By Rachael Daum

The Tolstoy family circle at Yasnaya Polyana, circa 1905 (via Wikipedia)

Vera Nabokova, Sophia Tolstaya, Anna Dostoyevskaya and Natalia Solzhenitsyna — suffering and child-rearing, while acting as wife and secretary to genius.

6:03am: He’s up, so I’m up. The usual routine: tea on the fire; quills, paper, hot ink (never enough) on his desk; crying babies in the nursery. The sun isn’t even up yet and his door is closed.

8:10am: Buckwheat for breakfast, and tea — bitter, because life is bitter. It's good to teach the children this while they’re still susceptible, but judging by his plumpness little Vova doesn't get it yet. We are all slaves to our volition and our appetites, including children.

Anna Dostoyevskaya, 1871 (via Wikimedia Commons)

9:32am: Little Tanya tells me she wants to be a writer like her father when she grows up and asks would I please look at her manuscripts like I do his. My hands are full but I find time. Ah, that his manuscripts would show the collectivization of hedgehog homes, too! She weaves metaphor as nicely as her father. But I give it back to her and say that in our country women cannot be writers. She throws a tantrum.

10:00am: Math lessons for the children. It’s hard teaching the older ones while all the younger ones want to breastfeed. It is an honor bearing a brood in the hopes that genius continues down the line, but my God do my tits hurt. Little Alyosha wants to know when Father will come out of his office, and I want to explain that the suffering of solitude is what brings great minds peace and inspiration, and to express this inspiration one must forsake comfort and bleed through the quill. “Probably supper time,” I tell him instead.

Sophia Tolstaya, circa 1900 (via Wikimedia Commons)

11:03am: Had to convince him, again, that giving away our worldly possessions will benefit no one. Had to settle with being called “the bourgeois witch” yet again, but I’m not interested in breastfeeding my babies on a stump outside, thank you very much.

11:30am: Preparing lunch. So many little mouths, so many spoonfuls of borscht. Not enough sour cream to go around; shall go without, myself. Only bread and cheese for him. To eat is to suffer, but not to eat brings the right kind of suffering. I think. I get the sufferings all mixed up.

12:04pm: Suffering is watching eight children at once start crying because they’ve all got the idea that they no longer like beets. It’s not possible. You’re Russian. You love beets.

3:30pm: He has gone for a nap. It is time to put my stamp collection into order: I will prove to him that women can be faithful and devoted to at least one thing in their lives. Oh, tiny, sticky squares, you understand me.

Vera Nabokova, 1940 (via Meaningful Audacity)

4:17pm: Again looked through his diaries he gave me on the eve of our marriage to confess to me all his past transgressions. That attractive serf woman almost makes the gonorrhea worth it.

5:12pm: Reminisced about our four-year-long honeymoon. What a romantic time, those snow-capped Swiss mountains, the French bread every day, the love we made on the mountainside … and getting stuck there because he lost my dowry gambling and we couldn’t pay our way back to Russia. Ah, well, there are worse places to get stranded. Good thing we didn't honeymoon in Siberia.

8:20pm: Evening tea. Told the children to be quiet, stilled my own tears. There was no blackberry jam to go with the tea, and he hates the raspberry. He sighs, and I wonder that my life is filled with such idleness.

Natalia Solzhenitsyna at Book Expo America, 2012 (via Lotus Editions)

9:51pm: Had to save the manuscripts from the fire, again.

10:21pm: The children are asleep. Thank goodness. He’s still in his office. Times like this I can ease back into my wooden chair, the cat warm on my lap, and close my eyes, love the quiet. I think of the quiet in my bedroom when I was a little girl, the quiet that encircled me when I wrote. I stopped my own writing when we married, and seeing his work published makes it worth it.

10:25pm: Alyosha is crying, and so Vera is crying, and Vova will start crying in a moment.

10:47pm: Three sleeping children, tears still wet on their cheeks, in my lap. He finally comes from his room and kisses my forehead, pours some cold borscht, complains that it’s cold and says he has a manuscript for me to look at. It’s worth it. I’m sure.

Rachael Daum is a master’s student in inflicting Russian literature and translation on herself at Indiana University. She appreciates foreign literature, good tea and puns. You can find her on Twitter @Oopsadaisical.

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