Sunday, May 10, 2009

Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy

Please note: The links to the etext version of Family Happiness in this blog entry will no longer work once Geocities is shut down.

Family Happiness was first published in 1859, and it marks one of the first of Tolstoy's fictional explorations of the theme of family happiness. It is autobiographical to a large extent and was written after his engagement to his ward was broken off. It explores what might have happened had the marriage taken place.

Tolstoy searched for family happiness his entire life. He did not know it in its complete form as a child as his mother died when he was about 18 months old and his father when he was nine. After his father's death, little Leo and his three brothers and sister were shifted around among other relatives. First his paternal grandmother had guardianship of the children, but she too died 11 months after his father's death. Guardianship then passed to a paternal aunt, who also died. There was then a custody battle between another paternal aunt and a paternal cousin (the model for Sonya in War and Peace) with the paternal aunt winning.

None of the five children ever found family happiness in their adult lives.

Tolstoy was obsessed with trying to understand what family happiness consists of and how to achieve it. This obsession is evident in the fictional marriages he portrayed in War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Kreutzer Sonata, and The Devil. Some believe that Tolstoy did achieve family happiness in the early years of his marriage, but I would argue that the relationship between husband and wife was volatile from the beginning, disintegrating over the years until his celebrated flight from home ending in his death from pneumonia in 1910.

So I offer up this uncorrected version of Family Happiness for all to read. It is with sadness that I report that Geocities will soon cease to exist, meaning the end of my efforts to make Tolstoy's work available to all at no cost.

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