c. 1877: Moscow
the joys of motherhood
“never mind giving birth, but being pregnant—
that’s the pain,” darya alexandrovna thought,
picturing her last pregnancy and the death of
that last child. and she remembered her con-
versation with the young peasant woman at the
inn. to the question whether she had children,
the beautiful young woman had cheerfully re-
plied, “i had one girl, but God freed me, i bur-
ied her during lent.”
“and aren’t you very sorry about her?”
darya alexandrovna had asked.
My mother groaned! My father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
—William Blake, 1794
“Why be sorry? The old man has lots of
grandchildren. nothing but trouble. no work,
no nothing. Just bondage.”
This answer had seemed repulsive to
darya alexandrovna, despite the young wom-
an’s good-natured prettiness, but now she inad-
vertently recalled those words. cynical as they
were, there was some truth in them.
“and generally,” thought darya alexan-
drovna, looking back at the whole of her life
in fifteen years of marriage, “pregnancy, nau-
sea, dullness of mind, indifference to every-
thing, and above all, ugliness. Kitty, young and
pretty Kitty, even she has lost her good looks,
but when i’m pregnant i get ugly, i know it.
labor, suffering, ugly suffering, that last mo-
ment…then nursing, the sleepless nights, the
difficult. and on top of it all, the death of these
same children.” and again there came to her
imagination the cruel memory, eternally gnaw-
ing at her mother’s heart, of the death of her last
infant boy, who had died of croup, his funeral,
the universal indifference before that small,
pink coffin, and her own heart-rending, lonely
pain before the pale little forehead with curls at
the temples, before the opened, surprised little
mouth she had glimpsed in the coffin just as it
was covered by the pink lid with the lace cross.
Leo Tolstoy, from anna Karenina. In between
publishing the autobiographical works childhood
in 1852 and Youth in 1857, Tolstoy commanded
a battery in the Crimean War during the siege of
Sebastopol, an experience that inspired a series
of sketches, which won him renown. He serially
published War and peace from 1865 to 1869.
After spending the following summer at the age
of forty-two studying ancient Greek, Tolstoy
concluded, “I shall write no more gossipy twaddle
of the War and peace type.”