Countess Alexandra Tolstoy-Miloslavsky and the charming Aliosha, Ivan and Marousia are part of an ancient branch of the literary Tolstoy family. Today the British aristocrat is bringing up her children alone in London’s Chelsea, but considers herself a ‘Russian soul’ and, like her famous relative, is not losing hope in a happy family.
Elle – How are children in the Tolstoy-Miloslavsky family brought up over the generations?
Alexandra Tolstoy-Miloslavsky In much the same way that I was brought up. My father is a well-known historian, an intellectual and educated person. I grew up in England, in the countryside, where I spend weekends now too with my children. For my father it was important to choose for my siblings and me (there are four of us) the correct books. He read a lot out loud to us and brought us up with a particular love for literature and history. Even though my father does not speak Russian, he instilled in us a great love for Russia. He often reminded us of our family origins. We never watched television and were always playing outside…
“Even though my father does not speak Russian, he instilled in us a great love for Russia. He often reminded us of our family origins.”
Which language did you speak?
Only English. But when I turned 18 my father insisted on sending me to Moscow to learn Russian (Alexandra is giving the interview in perfect Russian! – ed. Elle). Now I am 45 and have spent many of the intervening years in Russia. My children speak French, English and Russian fluently.
Which books do you read them?
Like my father, I choose very carefully. Our Russian nanny reads the children Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and a lot of Swedish classics, all in Russian. In French, they principally listen to the books of the Countess de Segur. In English I read the classics myself. They also adore Soviet cartoons…
Despite the huge changes in our lifestyle over the last years, my children are happy. I have never spoilt them and have always worked to develop their imaginations, and to cultivate a wide cultural knowledge and good manners. We are practicing Orthodox Christians and my children’s values are not materialistic. They are focused on the family, nature and the values of an ‘old-fashioned’ childhood.
“A curse lies on our family; in each generation of Tolstoys there will always be one genius and one madman.”
What is the defining characteristic of a Tolstoy?
A curse lies on our family; in each generation of Tolstoys there will always be one genius and one madman. It has always been like that. And, probably, we are all very passionate people!
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Images: Alexander Emauz and Vassily Berezhnoi