Famed Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)—author of such classics as ANNA KARENINA and WAR AND PEACE—was nearly as famed for his volatile marriage as he was for his literary masterpieces. He tied the knot (or, perhaps as he would see it, a noose) with 18 year old Sonya Behrs in 1862.
In a book review of the chronicle of their unhappy lives together, Love and Hatred: The Stormy Marriage of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy by William L Shirer, Robert Winder writes:
[It] was love and hate at first sight. After two weeks she wrote: 'I am terribly, terribly sad, and withdrawing further and further into myself. My husband is sad and ill and out of sorts and doesn't love me. I could never imagine it would be so terrible.' Their fight lasted half a century, and they were, to say the least, unhappy in their own way: they poured their reproachful grudges into diaries, and then read each other's work.
Tolstoy not only soured on his marriage, but on all marriage.
As John MacArthur notes, “Count Leo Tolstoy embraced a perverse marital asceticism late in life, claiming that the responsibilities of marriage impeded his progress in moral perfection. Since he had a large family, this was a remarkable assertion.”* He then goes on to quote one particularly acerbic rant Tolstoy railed against his daughter Tanya as she contemplated her own upcoming nuptials:
"I can understand why a depraved man may find salvation in marriage. But why a pure girl should want to get mixed up in such a business is beyond me. If I were a girl I would not marry for anything in the world. And so far as being in love is concerned, for either men and women-since I know what it means, that is, it is an ignoble and above all an unhealthy sentiment, not at all beautiful, lofty or poetical-I would not have opened my door to it. I would have taken as many precautions to avoid being contaminated by that disease as I would to protect myself against far less serious infections such as diphtheria, typhus or scarlet fever.”
*John MacArthur, THE MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY by John MacArthur, Volume Hebrews, section 13:4-6.
Many today, though perhaps not as blatantly expressive, likewise feel marriage has become nothing more than a societal hindrance to their ultimate happiness and fulfillment. Or, as MacArthur puts it, “Today's radical secular wisdom claims that marriage impedes self-actualization—an unforgivable sin in modern eyes.”
Those who seek to follow their own lusts and narcissistic, self-serving passions will forever look for justification to dishonor the institution of marriage. Yet note, even Tolstoy stayed with his wife for 50 years, seemingly finding more value in a miserable marriage than in singleness (though no doubt he’d never admit it!).
Yet God’s truth is timeless. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). “And the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:8-9).