When the sex went, and the friendship did not blossom, she grew desolate. Actually, they both did—Tolstoy, too, craved a unity of souls—and the desolation deranged them even further.

Here they are in their 60s and 70s, still pacing the floor at four in the morning, railing at each other (or at themselves), falling into exhaustion, then rising in a few hours to go at it again.

One can almost see their heads repeatedly clearing out, then almost instantly filling again with blood. There seemed never a way to release themselves from the shock of actuality except through operatic convulsions—and this they indulged in until the very last.

Tolstoy fled the house in the final weeks of his life crying out, as he had times without number, “I can’t take it any more! She’s killing me!”

And Sonya, upon discovering that he was really gone, rushed out of the house (as she, too, had done times without number) to drown herself in the pond. When her daughter Sasha and a friend pulled her out just as she was going under, her first words to Sasha were, “Wire your father that I have drowned myself.”

The Tolstoys spent their lives warring with one another because simply to walk away from the ancient dream of two-shall-be-as-one was, for them, psychologically prohibitive. The association between spiritual significance and emotional fulfillment invited a metaphoric devotion that neither could resist.

From Vivian Gornick's The Ancient Dream, Boston Review