Review: Frederick Wiseman’s gorgeous ‘A Couple’ brings the words of Sophia Tolstoy to life
One of the most popular of Frederick Wiseman’s A Christmas Carol is a tale in which the narrator, the titular Charles Dickens’s own daughter Estella, tells the story of a Christmas Eve dinner with her mother.
The dinner scene is the most pivotal of Dickens’s Christmas stories. That is, it is a moment in the novel where Dickens, the author, gets to use his own voice to speak to his readers: first the child narrator of A Christmas Carol, and then the adult narrator of Dickens’s own life.
The dinner scene stands out even more so because, at the centre of it is Sophia Tolstoy, the author’s older sister. In her life, the dinner scene was the most defining event – arguably, in any sense of the word – because it is a tableau in which Sophia Tolstoy plays a pivotal role.
It was first published in 1908. The Dickens family Christmas dinner scene has already made its way into popular culture. It has inspired a famous song, for example. Perhaps an even less famous but still very popular version of the scene is in the movie Christmas Story which, I imagine, would be much more appropriate for a Christmas movie than the book version.
It is, in many ways, a wonderful, heart-wrenching, tragic Christmas story. Sophia Tolstoy was the only woman Tolstoy ever married and, in many ways, she was the central person who shaped both his life and his artistic work during his lifetime.
At the centre of it sits Sophia Tolstoy, a woman who, during the course of their marriage and throughout its duration, never once showed her love for Tolstoy. Instead, Tolstoy, who never truly loved her, spent the most time with her as a wife and mother.
The Tolstoy family Christmas dinner scene has made its way into popular culture. A perfect example of its use in the last two decades of the twentieth century can be seen in the 2009 film, A Christmas Story, starring Jim Carrey