioned Nicolai's black horse. And another one with 3 houses in a row. It was an interesting exercise.

Lynn Waskelis
from page 277-278 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/25/10

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Collage 134

Lynn brought in a small stack of stencils. I particularly like this star-shaped one. Isn't the red star a symbol of Soviet Russia? I spent a summer in the USSR in 1981 as a college student. I bought an Army cap with the red star - my family was worried that I might become a defector or something. That never happened, of course. I bought the text we are using on that trip. The cap is long-gone, but the book has been waiting all these years to come alive in a whole new way.

I don't resonate with any of the characters in this book. I wish I did. Pierre is so pathetic; he annoys me. Here is a description of him from page 308. "Pierre, who, on his wife's orders, had let his hair grow long and removed his spectacles, was fashionably dressed, but walked about the rooms with a sad and dejected air. As everywhere, he was surrounded by an atmosphere of people who bowed before his wealth, and treated him with a habitual lordliness and absentminded disdain." I feel for him, but want to shake him and say -- be strong! -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 275-276
collage, acrylic paint, stencil
made 6/25/10

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Collage 133

However, as usual, after eight o'clock the prince went out for a walk in his velvet coat with the sable collar and matching hat. It had snowed the day before. The path on which Prince Nikolai Andreich always walked to the conservatory had been cleared, the traces of the broom could be seen on the swept snow, and a shovel was stuck in one of the loosely heaped-up snowbanks that lined both sides of the path. p.215

Lynn Waskelis
from page 273-274 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/25/10
Pevear/Volokhonsky translation pages 215-217

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Collage 132

These last 5 collages were made one Friday in mid-June. I was gallery sitting, but it was very slow with few [if any?] visitors. I set myself up on a temporary built-in shelf and worked side-by-side with Joan Ryan and Chris Chou. In this piece, I was trying to respond to Chris' palette and sense of design.

The scene is Pierre proposing to Helene. I think that Lulu wrote about this in a previous posting. Helene's parents are thrilled with the match as Pierre has just inherited a fortune even though he was an illegitimate son.

"All this had to be so and could not be otherwise," thought Piere, "therefore there's no point in asking whether it's good or bad. It's good because it's definite, and there's no more old tormenting doubt." Pierre silently held his fiancee's hand and looked at her beautiful breast rising and falling.

Doesn't he sound like a big oaf? In later scenes, it turns out that he was a real womanizer. That doesn't make any sense to me. Does he sound like a real lady's man? -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 271-272 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/18/10

Monday, July 26, 2010

Collage 131

Everyone wants happiness. We are all pursuing happiness. The uncertainty about happiness -- this is the dark cloud. As a human being you need hope to support you. Even when the dark cloud approaches, you need hope. The hope is behind the black cloud. A little chaos, but there is still hope.

The landscape represents happiness.
If you have a window in your heart, it will open one day.
If it is not open, there is no hope.
Window and happiness. -- Chris

Chris Chou
from page 271-272 of original text
collage, acrylic paint, graphite
made 6/18/10

Friday, July 23, 2010

Collage 130

For the first time since starting this blog, there have been a few days without any posting. In spite of best intentions, we've had some technical glitches. But seem to be back on track again.

Friday Team Tolstoy was in full swing. I arrived very early in the studio, at 7am, as I had to leave early. Emma and I worked for a few hours together, then Lynn and Lulu arrived. I didn't have much time with them, unfortunately. But it was most excellent, in any case, to all be together. I'm not sure how many they got done but Emma and I had both done a few by the time I left.

Emma arrived with some new materials -- these fabulous sett of letter stamps and a whole stack of religious drawing reproductions. I was eager to get working with both. -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 267-268 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/18/10

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Collage 129

Introducing Joan Ryan! Joan is a friend from East Boston, an artist in the studio building where we create this project. She is an amazing artist, a master of pastel, drawing and painting. She is an art professor at Lesley University in Cambridge. She and Chris Chou were in the building on the same Friday afternoon, and both agreed to make a piece or two for this collection. -- Lola

Here is her web site:

Joan Ryan Studio

Joanie writes:
So, I was very complimented when asked to be part of the War and Peace project. I was secretly hoping Lola would invite me to do a collage and finally she did. I have
seen the works progressing and all the collages are very engaging. My questions were about the choice of book,( I loved War and Peace, myself) and whether or not the collage related to the page it corresponded to in the book, and if any of the work related thematically to ideas of Tolstoy. When I did my collage I was thinking of
Russia as a place. The vastness of the land and the hard winters. It is funny how land/place can effect ones own idea of identity. Aside from vaguely thinking of that while working on my collage I was also thinking how nice it was to hang out with 2 good friends and enjoy the quietness of creativity with them.

I think keeping all the pages together as one body of work is what makes it compelling. The idea of no one owning their collage or the body of work is similar to how Tolstoy left his books, to the Russian people. No one person owned his work, which is a great idea for this project and supports his ideology.

Peace To All

Joan Ryan
from page 265-266 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/18/10

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Collage 128

Introducing Chris Chou. I first met her in spring 2001 when I noticed her work at the Boston University Graduate Show. I went in to see the show and fell in love with her work. Palpitations kind of in-love. I went back a second time and brought my husband Mark, our Team Tolstoy photographer. She was there, and we got acquainted. I went back a third time to see her work again with another friend, and she was there again. We've been good friends ever since. We shared studio space in East Boston for a few years which was a very happy time.

Chris made 2 collages the same day. She is from Taiwan, English is her second language. I asked her to comment about her pieces. She was lying on the floor as I read her the passages, and she commented. Here is what she has to say:

"The central red figure is a woman, a very spicy and sexy woman. The black and gold dots on the side are Pierre's thoughts about her. The gold represents hope; the black represents dark corner. As a human being we always have 2 sides. The central red figure also represents a gap, a disconnect. I have a feeling that Pierre will never win this woman. If you can reach the reality, the gap can become a bridge."

I think it's amazing that she came up with those comments, basically free-associating, knowing hardly anything about the story line, other than what I read to her. Chris is an amazing artist and Guggenheim-award winner. As well as a dear friend and now Team Tolstoy player. You can see more of her work on her blog

A Red Studio


Chris Chou
from page 263-264 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/18/10

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Collage 127

Now I am embarrassed by my poor choice of favorite characters. Early on, I liked Dolokhov's style -- kind of the punk rocker of War and Peace. More and more he is looking like a psychopath. On page 306, someone gossiped about him, that he had "totally compromised" Helene, Pierre's new wife. She is a piece of work herself, with her history of sibling incest. The plot continues to thicken. -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 261-262 of original text
collage, acrylic
made 6/11/10

Monday, July 19, 2010

Collage 126

This collage not only appropriates use of a classic text (War and Peace itself), but also hijacks other artists' images. In addition, I am using more of the text from an art criticism book that I've used before because it is so obtuse and ridiculous. "... exposition of experience were still to appear upon the horizon... transform the whole aspect of art into a new philosophical and esthetic search for validity and truth in art...". The truth in art is in the making, not in the writing about it. -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 259-260 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/11/10

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Collage 125

This book was not necessarily well-received at the time of it's publication, because it was in part a social criticism. In Part One, Chapter II (page 303), the author describes Nicolai Rostov as quite the man-about-town. "He had a lady acquaintance on the boulevard, whom he visited in the evening." A little later, "He went to balls and into women's society pretending that he was doing so against his will. The races, the English Club, carousing with Denisov, going there -- that was another matter; it was suitable to a dashing hussar." -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 257-258 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/11/10

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Collage 124

The next few pieces I made while alone in the studio. It's unusual, but now and again it happens that our schedules don't work and I work by myself. As an artist, it would by typical to work alone. Others artists sometimes comment, "how can you work with all that distraction?". But then again it seems that most artists don't work collaboratively. This is the most engaged I've been in my whole career! It feeds my creativity. It is wonderful. -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 255-256 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/11/10

Friday, July 16, 2010

Collage 123

It's Friday which means that Team Tolstoy will meet in my studio in East Boston. Today's team will consist of Lucy Arrington and I. It's been some months since Lucy has been able to join us. I think that we have completed about 160 collages to date. This week my friend from Cape Cod, Carol Odell, mailed me back #140. Otto and Carol both want to do more pieces. Does it get any better than this?

Last night there was a gallery reception in the studio building which Lynn, Emma and I attended as well as our photographer Mark Natale. We met a photographer named Paul who places his subjects in a completely dark room and takes very slow images, about 20 minutes per exposure. He specializes in artists inside/amongst their work. He is fascinated by this project and envisions building some kind of 3-d structure so that our bodies are the collage. I can't really understand what he's suggesting, but this will hopefully become part of the project. I had the (mistaken) idea that he shoots everyone nude. That would be OK with me -- just so we're somewhat modest!

Emma's parents also attended so were able to see our studio work space. Her mother has contributed lots of ephemera to the project. Her father has also given us many great ideas about this blog. This project feels like an ever-growing web of community. -- Lola
Lynn Waskelis
from page 253-254 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/4/10

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Collage 122

This piece was also inspired by our scrap box maven Lynn, so I'll attribute it to her as well as Emma's last piece. She loves to use tiny human figures and other similar elements. One of my passions is gardening, so at some point some plants and trees had to show up in my pieces. I was also following Emma's lead with the embroidery thread.

Last night I read the heart-wrenching scene where Nicolai Rostov is playing cards with shyster Dolokhov (and to think that earlier on I was enamored with his bad-boy self). Nicolai loses not only badly (Dolokhov was cheating) but basically the family fortune. This is after Dolokhov had proposed to Sonia, Nicolai's long-term love. There is a marked card in the deck. A "7". I will ask to reserve that page, and will use one of the playing cards that Emma brought in recently. Watch out, I am getting illustrative! -- Lola
Lola Baltzell
from page 251-252 of original text
collage, acrylic paint, embroidery thread
made 6/4/10

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Collage 121

I remember this one being really fun to put together. Lynn was fishing through the scrap box and pulling out all sorts of papers that she thought Lola and I might like to use. All of the pieces came together quite nicely. This is definitely the most spontaneous collage I have done, which is why I like it! --Emma

Emma Rhodes
from page 249-250 of original text
made 6/4/10

Monday, July 12, 2010

Collage 120

This was my second effort for the W&P project, and since I have no experience with making collages, this was simply an attempt to play with the material and see what happens. It has no relation whatsoever to Tolstoy's novel - and I had no expectation about what would come out in the end. That said, I rather like the result... -- Otto

Otto Mayr
from page 247-248 of original text
made 5/30/10
Berlin, Germany

Collage 119

Captain Tushin:

...from the sight of the little puffs of smoke on the enemy's side (after each of which a cannonball came flying and hit the ground, a man a cannon, or a horse) --owing to the sight of all these things, there was established in his head a fantastic world of his own, which made up his pleasure at the moment. In his imagination, the enemy's cannon were not but pipes, from which an invisible smoker released an occasional puff of smoke.

Lynn Waskelis
from page 245-246 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/4/10
pages 193-194 in Pevear/Volokhonsky translation

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Collage 118

At some point in your life, haven't you encoutered each and every character in this book?

Vera, Natasha's older sister, really rains on everyone's parade. On page 302, Tolstoy comments, "Vera's observation was correct, as were all her observations; but like most of her observations, this one made everyone feel awkward." She was commenting on how Sonya and Nicholas treated each other after he returned home on leave from the military. -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 243-244 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/4/10

Collage 117

Melissa Kulig
from page 241-242 of original text
collage, acrylic paint, photo transfer
made 6/4/10

This is Melissa's second collage in the series. Like in her first, she's included an elegant photo transfer of a portion of some old Russian paper money. Her contribution today is another occasion to remark on how many people have enriched this project. Melissa has shared collage techniques, ideas about how we might one day mount an exhibition, and she even took the time to pin up our first one hundred collages on the day they were completed! -Lynn

Friday, July 9, 2010

Collage 116

Lynn Waskelis
from page 239-240 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 6/4/10

I MISS not working in the studio today! It has become part of the week's rhythm. On the day I made this collage the orange bike rider came riding through and landed along the bottom edge. He doesn't yet have any friends in other collages the way most of the figurative elements do. As I recall Emma's Collage 114 hosted one of his pals for awhile, but in the end that figure was covered by text. This collage also has sewing pattern tissue in it- an absolute favorite material of mine. It's thin, graphic, translucent and a beautiful warm beige. It reminds me of when I used to sew as a kid. I have to resist not using it in every collage.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Collage 115

I made this collage on Emma's first studio visit, working side by side. She brought along this red ink which I liked a lot -- as well as embroidery threat and needles. She was at the studio last week for the second time, and brought more gems. She works at an upscale thrift store so has access to endless amounts of wonderful ephemera. We also scavenged in the studio building. Someone had left boxes of old letters, postcards, books, magazines, newspapers and Christian hymnals. Our studio is bursting at the seams with materials.

I read the text through a certain lens, as by profession I am a social worker and provide a lot of mental health/therapy services. In Volume II, Part One, Chapter I, Nicolai Rostov has just returned home on leave from the war. There is a scene between him and his sister Natasha. Natasha is always described as having lively eyes. In this scene she has "desperately lively eyes". She told Nicholas she loved her cousin (also Nicholas' love interest) so much that she would burn her arm for her. She then showed Nicholas the evidence of her love for Sonia. "She pushed up her muslim sleeve and showed a red mark on her long, thin, and delicate arm, below the shoulder but far above the elbow (where it was covered even by ball gowns).

'I burned it to show her my love. I just heated a ruler in the fire and pressed it there.'

Is Natasha a cutter? Is this an expression of teen angst? Or is she on her way for more self-injury? Everyone loves the character of Natasha. But I wonder? His female characters seem neurotic. He hints that Helene had an incestuous relationship with her brother Anatole, then later we find out that she was rumored to have had an affair with Dolokhov (whom Pierre later inadvertently kills in a duel). What's up with the female characters? -- Lola
Lola Baltzell
from page 237-238 of original text
collage, acrylic paint, ink
made 6/4/10

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Collage 114

This is my third collage for the project and the first one that I completed in the Team Tolstoy studio. Friday June 4th was my first studio experience and it was fantastic. Working side-by-side with Lynn and Lola opened up so many possibilities and made the process even more enjoyable. Everybody shares materials and ideas and this makes many of the collages complement each other in a really nice way. This one is very similar to my first two collages except for the pieces of purple paper that I found in Laura's scrap paper box. The scrap box is probably one of my favorite resources at the studio because you never know what you will find in there. Up to this point Naples Yellow was my starting point for collages. If I was having doubts about what I was going to do for the collage I would start by painting the background with this color. After three collages with that background it started to feel too safe and over the next few weeks you will see how my work has taken more risks and branched out to new colors. Studio fridays are so wonderful and I feel so happy to have become closer to an old friend and neighbor, Lynn, while also making new friends like Lola. . . all thanks to this project!!

Emma Rhodes
from page 235-236 of original text
collage, acrylic paint, thread
made 6/4/10

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Collage 113

I flew to San Francisco today so had a big chunk of time to read the book. I liked this passage from Volume One, Part Three, XIX on page 293. Prince Andrei has been mortally wounded. Napoleon has just walked by a field of dead and dying Russian soldiers. Napoleon had just asked him how he was. "... now, with his eyes fixed directly on Napoleon, he was silent... To him at that moment all the interests that occupied Napoleon seemed so insignificant, his hero himself seemed so petty to him, with his petty vanity and joy in victory, compared with that lofty, just, and kindly sky, which he had seen and understood, that he was unable to answer him.

Then, too, everything seemed so useless and insignificant compared with that stern and majestic way of thinking called up in him by weakness from loss of blood, suffering, and the expectation of imminent death. Looking into Napoleon's eyes, Prince Andrei thought about the insignificance of grandeur, about the insignificance of life, the meaning of which no one could understand, and about the still greater insignificance of death, the meaning of which no one among the living could understand or explain." Wow! -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 233-234 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 5/21/10

Monday, July 5, 2010

Collage 112

Lynn Waskelis
from page 231-232 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 5/21/10

Sometimes the collages I make respond to the page of War and Peace I'm working with. More often they don't, at least thus far. Because we've been cross-referencing the Russian text with the English translation, one day I can read the bit of Tolstoy's text preserved here and see how it jibes with the image of these Hansel and Gretel-like children. Is there a fortuitous correspondence amongst the image, paint and words, or only silence? Maybe the oval of words is a harvest moon and only that.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Collage 111

Lucy found a wonderful old art book at the dump and gave it to me as a Christmas gift last year. It was the most precious gift! The title was something like "The Line in Art". I don't have the book handy but will not the title and publication date another time. What I love about it is the pretentiousness with which the author talks about "primitive" art. So much that is written about art is so ridiculous. Here is an example:

"Here one may live in the realm of security and warmth -- or in a horrible and fearsome loneliness. This secret world of the mind is experienced inwardly it erupts as a volcano of emotions, intuitions, sensibilities, and inarticulate yearnings (for what does it strive -- the security of early man's affinity with nature and the universe?). All this transpires uniquely by each individual. Although deeply silent to the outside, in substrata currents which run deep below the surface of the verbally articulate, and can be "seen" and shared only when brought to the surface in a language such as this."

That is the text which I used for this collage. What interests me is the process of making work, and specifically the process of this project. The blah, blah, blah of this kind of art criticism makes me laugh and annoys me at the same time. Stop talking! Just do it! -- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 229-230 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 5/21/10

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Collage 110

Team Tolstoy yesterday consisted of Adrienne, Emma, Lynn, me. It was Adrienne's first time with us, and Emma's second time. We made an impressive number of collages yesterday, 14 in all. We are now up to #160. Adrienne is a painter and brought that quality to her pieces. It is unbelievable how much we can get done in such a small physical space with so many of us, but we found our rhythm and had a fantastic day together.

Here is a beautiful passage from Volume One, Part Three, Chapter XV, page 281. Prince Andrei has been to war and has learned a lot -- the politics of war, bravery, cowardice, friendship. He seems to have met his Maker. The Russians were surprised by the French proximity and subsequent offensive, and there was total chaos and confusion. The Russians were fleeing their position and Prince Andrei hoped to stem to tide and inspire the soldiers to respond rather than run. He grabs the staff of the standard (their regiment's flag) and is (fatally?) injured.

"There was nothing over him now except the sky -- the lofty sky, not clear, but still immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds slowly creeping across it. 'How quiet, calm, and solemn, not at all like when I was running,' thought Prince Andrei, 'not like when we were running, shouting, and fighting; not at all like when the Frenchman and the artillerist, with angry and frightened faces, were pulling at the swab -- it's quite different the way the clouds creep across this lofty, infinite sky. How is it that I haven't seen this lofty sky before? And how happy I am that I've finally come to know it. Yes! everything is empty, everything is a deception, except this infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing except that. But there is not even that, there is nothing except silence, tranquility. And thank God!...'

These are the words that Buddhist teachers use to describe Enlightenment. Do we become enlightened at the moment of death? -- Lola

Lynn Waskelis
from page 227-228 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 5/21/10

Friday, July 2, 2010

Collage 109

Lynn Waskelis
from page 225-226 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 5/21/10

There was an article in today's Wall Street Journal about 2 new books related to Tolstoy. Read on! -- Lola

The Road to the Stationmaster's House

One hundred years ago, in the middle of the night, Lev Tolstoy, 82 years old and in failing health, suddenly fled Yasnaya Polyana, his estate south of Moscow. The disappearance of Russia's most famous man was reported in the press two days later and created a sensation, with excited public speculation about where he was going and why he had left. Was Tolstoy on a spiritual journey, as many wished to believe, or was he in flight from a troubled marriage, as rumor had it?

A few days after departing, Tolstoy fell ill with pneumonia, and his journey ended in the stationmaster's house at the remote railway station of Astapovo, where Tolstoy lay dying. A media circus ensued. Telegraphic reports from Astapovo recording Tolstoy's temperature and pulse, and the comings and goings at the station, made headlines around the world.

A subplot of the story was the fate of Sophia, Tolstoy's abandoned wife of 48 years, who attempted suicide upon learning of her husband's departure. Denied access to him by his disciples, as was his wish, she paced the station platform and tried to peer through the windows of the house, a performance captured by photographers and motion- picture men.

As one reporter described the scene: "She walks beside the house where Lev Nikolaevich is lying and pecks like a bird wanting to fly into the nest where her most beloved being lies." Sophia was allowed entry to her husband's room only after he had slipped into a coma. He died on Nov. 7, 1910.

These events have been described by Tolstoy's many biographers, and they have even been the subject of a recent film, "The Last Station." Now come two compelling works of original scholarship taking up Tolstoy's final days and his tumultuous relations with his wife.

The author of "War and Peace" was the last of the giants of 19th-century Russian literature, yet William Nickell, in his thought-provoking and insightful "The Death of Tolstoy," convincingly casts Tolstoy's exit less as the end of a glorious era than as Russia's "first great modern mass-media event."

Mr. Nickell has researched the more than 1,000 telegrams sent to and from Astapovo during Tolstoy's eight-day stay there, as well as hundreds of newspaper articles. "By the end of the weeklong ordeal at Astapovo," he observes, "Tolstoy and the telegraph had become inextricably wed."

As Tolstoy's family and followers pointed fingers at one another and sought to justify themselves, family diaries and letters were published. They offered, Mr. Nickell says, "shocking intrusions into the realm of the private." The world learned that Tolstoy blamed his wife's late-night snoopings through his papers for his decision to flee, that she had attempted to drown herself in a pond on the estate, and that Tolstoy's daughter Sasha had become an ally of the Tolstoyans against her mother.

One often has the feeling, reading "The Death of Tolstoy," that Mr. Nickell has joined the stakeout at Astapovo, though he is on the lookout for keys to interpretation tropes, metaphors and "rhetorical strategies." The analytical density can be heavygoing, but the rewards are great. Mr. Nickell is especially good on the attempts of the Russian autocracy, and of the Orthodox Church, to "spin" Tolstoy's departure, death and funeral.

Tolstoy had fallen out with the church in the aftermath of his "spiritual crisis" in the late 1870s, following the publication of "Anna Karenina." He renounced the writing of fiction and embarked on a revisionist study of Christianity, seeking to rectify what he saw as Orthodoxy's distorted view of Christ and his teaching. The result was a series of polemical works, most of which were censored or banned.

The Orthodox Church excommunicated him—though rather gently. The church, like the czar's government, did not want to make a martyr of the man celebrated as the "great citizen of the Russian land." "Tolstoyans" could be exiled to Siberia but not Tolstoy himself.

Nicholas II and his officials sought to separate Tolstoy the aristocratic novelist from the rogue patriarch of his last three decades. At the time of his modest funeral at Yasnaya Polyana, the government issued expressions of sympathy but took police measures behind the scenes to ensure that no mass outpouring of sympathy could erupt and possibly ignite the kind of unrest that had almost toppled the regime in the Revolution of 1905. The church, for its part, portrayed Tolstoy as a repentant sinner who had sought to return to the fold but who, in the end, was prevented from making his peace with God.

Tolstoy's last years were tragic and difficult for his wife, the subject of Alexandra Popoff's spirited biography. "Sophia Tolstoy" draws heavily on Sophia's unpublished memoirs, the Tolstoys' separate diaries and the correspondence between husband and wife. Ms. Popoff presents Sophia as Tolstoy's selfless and vital collaborator, serving as his copyist, editor and archivist. "She created the best conditions for his writing and her support was indispensable to Tolstoy, who constantly struggled with depression." Sophia eventually became his publisher and would produce eight editions of his collected works, personally involving herself in every stage of the process.

In the course of Sophia's life with Tolstoy—when they married in 1862, she was 18 and he was 34 — she endured 16 pregnancies. In all, 13 children were born to the couple, eight of whom lived to adulthood. Not that Sophia's responsibilities were confined to child-rearing. She once made a list of her duties. It included "business affairs" and "keeping the family peace."

Her life was greatly complicated by Tolstoy's spiritual crisis, when he not only renounced tobacco and meat (and violence) but began to portray sex, even sex within marriage, as sinful — though his beliefs did not stop him from making love to his wife.

Tolstoy neglected his children's education and their financial security, preferring to preach about the evils of money and property. He criticized his wife's publishing operations because, he said, they supported a life of "luxury." In fact, her tireless industry was essential to sustaining the family's well-being.

Not least among her concerns was providing for her husband, who continued to reside on the estate — although he did acquire a new look: the peasant shirt and bast sandals that became his trademark late in life. A painting by Ilya Repin of Tolstoy plowing his fields became an iconic image of the era.

Russians near and far questioned the contradiction between Tolstoy's renunciatory teachings and the privileged, aristocratic lifestyle he refused to abandon. The blame tended to fall on the enterprising Sophia, who grew exasperated with her husband's hypocrisy. "In the eyes of the world he can do no wrong for he is a great writer," she wrote bitterly in her diary.

The Tolstoys made it a practice to read their diaries to each other, so each entry became part of a painful marital self-examination. "I often said to myself," Tolsoy wrote on one occasion, "if not for my wife and children I would have lived a saintly life." The only solution was to leave, if he had any hope of bringing his life into line with his ideals. He told his diary that it would be "such a desirable and joyous thing to go away and be a beggar, thanking and loving everyone." He left for the first time in 1884, on the night of the birth of his daughter Sasha. In later years he wrote more and more frequently about his desire to abandon his home.

In that final summer of 1910, as the family split into factions and Tolstoy's followers exerted increasing influence, Sophia resorted to acts of desperation to get her husband's attention, claiming to have taken opium and firing a pistol loaded with blanks. Her nemesis in this struggle was Vladimir Chertkov, the acolyte who eventually became the executor of Tolstoy's will. In her diary she recorded suicidal thoughts, including a desire to throw herself under a train in the manner of Anna Karenina.
Ms. Popoff makes no secret that she is herself an advocate for Sophia, seeking to rescue her reputation from the slanders of the Tolstoyans. She succeeds in this effort, although her labor of love would have benefitted from some critical distance. Mr. Nickell, with more even-handedness, perceives the "strange mixture of love, fear, and paranoia" that drove Sophia to extremes on the eve of Tolstoy's flight.

It is heartbreaking to read how this tormented woman was prevented from approaching her dying husband's bedside at the Astapovo station, forced to remain three steps distant as she whispered her good-byes. Ms. Popoff quotes the novelist Maxim Gorky, who gave a hard-headed assessment of Sophia and her place in Tolstoy's life: "She was his close, faithful, and I think, his only real friend."

—Mr. Patenaude, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is the author of "Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Collage 108

Tomorrow will be a big day for Team Tolstoy. There will be 4 of us. Lynn, Emma and me plus a new contributor, Adrienne, a friend of Lynn's .

"Life is nothing without friendship" -- Cicero

Lola Baltzell
from page 223-224 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 5/21/10