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The Kreutzer Sonata
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1001 book reviews > The Kreutzer Sonata - Tolstoy

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Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 483 comments 4 stars

My copy of The Kreutzer Sonata is from the Penguin "Great Loves" series. I am genuinely puzzled at its inclusion. The characters discuss the nature of love, yes, but this is no love story. It is a story of blood chilling jealousy and of a couple who seem bound together not by love but by mutual antagonism. It is a scathing indictment of the double standard in sexual morality, and the devastating effects of social customs and upbringing amongst the upper classes in Tolstoy's time.

A lot of things have changed since Tolstoy wrote this novella. At least in my part of the world. Women are not kept ignorant of sex until their wedding night, for one. But there are things mentioned in this book that I still recognise. Girls being brought up to be attractive for men, to not only be "objects of pleasure" but to see themselves as such. Mothers being overwhelmed by constantly changing advice on how to care for their children, and feeling and getting the blame for anything that goes wrong with their child because they didn't do things "right".

The solution presented by the main character is, however, both impractical and does not follow logically from the stated problems. And neither the narrator (who is not the main character but simply exists as a framework for the story) nor any other character presents a coherent attempt at discussing or contradicting this solution. As such everything is a bit up in the air, especially as it is obvious from the outset that the main character is deeply disturbed. It makes it difficult to see what we're supposed to take from this story. Are we meant to accept the conclusion? Are we given an excuse to disregard the warning and the argument because the conclusion drawn is utterly outlandish? Are we perhaps invited to inspect the story, discuss it, and come up with a better answer? I'd like to think the latter. I think this is a good story to read with a group.


Kristel (kristelh) | 4261 comments Mod
read 2010 A novella. Tolstoy uses this novella to express his ideals of marriage, love, sex and his promotion of abstinence. Pozdynyshev overhears a conversation about love and divorce and becomes so agitated that he interjects himself into their conversation and challenges their ideas of love and he states that the only right state is abstinence. After they leave he tells his story of how he came to kill his wife to an unnamed passenger. Pozdyyshev became so jealous of his wife that he killed her. Tolstoy evolved a new Christianity based on his own interpretation of the Gospels. He did not believe that Jesus created marriage but the church created marriage.


message 3: by Pip (last edited Feb 14, 2020 01:38PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pip | 1481 comments This was an intriguing read. It is the second book I have read this month where the device is a character telling his story to a stranger on public transport. The other was the killer in Amok, telling his story in the dark on the deck of a steamship. This time the protagonist is travelling by train. Perhaps Zweig had read Tolstoy because there were definitely parallels!
Tolstoy has his character begin with a diatribe about the dilemma faced by women. He felt women needed more autonomy, but that this was unlikely because men view women primarily as sexual objects. Howevermuch the reader might identify with the argument, it was a fairly dry and repetitive section. The storyteller felt that his marriage had been compromised by his use of brothels before he met his wife, incensed that such behaviours are deemed acceptable by society. His wife has five children, is obsessed with their health and wellbeing, and as a result the couple have very little interaction except for sex. What discussions they have spiral into arguments. When a musician plays a duet with his wife at a soiree the narrator has arranged, he muses on the dangerous influence of music, especially in sexual arousal and Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, especially the first, presto, movement, which the pair play, exemplifies this phenomenon. He marvels that people are expected to behave as if they have not just listened to something so moving. He leaves for a conference, whips himself into a fury of jealousy, imagining an intrigue happening between the musician and his wife, returns early to find the two together, but in an innocent rather than compromising position. In a jealous rage he stabs his wife but fails to pursue the musician because "I wanted to follow the other, but I felt that it woudl be ridiculous to pursue in my stockings the lover of my wife, and I did not wish to be grotesque, I wished to be terrible". This quote sums up the narrator quite well. Although he thinks deeply he is sadly lacking in empathy. He is still suffering because he confides in a stranger on a train, but remorse is missing from his story.


message 4: by George P. (last edited May 05, 2022 06:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

George P. | 541 comments I finished the reading this morning, which was by audiobook told by Simon Prebble. His reading was very dramatic, maybe overly so- I would have liked it to be a bit more restrained, but it was entertaining.
Like Lori, I thought about the five children who were deprived of their mother (though apparently their basic care was provided by servants primarily). The children were little thought of by the very egotistical protagonist. At least he did show some remorse for the murder.
I marveled at the ending in which the train passenger who has listened to the story shook his hand on parting- I would have thought he would be dismayed at this man's behavior. I did think it a well-told tale though and give it a four-star rating.
At the end of my audiobook it said that this translation was from about ten years after its publication and the translator was unknown. A pity that his/her good work is uncredited.

I read that Tolstoy's public advocacy for new codes of social behavior led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox church. While Tolstoy thought that an end to sexual activity was the solution to the negative emotions that ensue, I (and I believe most thinking people) would advocate for developing more control over one's emotions, a lack of which leads to a great deal of bad behavior. I was reminded by the story of a friend of my mother who actually murdered the husband she was separated from who was in a relationship with another woman, and who then attempted suicide- sadly true. Parents should begin training children in more emotional control at a young age- we do to an extent, but not enough. We are human though and all flawed to some extent so it's not realistic to hope that this would be universal.


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