When Tolstoy was an old man, he discovered a pair of unknown woman's footprints in his garden. As he gazed at them, he recounts imagining an "ideal" woman that he envisions as his mother, who had died before he could form a memory of her. This passage in his diary is filled with pain and hopeless longing.
Did Tolstoy's lifelong yearning for his mother shape his view of women and of motherhood? In many respects, how could it not? We know that in his personal life, Tolstoy took a passionate interest in his wife's experience of maternity. Just before writing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy championed motherhood as the divinely ordained role for women in his written response to John Stuart Mill's essay "On the Subjection of Women." Lucky for Tolstoy, his lifelong fascination with women's sexuality and experiences of maternity coincided with the general social debates of his time. This was fertile ground. From his yearnings for a mother he never knew sprang portraits of women who haunt us and inform us even to this day.