In her fascinating book The Wives: The Women Behind Russia’s Literary Giants, Alexandra Popoff profiles the wives of incredible Russian writers like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov, and Solzhenitsyn. As a student of Russian literature and being familiar with the works of the authors, I enjoyed this book tremendously for the insights I gained into how they worked and the roles their wives played in composing their masterpieces.
The political situation in Russia under the czars and then the Communists made literature an important form of social criticism, so it was really interesting to learn about how these women, many of whom would otherwise have been voiceless in their society, found a voice through their help and influence on their husbands’ work. Unlike many Western writers’ wives, the Russian literary tradition called for literary wives who “actively helped produce literature. These women became so much a part of it that they commonly used the word ‘we’ to describe the progress of their husbands’ work.”
Frankly, although the writers included in the book are among my all time favorites, they were all colossal jerks. It’s really amazing that their wives put up with all of their nonsense and egotism. Although I appreciate how awesome it must have been to witness these men write incredible works of literature, I’m not sure I could have handled living with these men. It’s much better to just read the book. 🙂
I was interested to see how the writers worked–some wrote in serialized form with barely any revisions. Nabokov wrote Invitation to a Beheading in TWO WEEKS. Of course, then he spent months revising it, but still. The genius level here is astounding.
If you’re a fan of literature in general or Russian literature in particular, you would probably love The Wives and I highly recommend it!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.