The Kreutzer Sonata

by Leo Tolstoy

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Isabel Hapgood (review date 1890)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoi's 'Kreutzer Sonata'," in The Nation, Vol. L, No. 1294, January-June, 1890, pp. 313-15.

[In the following review, Hapgood summarizes the plot of The Kreutzer Sonata, noting the novella's language, style, and construction, but disparaging its moral.]

What are the legitimate bounds of realism? To what point is it permissible to describe in repulsive detail the hideous and unseemly things of this world, simply because they exist, when it is quite impossible to say what the effect will be upon thousands of people to whom such description conveys the first knowledge of the existence of evil? It has been proved that public executions, far from inspiring horror of the deeds which led to them, and deterring others from the commission of like deeds, through fear of the result thus presented, actually give rise to crimes copied after those which are thus brought to general attention. The same thing is true in the case of crimes which are minutely described in the newspapers. But books? On the whole, although a sensational realistic book may never reach as many people as an article published in the popular newspaper, it probably produces as much effect because of the weight and respectability which the binding and comparatively high price give to it.

One has occasion to reflect upon this topic rather frequently in these days of "psychological" romances; but it is not often necessary, I think, to meditate so seriously as one is forced to do over Count Lyoff Tolstoi's last story.

When I first resched Russia, in the autumn of 1887, I heard that Count Tolstoi was writing a new tale: it began on the railway, and a man murdered his wife, and it was to be of the searching psychological type exemplified by Ivan Ilyitch. So much seemed to be known in well-informed circles. I asked no questions when I made the Count's acquaintance a year later. But one evening last July, during a visit which I made to Yasnaya Polyana, at the Countess's invitation, the Count spoke to me of his story as being near completion, and asked me to translate it when it should be finished. I promised, and inquired whether it was in a condition for me to read. "You may read the last version if you like," he answered, "but I would rather have you wait." His wife showed me sheets of the fourth version, which she was then copying, and advised me not to waste time in reading it, as it was quite likely that he might suddenly see the subject in a totally different light, and write it all over again from that point of view. So I read nothing, asked no questions, and waited, being informed from time to time that the book was progressing. How many different versions were finally made, I do not know, but this winter one of these versions began to make the rounds in Petersburg. The solitary manuscript flew rapidly from hand to hand. I was warned, however, that it or any copy from it would be imperfect, incomplete, and not approved by the author, who was at work upon the final version. I contented myself with the verdict of those who were too impatient to wait, and who had not been promised the first complete copy, as I had been. That verdict was, "Shocking!" "Beauties mingled with horrors," and so forth. It was said that it was not allowed to be printed—the usual cry; but, as there is nothing religious or political in it, its morality must have been the cause of the prohibition, if true.

(This entire section contains 3232 words.)

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So much seemed to be known in well-informed circles. I asked no questions when I made the Count's acquaintance a year later. But one evening last July, during a visit which I made to Yasnaya Polyana, at the Countess's invitation, the Count spoke to me of his story as being near completion, and asked me to translate it when it should be finished. I promised, and inquired whether it was in a condition for me to read. "You may read the last version if you like," he answered, "but I would rather have you wait." His wife showed me sheets of the fourth version, which she was then copying, and advised me not to waste time in reading it, as it was quite likely that he might suddenly see the subject in a totally different light, and write it all over again from that point of view. So I read nothing, asked no questions, and waited, being informed from time to time that the book was progressing. How many different versions were finally made, I do not know, but this winter one of these versions began to make the rounds in Petersburg. The solitary manuscript flew rapidly from hand to hand. I was warned, however, that it or any copy from it would be imperfect, incomplete, and not approved by the author, who was at work upon the final version. I contented myself with the verdict of those who were too impatient to wait, and who had not been promised the first complete copy, as I had been. That verdict was, "Shocking!" "Beauties mingled with horrors," and so forth. It was said that it was not allowed to be printed—the usual cry; but, as there is nothing religious or political in it, its morality must have been the cause of the prohibition, if true.

At length I received the first copy of the genuine story (the second went to the Danish translator), with the information that, although the substance was nearly identical with that of the version which had already been circulating, and which was said to be in process of translation into foreign languages, the execution had been so altered that "not one stone was left upon another" in some places, while in others whole pages, and even chapters, had been completely rewritten by the author. My copy was corrected by the author especially with a view to translation, and was, therefore, to be regarded as the only one sanctioned by him for rendering into other tongues, and this version is yet unattainable in St. Petersburg.

Why, then, do I not translate a work from the famous and much-admired Russian author? Because, in spite of due gratitude to Count Tolstoi for favoring me with the first copy, and in spite of my faith in his conviction that such treatment of such a subject is needed and will do good, I cannot agree with him. It recalls the fable of his countryman, Kriloff, anent the man who borrowed his neighbor's water cask, used it for wine, and returned it impregnated with vinous fumes to such a degree that the unfortunate lender was obliged to throw it away, after using every possible means, during the space of two years, to expel the taint so that the water should be pure once more.

"Too frank and not decent," was one of the Petersburg verdicts upon this Kreutzer Sonata. This is so true that, although thus forewarned, I was startled at the idea that it could possibly be beneficial, and, destroying the translation which I had begun, I wrote promptly to decline the task. It is probable that the author and his blindly devoted admirers will consider that I have committed an unpardonable sin. But they must remember that his "comedy," The Realm of Darkness, although it was acted in private, in high Petersburg society, and in public in Paris, has never been translated into English, so far as I am aware, at least. I yield to no one in my admiration for and appreciation of Tolstoi's genius, as displayed in certain of his works. I tried to get American publishers to bring out War and Peace and Anna Karenin in 1881, five years before American readers were treated to the mangled versions of those works through the French. They declined, and one noted Boston publisher said, with great frankness: "No one in Russia knows how to write except Turgeneff, and he is far above the heads of Bostonians." I predicted a change of opinion, and if I am now morally compelled to appear unfaithful to my own former admiration, my regret is certainly more deep and sincere than even the regret of those who merely repent their failure to grasp an opportunity for making money, or of those who, consciously or unconsciously, follow the literary fashion of the hour.

But I will turn to the book. After making due allowance for the ordinary freedom of speech, which has greater latitude in Russia (as elsewhere in Europe) than is customary in America, I find the language of the Kreutzer Sonata to be too excessive in its candor. At the same time I admit that if that subject was to be treated in that way, no other language would have answered the purpose. I mention this first because it is the first thing which strikes the reader, and because it is also the special thing which hovers over the horrors of the tale with an added dread, and lingers long behind in the reader's mind, like a moral bad taste in the mouth. Next, the style and construction. The construction is good, as is usual with the author. The style errs in the direction in which all his books are faulty, viz., repetition. The unnecessary repetition of words or phrases occurs in his greatest works, while in the later, the polemical, writings, it has become greatly exaggerated. It forms a feature of this book, and although it gives strength at times, it is too marked on the whole. One must think that this tautology is deliberate on the author's part, since he is never in haste to publish uncorrected matter; but the result is harshness, which increases with every fresh work. Nevertheless, the book is well written. And the story? It is that of a man who kills his wife out of jealousy for a semi-professional violinist, who plays Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata" with her one evening.

The author begins by narrating how he is making a long journey by rail. In the compartment with him are a lawyer and a lady, masculine in appearance and attire, who converse, and a gray-haired man with brilliant eyes, who avoids all attempts to talk with him and utters a peculiar sound from time to time. A merchant and a clerk enter the railway carriage at one of the stations. A partly inaudible conversation between the masculine lady and the lawyer about some woman who has fallen out with her husband, leads the lawyer to remark upon the amount of attention which is being bestowed all over Europe upon the question of divorce, and to say that there was nothing of the sort in olden days. The merchant answers him that there were cases even in old times, but they were less frequent; and people had become too "cultured" nowadays. In the discussion which ensues, the merchant advocates the old-fashioned arrangement of marriages by parents, and strict government on the part of the husband, as most conducive to wedded happiness, alleging that love will come in due season. The masculine lady argues that it is stupid to join in marriage two people who do not love each other and then feel surprised if discord ensues between them, and that the day for such unions is past. The merchant maintains that the day for obeying the New Testament rule, "Let the wife fear her husband," will never pass away; that although unfaithfulness, which is assumed to be impossible on the part of the wife, may happen in other classes, in the merchant class it does not happen, and that the carouses of married men at the fair, which the narrator has heard him relating, and of which he reminds him, form a special topic which must be excluded from the discussion.

Here the merchant leaves the train, but the conversation is continued by the passenger with gray hair and brilliant eyes inquiring to what sort of love the masculine lady has reference. What is "true love," and how long must it last—a month, two days, or half an hour—when it has been defined as the preference for some one man or woman above ail other men or women in the world? He contends that only in romances does this preference last for a lifetime, as per theory; whereas in real life it endures for a year, generally much less, and is felt by every man for every pretty woman; also, that this love is never mutual, and if it were, and if it lasted a lifetime on one side, it would not on the other. Identity of ideals, spiritual likeness, he does not admit as a ground for entering upon marriage. He gives a brief sketch of the manner, in his opinion, in which marriages are entered upon, winding up: "And the result of this is that frightful hell which makes men take to drink, shoot themselves, poison, and murder themselves and each other."

The lawyer, with a view to putting an end to the unseemly conversation, replies that "there are undoubtedly critical episodes in married life." Whereupon the speaker remarks: "I see that you recognize me. I am Pozdnisheff, the man with whom occurred the critical episode of murdering his wife." In fact, no one knows anything of him, but the lawyer and masculine lady change into another compartment as soon as possible, while Pozdnisheff offers to withdraw if his presence is disagreeable to the narrator. Finding that it is not, he offers to while away the night by relating the story of his life. I may remark here, in view of the above, that the author gives not a hint of his own opinion as to which is preferable, a marriage of love or a mariage de convenance, and also that some of the points suggested do not seem to be answered thereafter.

Pozdnisheff begins his tale with his introduction to evil at the age of sixteen. Shorn of digressions, his story would be brief. But the digressions attack many accepted views of things—or views which he says are accepted. The present order of society and life, modes of marriage, dress, and so forth, form the topics of these digressions. Pozdnisheff states that he has taken to analyzing the subject since his own life reached a climax in his crime. Many of these remarks I recognize as substantially identical with attacks on those subjects contained in all the author's serious writings. The sentence, "I never see a woman clad in ball attire that I do not feel like shouting, 'Police!' and ordering her to be removed as dangerous," closely corresponds to former utterances upon low-necked dresses and so on. He repeats former denunciations of higher education for women, but, astonishing to relate, instead of winding up with the moral that women should devote themselves solely to becoming the mothers of the largest possible families, he praises the Shakers because they do not marry, and declares that woman will only rise to a higher plane, cease to rule in underhand ways as an offset to oppression, and acquire her full rights, when virginity shall have become the highest ideal of womanhood.

I am tempted to a personal digression at this point. Count Tolstoi one day praised the Shakers in this manner before a table full of people. I was afraid to ask him his meaning, lest he should explain in detail, so I questioned his wife in private as to whether this new departure was not somewhat inconsistent with his previously advocated views on woman's vocation. She replied: "Probably it is inconsistent; but my husband changes his opinions every two years, you know." The explanation which I venture to offer is, that just at that time he was reading Mr. Howells's An Undiscovered Country, and that he is impressionable. At all events, however clearly one can understand from these too frank digressions what a man should not do, it is quite impossible to comprehend how he thinks a woman should dress, behave, and live.

Returning to the thread of his story, Pozdnisheff relates how he proposed for his wife after a very brief acquaintance, fascinated by her jersey, her well-dressed hair, and a boating excursion, and adds that, had it not been for the tailors who dressed her well, and the close jersey, etc., he should never have married. This does not agree with the statement that all through his vicious bachelorhood he had firmly intended to marry if he could find any one good enough for him. An interesting point here is that he shows his betrothed his bachelor diary, just as Levin shows his to Kitty in Anna Karenin, and with precisely the same effect, only less well told. The repetition of this incident and the probable rarity of such diaries seem to hint at a personal experience.

They are married. The description of the honeymoon and of their married life nearly up to the date of the final catastrophe is, like what precedes, unquotable. Suffice it to say that they quarrel promptly and continue to quarrel frequently and fiercely, eventually using their five children as moral battering-rams so to speak, against each other. This last is very well done. At about the age of thirty, his wife becomes plump and prettier, and begins to take an interest again in pretty clothes. His mad jealousy interprets this into a quest for a lover, though there are no proofs of such a thing even alleged. The description of his jealousy is, however, the best part of the book. Presently the object for jealousy for whom the husband has been on the lookout, makes his appearance in the person of a handsome young man, of good family, who has been educated in Paris by a relative, as he has no money, and who has become a very fine and semi-professional violinist. The young man comes to call on his old acquaintance, Pozdnisheff, on his return to his native land. Pozdnisheff instantly fixes upon him, in his own mind, as the fated lover. Nevertheless, or rather in consequence of this, he is unusually cordial, introduces the musician to his wife (quite unnecessarily), and begs him to bring his violin that very evening and play duets with her. The musician comes, behaves with perfect propriety, as Pozdnisheff admits, but jealousy causes him to see what he expects. He urges the musician to dine and play at his house on the following Sunday, still impelled by the fancies of his own disordered brain. The musician accepts; but, having called in the interim to decide upon the proper music to present to the company, he drives Pozdnisheff to such a pitch of unreason that the latter uses vile language to his innocent wife and throws things at her, whereupon she promptly retires and takes poison.

She is rescued, a reconciliation ensues, the dinner comes off, and the "Kreutzer Sonata" in the evening is a great success upon the violin and piano. But the husband's jealousy and imagination are all alive, and interpret every glance of the players to suit himself. On taking leave that evening, the musician bids Pozdnisheff and his wife a final farewell. Pozdnisheff is going to the country on business, and the musician says that he shall leave Moscow himself before the former's return, intimating that he shall not call upon Madame during her husband's absence. Pozdnisheff goes to the country in a tranquil frame of mind, but a letter from his wife, in which she mentions that the musician has called to fetch her the music he promised, sets his jealousy aflame again. He hastens back to Moscow, finds the musician eating supper with his wife, and murders her. On trial he is acquitted on the plea of "justifiable homicide," and when the narrator of the story meets him in the train, he is on his way to a small estate in one of the southern governments, his children remaining with his dead wife's sister.

The whole book is a violent and roughly worded attack upon the evils of animal passion. In that sense, it is moral. Translation, even with copious excisions, is impossible, in my opinion, and also inadvisable. The men against whom it is directed will not mend their ways from the reading of it, even if they fully grasp the idea that unhappiness and mad jealousy and crime are the outcome of their ways, as Pozdnisheff is made to say in terms as plain as the language will admit of, and in terms much plainer than are usually employed in polite society. On the other hand, the book can, I am sure, do no good to the people at whom it is not launched. It is decidedly a case where ignorance is bliss, and where uncontaminated minds will carry away a taint which a few will be able to throw off, but which will linger with the majority as the wine of the fable lingered in the cask meant for pure water. Such morbid psychology can hardly be of service, it seems to me, much as I dislike to criticise Count Tolstoi.


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The Kreutzer Sonata Leo Tolstoy

The following entry presents criticism of Tolstoy's novella Kreitserova sonata (1890; The Kreutzer Sonata). See also Leo Tolstoy Literary Criticism, Khozyain I rabotnik Criticism, and Smert Ivana Ilyicha Criticism.

The Kreutzer Sonata, a novella written during the closing years of the 1880s, issues from the later period of Tolstoy's literary career, which followed his moral and spiritual crisis of the late 1870s and culminated in works of fiction largely defined by his moral preoccupations. The Kreutzer Sonata emphasizes Tolstoy's controversial view on sexuality, which asserts that physical desire is an obstacle to relations between men and women and may result in tragedy. Although the moral stance on sexual relations presented in The Kreutzer Sonata has been criticized as simplistic or severe, the novella also has been recognized as among the best examples of Tolstoy's art of storytelling. Russian dramatist and contemporary Anton Chekhov wrote: "You will hardly find anything as powerful in seriousness of conception and beauty of execution."

Plot and Major Characters

The Kreutzer Sonata opens as a third-person narrative by an anonymous gentleman making his way across Russia by train. When the conversation among the passengers turns to the subjects of sex, love, and marriage, a lawyer claims that many couples live long, content married lives. But Pozdnyshev, another passenger, violently contradicts his statement and announces that he has murdered his wife in a jealous rage, a crime of which a jury has acquitted him. Citing that the deterioration of their marriage began on their honeymoon when they first began a sexual relationship, Pozdnyshev reveals himself as a man with an insane sexual obsession—he links sex with guilt, regards it as a 'fall' from an ideal purity, and describes sexual intercourse as a perverted thing. He tries to persuade his captive audience that all marriages are obscene shams, and that most cases of adultery are occasioned by music, the infamous aphrodisiac. This latter idea explains the title of the story, which is also a musical composition by Ludwig von Beethoven. Pozdnyshev explains the circumstances that led to his tragedy: after marrying a pretty woman who bore him children, he came to hate but lust for his wife. One day a musician named Trukachevsky, accepting Pozdnyzhev's invitation to visit their house, accompanied Pozdnyshev's wife on the violin while she played the piano. Convinced that the pair were having an affair, Pozdnyshev went into the country to attend the meeting of the local council, often recalling the look on their faces as they played the "Kreutzer Sonata." He returned home early, thinking that he would find the lovers in bed and consequently kill them; instead he found them sitting in the drawing room after they had played some music. Enraged nevertheless, Pozdnyshev killed his wife after Trukachevsky had escaped.

Major Themes

Critics observe that The Kreutzer Sonata presents Tolstoy's moral ideals through the medium of an artistic narrative, and that its principal theme is the corrupting power of sex and attendant jealousy. The novella summarizes Tolstoy's disgusted attitude toward sex, which he completely denounces, and reflects his new faith in celibacy and chastity after his conversion to a radical Christianity. The narrative is also said to manifest Tolstoy's belief that since Christ was not and could not be married, total chastity is the ideal state. The Kreutzer Sonata rests on the premise that carnal love is selfish and that unselfish love needs no physical consummation. For Pozdnyshev and Tolstoy alike sex is repulsive and destructive, even in marriage. Pozdnyshev's story highlights this premise by suggesting that sexual love degrades a human being and results in hostility to others and to one's self.

Pozdnyshev also dismisses love, or what the world calls love as distinct from sensuality, as non-existent between the sexes. To him traditional marriage has lost meaning and represents a cover for vice, fostering misunderstanding, jealousy, lies, and criminal passions. Finally, the title suggests that music provokes lechery, especially in the context of Beethoven's sonatas, which are often characterized by their intensity of feeling and violent contrasts of mood and emotion. Overall, commentators find that The Kreutzer Sonata represents Tolstoy's iconoclastic renunciation of social institutions, accepted conventions, and the lifestyle of the cultured class.

Critical Reception

The initial reception of The Kreutzer Sonata generated a great deal of controversy, especially since some readers perceived Pozdnyshev's story as advocating free love. Censored by government and church officials, Tolstoy's novella circulated widely in manuscript, both in Russia and abroad, before it was published. Since then The Kreutzer Sonata has become one of Tolstoy's most read works, sometimes referred to as his "crowning achievement." However, many commentators have criticized the novella for its unrealistic plot, inconsistent method, and the unsound principles espoused by Pozdnyshev ("How would the human race survive?" they have asked), and others have criticized its aesthetic imperfections, noting Tolstoy's failure to connect diverse points and direct contradictions in Pozdnyshev's arguments. Attempts by such critics as Dorothy Green and Bettina L. Knapp to relate the structure of the story to the structure of Beethoven's sonata have been successful, and such critics as Ruth Crego Benson and John M. Kopper have approached the various aspects of sexuality in the novella, including the relations between men and women and the position of women in modern society. Above all, The Kreutzer Sonata is often discussed in terms of the author's personal life. R. F. Christian has described the appeal of Tolstoy's novella: "Few other novelists could have made compelling reading out of sentiments and arguments which are irritating and manifestly unjust. Few other novelists could have given pathos and poignancy to the ending of a story whose limits appear to be laid down by the advice proffered in its opening chapters: 'Do not trust your horse in the field, or your wife in the house'."

Donald Davie (essay date 1965)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy, Lermontov, and Others," in Russian Literature and Modern English Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Donald Davie, University of Chicago Press, 1965, pp. 164-202.

[In the following excerpt, Davie analyzes the central conflict between human intelligence and the will to act in The Kreutzer Sonata, observing Tolstoy's inconsistency of method.]

In general, we regard The Kreutzer Sonata as a didactic tract disguised as a novel. Such tracts in disguise can be works of literary and artistic value. Perhaps they are necessarily of the second rank as works of art. But at least the novel of ideas is a thoroughly respectable literary kind, having methods and conventions proper to it. One may cite, in our day, the novels of Mr. Arthur Koestler. But is The Kreutzer Sonata a novel of ideas, of this sort? I think that it is not. It is a novel and a tract at once, or it essays to be both at once. It is both and neither. And the conventions which govern it are confused, so that the reader does not know "which way to take it." Nor, so far as we can see, was this ambiguity intended by the author. It is therefore a grossly imperfect work.

The scene in the railway-carriage is set, in the first two chapters, with pleasing skill. Thereafter, until chapter xxi, the initial convention is not altogether sustained; the reader begins to wonder why the scene should have been set at all. These chapters constitute the first part of Pozdnishchev's confessional monologue, and the sentences interjected from time to time, reminding the reader of the setting, seem only perfunctory. Still, this part is read, with no discomfort, as within the convention of the novel of ideas; and the reader hopes that the significance of the setting will emerge later. We infer, meanwhile, that the sentiments expressed by Pozdnishchev are not to be taken as being "in character," that the sentiments expressed are the sentiments of Tolstoy himself. In chapter xxi Pozdnishchev tells how he introduced into his home the man who was to cause him to murder his wife:

I disliked him exceedingly from the first moment I looked upon him. But some strange fatal force moved me not only to refrain from repelling him, but to draw him nearer to me. What could be simpler than to exchange a few words with him, to bid him good-bye chillingly, and not to introduce him to my wife? But no; I must talk about his playing, and tell him that I had heard he had given up music. He said it was not so; that he had never practised more assiduously all his life than at that moment; and passing from himself to me, reminded me that I too had played in times gone by. To this I replied that I did not play now, but that my wife was a good musician. It is very curious! From the very first day, from the very first hour I saw him, my relations towards him were such as they could only have been subsequently to everything that occurred later on. There was something very strained in my intercourse with him; I took note of every word, every expression uttered by him or by myself, and invested them with a significance justified by nothing that I then knew.

It is very curious indeed. It is very curious that Pozdnishchev who in previous chapters has been so empirically reasonable, impatient of idealism and illusion, should here show himself as believing, not only in precise foreboding, but also in "some strange fatal force." He believes in these, moreover, against the run of the empirical evidence. There was apparent, as he says, nothing to prevent him from keeping his rival away. Yet in the earlier chapters the appeal was always to the empirical evidence, to milliners' shop-windows and the social usages of the Russian gentry, against any preconceived notions. If we are to believe, despite all appearance to the contrary, in "some strange fatal force," why must we not believe, despite appearances to the contrary, in the quite general existence of ennobling and permanent love between the sexes?

Three pages later, the "strange fatal force" reappears as "an invisible power":

I could not help noticing all this, and I suffered horribly in consequence. And yet, in spite of this, or rather, perhaps, by reason of it, an invisible power compelled me against my will to be not only extremely courteous, but affectionate towards him. I am unable to specify the motive which prompted me to act thus; whether it was to prove to my wife and to him that I was not actuated by fear, or to deceive myself, I cannot say; I only know that from the very first my relations with him were not natural and unaffected.

The "power," it is plain, the "fatal force," is inward. And it is "strange" and "mysterious" only because it cannot be rationalized, brought into consciousness. But the contradiction remains. Whence this inability to specify the motive? The sudden humility is suspicious after the downrightness with which Pozdnishchev specified the motive in the earlier passages of courtship and honeymoon and parenthood. For the remainder of the novel, however, this humility is maintained. In the wonderful passages which describe the murder itself, we gape at the fluctuating and mysterious complexity in the mind of the murderer:

I knew very well what I was doing, and did not for a single second cease to be conscious of it. The more I fanned the flame of my fury, the brighter burned within me the light of consciousness, lighting up every nook and corner of my soul, so that I could not help seeing everything I was doing. I cannot affirm that I knew in advance what I was going to do, but the very moment I was doing anything, and I fancy some seconds beforehand, I was conscious of what I was doing, in order, as it were, that I might repent of it in time, that I might afterwards have it to say that I could have stayed my hand. Thus, I was aware that I was striking her below the ribs, and that the blade would penetrate. The moment I was doing this, I knew that I was doing something terrible, a thing that I had never done before, an action that would be fraught with frightful consequences.

And again:

I recollect the indescribable horror of this state of mind, and I infer from it, and in fact I may add that I have a dim remembrance, that having plunged the dagger into her body, I instantaneously drew it out again, anxious thereby to remedy what I had done, to stay my hand. I then stood motionless for an instant, waiting to see what would happen, and whether it was possible to undo it.

I suppose it is this in Tolstoy which we especially admire; on the one hand, the effortless accuracy about the processes of thought (as here first the recollection, then the inference from the recollection, last the corroboration from dim remembrance); on the other, the shocking honesty about the endless irrationality of motive—"I instantaneously drew it out again, anxious thereby to remedy what I had done. . . . I then stood motionless for an instant, waiting to see what would happen. . . ." And indeed it is fine—we are persuaded once again about the complexity of the mental life, and about the irrationality of motive.

All the more, then, are we indignant, on turning back to the earlier chapters, to find motive over an enormous field of human experience reduced bluntly to one simple proposition:

Last spring a number of peasants were working in our neighbourhood on a railway embankment. The usual food of a strong peasant when engaged in light field labour consists of bread, kvass, onions, and this keeps him alive, active, and healthy. When he enters into the service of a railway company his food is porridge, and a pound of meat daily. This meat he gives out again in the form of sixteen hours' labour, driving a wheelbarrow of thirty poods, which is just as much as he is able to perform. We, on the other hand, eat game, meat, and fish, besides sundry other kinds of heat-giving food and drink. Now where, may I ask, does all this go? To produce excesses, abnormal excitement, which, passing through the prism of our artificial life, assumes the form of falling in love.

What we have learned from Tolstoy he appears never to have learned himself. Only in Tolstoy himself, he would have us think, are the processes of thought and the faculties of knowledge not muddled but naïve and clear. Only in himself, he implies, are the springs of action always reasonable.

But this is a monster. One really cannot believe that the man who knew so profoundly the minds of his fellows knew his own mind so little. There must be another reason why Tolstoy cheated the most valuable trait in himself, his plastic apprehension of irrationality and complexity. I think there is. For Tolstoy all thought was vicious, whether artistic or philosophical, so long as it did not lead to action:

Music instantaneously throws me into the state of feeling in which the composer of it found himself when he wrote it. My soul blends with his, and together with him I am transported from one frame of mind to another. But why I am so ravished out of myself I know not. He who composed the piece—Beethoven, for instance, in the case of the Kreutzer Sonata—knew perfectly well why he was in that mood; it was that mood that determined him to do certain things, and therefore for him that state of mind has a meaning; for me it has absolutely none. This is why it is that music only causes irritation, never ends anything. It is a different thing if a military march is played, then the soldiers move forward, keeping time to the music, and the end is attained; if dance music is played people dance to it, and the object is also accomplished; if a Mass is sung I receive Holy Communion, and here, too, the music is not in vain; but in other cases there is nothing but irritation, and no light how to act during this irritation.

There is no disputing the puerility of this. The argument rests upon hypotheses about the mind of Beethoven in the act of composing, assumptions which are not, in the nature of the case, susceptible of proof. Nor can it be argued, I fear, that Tolstoy is aware of the puerility, that it is not his but his puppet's, Pozdnishchev's. This is a passage in which the plastic imagination breaks down, as in the earlier chapters, before the half-baked rationalist. What emerges, however, as the overriding preoccupation here, is the desire for art to prove its utility by leading to action. And since the passage was apparently crucial for Tolstoy in that it provides the title to the book, we are justified in supposing that what he says here of music he would have applied, with more or less qualification, to the other arts—to his own, for instance, the art of the novelist. There is corroboration of this in other pamphlets.

Now it is plain that passages of the kind we have admired from The Kreutzer Sonata do not lead to action. There is no need to argue a case that great art produces a stasis or an equilibrium, not a drive to the act. We need only say that we shall presumably be wary of intervening in any situation if that situation is presented as of great psychological complexity, and that we shall not be so wary if the issues are simplified for us. At bottom, the reason for inconsistency of method in Tolstoy is as simple as this. On the other hand, Tolstoy is not alone in supposing that, for the sophisticated individual of the nineteenth century, it was impossible to meet fully the claims of the will, demanding expression in action, and also the claims of the intelligence, demanding freedom and scope to analyze, weigh pros and cons, and scrutinize motive. On the contrary, this was a preoccupation common to most of the European Romantics. It was Shakespeare's Hamlet who talked of being "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought"; but it was Coleridge, the Romantic critic, who saw in this the problem debated in every line of the play. Tolstoy, again, was not alone in deciding that the rights of the will overrode the rights of the intelligence. Most of the Romantics had agreed, and it is this which lends color to the contention that Romanticism was antirationalist, that it worked by impulse and intuition, not by intelligence. There is no question, therefore, of looking for a "source" for Tolstoy's attitude. The spirit of his age led him inevitably to think in these terms, to see the claims of the analyzing intelligence in conflict with the claims of the will to act.

In terms of this conflict Tolstoy saw life; and in terms of this conflict he lived his life. The conflict in the living spills over into The Kreutzer Sonata and breaks that book into two. From other books, earlier than The Kreutzer Sonata, and later, the conflict was excluded. Or rather, the conflict is present, as the theme which is debated, as the terms of the vision which is presented; but it is not present as the agony which was lived. In The Cossacks, in War and Peace, in Hadji Murad, the conflict which Tolstoy lived is kept separate from the conflict which was seen. In The Kreutzer Sonata, the conflict of the life distorts the conflict of the vision. When we discuss Tolstoy's narrative method and his style, we try to find out how the conflict of the life was kept out of the vision. In these, the great books, the conflict is seen as the conflict inside men, not in the first place as the conflict inside Tolstoy. We are concerned with Tolstoy the artist, not with Tolstoy the agonized titan. It has been said that this is impossible, and in general it is true. It is better to say, therefore, that we are concerned with Tolstoy's vision, not with Tolstoy's life, and with the means by which the vision was made independent of the life. The vision is not independent in The Kreutzer Sonata, and the novel suffers accordingly.

Further Reading

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Nazaroff, Alexander I. "Two Crusades." In Tolstoy, The Inconstant Genius: A Biography, pp. 262-83. London: George G. Harrap & Company, Ltd., 1930.

Reads The Kreutzer Sonata in the context of Tolstoy's life.

Simmons, Ernest J. "'Leave Thy Wife and Follow Me.'" In Leo Tolstoy, pp. 427-46. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1946.

Relates the genesis and themes of The Kreutzer Sonata to events in Tolstoy's life and thought.

Wilson, A. N. "The Kreutzer Sonata." In Tolstoy, pp. 371-92. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988.

Situates The Kreutzer Sonata in autobiographical and cultural contexts, exposing contradictions and paradoxes in Tolstoy's life and his story.


Baehr, Stephen. "Art and The Kreutzer Sonata: A Tolstoian Approach." Canadian-American Slavic Studies 10, No. 1 (Spring 1976): 39-46.

Explores the "many parallels" between the novella and Tolstoy's essay What Is Art?

Cain, T. G. S. "The Fruits of Conversion," In Tolstoy, pp. 137-64. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1977.

Relates the monologue form of The Kreutzer Sonata to its sexual and musical themes, and to the narrative's "lack of artistic balance."

Coetzee, J. M. "Confession and Double Thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau, Dostoevsky." Comparative Literature 37, No. 3 (Summer 1985): 193-232.

Examines The Kreutzer Sonata in terms of the conventions of confessional fiction, showing how Tolstoy confronts the question of "truth about the self and how the story closes as "the secular equivalent of absolution."

Gustafson, Richard F. "States of Intoxication." In Leo Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger: A Study in Fiction and Theology, pp. 340-54. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Includes an analysis of Pozdnyshev's "state of chronic intoxication" in the context of The Kreutzer Sonata's plot.

Jones, M. V. "An Aspect of Tolstoy's Impact on Modern English Fiction: The Kreutzer Sonata and Joyce Cary's The Moonlight." The Slavonic and East European Review 56, No. 1 (January 1978): 97-105.

Suggests that Cary's "violent reaction" to Tolstoy's story inspired his novel.

Lynch, Hannah. "'Fécondité' versus the 'Kreutzer Sonata' or, Zola versus Tolstoi." Fortnightly Review 73 (January 1, 1900): 69-78.

Compares the themes and morals of Zola's novel and Tolstoy's novella.

Redpath, Theodore. "The Pages of Fiction." In Tolstoy, pp. 46-88. London: Bowes & Bowes, 1960.

Comments on the sexual theme of The Kreutzer Sonata in a discussion of the evolution of Tolstoy's fiction.

Slonim, Marc. "Leo Tolstoy." In The Epic of Russian Literature: From Its Origins through Tolstoy, pp. 309-46. New York: Oxford University Press, 1950. Reprint, 1964.

Mentions the influence of The Kreutzer Sonata on Russian culture.

Wasiolek, Edward. "Anna Karenina" In Tolstoy's Major Fiction, pp. 129-64. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Concludes with brief comments about The Kreutzer Sonata and its themes of sex and death.

Additional coverage of Tolstoy's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 123; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors: British; Discovering Authors: Canadian; Discovering Authors: Most-Studied Authors Module; Discovering Authors: Novelists Module; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 9; Something about the Author, Vol. 26; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 4, 11, 17, 28, 44; and World Literature Criticism.

Dorothy Green (essay date 1966)

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SOURCE: "The Kreutzer Sonata: Tolstoy and Beethoven," in Melbourne Slavonic Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1967, pp. 11-23.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1966, Green discusses the connections between The Kreutzer Sonata and Beethoven's musical composition, focusing on similarities of dramatic feeling and structure in both works.]

The origin of this paper was a strong impression that there is a closer connection between Tolstoy's novel and Beethoven's music than is usually allowed for in criticisms of the book. The paper is also an attempt to counter a tendency to regard the book merely as an expression of a thesis. Before anything else, Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata seems to me a complete work of art, as much a thing made and existing in its own right as Beethoven's sonata, obeying the laws of a particular kind of literary form, as the sonata obeys those of a particular kind of musical form.

Criticism of this kind is bound to be impressionistic: it is obviously impossible to prove what a piece of music suggests to the mind of anyone but oneself, but it is hoped that the interpretation will be found to be inconsistent neither with the text of the novel, nor with that of the music. It would be absurd for one knowing no Russian to undertake any kind of verbal analysis and I have tried to draw conclusions which are independent of linguistic knowledge, and as far as possible, independent of a comparison of variant texts. There are nine of these altogether, bearing witness not only to Tolstoy's struggle for artistic excellence, but to the strenuousness of the argument he was conducting with himself. The finished work seems to me a triumphant solution to a dual problem.

Alexandra Tolstoy, in her biography of her father, tells us that he had begun and abandoned a story called The Murderer of His Wife in the 1870's. His English biographer, Simmons, says that on a hint given him by the actor Andreyev-Burlak, he had begun this tale of sexual love in 1887 and put it aside. Both agree that early in 1888 in the spring, occurred the incident which gave a new and final impetus to the story. Among the guests at the Tolstoy house in Moscow were the painter Repin, Burlak and Lysoto, a violinist The violinist and Tolstoy's young son Sergei played Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, a performance which for some reason particularly moved Tolstoy. As we might infer from the novel itself, Tolstoy responded especially to the first movement and when one considers the ideas that come to the surface in the story, it is not hard to suggest why, as I shall try to show. Under the influence of the music, Tolstoy suggested that Repin should paint a scene inspired by it, a kind of back-drop, and that in front of this Andreyev-Burlak should read the story that Tolstoy would write, based on the sonata, or on the ideas it suggested to him. That is to say, his conception of the total experience "Kreutzer Sonata" shaped itself as a kind of miniature drama, with a background of unheard music; in reality, a miniature music-drama. Merezhkovski, who is usually so sensitive to Tolstoy's artistry, complains that the hero is 'reduced' to a voice: "a mere plaintive voice and a pair of eyes, glowing with feverish, half-crazy fire." With all due respect, this seems to me precisely the point, the essential element in Tolstoy's structural intention. The story makes its appeal, and was intended to make its appeal largely through the ear. The voice is the literary equivalent for the instruments; it has to carry the burden of the statement that Tolstoy reads, or hears, in the music. One's attention is constantly being drawn to sounds, for example, to Pozdnyshev's cough, or laugh, "like a sob." (One has to resist the temptation to formulate an analogy here, very strongly). The view that the story was designed to appeal to the ear has thematic justification also: the novel is cast in the form of a "confession." No other narrative method but that of the almost continuous speaker could have approximated to the music embodied in piano and violin, those two voices that strive through the sonata to become one. The main critical problem, then, resolves itself into trying to identify what the music of the story is saying. And this is where I find most of what I have happened to read about the novel in English unsatisfactory. Its relationship with Beethoven's music is ignored, the artistry of the story itself is dismissed and criticism is sidetracked into discussions of the merits and demerits of Tolstoy's ideas about sex, chastity, modern medicine, the relations between men and women and the position of women in modern society. To make matters worse, discussion of the ideas is confused by the publicity given to Tolstoy's personal life. They are never discussed for their own sake, but always in the light of his own application of them and in that of his relations to his own wife. Whether Tolstoy practised what he preached is in the long run irrelevant; a doctrine is not necessarily wrong because its advocate fails to practise it. And it is not at all certain that the intention of the story is to persuade one to follow a doctrine. Some of the confusion in discussion is Tolstoy's own fault. Essays like An Afterword to the Kreutzer Sonata distract our attention from the artistic organisation of the tale and encourage the view that he was more interested in propagating a belief than in creating a work of art. When an artist finds his ideas being taken seriously, he is often tempted to become a kind of "doctrinaire-after-the-fact." Before writing the Afterword, it is important to remember, Tolstoy insisted to Obolensky that the views expressed in the story were the views of its hero. This seems to me an unassailable fact; there is nothing in the views themselves inconsistent with the dramatic situation set up in the novel. It is true, perhaps, that once he had written the story, Tolstoy became ambivalent in his attitude to it, unable to make up his mind whether he preferred it to be regarded as art or as sociology. Even at the second level, the usual discussions have done less than justice to the ideas in the book and it might be as well to have another look at them before going on to the more relevant artistic questions.

Two of the ideas at least are extremely important and highly relevant to our own situation. The fact that Tolstoy has tangled them up with notions of chastity that seem at first sight rather bizarre has tended to obscure their importance. In the first place, he raises that irritating question What is it all for? He is asking: "Do we raise children in order to raise children in order to raise children . . . ?" and so on, ad infinitum. This is a question of the same kind as "Do we train teachers to train teachers to train teachers . . . ?" These are the sorts of fundamental questions which are not supposed to be asked and which are always begged by writers on education or on family relationships. But at some stage in our history they are questions which will have to be asked, even though there must and should be uncertainty about the answer. The mere asking them acts as a corrective. Tolstoy irritates those who are obsessed with processes because he forces us to face squarely the fundamental question of purpose. Not only does he question the whole notion of child-bearing as an end in itself, but he points out the possibility that child-bearing may be an obstacle to the accomplishment of full adulthood; he reminds us that life on this planet must end, whether we subscribe to the religious or to the scientific point of view and that its limitation makes the accomplishment of life's purpose, whatever it may be, more urgent.

'You ask how the human race will continue to exist,' he said, having again sat down in front of me, and spreading his legs far apart he leant his elbows on his knees. 'Why should it continue?'

'Why? If not, we should not exist.'

'And why should we exist?'

'Why? In order to live, of course.'

'But why live? If life has no aim, if life is given us for life's sake, there is no reason for living . . . But if life has an aim, it is clear it ought to come to an end when that aim is reached . . .'

If the possibility of life on some other scale than the mere animal, life-for-the-sake-of-life, appears idiosyncratic, we should remember that it has been put forward by an outstanding scientist in our own day, Teilhard de Chardin, as an evolutionary possibility. Moreover, scientific materialists who are overtly opposed to teleological views, frequently behave and write as if they held them.

The second idea which is fundamental to the structure of the novel concerns the changing role of women in human history, the full implications of which have hardly yet begun to be seen. Like George Eliot, Tolstoy perceived that this was no simple matter which could be adjusted by a few adroit social and political changes.

'If there is to be equality,' says Pozdnyshev, 'let it be equality!' 'Women's lack of rights arises not from the fact that she must not vote or be a judge—to be occupied with such affairs is no privilege—but from the fact that she is not man's equal in sexual intercourse and has not the right to use a man or abstain from him as she pleases—is not allowed to choose a man at her pleasure instead of being chosen by him. You say this is monstrous! Very well! Then a man must not have those rights either. As it is at present, a woman is deprived of that right, while a man has it. And to make up for that right, she acts on men's sensuality and through his sensuality subdues him, so that he only chooses formally, while in reality it is she who chooses.'

In spite of surface modifications, this picture is still substantially correct. Tolstoy goes on to paint a further and more vivid picture of the economy of the western world dominated by female consumer-demand, a picture which, to us, seems more accurate than when he drew it.

Both Tolstoy and George Eliot perceived that the real obstacle to the genuine independence of women lay partly in man's concept of woman and partly in her concept of herself. Tolstoy felt the concept to be the result of sexual drive in the male and held the male responsible. Eliot was perhaps more perceptive in grasping the fact that women are saddled with a physiological organisation ill-adapted to social change. But both pointed to the necessity for a woman to organise a meaningful life for herself without reference to a man. Tolstoy arouses resistance because his way of making his point is repugnant to a generation conditioned by Freudian thinking. The situation will change, Pozdynshev says, "only when woman regards virginity as the highest state and does not as at present consider the highest state of a human being a shame and disgrace." If we substituted the phrase 'single state' for 'virginity', we might feel less resistant, but only to a slight degree. The question Tolstoy is really asking is too revolutionary still for us to contemplate without passion: Is marriage now, as it once was, the best way of organising society, or has it outlived, in its present form, its traditional function? The attempt to commend the notion of woman as a free-living organism brings us up against the ideas about chastity that so many people find repellent and hysterical, especially when they identify Tolstoy too closely with his central character. But what Tolstoy is really doing is pointing out that our attitudes to this question are partly the result of conditioning and education. In this he is anticipating by about eighty years some recent thinking on the subject. It is in fact difficult to know how much of our sexual appetite is innate and how much is the result of tradition and outside influence. It is quite possible that a great many more people could lead happy, purposeful and celibate lives if the propaganda against doing so were not all-powerful at an early stage. Even now, a good many do, for religious reasons. And the lot of those who must do so, for other reasons, would be much easier to bear if they had not already been conditioned to regard it as unbearable. The conditioning of girls for motherhood begins very early. No-one thrusts a doll into a little boy's hands; he is usually asked what he wants to be when he grows up. But a little girl is told what she wants to be. The cynical commercial exploitation of sex-drive in our own day by the advertising world is evidence enough of the point Tolstoy is making: that wants and beliefs can be foisted on people to the point where it is impossible to conceive of any alternative.

A third fundamental question raised by Tolstoy, which again anticipates some very recent thinking on the subject is the increase in anxiety-states paradoxically brought about by advances in medical science, particularly in respect of the mother's attitude to her children. In every instance, what Tolstoy is attacking is some subtle form of propaganda, brain-washing, manipulation, or exploitation. Behind the whole argument is the detestation of the idea that one human being should be used by another for his own purposes.

Such, then, are the main general questions raised in the novel and by the novel, but it does not seem to me that these are what the story is about.

For one thing, they are reflections, meditations, the attempts at an intellectual understanding of his situation by a man who has been brought by a catastrophe to question the whole foundation of his life. Pozdnyshev raises the questions, but does not claim he has the answers; he is merely, in trying to make sense of his experience, shaking his and our own basic convictions. We have to try to set aside our knowledge that for a time Tolstoy himself preached complete chastity as the goal for human beings, though he modified his doctrines sensibly enough later on. The conclusions of the novel are Pozdnyshev's and given the kind of man he presents himself to be and the situation he is in, they are the kinds of conclusions which are natural and credible. He presents himself as insanely jealous, and sees the jealousy as the immediate cause of the disaster. The foundation of the jealousy, however, he detects in his 'swinishness'; that is, he attributes the jealousy to his innate sexual drive which causes him to view women as its goal, or object. The drive is 'swinish' because it has caused him to regard a human being as a thing, a thing which exists only for the purpose of gratifying him. Because he finds that the thing is not his exclusively, but has a being of its own, he kills it in a fit of jealous rage. When he becomes aware of the cause of his state of mind, he wishes naturally enough to obliterate the cause, to discredit the sexual drive.

I wouldn't take a young man to a lock-hospital to knock the hankering after women out of him, but into my soul, to see the devils that were rending it! What was terrible, you know, was that I considered myself to have a complete right to her body, as if it were my own, and yet at the same time I felt I could not control that body, that it was not mine and she could dispose of it as she pleased and that she wanted to dispose of it, not as I wished her to.

When a man has been brought suddenly to realise the essential otherness of a human being, the truth that it has a sacred centre of self-hood which has no reference to his own, is it inconceivable that he should wish to destroy that impulse in his nature which has prevented him from recognising this otherness? The tragedy is that Pozdnyshev realised the otherness of his wife only when he destroyed her. Is it inconceivable that his horror at the deed his blindness has brought him to should tempt him to generalise his experience and hold it up as a warning? The generalisation, the articulate moralising, it should be noticed, occur in the story up to Chapter 18, before the advent of the musician into the narrative and the account of the disaster that ensued. That is, they are not allowed to break the unity of the central events, yet they are not only a consequence of these, but a preparation for our understanding of them. It is difficult to agree with George Steiner's objection (in Tolstoy or Dostoevski?) that the moral elements have become too massive to be absorbed into the narrative structure. They seem to me to have been placed in the narrative structure exactly where they ought to be.

But to come now to the connection of the novel with the music, to its artistic organisation.

Tolstoy's interest in music had developed early in his life and it is clear that he was particularly open to its influence. He regarded it, his daughter tells us, as a divine manifestation of the human soul; it heightened his creative powers and loosed a flood of images. One would expect Pozdnyshev to be conscious of its voluptuousness, and he tells us that he is. There is a reason to believe Tolstoy responded to music in the same way as his hero.

When he was nineteen, Tolstoy wrote down in his preposterous program of self-education: (8) "Achieve the highest degree of accomplishment in music and painting."

He did, in fact, become an accomplished pianist and made up his mind at one stage to become a great musician and composer. He was carried away by the combination of sounds, and attempted to formulate his own theory of harmony, under the title The Fundamentals of Music and Rules for its Study. As far as composers were concerned, Beethoven seems to have inspired in him a kind of love-hate relationship; perhaps he resented Beethoven's power to carry him out of himself. There is no doubt, then, of Tolstoy's response to music, of his initial competence to find something in a piece of music which others had missed. And there is no doubt that he was well acquainted with the formal structure of music.

We must now look briefly at the formal structure which immediately concerns us. The word 'sonata' in general refers to instrumental music arranged usually in three or four movements in different rhythms at different speeds; for instance, fast, slow, fast, sometimes with a brief, slow introduction. As a rule, there is a return during the last movement to the key of the first one. Beethoven's sonatas, according to Scholes [in the Oxford Companion to Music], are characterised by strong dramatic feeling, intense emotion, and violent contrasts of moods and emotion. On this last point, Beethoven's appeal for Tolstoy is obvious enough. Violent contrast is the groundwork of Tolstoy's being, as it is of Pozdnyshev's. Like his creator, Pozdnyshev is tormented by the warring impulses of the flesh and the spirit; their nature is a battle-ground; the only defence against the unsubduable flesh is to crucify it, only to find that this cannot be done without injury to the spirit. This constant yearning for a resolution, it seems to me, may have been what Tolstoy heard in the dialogue of piano and violin in the sonata.

As to dramatic feeling, Pozdnyshev's long monologue is dramatic if anything in Tolstoy ever was. This is a quality which is usually denied him; his genius, we are told, lies in his analytic power. But Pozdnyshev's monologue is a whole drama in itself; he is not only there carrying on his civil war in himself, but he evokes his wife, her presence, the tones of her voice, her appearance, as vividly as if she were present in the story as an actual antagonist. Tolstoy's artistic achievement in the person of Pozdnyshev reminds us of the great mimes, or diseurs of the stage. He peoples his setting for us with the figures of the wife, of the violinist Trukhashevsky, the guests, the servants, the children, the people in the railway carriage in his own nightmare journey within a journey. The last is a tour-deforce in atmosphere compression: the device of the journey within a journey doubles for us all the suspense, the sense of impotence, of doom, of suffocating claustrophobia, that the whole marriage relationship has meant for Pozdnyshev. The figure of the passive narrator who introduces the story performs the function of intermediary, distancing us from the central figure, preventing us from identifying with him and from identifying the author with the character. To have Pozdnyshev 'confess' direct into our ears would have meant the loss of detachment which is crucial to understanding.

The value of the sonata form as a vehicle for the expression of strong personal emotion and its relationship to the novel in this respect is too obvious to mention. Its function is analogous to that of the dramatic monologue in verse and the novel is as near to that as it could be without being written in verse. To choose a normal third-person form with the conventional omniscient narrator would have been impossible.

These, it is clear enough, are large general relationships between the music and the novel. But I think there are others. The story seems to me to have three clearly marked rhythmic divisions which deserve the name of movements, and in addition to that, to have three less emphatic, but still marked movements within each of the larger ones. The tempo pattern is the same as that of the sonata, i.e. fast, slow, fast, but the whole is preceded by a short, slow introduction. The first big division in the story occurs at the end of Chapter 12, or with the beginning of Chapter 13. The pause is the more clearly marked because there is an interruption in the narrative. "Two fresh passengers entered . . ." There is still a sense of the outside world. Pozdnyshev has not yet retreated into his own nightmare territory.

The subject of the first movement concerns the general notion of solicitation between the sexes and the particular instance of this in Pozdnyshev's own courtship, wedding and honeymoon. As in the sonata, there are false starts, the subject is introduced, dropped, hinted at, in the reference to the Kunavin Fair, the lady's conversation with the lawyer and so on. Chapters 1 and 2 are a kind of overture or introduction to the theme, laying down the lines of the problem: the old man is the voice of tradition, the lawyer and the lady represent the new thought. These are quickly eliminated, for neither is capable of much insight, and the real subject is then undertaken by Pozdnyshev and his interlocutor. Pozdnyshev at first is dominant, the narrator parries the questions he raises, and Pozdnyshev finally becomes the narrator.

The second movement of the novel concerns the married life of Pozdnyshev and his wife; the begetting and rearing of their children and above all the growth of Pozdnyshev's irrational jealousy, exacerbated by the freedom acquired by his wife when she ceases to bear children. The jealousy motif is the dominant one, reflected in the husband's struggle to impose his will on his wife, in his growing intolerance, his impulses of violence. Each is contending for power, or rather, each is striving to be free from the dominance of the other, like two hostile convicts chained together.

It is important to notice that there are no further interruptions in this movement from the outside world. In Chapter 17, Pozdnyshev gets up and leaves the carriage for a moment, but he returns and the sense of constriction deepens and is sustained until the end.

The movement ends in Chapter 19, with the introduction of the change in the wife's situation, the complete breach between them, the wife's renewed interest in music and the heralding of the entrance of the musician, Trukhachevski.

Before he is introduced to the wife, there is a direct example of the kind of situation prevailing between husband and wife, an episode of violence full of the menace of destruction, which sets the seal on their separation. The final movement is the physical counterpart of the psychic murder enacted here; indeed, in a sense, this psychic murder (prepared for earlier) is the "real" murder, and the physical one an irrelevance, or at least an anti-climax. The delay between the announcement of the musician theme and its full development is a masterly stroke, enabling Tolstoy to re-introduce the notion of death (in the quarrel scene), so that it is associated with the musician theme. 'I wish you were dead as a dog!' Pozdnyshev shouts in a rage. The sentence orients our minds in the necessary direction, and then our attention is distracted by the new interest.

Chapter 20 heralds the prevailing mood of the final movement. The frenzy increases, the tempo is speeded up, there are no more interruptions until just before the catastrophe. The pivot of the movement is the sonata itself. It is prepared for by the discussion on music and its connection in the speaker's mind with the subject of adultery. There is a gradual crescendo of jealousy and the catastrophe in Chapter 27 is the actual murder. In Chapters 25 and 26 occur two more strokes of genius: the effect of the conductor's entering, putting out the candle, without supplying a fresh one and leaving the two travellers in half-darkness releases the unbearable tension for a moment before Tolstoy gives a final twist to the screw. The gesture also has strong symbolic overtones relating to the deed that is coming perhaps, but also relating to the argument itself. The story has been told so far in the semi-darkness of night; what is to follow is told in the half-daylight. That is, confession has gone as far as it can go, the problem has been laid bare, but there is no real illumination, only the half-light possible to a mind that is relieved of a burden, but not renewed in hope. The sense of tension and suspense is accentuated at the beginning of Chapter 26 by the words "At the last station but one, when the conductor had been to collect the tickets . . ." This time, of course, it is Pozdnyshev's journey home that is referred to, not the one he is engaged in at the moment of speaking. The sentence produces an effect of momentary hesitation, the last chance of a change of heart before the final action, before automatism sets in and the agent is swallowed up in the action itself. The same kind of hesitation occurs at the moment of the murder, resolved by the words "Fury has its laws . . ."

The description of the murder is accomplished with all the uncanny kinesthetic precision of which Tolstoy is the supreme master. Before he has finished, the reader has the physical sensation of having committed the act himself. The scene rivals in this respect the one in War and Peace where a young man stands on the window-ledge of a high building drinking a bottle of brandy, a scene which produces an actual sensation of vertigo.

The last Chapter, 28, rounds off the third movement in the manner of a coda. It sustains the violence and passion of the main subject of the movement, comments on it and then returns us to the mood of the opening of the story, the silent grief, the intense isolation, the utterly hopeless loneliness which is Pozdnyshev's inescapable lot. I am not suggesting that the structure of the story corresponds exactly with the structure of Beethoven's sonata, or that the music has any literary meaning. In any case, Tolstoy, or rather Pozdnyshev, was interested only in the first movement, particularly the Presto. But I think it does correspond to the general sonata form. And I think also that the first movement taken alone can be shown to have particular significance for the theme of the story.

It is interesting to remember that the performance that fired Tolstoy's imagination was given by two young men. In the story, the violin is given to a man, the piano to a woman. It is not possible to know what the music of the first movement suggested to Tolstoy, but I do not think it is too fanciful to suppose that it suggested first of all a dialogue between a man and a woman, and I should myself suggest that the dialogue continued into the second movement in the form of an argument, or a struggle for supremacy. In the first movement, the musical dialogue is a kind of mutual solicitation, at first mere flirtation, then developing seriously. The violin opens the movement, slowly and hesitantly; the piano replies in a restrained manner; there are modulations and hesitations, a feeling of suspense is created, then the subject is opened up with sudden determination. It is interrupted, and a fresh start is made. A great deal of use is made of a rising semitone—almost an interrogative—and one is forcibly reminded of the passage in which Pozdnyshev's wife and the violinist play together for the first time. "From the first moment his eyes met my wife's I saw that the animal in each of them, regardless of all conditions of their position and of society asked 'May I?' and answered Oh yes, certainly!'" In both Russian and English, the language is used merely to convey the meaning of the facial expression, the interrogation of the eyes, and this meaning is the same in all languages and is a possible way of interpreting the music. The whole of the opening Adagio suggests, or could suggest, the preliminary skirmishing, the retreats, vague fears, agitations and hesitations of a passion which wishes to declare itself and may not, and this situation is the one in which Pozdnyshev's wife and the musician find themselves: the Adagio is recapitulated, that is to say, in the third movement of Tolstoy's story, when the Musician theme is getting under way.

The Presto of the sonata is devoted to a following up of the initial advantage, the violin is the dominating instrument, the inviting instrument; the piano changes key and sidesteps the issue. There is an extraordinary progressive ascending movement at the end, which strongly suggests a dragging away by force; there is a significant silence, a kind of consent, and a haunting passage which could suggest shame, and the movement ends with a burst of passion from both instruments, with the violin in control.

Though it is impossible to know precisely the nature of the feeling the sonata produced in Tolstoy or his creation Pozdnyshev, both were profoundly stirred by the music and reacted strongly to it, while Pozdnyshev, we know, associated this, the noblest of the arts, with adultery, with voluptuousness. In Chapter 23, the playing of the sonata is introduced in this way: "His face grew serious, stern and sympathetic, and listening to the sounds he produced, he touched the strings with careful fingers. The piano answered him. The music began . . ." The overtones of the last two or three phrases are obvious. Then Pozdnyshev continues:

Ugh, ugh, it is a terrible thing that sonata. And especially that part (i.e. the Presto). And in general music is a dreadful thing. What is it? I don't understand it. What is music, what does it do? And why does it do what it does? They say music exalts the soul. Nonsense! It is not true! It has an effect, an awful effect—I am speaking of myself—but not of an exalting kind. It has neither an exalting nor a debasing effect, but it produces an agitation . . . it transports me to some other position not my own. I can do what I cannot do.

Pozdnyshev goes on to elaborate its power of sympathetic magic, its hypnotic effect. What is clear about these two passages when they are read in full is that the feeling evoked by the sonata at the beginning changes before that movement ends. What had begun by disturbing and disgusting Pozdnyshev is submerged in a new revelation. In which, the alternative version says, jealousy had no place. It is as though the sonata, while revealing to him the nature of the relationships between men and women, also began to reveal to him that other relationships were possible besides those commonly taken for granted. Debate, argument, dialogue between two instruments can perhaps be fused into one perfect harmonious statement, in which each instrument instead of aping the other, is allowed to speak for itself, just as the two warring impulses in Pozdnyshev himself, the sensual and the aspiring, the earth and the spirit, might perhaps come to a composition, instead of each striving to eliminate the other.

Nothing comes of it, of course. Pozdnyshev has prepared us for the fact. Music belongs to another dimension: 'It makes me forget my real position; it transports me to some other position not my own.' But the suggestion of other possibilities is implanted and it is these presumably that rise to the surface, when in the act of destroying his wife, Pozdnyshev first realises that she has an independent existence.

I looked at the children and at her bruised disfigured face and for the first time 1 forgot myself, my pride, and for the first time saw a human being in her. And so insignificant did all that had offended me, all my jealousy appear and so important what I had done, that I wished to fall with my face to her hand, and say: 'Forgive me,' but dared not do so.

The parallels with the sonata could I think be taken further than I have taken them, but they would require a minute musical analysis, for which there is no space here. Easier to indicate is the parallel of the general effect produced by each on the listener, or reader. And the reader of this novel, should be in a very real sense a listener. We need to remind ourselves again that Tolstoy conceived his story with the living voice of an actor in his mind. That is, it was written, as the sonata was, for an instrument. The first movement of the sonata is disturbing, passionate and at times violent, and so is the story. What Tolstoy's music finally conveys to us is the sensation of torment, of pain, of a cry like St. Paul's: 'Who will deliver me from the body of this death?' The nearest thing in our own literature is the music of Othello, a play on much the same subject, the destructive power of a jealousy that comes from concentration on outward appearance instead of inner reality, on what can be received, rather than on what can be given.

But there is no Iago in Tolstoy's story. Pozdnyshev's Iago is an internal one, the terrible misconception in the soul that arises from a preoccupation with the ego and its wants, a misconception whose consequences are far harder to bear than those that flow from having been wrought upon.

A superficial interpretation of the story sees it perhaps as Tolstoy's ritual murder of his wife, an act of revenge committed after twenty-seven years of marriage upon a woman who had borne him thirteen children. His wife apparently saw it as such and never forgave him. But surely, if the story must be regarded as biography, is it not more than anything else an act of confession and reparation? The whole responsibility for his situation is taken by Pozdnyshev and placed upon men and upon himself as a representative man. Right through the story runs an impassioned plea for the inviolability of woman as a human being in her own right—the same kind of plea that Ibsen was making. All the terrible consequences are shown to flow from a failure to make this recognition, and Pozdnyshev constantly lacerates himself for his failure, which, he says, is caused by obsession with his own rights and pleasures. If the hero must be identified with his creator, then a whole identification must be made. The epigraph to the story suggests the lines along which we should think: Christ's words about lust. By extension the words apply to murder. Certainly the story may be regarded as Tolstoy's confession as well as Pozdnyshev's. But if we have read it right, it is a general confession. All of us who seek to use another human being without regard to his separateness are guilty of destroying him.

Most of us escape punishment. Pozdnyshev's, like Othello's, resulted from allowing his hand to execute the imagination of his heart. Both had to face the knowledge that the deed cannot be reversed, that to put out the light is final.

Only when I saw her dead face did I understand all that I had done. I realised that I, I, had killed her; that it was my doing that she, living, moving and warm, had now become motionless, waxen and cold, and that this could never, anywhere, or by any means, be remedied . . .

This is the haunting note the music of the story leaves with us, just as the music of Othello does. And wild regret and yearning, and tragic human longings occur in the sonata, though they are overlaid in the final movement by the pressures of formalism, dissipated in the conventions of the sonata form, just as the pressures of the outside world return in the story. And Pozdnyshev's punishment is that he has to go on living in the real world, possessed of the knowledge that he murdered not only his wife's body, but her essential being as well. Perhaps Othello was more fortunate.

John Bayley (essay date 1966)

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SOURCE: "The Nouvelle as Hypothesis," in his Tolstoy and the Novel, Chatto & Windus, 1966, pp. 281-93.

[In the excerpt below, Bayley contrasts Pozdnyshev's views about marriage expressed in The Kreutzer Sonata with those of Tolstoy.]

If one married, along what lines might the relation proceed? What would happen if one became murderously jealous, or obsessed with desire for another woman? Suppose one were to contract a fatal and painful disease, or gave up the world to become a monk and hermit? These hypotheses are specialised; they depend on the rest of life being left out, so that we can concentrate on one particular possibility and problem. Yet all ask the question which is implicit in all Tolstoy's fictions: how should a man live?

Only one hypothesis became a fact for Tolstoy. He got married, and in some ways his married life resembled his forecast. Yet even Family Happiness . . . remains an abstract analysis, on the mental plane. In all of [his stories] Tolstoy forsakes the life of the body, even though it is problems and predicaments of the body with which most of them are so acutely concerned.

In general the characters in these stories act as Tolstoy's agents, representing his interests as if in some obsessive lawsuit. He does not imagine them, as he imagined the characters in his great fictions, and he does not on the whole identify himself with them, as he might be said to do with the hero of The Live Corpse and with Hadji Murad. The narrator of Family Happiness is the most successful agent, because she benefits from Tolstoy's understanding of a woman's life, even though this understanding has not the marvellous physical quality that it has in the two novels. . . .

The thankless task of acting as Tolstoy's agent in the story falls with particular weight on Pozdnyshev of The Kreutzer Sonata. He is required to express Tolstoy's views, but with a pathological violence and peculiarity supposedly his own. It is as if we knew that Shakespeare hated sex, but not so much as Hamlet does; and was disgusted with human beings, but not in quite so sensational a fashion as Timon. Tolstoy can neither release Pozdnyshev nor conceal himself behind him. The technical flaw in the stories, more marked in The Kreutzer Sonata than in the others, is that they employ a mechanism that makes for simplicity and rigidity without any compensatory detachment.

When the 'I' of The Kreutzer Sonata objects that if Pozdnyshev's ideas were really practised life would die out, he replies: "But why live? If life has no aim, if life is given us for life's sake, there is no reason for living." And "he evidently prized this thought very highly." So in a sense did Tolstoy, but he bestows the overt absurdity of priding himself on such a conviction upon the unfortunate Pozdnyshev. This is not the "self-derision genuinely Russian" which made Pierre so engaging a character [in War and Peace] and his relation to his creator so successful. The gradual externalisation of Pozdnyshev, as the climax of his story mounts, and his becoming—at the end—so touching a figure, makes this Tolstoyan use of him seem particularly jarring. When Prince Andrew denounces marriage to Pierre, or Levin tries vainly to see what makes Sviyazhsky tick [in Anna Karenina], we are drawn into a real dialogue, an interchange, a familiar discussion—the index of familiarity being that we know Tolstoy will address us soon in his own person. But the dramatic dialogue here is stilted and artificial, and its artifice largely thrown away.

All marriages in Tolstoy, whether described before or after his own took place, are, we feel, the same marriage—not his own, but an archetypal one. He presents the marriageness of marriage more directly and exhaustively than any other writer. In Family Happiness he envisages it; in War and Peace and Anna he describes it; in The Kreutzer Sonata he denounces it. Everything depends on the point of view; many of the events of the two stories might have happened in the novels—indeed have happened—but they have not been isolated and concentrated on. Andrew and the Little Princess, Pierre and Helene, Anna, Karenin, Vronsky—they have all gone through the same kinds of disillusionment, rage, disgust, acquiescence, as the characters in the stories, but they were not able to remain in these states of mind for long. Life—the novel—carried them along; dissipating these impressions, creating new ones, and returning them to the first state without their being fully conscious of the repetition. The process of the stories is not a living one in this sense but a mental one. Like so many much more ordinary stories they have a strong element both of nightmare and of daydream in them.

I think of running away from her, hiding myself, going to America. I get as far as dreaming of how I shall get rid of her, how splendid that will be, and how I shall unite myself with another, an admirable woman—quite different. . . .

Most married men, and women, would have to admit to occasional day-dreams something like those of Pozdnyshev. That is the intended power of the tale—to compel the individual to own up, to confess that his bosom returns an echo, and that there is some force in Pozdnyshev's contention that all marriages are secretly alike. But the accusing finger fails to disconcert us as much as it intends. For one thing, such fantasies are for most people occasional rather than obsessive; and a more serious weakness is that behind Pozdynshev's day-dream is another—that of Tolstoy himself. Tolstoy is letting himself go, and there is an element of self-indulgence in the display. The realism with which he describes the killing is particularly out of place here. The resistance of the corset; the sheath of the dagger dropped behind the sofa, and the reflection "I must remember that or it will get lost"—this is the realism of the self-told day-dream and it is highly imitable. Any competent sensationalist is Tolstoy's equal in this region of the mind.

And yet we still have the old directness—Tolstoy infects us with the terror that the fantasy arouses in him, where for most people it would be a comparatively harmless way of letting off steam inside themselves. We have something of the same feeling of horror in Dickens's description of the murder of Nancy in Oliver Twist, and Dostoevsky's of Nastasya Philippovna in The Idiot; but Dickens is fascinated rather than appalled—it was his favourite scene for recitation and used to excite him to the point of frenzy—while Dostoevsky's imagination is always on equable terms with every kind of violence. In all three we are aware of the pressure of a preoccupation—not uncommon in nineteenth-century fiction—with murder as a sexual act, but only Tolstoy seems to become fully aware as he describes it of the contrast between the insulated fantasy of the murderer and the outraged otherness of his victim. Pozsdnyshev's wife is not, as Nancy and Nastasya are, a natural murderee who appears to acquiesce in the atmosphere which the murderer and his creator have generated. It is significant that Norman Mailer's revival of the imagined murder as a sexual act, in his novel An American Dream, follows the Dickens-Dostoevsky pattern, not Tolstoy's.

Involuntarily, at the climax, the real argument of The Kreutzer Sonata comes out, the argument overlaid by the various diatribes indulged in through Pozdnyshev. Sex is often a hostile act, even in marriage; its consummation resembling murder in its indifference to the reality of another separate and independent being. Jealousy and hatred "have their own laws" and require their climax as inexorably as sexual passion. Only after the climax does Pozdnyshev reach the dazed awareness that his wife is, after all, "another human being".

After the evacuation of Moscow in War and Peace, when Natasha gets up in the night to see the wounded Prince Andrew, she says: "Forgive me". "Her face, with its swollen lips, was more than plain—it was dreadful", but Prince Andrew only sees that the jealousy which has obsessed him for months has no connection with the reality of Natasha. When he sees his wife's face, as if for the first time, and bruised and swollen where he has struck her, Pozdnyshev too says: "Forgive me". But she only looks at him "with her old expression of cold animal hatred". The ultimate horror of his act is to have put her beyond the possibility of recognising him, as he now recognises her. At the end of the story the narrator goes up to Pozdnyshev in the railway carriage to say goodbye.

Whether he was asleep or only pretended to be, at any rate he did not move. I touched him with my hand. He uncovered his face, and I could see he had not been asleep.

"Goodbye," I said, holding out my hand. He gave me his and smiled slightly, but so piteously that I felt ready to weep.

"Yes, forgive me—" he said, repeating the same words with which he had concluded his story.

'Forgive' is almost the same word in Russian as 'Goodbye'. Since his wife's death deprived him of recognition and forgiveness, Pozdnyshev has to ask both of strangers.

R. F. Christian (essay date 1969)

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SOURCE: "The Later Stories," in his Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 230-46.

[In the excerpt below, Christian considers the theme of sex in The Kreutzer Sonata.]

'One usually thinks that most conservatives are old men and most innovators young men. This is not quite so. Most conservatives are young people who want to live, but who neither think nor have the time to think how one should live, and so choose as their model the life they have always known.' These controversial words from "The Devil" have an unmistakably autobiographical ring, for Tolstoy as an old man was not a little proud of his nonconformity. The themes of nearly all his late stories were chosen to enable him to express his iconoclastic attitude to the organisation of society, the administration of justice and the relation between the sexes. Those on the subject of sex have attracted the greatest publicity. Uncompromising, perverse and uncharitable, they share a common loathing of the sexual act, whether lawful or unlawful, committed or merely meditated. The premise of The Kreutzer Sonata is that carnal love is selfish and that unselfish love needs no physical consummation. Do people go to bed together, asks its 'hero' Pozdnyshev, because of their spiritual affinities or the ideals they have in common? The knowledge and recollection of his own sexual indulgence in the past dominate his thinking to the exclusion of all else. He assumes that his wife's musician friend has only one thought in mind, and as the text for The Kreutzer Sonata (and "The Devil" reminds us): 'But I say unto you that everyone who looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.' Pozdnyshev murders his wife because he is tormented by jealousy. It follows for him that all husbands must be jealous, all wives unfaithful. His thoughts are controlled by the assumption that every possibility of evil must result in evil. The potential for good is simply discounted. Music is potentially evil because, like the presto in The Kreutzer Sonata, it may arouse feelings which cannot be satisfied by the music itself. Sexual passion is the root of all evil. Social conventions, low-cut dresses and the medical profession are accessories before the fact. By the second chapter of the story we already know Pozdnyshev's opinion of love and marriage and we know that he has murdered his wife. The narrator's rôle, apart from occasional interruptions, is negligible; he is not important enough to form a barrier between Pozdnyshev and the reader, or between the author and his hero.

In The Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy adopted Turgenev's method, putting a first-person narrative in the thin frame of a third-person setting. Just as, in many of Turgenev's novels, a party of gentlemen converse at dinner until one of them begins to recount an episode of his youth, which thereupon becomes the novel, so, in The Kreutzer Sonata, the general conversation in a railway-carriage resolves itself into a personal confession.

[D. Davie, Russian Literature and Modern English Fiction]

Pozdnyshev completely dominates the scene with his powerful, polemical monologue, which by its very nature is unable to actualise the character of his wife and her suspected lover or to consider them from any point of view except his own. His wife has no opportunity to state her case. Her friend is treated with the same contempt which Tolstoy reserves for Napoleon, the bureaucrats and the intelligentsia: 'He had an unusually well-developed posterior like a woman's, or like a Hottentot's, so they say.' Of course Pozdnyshev is his own prosecutor, and one who shows no mercy. As he says to himself when he decides to go and see his dying wife, whom he has stabbed: 'Yes I expect she wants to repent . . . .' He is given

the thankless task of acting as Tolstoy's agent in the story. He is required to express Tolstoy's views, but with a pathological violence and peculiarity supposedly his own. It is as if we knew that Shakespeare hated sex, but not so much as Hamlet does; and was disgusted with human beings, but not in quite so sensational a fashion as Timon. Tolstoy can neither release Pozdnyshev nor conceal himself behind him.

[J. Bayley, Tolstoy and the Novel]

Pozdnyshev's arguments are absurdly exaggerated and inconsistent and flavoured with Tolstoy's addiction to percentage generalisations—90% do this, 99% do that; music is responsible for 'most cases of adultery in our society. The body is the ever-present villain, the animal the symbol of unbridled incontinence, for all that it compares favourably with the human species in refraining from intercourse during pregnancy and suckling.

Significantly enough, in the light of Tolstoy's own prejudices, the whole story takes place in a railway carriage. Pozdnyshev himself comments on the emotional upheaval caused by railways. He claims to be afraid of railway carriages. He acknowledges a temptation to lie down on the rails—all this with reference to another train journey he is describing on his way to catch his wife, as he hopes, in flagrante delicto, a train journey within a train journey, as it were, which provides a structural basis for the story. And structurally speaking, it is taut, powerful and gripping, despite its occasional inept dialogue and its motley material culled from Tolstoy's letters to Chertkov and the books and letters he received from the American Shakers. A sensitive and, on the whole, convincing attempt has recently been made to relate the structure of the story to Beethoven's sonata itself [in Dorothy Green, The Kreutzer Sonata: Tolstoy and Beethoven,' Melbourne Slavonic Studies, Vol. I, 1967]. It is an approach which is capable of further exploration. Put briefly, the argument is that Tolstoy's story appeals mainly to the ear; that the human voice is the literary equivalent of the solo instruments; that one's attention in reading (or listening) is constantly being drawn to sounds; and that the 'confessional' form of the narrative is the nearest literary approach to the music of piano and violin, 'two voices that strive through the sonata to become one.' We are reminded that Beethoven's sonatas are characterised not only by intensity of dramatic feeling, but also by violent contrasts of moods and emotion. The structure of the story can plausibly be shown to correspond to general sonata form, and the Presto of the first movement—following an opening Adagio—which is so important for Pozdnyshev, is peculiarly important for the theme of the story as a whole. The author of the article observes that 'the violin is the dominating instrument, the inviting instrument' in the Presto; 'the piano changes key and sidesteps the issue. There is an extraordinary progressive ascending movement at the end, which strongly suggests a dragging away by force; there is a significant silence, a kind of consent, and a haunting passage which could suggest shame, and the movement ends with a burst of passion from both instruments, with the violin in control.' Like the sonata, Tolstoy's story falls naturally into three movements with a slow introduction. The subject of the first movement concerns the general notion of solicitation between the sexes and the particular instance of this in Pozdnyshev's own courtship, wedding and honeymoon. As in the sonata, there are false starts, the subject is introduced, dropped, hinted at . . . Pozdnyshev at first is dominant, the narrator parries the question he raises and Pozdnyshev finally becomes the narrator . . . The first movement of the sonata is disturbing, passionate and at times violent, and so is the story.' The second movement (Chapters 13-19) corresponds to Pozdnyshev's married life and his growing jealousy, with each of the two partners contending for power, 'or rather striving to be free from the dominance of the other'. The third movement introduces the musician, and its pivotal point is the Kreutzer Sonata itself, the final chapter (28) rounding it off like a coda, and returning us to the mood of the Adagio opening. In musical terms the analogies could be pressed further without doing violence to the thesis which, when retailed in this eclectic manner, does less than justice to an article which is stimulating and well argued. Tolstoy's well-known receptivity to music and his intuitive feeling for musical form lend point to the musical analogies already made in the context of the Sevastopol sketches and developed further with reference to the composition, tempo and progression of The Kreutzer Sonata.

Structural considerations apart, few other novelists could have made compelling reading out of sentiments and arguments which are irritating and manifestly unjust. Few other novelists could have given pathos and poignancy to the ending of a story whose limits appear to be laid down by the advice proffered in its opening chapter: 'Do not trust your horse in the field, or your wife in the house.'

Keith Ellis (essay date 1971)

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SOURCE: "Ambiguity and Point of View in Some Novelistic Representations of Jealousy," in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 86, No. 5, October, 1971, pp. 891-909.

[In the following excerpt, Ellis identifies sexual jealousy as a major theme of The Kreutzer Sonata, suggesting that it provides the basis for narrative ambiguity which in turn contributes to the coherence of the novella.]

When narrative is presented from the point of view of a jealous character a likely consequence is the occurrence of ambiguity regarding certain events in the action. Such ambiguity, deriving from a perspective affected by jealousy, determines meaning in several modern novels, and failure to take it properly into account has not only frustrated the task of interpreting some of these novels, but has also thwarted the appreciation of the possibilities of an important narrative technique. I wish to examine principally two novels: Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) and Machado de Assis' Dom Casmurro (1900), in which jealousy is a major theme and where narrative ambiguity plays a greater part in the meaning than has been recognized. I will then briefly consider more recent works of prose fiction that are related by theme and technique to my subject.

For some critics, the role of jealousy is obscured in The Kreutzer Sonata by the strong moralizing which marks the novel itself, and to which Tolstoy returns in his "Afterword" to the work. In the "Afterword" he states his social intention or purpose in writing the story in such terms as to suggest that the work be read as a kind of exemplum, which, by dramatizing the perils of marriage, would make the case for celibacy. The ethical criticism of society he systematically develops there echoes the frequent periods of moralizing in the novel itself, forming a bond that is potentially so influential that interpretation of the work may be detrimentally restricted by stated authorial purpose. In order to avoid this, it is necessary to examine structural elements of the work itself, emphasizing the relationships between time and narrative point of view, the development of the narrator's arguments, and the motivating forces of the protagonist's drama and of his theories.

The reported narrator's story covers a considerable period, and it told from a point in time at which the events have already been concluded. This distance in time is particularly relevant to his moralizing, since his commentary is based on conviction drawn from a certain interpretation of the sum of the events. The moralizing is presented chiefly in the first two-thirds of the novel, where, as background to the main drama, he summarizes the story of his relationships with women, from his youth up to and including the murder of his wife. In the final third of the novel, the events leading to the murder of his wife are presented in detail. The drama of these events, as will be shown, cannot be contained by the moralizing in the novel or the statement of purpose in the "Afterword." Such statements cannot fully account for the action and may even distort certain aspects of it; for the ambiguity introduced by elusive elements makes the work susceptible of interpretations other than that given from the narrator's point of view or implied in the author's statement of purpose.

At the outset the narrator's arguments seem to be cogent and well planned. He joins in and soon monopolizes a discussion on marital relationships; his exclamations, rhetorical questions, and personal testimony scarcely giving his interlocutors a chance to interrupt. This manner wins him a certain awe from them and makes him interesting to the direct narrator of the story, who soon becomes the sole audience and behaves as an attentive though unobtrusive listener. He speaks, for the most part, only when Pozdnyshev interrupts his own narrative by emitting his peculiar choked laugh, which becomes a leitmotif in the novel for summits of emotional tension; and limits his comments to occasional requests for clarification and to descriptions of Pozdnyshev's gestures. About the validity of Pozdnyshev's arguments, which grow more questionable the more he develops them, he is properly uncritical, leaving to the reader the task of perceiving contradictions and ironies.

Pozdnyshev attempts to justify his situation by presenting it as the inevitable result of a dissolute amatory life, a way of life, he insists, that is normal in his society. "Before I married I lived as we all do, loosely, and like everyone else in our particular circle, I was certain I was living as one should . . . I was not a seducer; I did not have immoral taste but I gave myself up to depravity in a restrained and decorous way for my health's sake." When he comments on his discovery that marriage is miserable and conflict-ridden he reports, "I was tormented by the awful thought that I was the only one living so badly with my wife, so unlike my expectations, while in other marriages it was different. I did not yet know at that time that this was the usual thing . . . that everyone thought as I did."

The setting itself with Pozdnyshev's story growing out of a discussion, among a random group of passengers on a train, concerning the problems of marriage, lends substance to the view that matrimony, for one reason or another, is a problematic state. Yet the strenuousness with which he argues his case comes from a new perspective, a perspective that he himself declares to be unique, and which comes at a time when he is considered to be "more or less insane" by his sister-in-law and her brother. "I myself," he says, "realized nothing of all this till recently. Now I have realized. And that is why I am tormented, because no one else seems to realize it." The narrator's attitude to marriage before the murder would seem to correspond to the present ambivalent one of his fellow passengers. In the drama itself, even in the last days of his marriage, he can still look to another, better marital situation—"Finally I began dreaming of how I would be rid of her, find another woman who would be wonderful and new"—and express love for his wife—"I woke up thinking of her and my physical love of her and about Trukhachevsky and how everything between them was over now." His fellow passengers, denying not his logic but his premise that marriage essentially is evil, are reluctant to follow him in his attack on this institution.

Pozdnyshev's theory, however, is marred by contradictions. In his moralizing he speaks in extremes as he deals with isolated aspects of his problem. At times he juxtaposes apparently contradictory positions and deals with them consciously as paradoxes as when he says, "In one way it's quite right that women are brought to the lowest depths of humiliation, and in another, that women have the ascendancy." Yet when he extends the different aspects of his argument, he does so with such denunciatory force, and in such generalized terms, that he seems to exceed the boundaries of paradox and becomes merely contradictary. He sweepingly blames, first men for pursuing women, and then women for capturing husbands by systematically inciting their lust. In attacking women's subjection to men's sexual pleasure he gives a strong and sensitive defense of women's rights, but criticizing elsewhere their cunning, he declares that "the result of all this is the ascendancy of women, from which the whole world is suffering." Consistent with his view of sexual relations, even between husband and wife, as being sinful, he can calmly advocate abstinence even with the realization that this would lead to extinction of the human race. Nevertheless, in condemning the selfishness of men who force sexual relations on their pregnant or nursing wives, he characterizes the functions of childbearing in the traditional terms of "important," "holy," and "sublime." Where he does not negate the importance of human existence altogether, his passion leads him to such extremes that his system becomes untenable for any individual human experience. His arguments which would seem to be valid when taken in isolation lose their weight in the mass of antitheses which crowd his total case.

A recognition of the two time levels operative within the work is essential in determining the nature of Pozdnyshev's self-contradictions; and in this light it is fruitful to examine the role of the murder in the novel. The narrator characterizes the murder as a routine occurrence when he discusses it in the context of his moralizing. Refuting the opinion of the jury that acquitted him, that jealousy was the motive, he declares: "The point on which I insist, is that all husbands who lead the sort of life I led," a life he has declared previously to be normal, "are bound to come to infidelity, divorce, suicide, or the murder of their wives, as I came. If anybody has avoided that, then he is a rare exception." When the murder is presented as drama, however, it stands out as an indelible event which leaves a strong residue of horror. "It was only when I saw her dead face that I realized everything I had done. I understood that I, I killed her—because of me, she who had been alive, moving, warm, was now motionless, waxen, cold. And nothing could put this right, ever. No one who has not had that experience can understand it." At this time what he has done seems to him to be beyond comprehension.

"Comprehension" comes later. "And sitting there in prison for eleven months, awaiting trial, I examined myself and my past life and came to understand it." The untidy generalization resulting from this "understanding," which puts murder and suicide on the same plane as infidelity and divorce, may well be interpreted as a desperate attempt at rationalizing his act. The "eleven months" is the link in time between the actions of the drama and the viewpoint from which he subsequently judges these actions. The murder is the last in a series of episodes that form the drama, and represents the final deterioration in the narrator's relationship with his wife. It also fixes the narrator's focus, in his search for moral justification and consolation, at its most pessimistic level as he contemplates his own amatory history and sexual relations in general. The passion and contradiction that were displayed earlier in the frame of jealousy remain strong characteristics of the narrator, but they are now channelled into arguments for self-justification. When the time relationships are understood in this way, what may otherwise seem to be obtrusive moral diatribes have their motivation within the novel and play their part in a unified work.

The murder, then, being crucial in the novel, its circumstances are worth special examination. It is clear that Pozdnyshev's immediate motive for killing his wife is jealousy. This is the emotion which, once it is objectified in the threat to the narrator represented by Trukhachevsky, puts the characters on a course of deadly conflict. There are hints in the novel of the hold jealousy has on the narrator: Pozdnyshev's attack on doctors stems most personally from the fact that their orders to his wife put her, as he says, on the path to infideltiy. "These precious doctors decided that she must not nurse her first child and so, to begin with, she was deprived of the sole antidote to flirtation . . . And as a counterpart to this I experienced the tortures of jealousy with greater acuteness . . . I was tortured by jealousy throughout my married life."

With the introduction of the theme of jealousy the pace of the novel quickens as diminishing emphasis is put on moralizing, and the drama itself comes to seize the reader's attention. The narrator's insecurity had increased sharply when his wife, for reasons of health, was supplied with a device to prevent further pregnancies. Even before the advent of Trukhachevsky, Pozdnyshev was certain that time would provide a rival. "She was a woman at the summit of her power . . . well nourished and dissatisfied . . . And I felt afraid." And "She began to dream . . . or so at least I thought." Convinced as he is that his wife will betray him, Pozdnyshev, with fatal deliberateness, encourages Trukhachevsky's attentions to her. He does this, as he says time and again, "to show that I was not afraid of him." But the preponderance of fear is revealed immediately in his wild, exaggerated suspicions. "Obviously the sound of the piano was purposely used to drown the sound of their voices—their kisses perhaps. I imagined the very worst." His jealousy is also revealed by various contradictions in his attitude toward his wife. Fearful and lustful he describes her as beautiful, "at the summit of her power"; fearful and scornful, he describes her, a short time later, as an aging mistress to whom her lover was condescending. Contradiction and conflict are presented too as oxymoron, as when he speaks of "her hated, attractive face." And finally, there is contrast in terms of emotional distance. On his way to confront his wife and Trukhachevsky he is in a violent rage, but is calmly deliberate in the actual confrontation. He has a lucid awareness of every gesture when he commits the murder which finally releases him from his jealousy; he achieves almost comic distance in the same scene when he says of Trukhachevsky, "I wanted to chase him, but realized that it was comic to rush after my wife's lover in my stocking feet, and I wanted to be terrifying and not funny."

The vehemence of the narrator's attack both by the act of murder and, subsequently, by his theorizing against sex and marriage, would seem to be revealing of weakness, of his inability to cope with a marital relationship, and above all, with jealousy. He tells us that the murder itself would not have taken place when he surprised her and Trukhachevsky by returning home early had not "her face also expressed—or so it struck me in that first moment—annoyance and displeasure that she had been interrupted in her love making and happiness with him." While recognizing that the circumstances surrounding the murder were provocative indeed for the narrator, a phrase like "or so it struck me in that first moment," given his tendency to "imagine the very worst," undermines the murder's confidence in the truth of the observation, and directs attention once more to his jealousy. Late in his story he declares that his wife "was as much a mystery now as she had always been." His jealousy is an elemental reaction to this mystery.

On listening to his wife and Trukhachevsky play Beethoven's "The Kreutzer Sonata," he comments on the inexplicability of his response to music. All the circumstances of the playing had been painful to him. He had earlier called music "the subtlest form of sensual intercourse" in speaking of it as a growing bond between his wife and Trukhachevsky. His intense delight in the music, contrasted with the pain caused him by the relationship he suspects to exist between the players makes his role of audience a highly complex and contradictory experience, which is thus related to the complexities and contradictions within the novel as a whole.

Jealousy, then, by being beyond the first-person narrator's rational control, becomes a source of complexity within the novel. It provides the basis for unreliability and ambiguity; for once its distorting presence is noticed we cannot wholly trust the narrator's judgments. The narrator's account may well be an honest one from his point of view, but his emotional state makes the presentation untrustworthy as far as any balanced view, especially of the real feelings of the other characters in his story, is concerned. Unreliability, in turn, creates a subtle irony in the work: a disparity between the narrator's and the reader's interpretation of the drama. The moralizing being inadequately served by the drama, the novel comes to hold meaning for its readers that does not result from direct acceptance of the narrator's view of events. As a result the narrator's profound and desperate loneliness is underlined. His whole narration has been a strenuous attempt to overcome this isolation; and he himself in his plea for forgiveness at the very end of his story seems to be pathetically aware of his failure. It must be emphasized, however, that the failure is the narrator's, not the author's for the novel itself, in a complex and subtle way, represents a powerful human dilemma.

To those for whom the author's purpose is the central fact to be determined in a literary work, an interpretation which is at variance with one offered by the author is ispo facto invalid; and it is clear that a reading of The Kreutzer Sonata that emphasizes jealousy and irony differs from that put forward in the "Afterword" where Tolstoy suggests that the novel supports his thesis that sexual relations constitute a depraved act, and are the source of all evil. The "Afterword" makes contact with the moralizing content of his story, while remaining somewhat removed from the specifics of the drama. In the drama told by the narrator there are points that are unaccounted for, or even distorted by the generalizations of the "Afterword." On the other hand, by regarding jealousy as the motivating force in The Kreutzer Sonata and antithesis as the dominant stylistic trait an interpretation is offered that would seem to reveal the novel's unity and coherence. . . .

To suggest an interpretation of the novel based on ambiguity is not simply to opt for a middle way. Such an interpretation seems to be indicated by certain structural features of the novel and yields important meaning especially with regard to the role of jealousy. However more subtly, however more tactfully than the narrator of The Kreutzer Sonata, the narrator in Dom Casmurro is also making a case. The motivation for self-justification discovered in The Kreutzer Sonata is also strong in this novel. The upheaval of the drama that took place before the time of writing is of comparable intensity in both works. But, whereas the narrator in The Kreutzer Sonata witnesses and reacts immediately to what he regards as the act of betrayal, the narrator of Dom Casmurro decides that betrayal took place some time before he discovered it and his initial torment gives way to a long period of detachment and coldness. The tone of their narrative is in keeping with the temper of the narrators. The narrator in Dom Casmurro persistently reveals a high degree of narrative self-consciousness: he is aware of his control over the pattern of his story and indicates this awareness to the reader in numerous asides. There is no early disclosure of the climax as there is in The Kreutzer Sonata; urgency and insistence give way to sophisticated resignation in Dom Casmurro. . . .

Tolstoy's Pozdnyshev, having been moved to decisive action, makes a strident but untenable case against marriage and sex. Machado's Dom Casmurro, in similar circumstances is unsuccessful in his case against his wife. They both admit finding their wives mysterious, and in telling their stories are not fully cognizant of the role of jealousy which comes to seem a complexly destructive and mysterious force: a force which confounds their narrative intention without their being aware of it. Their pitiful isolation at the end of their stories—for the cold Dom Casmurro who, at the end of the novel waits in vain for his lady friends to return to visit him, is quite as pitiful as Pozdnyshev—is a consequence of this irony. Machado de Assis remained aloof from discussion of his work, unlike Tolstoy, not venturing any interpretation of the novel. One cannot be sure whether his silence should be taken to indicate awareness of greater complexity than a verdict of guilt or innocence. In any case, it is fruitful for the critic to examine the literary work without being limited by authorial expressions of purpose: for in novels such as these, of Tolstoy and Machado de Assis, the workings of first-person narration with confined perspective reveal the subtlest ambiguities and contradictions in the motivations of the reporter-protagonists.

Such an understanding of the function of narration limited to the point of view of the jealous character in Dom Casmurro and The Kreutzer Sontata may illuminate the reading of more recent fiction in which this technique is structurally basic. Alain Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy (1957), narrated by the jealous protagonist and Eduardo Mallea's "Human Reason" (1959), a third-person story with a perspective limited for the most part to the central figure, may be considered representative.

In Mallea's story the attempt of Montuvio, the jealous husband, to know through reason whether his wife is being unfaithful ends in anguished uncertainty, because opposing facets of the emotion, such as fear of loss on the one hand and hurt pride on the other, can lead the victim to irreconcilably contradictory certainties. Thus, as in The Kreutzer Sonata, the inadequacy of reason in the face of jealousy is revealed. The presence in Mallea's story of a narrator who not only records everything the protagonist observes or reflects on but who, on his own initiative, also makes judgments, would seem to afford the opportunity for an objective verification. There being no verification, the limited perspective seems to be somewhat arbitrary. Yet this form of narrative gives an impression of continuous immediacy. There being no gap between the occurrence and the account of the events, the intensity of the anguish of doubt experienced by the character is well conveyed to the reader.

Greater interiorization of the functions of jealousy is to be found in Robbe-Grillet's novel Jealousy where the narrator, unlike those of The Kreutzer Sonata and Dom Casmurro, soliloquizes impressionistically rather than speaks to an audience. There is no laying out of a case for the reader. Absence of an ordered time also contributes to starkness in the manifestations of jealousy and to poignant anxieties and blurry contradictions revealed by a mind raw with the wounds of the emotion.

In "Human Reason" and Jealousy ambiguity derives from a tormented protagonist's confounded and unresolved view of events. Ambiguity in The Kreutzer Sonata and Dom Casmurro results from the narrators' representation of events in a reconstructed, personal tale intended to remove (in the case of Dom Casmurro) or at least to mitigate (in the case of Pozdnyshev) blame that might otherwise be directed against them. In these two novels ambiguity exists and functions less apparently than it does in the more recent stories. It is discovered through scrutiny of the structural features of the works themselves—a scrutiny that looks beyond expressed authorial purpose or supposed literary influences.

Ruth Crego Benson (essay date 1973)

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SOURCE: "Epilogue: Sexuality's Wasteland," in her Women in Tolstoy: The ideal and the Erotic, University of Illinois Press, 1973, pp. 111-38.

[In the following excerpt, Benson details Tolstoy's views on the nature of sex, women, and men represented in The Kreutzer Sonata and his other late fiction.]

Conceived within a single year, homogenous in thought and style, three stories, The Kreutzer Sonata, "The Devil," and Father Sergius, present Tolstoy's final fictional statement on the relations between men and women. The Kreutzer Sonata appeared first in 1889, followed a few months later by "The Devil." Although Father Sergius was not finished until 1897, it is clearly kin to the other two. It is important to think of these stories not only as individual works but, taken together, as an epilogue on sexuality, love, and marriage to Tolstoy's life-work.

Though Tolstoy had renounced all his belles lettres written before 1880, including The Cossacks, Family Happiness, War and Peace, and Anna Karenina, these three stories nevertheless took fictional form. It is understandable that the desire to renounce and suppress his artistic success would accompany the broader renunciation of his former style and philosophy of life and his adoption of a self-styled Christian pacifism. For tension and contradiction supply the texture of great fiction, and Tolstoy had not so much resolved his ambivalent views of woman, love, and sexuality, as allowed them to dissipate in his abandonment of the search for an ideal way of life which would include them. Yet Tolstoy could not extinguish the force of the artist within, and quite against his will and his new convictions The Kreutzer Sonata, "The Devil," and Father Sergius all took fictional form. The content and intent of these three stories, however, are in keeping with the didactic and polemical nature of Tolstoy's other prose of the period.

To The Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy prefixed a stringent epigraph:

But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matt. 5.28)

The same epigraph precedes "The Devil"—with the addition of the two even more severe following verses, one of which recommends that

if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matt. 5.30)

In contrast to his earlier work, the two distinctive motifs of The Kreutzer Sonata, and equally of "The Devil" and Father Sergius, are Tolstoy's explicit and exacerbated preoccupation with sex as central to the relations between men and women, and the barely concealed hysteria which provides the tone of the stories. They are the fulfillment of and the self-indulgent absorption in the dark content of Family Happiness, War and Peace, and, of course, Anna Karenina. Of the three pieces, The Kreutzer Sonata is the most developed and the most powerful. If one were not aware that the other two were written subsequently, one might consider them preliminary sketches for the first, so similar are the concerns and details. They are, however, more appropriately described as abortive attempts to remake the statements so compellingly rendered in The Kreutzer Sonata.

It is important to remember that Tolstoy wrote these stories when he himself was living a personal drama almost as complicated and debilitating as those of the stories themselves. He and his wife, at the respective ages of sixty-one and forty-five, quarreled bitterly about their manner of life, the education of their children, where they should live, indeed about the total moral structure of their life. He stubbornly professed that it must change, but never changed it, and his wife tried not only to carry on their former life but to convince her husband that it was necessary.

Ironically, Sofiya Andreyevna acted out in the mid-1890s her own pale version of The Kreutzer Sonata in her pathetic infatuation with Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev, concert pianist and family acquaintance. Though there was no sexual infidelity involved, the indiscretion of her desperate flirtation embarrassed and exasperated her family and friends, and disgusted her husband. The fact that he could be deeply upset about this "affair," however, indicates how closely they were still emotionally entangled with each other. The memoirs of their daughter, Tanya, present an unusually fair description of their life during this period:

It is really destructive to live among people who hate one another while you wish well to both. They have reached such a stage of exacerbation that they have to weigh every word carefully before they speak, for fear of involuntarily hurting one another's feelings.

And a year later:

I am all the more sorry for Mamma since, first, she does not believe in anything at all, either her own or Papa's ideas; second, she is the more lonely, because since she says and does so many things which are unreasonable, of course all the children are on Papa's side, and she feels her isolation terribly. And then she loves Papa more than he loves her, and is as delighted as a child if he addresses the least kind word to her.

But this perhaps too-familiar story is noted here simply to invoke the chaotic context in which Tolstoy wrote these disturbed and disturbing tales.

The Kreutzer Sonata opens on a train, and for Tolstoy this generally means that normal modes of perception and reflection are distorted. Later in the story, its antihero, Pozdnyshev himself, describes the change in his mood upon boarding a train eight hours before murdering his wife:

But that tranquil mood, that ability to suppress my feelings ended with my drive. As soon as I entered the train, something entirely different began. That eight-hour journey in a railway carriage was something dreadful, which I shall never forget all my life. Whether it was that having taken my seat in the carriage, I vividly imagined myself as having already arrived, or that railway traveling has such an exhilarating effect on people, at any rate from the moment I sat down I could no longer control my imagination.

In precisely this frame of mind, Pozdnyshev narrates his story against a background of confusion and semi-darkness. The train stops and starts, passengers come and go, candles sputter and die, conversations continue in darkness.

Aside from this murky setting, Pozdnyshev's personal appearance and habits contribute to the story's underground atmosphere. He is not actually introduced in the first scenes, but sits apart from his traveling companions, with his eyes glittering and strange sounds erupting from his throat, all the while smoking or drinking tea. He gives the impression of a chronic isolate, not belonging to this or any world. His clothes cross the limits of period and class: an old overcoat, "evidently from an expensive tailor," and underneath, a simple embroidered Russian shirt. There is nothing about him that marks his identity or suggests that he is a man of integrated character.

Carefully paced, like the piece that furnished its title, The Kreutzer Sonata unfolds its themes in precisely elaborated movements. Just as Pozdnyshev's identity is not fully revealed at the beginning neither is his story. Both are preceded and enhanced by a long overture. The tension of that overture is created by the motifs struck in the conversation among the passengers. The talk is concerned, in general, with men and women and their relations with each other. A lady and her companion, a lawyer, defend a "liberal" point of view, which is bitterly opposed by an old merchant whose attitude is more conventional. The discussion starts with the lawyer's remark that "then she plainly informed her husband that she was not able, and did not wish, to live with him." He goes on to say that "public opinion in Europe" was preoccupied with the question of divorce, and that cases of "that kind" were occurring more and more often in Russia.

The old merchant takes a stern and disapproving view of this. To the lawyer who asks him if these things happened in the old days, he replies: "They used to happen even then, sir, but less often. The way things are now they can't help happening. People have got too educated." What follows is, in the form of argument, a distillation of the thinking and writing that Tolstoy had done about marital relations up to that point. The lady, in essence, defends a flexible approach to marriage. No woman, she contends, should be forced to marry someone she does not love; if she finds herself married to someone she does not love, or no longer loves, she should have the right to divorce, as should the husband in similar circumstances. The old merchant replies with stern platitudes: "Human beings have a law given them"; "the first thing that should be required of a woman is fear!" (of her husband, of course); the "female sex must be curbed in time or else all is lost!" When the narrator of the story reminds the old man that he was just boasting about his own sexual exploits at a fair, the old man indignantly replies that that is "a special case."

Certainly one feels at this moment in the story that the lady and her friend are on firmer ground in the argument than the old man, even though they have not won by any means. In this argument, Tolstoy merely sets the scene and introduces the issues. But Pozdnyshev, sitting apart from the others and now greatly agitated by the discussion, will argue for him throughout the rest of the story. The second section opens with his halting question: "What kind of love . . . love . . . is it that sanctifies marriage?" This question opens his long narration about his childhood and debauched young manhood, his hypocrisy and deceit in his sexual affairs, and his irresponsible relations with women in general. He continues in great detail about the falsity of his marriage, his jealousy of his wife, and finally, his murder of her and his exile from society. It is significant that The Kreutzer Sonata is, to a greater degree than the other two stories, not only a personal confession but an indictment of the culture as well. . . .

In each of these three sister works, the main male characters are or were personally and socially brilliant aristocrats, whose lives and careers are ruined by events that center around a woman. Pozdnyshev murders his wife because of his rage at her response to another man. Stepan Kasatsky (Father Sergius) has three painful and destructive crises with women: the disclosure of his fiancée's love affair with the Tsar, his temptation by the divorcée, and his seduction by a suppliant girl. Evgeny Irtenev [in "The Devil"] has an uncontrollable passion for his serf, Stepanida, which drives him to suicide.

And it is not merely that these women act as the incidental catalysts of disaster; they are endowed with demonic powers. A decade after The Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy claimed in his Journal that "woman . . . is the tool of the devil. She is usually stupid, but the devil lends her his brain when she works for him. Thanks to this, she has accomplished miracles of intellect, perspective, and constancy—in order to do something vile. . . . But when there is no need for something vile, she cannot understand the simplest thing . . . and has no self-control. . . ." In The Kreutzer Sonata Pozdnyshev asserts that "a woman is happy and attains all she can desire when she has bewitched a man. Therefore the chief aim of a woman is to bewitch him." Father Sergius exclaims to his seductress, "You are a devil." Before, when the beautiful divorcée, Makovkina, came to his hermit cell to seduce him, he had asked, "Can it be true then as I read in the lives of the saints that the devil takes the form of a woman?" Of course, the title of "The Devil" speaks for itself, but Evgeny's accusation of Stepanida makes the association clear: "She is a devil anyway. Just that, a devil. Hasn't she subjugated me against my will?"

Of the three stories, however, The Kreutzer Sonata most clearly reveals in Pozdnyshev's image of his wife the source of this identification: the temptation of woman's sexuality. It is important to note that Pozdnyshev does not refer to his wife by name. She is neither personalized nor distinguished from any other woman. Anonymously and archetypally, she is Sexual Woman. Underneath the trappings of dress, manner, and feminine charm, there lies, in her husband's view, a malicious plan to keep him, and all men, from worthwhile and dignifying pursuits. In the full bloom of her maturity, with her children no longer an effective curb to her energies, and with the fear of further pregnancies removed, she is described by her husband as a "fresh, well fed harness horse, whose bridle has been removed." (Pozdnyshev's image calls to mind the elaborate parallel between Anna and Vronsky's mare.) The Kreutzer Sonata's most serious indictment of rampant sexuality is that it alone, as the strongest and most violent of the passions, has kept humanity from reaching its goal of "goodness, righteousness, and love."

Especially in The Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy once again dismisses the reality of romantic love, or poetic love, or falling in love. In Family Happiness, Sergey Mikhailych and Masha fell in love, and their initial feeling for each other corresponded to the traditional view of "poetic" or romantic love. For both the lovers, however, the illusion that attended this phase in their lives, the illusion that each partner was precisely what the other wanted and would never change, was cruelly betrayed. In The Kreutzer Sonata there is no longer any such illusion; at least, Pozdnyshev in retrospect analyzes the illusion as something far different from romantic love. When courting his future wife, it had seemed to him on occasion that "she understood all that I felt and thought, and that what I felt and thought was very lofty. In reality it was only that her dress and her curls were particularly becoming to her and that after a day spent near her I wanted to be still closer." And further along: "The most exalted poetic love, as we call it, depends not on moral qualities but on physical nearness and on the coiffure, and the color and cut of the dress."

In addition to reducing the act of falling in love to pure sexual attraction, Tolstoy is led from this hypothesis to suggest that all aspects of love—warmth of communication, friendship, joy in intimacy—are mere reflections or distortions of sexuality. Pozdnyshev, for example, found it impossible for himself and his wife to engage in simple conversation as an expression of the "spiritual communion" that should accompany romantic love: "Well, if love is spiritual, spiritual communion, then that spiritual communion should find expression in words, in conversations, in discourse. There was nothing of the kind. It used to be dreadfully difficult to talk when we were left alone. . . . There was nothing to talk about."

Tolstoy moreover denied the possibility of communication on a deeper level, that is, the commitment and exchange that follows the recognition of a partner whose ideals meet and enhance one's own. To the woman on the train who defended this possibility, Pozdnyshev angrily, and straight to the point, retorted: "Spiritual affinity! Identity of ideals! . . . But in that case why go to bed together? (Excuse my vulgarity!)"

It may seem contradictory that even in these late stories, Tolstoy could still envision love as agape (if not eros); that is, that he could still occasionally entertain the possibility of married love built on spiritual communication and on deep reverential friendship. Such is, perhaps, the meaning of the relation of Evgeny Irtenev's wife, Liza, to her husband: emotionally warm but sexually cool. The portrait of Liza herself is almost unbelievably angelic. She is close to Tolstoy's ideal woman (along with her predecessors, Princess Marya of War and Peace and Pashenka of Father Sergius). Physically, she is presentable but not sexually attractive. Her eyes, like Princess Marya's, are her best feature: they are bright, tender, trustful, in contrast to the "black, sparkling" eyes of her rival, the serf Stepanida. Liza's eyes appeal and confide, while Stepanida's provoke and invite. Emotionally, Liza is sentimental, without passion; her infatuations with men before her marriage to Evgeny develop into tender, loving concern and pride when directed exclusively toward her husband. Her emotional make-up is primarily devoted and maternal, and her goal in her relations with her husband, indeed, of her life, is to make for him the best of all possible lives: "Liza had decided that of all the people in the world there was only her Evgeny Irtenev, a higher type, wiser, purer, nobler than all the others; and it therefore was the responsibility of everyone to serve him and to make life pleasant for him." Liza is endowed with that "spiritual communion" which Pozdnyshev found lacking between himself and his wife. In her relations with Evgeny, "she sensed every one of his moods, every shade of feeling, often, he thought, more clearly than he did himself. . . . Moreover, she understood his thoughts as well as his feelings." One might assume from this that Liza's and Evgeny's marriage should proceed tranquilly and tenderly, for Evgeny truly loves his wife as a warm and loyal friend. And that is precisely the problem; their close communication is warped by Evgeny's displaced sexual passion for Stepanida. This reveals Tolstoy's belief that these two forms of love and expression can never flow toward the same person. It is this tragic and unbearable division that dooms Evgeny.

Behind Tolstoy's idea of this apparently inevitable division, one may discern his view of sexuality and the sexual act itself. The sexual biography of each of the three men in these stories, particularly that of Pozdnyshev and Evgeny, reflects Tolstoy's view in some detail. The following passages are both typical and crucial: Evgeny, for instance,

had spent his youth as do all young healthy bachelors; that is, he had had relationships with various kinds of women. He was not a debauchee, but neither was he . . . a monk! He indulged in this . . . only as far as it was necessary for his physical health and peace of mind. This began when he was sixteen, and had continued successfully, in the sense that he had not drowned himself in orgies, had never fallen in love, and had never caught any disease. As a result this phase of his life had been securely settled and had given him no trouble.

And Pozdnyshev says about his young manhood:

I was not a seducer, had no unnatural tastes, did not make that the main purpose of my life as many of my associates did, but I practiced debauchery in a steady, decent way for my health's sake. I avoided women who might tie my hands by having a child or by attachment for me. There may have been children and attachments, however, but I acted as if there were not. And this I considered not only moral, I was even proud of it.

The description of Kasatsky's youth adds a new dimension: the double standard in its classic form, which introduces, in addition to premarital sexual partners, the woman who was not a part of the "debauched" life, the woman one could marry:

Kasatsky belonged to those people of the forties who no longer exist, who, while consciously indulging in and inwardly not condemning unchaste sexual relations, demanded an ideal, heavenly chastity in a wife, recognized this heavenly chastity in every young girl of their own circles, and treated them accordingly. There was much that was false in this attitude, and it was harmful in the profligacy which it permitted men; but in respect to women, this viewpoint, which differs so sharply from that of today's youth, who see their potential mate in every young girl . . . did serve a purpose. Aware of this attitude, young girls tried more or less to be goddesses.

Pozdnyshev, too, says that he wallowed in a mire of debauchery and at the same time was looking for a girl chaste enough "to be worthy of [him]."

The nineteenth-century version of the double standard has always plagued men and women; but Tolstoy articulated its most painful consequences. Pozdnyshev (speaking for Tolstoy) confesses that, for himself, "dissoluteness does not lie in anything physical—no kind of physical misconduct is debauchery; real debauchery lies precisely in freeing oneself from moral relations with a woman with whom you have physical intimacy." In Tolstoy's view, this constituted the real double standard, and the only significant one. It was not only a double standard applied in relation to other persons, but was the mark of an interior division between act, feeling, and moral responsibility. . . .

Why such a tragic sexual schizophrenia? The later Tolstoy, as we know, regarded sexual intercourse, even between married partners, as disgusting and absurd, a shameful, "animal" act that separated the partners spiritually and emotionally. But that did not eliminate the basic problem of sexuality, the recognition of oneself and others as sexual creatures, fully available to each other. This might be called the "no barriers" theme in Tolstoy's thought, for he uses the phrase again and again to denote such recognition. This phrase indicates the mutual sudden awareness of attraction between many couples in Tolstoy's works: Pierre and Ellen, Natasha and Anatole, Anna and Vronsky, and so on. In short, throughout Tolstoy's literary work, he defines sexual attraction with a phrase connoting the consciousness of a naked confrontation between the two persons and of an uncontrolled force drawing them together.

After his wife's concert with his imagined rival, for example, Pozdnyshev feels that it was "evident already then, that there was . . . no barrier between them." In Father Sergius, the event is described without the specific phrase; Makovkina triumphantly realizes that when she knocked at Father Sergius's door "he put his face to the window and saw me and understood and recognized me, it was glowing and imprinted in his eyes. He loved and desired me. Yes, desired."

Of course this naked confrontation is not always matched by a frank admission of the basically erotic content of sex. The men of these stories invent verbal subterfuges, like the "safety valve" metaphor that occurs so often in Tolstoy, or better yet, they repeat the maxim that sex is necessary for the sake of one's health. In the notion that sex is necessary to the health, the mechanical idea of sex as a "safety valve" is simply rendered more explicit and concrete. Expressing these attitudes, Tolstoy was not merely reflecting his society: he was stating previous or present personal convictions. In The Second Supplement to The Kreutzer Sonata, he wrote: "The sexual instinct seems to me like the pressure of steam, which would cause a locomotive to explode if the pressure did not open the safety valve. The valve opens only under great pressure; otherwise it is always kept closed, and carefully closed, and it must be our conscious aim to keep it tightly closed and held down moreover by a weighted layer . . . so that it cannot open."

Both theories depersonalize man, woman, and act: first, although at this late stage Tolstoy emphasized keeping the valve closed as much as possible, in the "safety valve" theory the use of the mechanical metaphor reduces the sexual act to an annoying but necessary device which keeps the machine running smoothly. Sex "for the health" implies both that the body is, in some sense, sick, and that the therapy is simply a matter of taking the appropriate treatment. Tolstoy's imagery evokes the dangers of a high-pressure steam boiler and suggests the regular maintenance of delicate plumbing. To ward off these perils, to service the machinery—this is woman's sexual function. Both of these dehumanizing attitudes have at their core the idea of selfish use: a woman is used by a man to keep him functioning properly.

Finally, however, the sexual bond is human, not mechanical. Yet in their rationalizations Tolstoy's characters are reluctant to admit that they feel such humanity. When Evgeny, for example, as pointed out before, seeks a woman for his "health," Danila suggests a clean healthy woman, and goes on to describe her sexual appeal. But Evgeny cuts him off because it reminds him of the purely erotic motives, the real nature of his request: "'No, no . . . that's not all what I need. On the contrary.' (What could be the contrary?)" But beyond eroticism loomed the possibility of an involvement, an emotional commitment which would inevitably fail.

In his earlier fiction, the familiar Tolstoyan solution to this dilemma was marriage, chiefly for two reasons: marriage could organize and focus the sex drive, and it could provide further justification for sex and compensation for the failure of romantic love in the creation of a family. If one takes The Kreutzer Sonata at face value, however, marriage as a solution to man's sexual problems is no longer possible. In the first place, love itself, and the desire to be together with one's beloved for a lifetime, are explained away as the result of an explosive pressure without a safety valve: "Try and close the safety valve . . ." Pozdnyshev warns, "and at once a stimulus arises which, passing through the prism of our artificial life, expresses itself in utter infatuation, sometimes even platonic." And he continues, further on, "Had the safety valve been open . . . I should not have fallen in love."

On this foundation, marriage would have little chance for mere survival. Pozdnyshev grudgingly admits that there are a few "true" marriages, providing a good Tolstoyan definition of an ideal marriage: "something mysterious, a sacrament binding [the partners] in the sight of God." This kind of marriage, though, is very rare; according to Pozdnyshev "ninety-nine percent of married people live in a similar hell" to the one that he experienced in his own marriage. That is, marriage is deception, a thin veil of convention, screening its real object, copulation. Such a marriage knows neither friendship nor fidelity, only an ever-increasing hatred, relieved by periods of sexual activity which, in turn, breeds further hatred. Far from softening its brutal outlines, the children of such a marriage are "not a joy but a torment." In the midst of the tensions between husband and wife, they become the object of discord and simultaneously the weapons of strife. In short, where there is sex, there can be neither love, nor marital happiness, nor the joy of family.

In The Kreutzer Sonata Tolstoy refers to the Domostroy, a sixteenth-century marriage and domestic manual. Its straightforward, no-nonsense manner of dealing with marriage is apparently prompted by a romantic notion of the past. The old man on the train, for example, who defends his old-fashioned views of marriage (women should fear their husbands, matchmaking is a sensible way to get a hard job done) is referred to by his female opponent as a "living Domostroy." Pozdnyshev refers to the Domostroy in another context: "You must remember that if one married according to the injunctions of the Domostroy, as that old fellow was saying, then the featherbeds, the trousseau, and the bedstead are all merely details appropriate to the sacrament." For his contemporaries, however, these objects are the medium of exchange in the sale of an innocent girl to a profligate. One should think of Tolstoy's nostalgic view of the Domostroy in this case as another example of his general wish during this period to return to a past of Arcadian simplicity and virtue, to get back to the roots, to re-create the beginnings of things. He no longer, however, actually believes in the real possibility of such a way of life. These abandoned hopes float like dream-fragments around his much more persuasive portrait of marriage as disillusion and deception.

Indeed, so powerful was the terror of sexuality and its derivative bonds in marriage that during his later period Tolstoy could readily conceive only of extreme or violent means of breaking the stalemate which they produced. Of Pozdnyshev, Irtenev, or Father Sergius, one could say as Tolstoy did of Hans Christian Andersen that "he was a confirmed rake and wanderer . . . but that only strengthens my conviction that he was a lonely man." For each of these characters is driven to isolate himself from those he loves and even from the rest of mankind: driven to the isolation of exile following the murder of his wife, driven to the ultimate isolation of death by suicide, or driven to the isolation of an ascetic religious commitment. In his youth and manhood, Tolstoy himself considered suicide; this impulse was closely linked to a sense of meaninglessness in his life, to which the problem of sexuality had contributed. And he contemplated religious asceticism as a possible escape from the torment of marriage. On one occasion (to be sure, eighteen years after writing The Kreutzer Sonata) he said to his friend and biographer N. N. Gusev: "I ought to have gone into a monastery. And I would have, if I hadn't had a wife". . . .

Secular celibacy is an equally possible solution for the male, as Pozdnyshev implies at the end of The Kreutzer Sonata. The reader is surprised to learn that immediately after stabbing his wife Pozdnyshev suddenly becomes aware of her as a human being and of the atrocity of his act. But from this belated insight, he concludes not that he should have refrained from murder, but that he should never have married! That is, only celibacy, not an agreement worked out within the marriage, could have prevented murder.

While Father Sergius is a curiously undigested piece, its theme of isolation receives a more significant and careful treatment in The Kreutzer Sonata. As previously described, Pozdnyshev appears as a loner, his albatross his only companion, the train his only home, even his natural habitat. The fact that we do not know its destination, that its few stopping places are, of course, only temporary, and that its atmosphere makes civilized communication practically impossible, are all appropriate to his previous and present life. Indeed, on a deeper level, the train is an engine of meaningless transit, from which, so long as it is in motion, one cannot escape; it is the allegory of a life over which one has no conscious control.

Dostoevsky's preoccupation with two forms of absolute violence, murder and suicide, is well known. On the other hand, because these themes are not prominent in Tolstoy's novels, he is usually assumed to have been free of the preoccupation with personal and metaphysical violence. Yet clearly in these three late stories, murder and suicide are thematically central. Pozdnyshev's final isolation, resulting from the murder of his wife, fulfills the story which he feels compelled to tell. It would, however, be a mistake to conclude that Tolstoy presents this isolation as, in any simple sense, the punishment for Pozdnyshev's crime. In fact, like the heroes of the other two stories, Pozdnyshev himself has manipulated the events leading to his isolation. On the simplest level within all three stories, the idea or act of violence has essentially the same meaning, for all three men—Pozdnyshev, Sergius, Irtenev—have manipulated their lives to a point where violence is a natural and immediate possibility. They all contemplate both murder and suicide, and two of them commit, in addition, the symbolic suicide of self-mutilation. As each contemplates or commits the murder, the actual or proposed victim is a woman whose femininity and sexuality have provoked the man to the conclusion that life is unbearable.

But suicide and murder are not, in these stories, the apocalyptic objective of events. Rather, the act of killing is instrumental. Indeed, murder and suicide share indistinguishably the same purpose. Tolstoy presents both acts, killing onself or killing another, as the means of solving an otherwise inescapable problem, to which an agony of paralysis is the only alternative. Here, violence is the means of breaking past a stalemate, or a way of bringing an intolerable series of events, an intolerable situation, to a close. Thus, like the sex in these stories, violence is finally impersonal, without real reference to the individuality of its object. In short, murder or suicide is a mode of manipulating the self, others, and events, so that in each case, the outcome leaves the agent free of self, others, and events: totally isolated.

Pozdnyshev clearly recognizes his own active agency in creating the events that simultaneously cause his downfall and justify it. He recalls, for instance, that

a strange and fatal force led me not to repulse him [Trukhachevsky], not to keep him away, but on the contrary to invite him to the house . . . as if almost compulsively, I began talking about his playing.

I invited him to come some evening and bring his violin to play with my wife. She glanced at me with surprise, flushed, and as if frightened began to decline, saying that she did not play well enough. This refusal irritated me further and I insisted even more on his coming.

More conclusive, and more final, is the following confession:

If he had not appeared, there would have been someone else. If the occasion had not been jealousy, it would have been something else. I maintain that all husbands who live as I did must either live dissolutely, separately, or kill themselves or their wives as I have done.

Pozdnyshev's admission completely separates the act of murder from the events that preceded and provoked it, since the murder has no cause apart from his own need to escape his wife's temptation and to release him from an impossible commitment. Hence, the murder cannot be entirely and exclusively identified with the sexual act, but it is analogous to it as another product of the gulf between act, feeling, and responsibility.

In Tolstoy's fiction from Family Happiness to Anna Karenina, women are primarily, and in more concrete ways than men, responsible for the failures of love and marriage. In this respect, the three late stories mark a striking departure. For in them Tolstoy indicts both woman and man; the man, in love or marriage, is no longer merely passive or unaware, essentially a victim, but personally responsible and even manipulative. Though these three characters are, properly speaking, anti-heroes, each experiences a moment of transformative self-awareness. Only for Father Sergius, however, does this self-recognition lead to a final redemption. All three men achieve self-awareness through discovery of the tragic discrepancy between what they are and what they thought or wanted themselves to be. This, in turn, leads each to an awakening, a conversion to a different way of life, thought, and action, and, in the case of Irtenev, to the end of life itself. The exiled Sergius is a partial exception, for by radically limiting both his hopes and his field of action, he overcomes the discrepancy between actuality and aspiration.

To have admitted and expressed man's share in the failure of love and marriage was a great change for Tolstoy. Ironically, he writes like a radical feminist when, in The Second Supplement to The Kreutzer Sonata, he argues that

the man who has hitherto led a debauched life passes on moral corruption to the woman, infects her with his own sensuality, and taxes her with the unbearable burden of being at one and the same time mistress, mother, and human being; and she develops, too, into an excellent mistress, a tortured mother, and a suffering, nervous, and hysterical human being. And the man loves her as his mistress, ignores her as a mother, and hates her for her nervousness and hysteria which he himself has caused. It seems to me that this is the source of all the sufferings that arise in every family.

This recognition does not, however, soften Tolstoy's views of women. That is, he finds himself and all men guilty in their premarital and family relations, and for the first time he describes this guilt. Nonetheless, within this new view, he sees women as willing accomplices, as accessories before, during, and after the fact. Though men are more responsible for failure than in his earlier writings, women are no less responsible, and only the men are given the opportunity and the sensitivity to change or grow.

Taken together, these three stories constituted Tolstoy's final negation of the most fundamental human institutions, commitments, and values. Implicitly and explicitly in these tales, he denied either the practical possibility or the value of chastity, love, marriage, intimacy, sexuality, and fidelity. Understandably, the public reacted strongly to the black pessimism of The Kreutzer Sonata, and Tolstoy was asked to explain and interpret the tale. Though he had ignored or refused requests to comment formally on earlier works, his response to this furor was an explanatory "Epilogue," which he wrote in 1890.

Tolstoy designed the Epilogue to contain "the essence of what [he] had intended to convey." In the first place, he writes, he wanted to oppose the notion that sex is necessary to health, and correspondingly to deny that social arrangements based on this premise are justified. Second, he argues that marital infidelity occurs because people mistakenly believe that sexual love is romantic and elevating, whereas it is in fact brutish and degrading. He goes so far as to say that "the violation of a promise of fidelity, given in marriage, should be punished by public opinion certainly in no lesser degree than are punished the violations of debts and business frauds." This harsh mandate for human judgment is far from the cooler tone of Romans 12.19, which appeared as the epigraph to Anna Karenina. Earlier, as we have seen, he had been content to leave judgment of such sins to God; or, more accurately, to the logic and finality of the events themselves.

As his third point, Tolstoy warns against the bad effects of birth control. His admonitions draw on his contempt for medical practice; he asserts that sexual relations make pregnant or nursing women hysterical; and he regards contraception as equivalent to murder. The fourth and fifth points are not really distinct either from each other or from the second: he says that children are educated, by clothes, sweets, excesses of food and drink, music, novels, poems, and so forth, to a life of sensuality; and that "the best part of young people's lives is passed, by men, in discovering love-affairs or marriage, and by women and girls, in alluring and drawing men into love-affairs or marriage." He repeats his belief that sexual love is not a worthy activity of human beings (men) but, quite to the contrary, keeps them from their only proper pursuit: to serve humanity, country, science, art, or God.

Needless to say, The Kreutzer Sonata, considered together with the other two stories, carries a much larger meaning than the strident and erratically argued Epilogue. In fact, the three stories, viewed together, may be regarded as offering a spectrum of final statements on the problem posed by women, sexuality, and moral schizophrenia. It is, however, both striking and characteristic that by the late 1880s Tolstoy could present his solutions only as utterly impracticable or productive of misery.

Basic to the shared content of the three stories is Tolstoy's assurance that women, and the sexuality that women represent, project, and provoke, are the source of man's downfall. Because of them, careers are destroyed, character is corrupted, sexual desire flares out of control. In War and Peace and Anna Karenina Tolstoy was still willing to represent marriage as an effective and acceptable way to organize sex for the purpose of bearing children. In two of these three stories, however, though the marriages could have taken such a form, Tolstoy's characters dismiss this possibility without serious consideration. In each of the three stories, when the main character faces a dilemma that is mainly sexual in nature, he feels a profound fear, distrust, or contempt of sexuality, or of intimacy of any kind. And in all three, as a direct consequence of, and indeed in direct response to, the sexual dilemma of the male tempted by the female, alienation and violence follow relentlessly.

Natasha and Pierre and Kitty and Levin had escaped this fate; Anna and Vronsky had succumbed to it. Yet there was adequate warning of this nihilism even as early as Family Happiness, where the possibility of happiness is concrete at the beginning, but where the deterioration of romantic illusion and the isolation of mates is inexorable. In The Kreutzer Sonata and its satellites, the possibility of alternatives or adjustment to this process appears as delusion or hallucination. But The Kreutzer Sonata penetrates beyond a tragic view of experience: like Tolstoy's own Confession, its orgiastic tone and its insistent self-contempt invite us to celebrate, with the penitents, their capacity for evil ana their pride of guilt. In these three stories, the consistent single message is the inevitable failure of human relationships and the inescapable recognition of human alienation. In this world, like Pashenka and Father Sergius, who come together only for aid and comfort, men and women no longer live and act in concert, but in isolation.

Other great writers have substituted one vision of life for another, or have dedicated themselves to an ideal which the force of ambivalence may have destroyed. But few have equaled that relentless testing of moral sensibility and human capacity, that indefatigable urge to break beyond limitations that characterized Tolstoy's life and fiction. In his own typically distilled yet sweeping formulation, "life is the expansion of limits." Even late in Tolstoy's life when that expansion absorbed limits and became grotesque, one feels with Gorky that "the disagreeable or hostile feelings which he aroused would assume forms that were not oppressive but seemed to explode within one's soul, expanding it, giving it greater capacity." Yet his power was tragically flawed by his consistently limited and distorted view of the nature of sex, of women, and, therefore, of the men who were his chief concern. So that, by the end of his life, the dream of the young Tolstoy—of a warm family life in the country, of a productive and benevolent estate, of friendships, of literary success, of the pursuit of culture—had vanished entirely. For this ideal, the spent but still aspiring old man finally substituted his heterodox-Christian vision of an emotionally and erotically anaesthetic world.

E. B. Greenwood (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy the Ascetic? The Kreutzer Sonata, Father Sergius and Resurrection," in his Tolstoy: The Comprehensive Vision, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1975, pp. 137-46.

[In the excerpt below, Greenwood situates the ascetic tone of The Kreutzer Sonata in the context of Tolstoy's life and art.]

Aylmer Maude points out that the views approving marriage which satisfied Tolstoy in 1884 when he wrote What I Believe no longer satisfied him in 1889 when he wrote The Kreutzer Sonata. This can be brought out by considering Tolstoy's remarks on Jesus's teaching on sexual conduct in the Sermon on the Mount and his translation in The Gospel in Brief (1883) of Jesus's teaching on celibacy in the later passage in Matthew (19: 10-12). Let us first take Jesus's teaching on sexual conduct in Matthew 5: 27-32, part of the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'. But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress: and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

In What I Believe (1884) Tolstoy takes this passage as implying that 'Men and women, knowing indulgence in sexual relations to lead to strife, should avoid all that evokes desire.' He shrewdly questions the caveat that Jesus allowed divorce on the grounds of adultery. I say shrewdly, because it appears that this caveat was not spoken by Jesus, but added by the Church.

In the passage in Matthew on celibacy, the disciples had evidently been worried by the teaching forbidding a man to divorce his wife, particularly after some Pharisees had pointed out to Jesus that Moses had allowed such divorce. The disciples themselves said to Jesus, 'If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.' To this Jesus replied:

Not all men can receive this precept [presumably the precept that it is not expedient to marry], but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.

Tolstoy's version in The Gospel in Brief (1883) runs:

And his pupils said to Jesus: It is too hard to be always bound to one wife. If that must be, it would be better not to marry at all.

He said to them: You may refrain from marriage but you must understand what that means. If a man wishes to live without a wife, let him be quite pure and not approach women: but let him who loves women unite with one wife and not cast her off or look at other women.

It is clear that Jesus is primarily concerned to establish the spiritual superiority of celibacy to marriage for those who are 'called' to it and that Tolstoy's 1883 version interestingly shifts the emphasis to the marriage side of the issue. There is no hint in it that Tolstoy himself wishes to emphasize the importance of celibacy. But in 1889 when he wrote The Kreutzer Sonata he had come to see celibacy as the ideal and implicitly advocates it in that story. In 'An Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata' in the following year, though he does not rule out marriage, he certainly sees it as a kind of fall compared with the ideal of perfect chastity. Aylmer Maude is surely right in explaining this change of view on Tolstoy's part as the result of the intensification of the conflict between him and his wife Sonya over his wish to renounce his property and over his other principles. The beginnings of that conflict, it is true, go back to 1881, and in May of that year Tolstoy recorded, 'To abandon one's family is the second temptation.' At the same time he added, 'Serve not the family, but the one God.' On 26 August 1882 Tolstoy suddenly exclaimed that his most passionate wish was to go away. This deeply upset Sonya, who made her first, but not her last, attempt at suicide. Again in June 1884 after a bitter quarrel over his principles with Sonya in the final stages of pregnancy Tolstoy stalked out even as she was starting to go into labour, but turned back as feelings of guilt overcame him. This was the incident of which Shaw was so critical in his review of Maude's biography. About the change of view between 1883 and 1889 there is no doubt. In 1883 he could still write in What I Believe that the union of marriage was 'holy and obligatory.' By 1890 in the 'Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata' he is calling 'sexual love, marriage . . . from a Christian point of view, a fall, a sin.'

Tolstoy's moral dilemma was to know how much, in this sudden wish to break free from marriage (the stages of which we have traced above), he was following a selfish wish for freedom (such as in many others ends in the very divorce he condemned) under the cloak of an avowed wish to serve God before his family.

What, then, are we to make of The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) and of 'An Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata' (1890)? The first thing to be said is that Tolstoy's wife, family and first readers identified Pozdnyshev's views in the story with those of Tolstoy himself. The fact that Pozdnyshev says 'I am a sort of lunatic' could hardly deter them, for they sometimes regarded Tolstoy as a sort of lunatic. It is no wonder, then, that Sonya recorded in December 1890 her terrible fear of becoming pregnant, 'for everybody will hear of the disgrace and jubilantly repeat the recent Moscow joke: "Voilà le véritable postscriptum de la Sonate de Kreutzer".' On 6 March 1891 Sonya recorded in her diary one of the bitterest and most telling comments on the work: 'At tea we talked about . . . the vegetarianism which Lyova advocates. He said he saw a vegetarian menu in a German paper which was composed of bread and almonds. I expect the person who wrote the menu practises vegetarianism as much as the author of The Kreutzer Sonata practises chastity.

And, after all, were not Sonya and the work's first readers right in identifying Pozdnyshev's views with Tolstoy's? A recent student of the question, G. W. Spence, writes in his book Tolstoy the Ascetic:

Pozdnyshev's theory is not just Pozdnyshev's: it is not contradicted by Tolstoy in anything that was written after The Kreutzer Sonata, and not only is the statement of the ideal of complete celibacy or perfect chastity repeated in the Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata and in The Kingdom of God is Within You, IV, but also the doctrine of general suicide by means of chastity is the logical outcome of the despairing last pages of the Confession.

I agree with everything here except the last remark. There is no logical connection between A Confession and Tolstoy's later extreme asceticism, but at most a psychological one. Moreover, that claim obscures the fact that whatever the stresses and strains (and, as some have postulated, illness) behind A Confession the overt purpose of the work is to show that the view that life is 'senseless and evil' (which had also been Anna's view before her suicide) is mistaken. In A Confession Tolstoy is not putting forward the view (as some criticisms are apt to leave the impression he is) that life is meaningless, but repudiating that view. Thus if a sense of the meaninglessness of life and even of life-hatred is present in The Kreutzer Sonata then that work does not endorse Tolstoy's thesis in A Confession but undermines it, or at least leaves us merely with the psychological mood of negation and bafflement A Confession was designed to leave behind.

The central subject of The Kreutzer Sonata is not so much an attack on the physical side of sex (though that is the aspect of The Kreutzer Sonata which everyone remembers) as the burning wish to be free of being tied to any woman, the wish which I have suggested Tolstoy could not acknowledge to himself in the case of his own wife Sonya save in the devious disguise of an ascetic moralism. Pozdnyshev delivers tirades against tight-fitting jerseys, bustles and copulation ('our swinish connection') not primarily in themselves, but because they are the agents of bondage to a woman. Pozdnyshev is hopelessly confused. One moment he speaks of pregnancy as 'this sacred work' and the next he speaks of virginity as the 'highest state.' But it is very difficult to decide how much this contradictoriness was intended by Tolstoy, as artist, to be dramatically expressive of the highly-wrought state of the mind of his protagonist and how much it arises from Tolstoy's own utter bewilderment. It must be admitted that the remark which Maude quotes as having been made by Tolstoy apropos The Kreutzer Sonata ('The indispensable thing is to go beyond what others have done, to pick off something fresh, however small . . .') is the remark of a man who seems to have thought he was in artistic control. Be that as it may, Pozdnyshev's jealousy of the musician Trukhachevski's playing of the Kreutzer Sonata with his wife (the whole thing seems almost to become a metaphor for intercourse) is not so much jealousy as normally understood as a deliberate inflammation of the sexual bondage to her which he feels, an inflammation which at the same time affords the excuse of breaking that bondage by murder.

Pozdnyshev's twisted attack on sexuality parallels Tolstoy's own tormented attempts to convince himself that he was following the teaching of Jesus in putting God before his family, when all the time he inwardly suspected that what he was trying to do was merely to escape from them for all the world like any roué. What better way than to stigmatize marriage (as he does in the 'Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata') as the 'service of self when what he feared was that it might really be selfishness which underlay his own passionate desire for freedom?

Robert Louis Jackson (essay date 1978)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoj's Kreutzer Sonata and Dostoevskij's Notes from the Underground," in American Contributions to the Eighth international Congress of Slavists, Slavica Publishers, Inc., 1978, pp. 280-91.

[Below, Jackson identifies the affinities of The Kreutzer Sonata and Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, focusing on structure, narrative form, and use of the "irrational hero" to express each author's views of social problems.]


At the end of the third chapter of The Kreutzer Sonata (1891) the nervous, exasperated and shrill Pozdnyšev—"landowner, university graduate and Marshal of the Nobility"—begins his account of a "critical episode" in his life, namely, the murder of his wife, with a definition of depravity. Addressing the elusive narrator, Pozdnyšev remarks:

"Depravity really doesn't lie in anything physical, indeed, no physical outrage can be called depravity. Depravity, real depravity, consists precisely in freeing oneself from moral relations with a woman with whom you enter into physical relations. And precisely this kind of liberation I set down for myself as meritorious. I remember how I was once terribly upset when I did not manage to pay a woman who, after apparently falling in love with me, had given herself to me; and I regained my peace of mind only after I had sent her money, showing in this way that I did not consider myself bound to her in any way . . . Now don't shake your head as though you agreed with me," he suddenly shouted at me. "I really know what I'm talking about. All of us, and you too, at your best, unless you are a rare exception, share the same views that I did. Well, it makes no difference, forgive me," he continued "but the fact is that this is terrible, terrible, terrible!" "What is terrible?" I asked. "The whole abyss of error in which we live concerning women and our relations to them. Yes, I cannot speak calmly about it, and not because of this 'episode' [of the murder] as [the lawyer] just put it, but because ever since that episode occurred my eyes have been opened and I have come to see everything in quite a different light. Exactly the opposite, exactly the opposite!" He lit up a cigarette and leaning his elbows on his knees, went on talking. I could not see his face in the darkness . . .

Pozdnyšev's reminiscence of how he literally settled accounts with his mistress recalls, of course, the climax of the Underground Man's second meeting with the prostitute Liza in his flat. After a moment of catharsis—a moment in which he sobs hysterically in the arms of Liza—the Underground Man is overtaken by a feeling of "domination and possession," of alternating feelings of attraction and hatred. "One feeling intensified the other. This was almost like vengeance!" The moment of sex that follows is an utterly loveless act. His "outburst of passion," as he describes it "was precisely revenge, a further humiliation of her," a confession not only that he was "incapable of loving her," but that for him "love meant to tyrannize and be morally superior. . . . Even in my underground dreams I could not imagine love except as a struggle, and I also embarked on it with hatred." After the moment of loveless sex, the Underground Man is furious with impatience for Liza to leave. "Suddenly I ran up to her, seized her hand, opened it, put something in it, and then closed it again." This cruel gesture, the Underground Man admits, was "so insincere, so deliberately invented, so bookish" that even he could barely stand it at the time. But the gesture nonetheless signals his "depravity"—in Pozdnyšev's sense of the word—his freedom (for him an anguished freedom) from moral relations with Liza.

More than a gesture draws the attention of the reader of The Kreutzer Sonata to Notes from the Underground. The Kreutzer Sonata is perhaps the most "Dostoevskian" work of Tolstoj precisely in the manner he designs his polemical work and in the way he develops his central hero, or anti-hero, Pozdnyšev. Before singling out some of the affinities of these two works one may note a certain similarity between Pozdnyšev's apocalyptic approach to marriage and sexuality and Dostoevskij's own view of this matter.


Pozdnyšev tells his story in a railway compartment illuminated by a single candle. The time of the narration is between twilight and dawn. The end of his narration merges with the end of his story of the journey within the journey: his return home from a trip, his discovery of his wife and suspected lover, his murder of his wife. Pozdnyšev's dawn—and that is what his monologue is about—is apocalyptic: the discovery of a tragic truth about sexuality, family, and marital relations—indeed, all human relations. "Yes, only after having fearfully suffered, only thanks to that have I understood where the root of it all lies, understood what must be, and therefore perceived the horror of all that is." The "new light" in which he sees the world is symbolized by the Rembrandtian illumination of the candle which from time to time lights up a twitching, agitated face with "angry eyes." Pozdnyšev's indictment of upper class society—and that is the social and cultural matrix of the tragic "episode" in his life—is full of angry mutterings about an impending upheaval, chaos, an "end" to the disorder of human relations. His appeal for an ethic of sexual abstention is part of a broader, cleansing Christian fundamentalism and humanism. To the question, how the human race would be perpetuated with such an ethic, Pozdnyšev replies with irony:

And wouldn't it be a terrible thing if the human race perished! . . . Why should it be continued—this human race? . . . If there is no goal, if life is given to us for life, there is no reason to live . . . But if there is a goal of life, then it is clear that life must come to an end when the goal is achieved . . . If the goal of mankind is well-being, goodness, love, if you wish; if the goal of mankind is what is said in the prophecies, that all men will be united in the universal love . . . then what stands in the way of attaining this goal? Human passions. Of all the passions, the most powerful and vicious and stubborn is sexual, carnal love. And therefore if the passions are annihilated and with them the most powerful—carnal love—then the prophecy will be fulfilled, men will be united, the goal of mankind will have been achieved, and there will no longer be any reason for existence.

All this, Pozdnyšev recognizes, is only an "ideal." There will be generations before the prophecy is fulfilled. In the meanwhile, he believes, some people will continue to strive for the moral ideal.

The problems raised by Tolstoj through the medium of the emotionally distraught and disturbed Pozdnyšev were by no means alien to Dostoevskij or to the inhabitants of his novelistic universe. Unlike Tolstoj, Dostoevskij never wrote explicitly on the subject of sexuality, yet the problem of sexuality in the life of the individual and society, its relation to the whole human being and social organism, concerned him deeply.

"Swinish sensuality with all its consequences, passing into cruelty, crime, the Marquis de Sade"—Dostoevskij wrote in his notebook for The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevskij's "ridiculous man" has witnessed the beauty of man's primeval paradise, as well as the circumstances of his "fall," and he insists that "sensuality is the root of all evil." Though Dostoevskij clearly adheres to that view in the deepest religious sense; though he tends to identify the highest consciousness of moral beatitude with personalities in whom the sexual instinct is sublimated, undeveloped, or crippled, he refuses to idealize the asexual state. In The Brothers Karamazov he attempts to incorporate sexuality into a positive world view. While indicting Fedor Karamazov's "swinish sensuality," he at the same time discovers in the "earthly Karamazovian" force a deep vitality, a "thirst for life," a guarantee of spiritual rebirth.

The ideals of Zosima will presumably triumph in the journey of Aleša, but not at the expense of his humanity in the literal sense of that word.

In the final analysis, duality defines Dostoevskij's attitude towards sexuality. This is apparent in his treatment of the theme in his notebook in 1863. Here he speaks of marriage and sexuality as a manifestation of egoism and as alien to the highest spiritual ideal. "'[For in the resurrection] they neither marry nor seek to possess, but live as divine angels,'" [Ne zenjatsja i ne posjagajut, a zivut, kak angely bozii] (Math. 22: 30). "A profoundly noteworthy characteristic," observes Dostoevskij. And he puts down the following reflections on this theme:

1) They do not get married and do not seek to possess—because there is no reason to; to develop, achieve one's goal by means of changing generations is no longer necessary, and, 2) marriage and seeking to possess women is as it were the greatest deviation from humanism, the complete isolation of the pair from everyone (little remains for everyone). The family that is, the law of nature, but still abnormal, an egotistical state in the full sense, is a condition coming from mankind. The family is the most sacred thing of man on earth, for by means of this law of nature man achieves the goal through development (that is, through the change of generations). But at the same time, also according to the law of nature, in the name of the final ideal of his goal, man must continuously deny it.


Dostoevskij's views, of course, remarkably coincide with Tolstoj's views in The Kreutzer Sonata, views which take on a more frenetic expression, of course, in the monologue of Pozdnyšev. Like Tolstoj, Dostoevskij believes that the whole history of humanity is a striving for a state of universality in which the "I" will merge with "everybody," that is, the "paradise of Christ." In this view, man on earth is only a "transitional, developing" creature; he is striving towards ultimate paradise. "We have no understanding of what kind of creatures we will be." One trait of this future has been "foretold and foreshadowed in Christ—the great and final ideal of the development of all humanity"; this trait is: "They do not get married and do not seek to possess, but love as divine angels."


In the areas of form, authorial intention and narrative timbre The Kreutzer Sonata and Notes from the Underground have something in common. Both works are narrated in the form of a confession (Tolstoj uses the device of two narrators, but it is the second narrator, Pozdnyšev, who dominates). In both works polemics—a hard core of ideological, social and philosophical discussion—are interwoven with personal narrative. Notes from the Underground divides into polemics (Part I) and personal reminiscences (Part II), though the division between polemics and reminiscences is by no means absolute. Tolstoj's Kreutzer Sonata, originally conceived as a personal drama of a man betrayed by his wife, gradually evolved into a work in which polemical issues of broad social content involving marriage, family, and sex occupy equal space with personal history. The division between polemics and personal narration is less defined in The Kreutzer Sonata than in Notes from the Underground. A consistent thread of story, or personal drama, runs from the beginning to the end of the work. Nonetheless, as in Notes from the Underground, the first part of the confession (chapters 1-17) tends to concentrate on polemical issues, while the last part (chapters 18-28) is by and large devoted to the tragic denouement of Pozdnyšev's relations with his wife. In both works, of course, the polemical issues lie at the core of the tragic personal drama.

The psychological motivation for the reminiscences of both the Underground Man and Pozdnyšev is a crime that weighs heavily on their consciences: Pozdnyšev's actual physical murder of his wife, and the Underground Man's spiritual murder of Liza. The Underground Man looks back on the Liza episode after sixteen years of remorse, of suffering with a "crime" on his conscience. The concept of murder as the essence of the Underground Man's crime is underscored by Dostoevskij in the final encounter of the Underground Man with Liza. "I could almost have killed her," he remarks at one point. And after his cruel tirade in which he tramples upon the feelings of trust that he had awakened in her and savagely exposes the motives of his behavior towards her, he remarks: "She turned white as a sheet, wanted to say something, her lips painfully twisted; but she collapsed in a chair as though she had been cut down by an ax."

Murder in The Kreutzer Sonata and Notes from the Underground involves a woman. In both works the theme of a depersonalized sexuality is symptomatic of social and psychological disorder. The confessions of Pozdnyšev and of the Underground Man are outpourings of men who are both conscience-stricken and bent on self-justification. But self-justification leads finally to self-indictment and involves a broad critique of society. "I am a sick man," the Underground Man declares in the opening words of his "notes"; he concludes his confession with the thought that he has "merely carried to an extreme in my life what you have not dared to carry through even half way." "All the features for the antihero have been gathered here deliberately, and, chiefly, all this creates a most unpleasant impression because we are all divorced from life, all crippled, each of us more or less." Pozdnyšev describes himself as a "kind of insane man." "I am a wreck, a cripple. But one thing I have: I know. Yes, it is clear that I know what the rest of the world does not yet know." Like Eugene Irtenev in Tolstoj's The Devil, Pozdnyšev finds the same indications of insanity in the so-called normal bourgeois man and women of his social class. Putting it another way, he notes that the French psychologist Charcot would probably have pronounced his wife a victim of hysteria and would have said that he, Pozdnyšev, was abnormal, "and he probably would have tried to cure us. But there was no disease to cure." (My italics—RLJ). The essence of Pozdnyšev's rationalizations for his crime is that his murder of his wife simply represented an extreme manifestation of a moral and social calamity involving his whole class.

Both the Underground Man and Pozdnyšev at the moment of confession live at the periphery of the society. Both present themselves to their interlocutors as people who have gained a special knowledge of the world that is contrary to what the majority think or want to know. In their suffering and accumulated spite, both are intent on revealing the "bare" disgusting truth about themselves and their contemporaries. Theirs is the anguish and spite of disillusioned romantics, victims in their view of romantic illusions and spurious ideals. The Underground Man sarcastically expatiates on his onetime exaltation with the "beautiful and the sublime." Banality, egotism, vice lie beneath the brilliant exterior. Pozdnyšev tirelessly heaps scorn upon the notions of ideal good, Platonic love, or beauty. "It is a remarkable thing how full of illusion is the notion that beauty is good." He points to the contiguity of beauty and vice. Man—at least upper class man—finds room for Sodom in his idealism. A woman knows that "our kind lies when he talks about lofty feelings—what he wants is only the body." The romantic is deluded. "I was soiled with lewdness, and yet, at the same time, I was looking for a girl whose purity would meet my standards." Love masks vice. "Every man feels for every pretty woman what you call love." Disillusioned in their idealism, both the Underground Man and Pozdnyšev turn on the world with a terrible vengeance.

The confessions of both antiheroes are carried on in "darkness" (the darkness of the "underground" and of the night train). The light they bring to themselves, their partners and to the world is apocalyptic. They destabilize the fundamental ideals and social codes of their society. Their message about man and human relations (in Pozdnyšev's case this message is more class oriented) is one of tragic discord, a contradiction between illusion and reality, ideal and nature. Man as they present him is irrational.

Both men give evidence of the triumph of biological, instinctual man over rational, social man. This disaster is evident first of all in the over-excited, angry, disturbed manner in which the Underground Man and Pozdnyšev discuss their lives and ideas. But it is in their reminiscences of the past that both emerge as incarnations of the uncontrolled irrational. The Underground Man's terrible, tyrannical debauch of emotion in his final encounter with Liza is well known. "And what the hell do I care if you don't understand what I'm talking about? And what the hell do I care what happens to you?" He dissolves in the fury of his tormenting anguish, his self-destructive spite. "I, I can't be good." But like the man with toothache, who delights in his groans and pain, the Underground Man reaches the pitch of delight, despair, and madness in his encounters with Apollon and Liza at the climax of his stay.

The excited, shrill voice of Pozdnyšev, his odd physical behavior, his abrupt, sometimes almost hysterical utterances, recall the Underground Man. His behavior in the final hours and days preceding his crime seems wholly out of the "underground." Deliberately spiteful, full of mingled self-pity and hatred, he encourages the meeting between his wife and Truxacevskij. (There are echoes here from Dostoevskij's Eternal Husband.) "But, strange as it may seem, some strange, fateful force induced me not to repel him, to keep him at a distance, but, on the contrary, to bring him closer." "I smiled pleasantly [at my wife] pretending that I was very pleased." After the concert, Pozdnyšev is filled with an unnatural "genuine pleasure." In spite of his suffering and wild jealousy, some "strange feeling" compelled him to be "all the more affectionate, the more his presence was tormenting [to me]." But behind all the courteousness is a burning hatred and malice. "And the chief feeling, as always in all spite, was self-pity." "I must do something to make her suffer," Pozdnyšev recalls himself as thinking, "so that she may appreciate that I have suffered."

As his rage bursts out into the open, Pozdnyšev rouses himself to ever greater frenzy:

For the first time I wanted to express this rage physically. I leaped up and moved towards her, but at that instant I became conscious of my anger, and asked myself, 'Is it a good thing to give way to this feeling?' and immediately answered, that it was a good thing, that it would frighten her, and immediately, instead of withholding my rage, I began to fan it in myself and to rejoice because it grew more and more intense. "Get the hell out, or I will kill you !" I shouted, approaching her and seizing her by the hand. I consciously intensified the tones of malice in my voice as I spoke these words. And, probably, I must have been terrifying . . . "Go!" I roared even more loudly. "Only you can drive me to madness. I won't be responsible for what I may do!" Having thus given rein to my madness, I delighted in it, and I wanted to do something unusual, to show the full extent of my madness. I terribly wanted to beat and kill her, but 1 knew that it was out of the question.

On arriving home the evening of the murder Pozdnyšev is overcome by "the same need to beat, destroy, that I felt at that time." The expressions on the face of his wife and Truxacevskij arouses in him a sense of "agonizing joy." In this final encounter, Pozdnyšev "felt this need for destruction, violence and the ecstasy of madness, and yielded to it." "I felt that I was completely mad and must be terrible, and rejoiced in this." "Madness also has its own laws," remarks Pozdnyšev as he recalls the fatal momentum of his emotions. Thus, too, the Underground Man in his profound egoism of suffering vents his rage upon Liza. And this rage and madness ends, as in the case of Pozdnyšev, with a form of murder.


The state of being free from moral relations with women with whom one enters into physical relations defines, at root, not only Pozdnyšev's relations with his causal female acquaintances in his pre-marital days, but also, in his view, his sexual relations with his wife—a woman whom he claimed to know "only as an animal." The ultimate freedom from moral relations is murder; murder, in the case of Pozdnyšev, is the direct outcome of a relationship based on "swinishness," that is, "crime." The "mutual hatred" that Pozdnyšev and his wife had for one another was that of "accomplices in a crime."

Pozdnyšev's murder of his wife was a crime of passion in more than one sense of the word. The murder is not simply the result of jealousy; it is the displaced fulfillment of the frustrated sexual impulse. "In court I was asked: why, how did I kill my wife? Fools! They think that I killed her with a dagger on the 5th of October. I didn't kill her then, but much earlier. In exactly the same way that men are all killing their wives now, all all." "But how? (da cem ze?)" asks the narrator. Pozdnyšev answers by pointing to the crime of his sexual relations with his wife during her pregnancies. But the allusion to the phallic organ as a kind of murder weapon is unmistakable; it underscores the central notion of Pozdnyšev that sexual intercourse, by the very nature of the animal instincts it arouses, is incompatible with authentic moral relations or spiritual communion.

The concept of the sexual act as a form of murder, or, the other way around, of the dagger thrust as a surrogate sexual act, lies at the core of the crime of Pozdnyšev. The playing of the first presto movement of Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata," or, more specifically, the playing of some unnamed "passionate" and "obscenely sensual" piece of music, serves first of all, in Pozdnyšev's view, to break down the moral "barrier" between his wife and her musical partner, Truxacevskij. But what is less apparent, but equally important, is that the same music which broke down this barrier and opened the way (at least in Pozdnyšev's conjecture) for a "swinish" adulterous embrace ("was it not clear that everything was accomplished that evening?") also had a "fearful impact" on Pozdnyšev. This music aroused in him "quite new feelings, so it seemed to me, new possibilities of which I had been hitherto unaware," a strange sense of "joy" in which he saw everything "in quite a different light." Now the motif of "joy" in The Kreutzer Sonata is apocalyptic in its content; the word itself is linked persistently with Pozdnyšev's feelings of underground spite, his exultation in his "mad" and murderous feelings, his uncontrolled outbursts of "animal" rage and violence against his wife; and these feelings have their source in his animal jealousy, his frustrated sexual impulses, his "swinishness."

Music, "the most subtle lust of the senses," is the precipitant in a drama that will end with adultery and murder; it breaks down the moral and aesthetic barriers to the adulterous embrace and the murderous dagger thrust—two actions which in Tolstoj's presentation are, psychologically, related.

The Underground Man's madness, as we have noted, in fact ends with an act of psychological and spiritual violence—symbolic murder: he fells Liza, as though with an ax, by his cynical confession. The sequel to this blow—if we disregard the ideologically important but emotionally transient moment of spiritual communication with Liza—is the loveless act of sex. The handing of money—the formal cash nexus defining relations between buyer and seller—is but the Underground Man's final signature to a relationship that for him was almost totally lacking in moral-spiritual foundations. In the case of Pozdnyšev the order of murder and sex is reversed. Animal sex—identified by Pozdnyšev with market relations and with the master-slave relationship—always in his view characterized his relationship with his wife. The real physical murder which brings to a close his tragic bedroom history is a surrogate for the frustrated sexual act—an act which Pozdnyšev perceives, in retrospect at least, as depravity, crime, murder.


"Both the author of the notes and the 'Notes' themselves, are, of course, fictitious," Dostoevskij wrote in his preface to Notes from the Underground. "Nevertheless, such persons as the author of these memoirs not only may, but even must exist in our society if we take into consideration the circumstances that led in general to the formation of our society. I wanted to bring before our public, more prominently than is usually the case, one of the characters of our recent past. This is the representative of a generation that is still with us." Tolstoj might have prefaced his Kreutzer Sonata with the same words. His "Afterword," however, essentially makes the same point. In the character of Pozdnyšev, in many respects as extreme in his outlook and behavior as the Underground Man, Tolstoj sought to present a number of complex and interrelated social, psychological, and cultural phenomena of his class. The polemical focus of The Kreutzer Sonata,—sex, marriage, the family—to be sure is removed from the main polemical focus of Notes from the Underground—the problems of suffering, freedom, and reason themselves. Yet The Kreutzer Sonata recalls Notes from the Underground in its structure, its special use of the confessional form and its use of the irrational hero simultaneously to expose and exemplify what in the author's view is a social calamity. Though the problem content of Pozdnyšev has deep roots in Tolstoj's life and art, the frenzied psychology and behavior of this character (though not unprecedented in Tolstoj) seems to owe something to the "underground" of Notes from the Underground, The Eternal Husband, as well as The Meek One.

Bettina L. Knapp (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata: Archetypal Music as a Demonic Force," in her Music, Archetype, and the Writer: A Jungian View, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988, pp. 58-74.

[In the following essay, Knapp details the archetypal influence of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata on Tolstoy's novella, especially as it manifests in the narrative's structure and themes and correlates with both Tolstoy's psychological condition and that of his fictional protagonist.]

Leo Tolstoy drew the title of his short novel The Kreutzer Sonata (1891) from Beethoven's violin sonata (opus 47), an archetypal musical composition that was instrumental, according to the Russian novelist, in bringing out the animal in man. It affected Tolstoy's protagonist subliminally, exciting him to such an extent that he became victimized by a series of inner upheavals of volcanic force, which annihilated in him any semblance of rational behavior, balance, or logic. As Tolstoy's protagonist states:

Music instantaneously transports me into that mental condition in which he who composed it found himself. I blend my soul with his, and together with him am transported from one mood to another; but why this is so I cannot tell. For instance, he who composed the Kreutzer sonata—Beethoven—he knew why he was in that mood. That mood impelled him to do certain things, and therefore that mood meant something for him, but it means nothing for me. And that is why music excites and does not bring to any conclusion.

Archetypal music in Tolstoy's narrative creates havoc; it unleashes repressed instincts and opens the floodgates to the irrational. Music, therefore, is demonic.

To understand more fully Tolstoy's strange approach to music in The Kreutzer Sonata requires some background information concerning the writer's activities and psychological condition. After putting the final touches to Anna Karenina (1877), Tolstoy underwent a traumatic moral and spiritual experience which almost brought him to suicide. Although he seemingly led a happy, healthy, and successful life—he was adulated by his readers for War and Peace (1869) and admired for his autobiographical trilogy, Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854), and Youth (1857), and for The Cossacks (1863) and many short stories—something was gnawing at him. His marriage in 1862 to Sophia Andreyevna Bers, a well-educated woman half his age who bore him thirteen children, was marred by his infidelities, his views on wifely obligations, and his own paradoxical obsessions with chastity.

Tolstoy rejected carnal love, basing his ideas on Saint Matthew's dicta, which he quoted in The Kreutzer Sonata: "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (5:8). In this view, the goal of marriage is to procreate, not to enjoy the fruits of sensual pleasures. Marriage is a sacred bond. The highest earthly state for a human being is chastity.

His disciples say unto him, if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. (19:10-11)

Existence for Tolstoy at this critical stage of his life seemed devoid of interest, goalless and senseless. What was his life in terms of the infinite? God? Eternity? Tolstoy eventually concluded that religion was the only answer to his search—but not organized religion, as practiced in the Russian Orthodox Church, which he considered dogmatic and hypocritical and not in keeping with the teachings of Christ, and from which he was excommunicated in 1901. Tolstoy contended that human beings were endowed with higher and lower natures and that it is the mind which enables one to choose between good and evil. To follow Christ's message, one must practice good and live out the dictates of the Gospels (especially the Sermon on the Mount). Only by a pragmatic application of Christ's counsel would our earthly condition be improved and joy experienced. Asceticism and the banishing of sensual pleasures were Tolstoy's way.

Psychologically, one may say that Tolstoy was puritanical. It has been suggested that he suffered deep guilt feelings—the aftermath of a sexually active youth which continued after his marriage and included relationships with household servants and even fathering a child to one of them. These "excesses" preyed on his mind. He sought to be "clean" and "pure." His puritanical ideals were evidently at odds with his physical nature. In his writings—Confession (1879), A Short Exposition of the Gospels (1881), What I Believe In (1882), What Then Must We Do (1886), The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (1908), and The Kreutzer Sonata—he attempted to probe his inner world through some of his protagonists. His intention was to discover and examine the motivations of certain acts and relationships. Questioning the power of evil, Tolstoy concluded that one must not resist it. One must obey Christ's commandments: not to grow angry, not to lust, not to bind oneself to oaths or to rebuff a person who is evil ("Resist not him that is evil"), Tolstoy rejected all government and religious institutions based on violence and force. Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose works he had read, he admired the simple peasant, the tiller of the land, the woodcutter—those who understood the real meaning of life. Their exploitation by others caused the poor excoriating suffering; private property encouraged economic disparity. Such evils had to be eradicated. Tolstoy's decision to give his wealth to the needy aroused a bitter marital feud and a permanent break in relations with his wife. His children, save Alexandra, sided with their mother. She and her father, eighty-three years of age at the time, left home. While waiting at the railroad stationmaster's house, he caught a chill and died.

Tolstoy had always been deeply moved by music and seemed to enjoy it as much as he did his early hunting, gymnastics, and women. Throughout his student years at the University of Kazan, in the army when stationed in the Caucasus, during the Crimean War, at the siege of Sevastopol, and throughout his later years, music was one of his deep loves. In "Sevastopol in May," a reportage in which he conveys his antimilitarism, Tolstoy structures various incidents, events, and scenes in sonata form with specific themes, variations, repetitions, restatements, and a coda at the finale.

In 1857, while in Europe, he composed a short story, "Albert." Although didactic and moralistic, it focused on something dear to Tolstoy: the fate of a violinist. His protagonist, a sensitive and talented violinist, was given to drink and desperately needed help from others. No one offered it to him because no one understood him. Society was uninterested in the fate of the artist. The feelings and ideals Tolstoy expressed in "Albert" were unquestionably noble, but his characters lacked depth and, worse still, he neglected to underscore the violinist's greatness. He did not encourage his readers to experience the instrumentalist's music, thereby precluding their taking his virtuosity seriously.

In Tolstoy's tale "Lucerne" (1857), we are introduced to another musician—a Tyrolean singer—whose story is based on a real incident. Tolstoy, who happened to be at a Swiss tourist center, noted the following in his diary (July 7, 1857):

Walked to privathaus. On the way back at night—cloudy, with the moon breaking through—heard several marvellous voices. Two bell towers on a wide street. Little man with guitar singing Tyrolean songs—superb. Gave him something and invited him to sing opposite the Schweizerhof. He got nothing and walked away ashamed, the crowd laughing as he went. . . . Caught him up and invited him to the Schweizerhof for a drink. They put us in a separate room. Singer vulgar but pathetic. We drank. The waiter laughed and the doorkeeper sat down. This infuriated me—swore at them and got terribly worked up.

Another moral situation provoked Tolstoy to take pen in hand, but again he neglected to explore the effects of song upon him. Interested more in the tale's story line, he conveyed his annoyance with the wealthy English guests at a Swiss mountain resort who listened to and enjoyed the songs of a most charming Tyrolean singer. They admired his talent and spontaneity, but when, at the finale of the concert, he held out his cap for remuneration, not one gave a farthing. As the singer leaves the hotel, the narrator invites him to return and sip champagne with him. During the course of their conversation, the narrator points out the economic and social injustices to the singer but fails to arouse his anger; instead, he discovers the essential goodness of this country person who accepts life as it is, maintaining his jolly, buoyant, and wholesome outlook.

The Kreutzer Sonata

Tolstoy, who had based his plot on what an actor friend, Andreev-Burlak, had told him about the infidelities of a friend's wife, entitled it at first "Sexual Love." The following year, 1888, when Tolstoy saw Andreev-Burlak and the painter I. E. Repin at a party where Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata was performed, the latter suggested that he write about the effects music had upon him and include these in his tale. The Russian novelist agreed, on the condition that Andreev-Burlak would read it in public and that Repin would paint a canvas based on the story. Tolstoy alone completed his part of the agreement.

Beethoven's opus 47, written for piano and violin (in 1802; published in 1805), and the best-known of his ten sonatas, was dedicated to Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831), a French composer and violinist and professor at the Paris Conservatory. His forty études for violin, unequalled in their genre, must have impressed Beethoven, who wrote in a letter dated October 4, 1804, that he had heard the French violinist perform some of his works.

Tolstoy sought to convey Beethoven's infinite variety of moods, ranging from deep sorrow to rapturous exaltation, in The Kreutzer Sonata. It may be suggested that he used the composer's archetypal music to articulate his own emotions, dividing his tale into three parts as Beethoven had divided his violin sonata into three movements: Adagio sostenuto Presto, Adante con variazoni, Finale (Presto).

Adagio sostenuto Presto

Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata is told by a narrator in the first person, but his function is minimal. He is there only as a sounding board, so that the protagonist, Pozdnyshev, can air his feelings and relate the events that preoccupy him.

The action takes place on a train. Its constant rolling and the physical closeness of those seated in a compartment encourage communication between them. A lawyer, a married woman, and an older man discuss their ideas concerning marriage and love. In addition, another person makes his presence known every now and then by a tic: "strange noises like a cough or like a laugh begun and broken off." This involuntary spasmodic reaction, usually of neurotic origin, interests the reader because it so often hides inner conflicts. While the conversation of the others in the compartment is light and lively, the narrator focuses on the man with the tic, who looks "oppressed by his loneliness." There is something arresting about him and his "extraordinarily brilliant eyes which kept roving from object to object." At times they grow flamelike, as if he were attempting in some way to restrain himself.

Only with the beginning of chapter 3 does the adagio sostenuto take on rapidity, leading up to the presto—the highly emotional and suspenseful content of the interlude. As the travelers leave the compartment or go to sleep, Pozdnyshev, the man with the tic, comforted by the constant rolling of the train and the closed and protective universe in which he finds himself, begins to withdraw into a past—his inner world. Barriers are shed; Pozdnyshev's psychic energy is mobilized and increases in activity until it reaches presto force.

Pozdnyshev tells the narrator that until he got married he lived like a member of the landed aristocracy. A university graduate who enjoyed his dissipated and immoral life, he decided never to get really entangled. The sight of "woman in her nakedness" at the age of sixteen tormented him for days and weeks thereafter. He felt as if he had been corrupted and polluted; he also realized that until now he had never known the difference between right and wrong; he had never had to choose, nor had he ever been emotionally troubled. To pursue a life of debauchery could, so the "Priests of Science" had declared, bring on illness. More significant was that he felt like weeping for the loss of his innocence; like a drug addict or alcoholic, he knew that the purity he had once known would never return, and he was "overwhelmed with horror." Although "soiled with the rottenness of lewdness," he was very fortunate to find a pure girl, Lily, to whom he became engaged. When he showed her his diary so that she could learn more about him, her reaction was one of despair and disillusionment. They nevertheless married. He realized that this beautiful fantasy figure would have to change if she were to fulfill her function as wife and future mother. Marriage, he had to admit, is not based exclusively on poetry, love, or morality, but on "proximity," the body—that is, low-cut gowns, hair styles, perfumes, and a woman's wiles. The anima in Pozdnyshev was aroused at the sight of Lily's beautiful body.

Pozdnyshev sees the world and himself in terms of extremes: chastity is equated with good; sensuality, with evil. What he does not seem to take into consideration is that good and evil are opposite poles of a moral judgment. To attempt an imitatio Christi and try to become all good (all light, all spirit) is to reject the notion of evil and those factors of the human condition which are identified with it.

A split results and tyrannizes Pozdnyshev: the concretization of absolute good and light at odds with Satan or the Antichrist, standing for evil, dark, material, and carnal forces. He was neither alone in his torment nor was it merely symptomatic of a contemporary malaise. The divestiture of the Godhead's dark side in Christianity paved the way for a similar split in humankind's unconscious, since it projected onto Divinity. A dualistic formula is expressed in 2 Thessalonians: God's earthly or eschatological manifestation in Christ, and Satan's in the Antichrist. The conflict between these two opposing forces became inevitable. In Romans we read: "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (16:20). To resist the Devil is proof of the strength of one's Christian faith (1 Peter 5:9), and of one's intelligence and understanding of Satan's ways: "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Corinthians 2:11). Saint Paul, a firm believer in ascetic practices, was convinced of the positive effects of discipline; it would help an individual evolve and, accordingly, rid him of his demonization: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18).

To long to be like Christ, however—which is Pozdnyshev's goal—is not only to experience only half of one's nature and to relegate one's earthbound condition to infernal regions; it is also a paradigm of hubris. For the Greeks, hubris was one of the most serious of crimes, if not punishable by death, then by some form of chastisement. The imbalance in Pozdnyshev's attitude has created a dangerous split within his psyche.

Flesh is satanic; it is the "adversary" (the Hebrew meaning of Satan); it spreads chaos, doubt, and confusion. Satan's intrusion into Pozdnyshev's world has threatened his well-being—the rational order of things.

To label the animal in man as satanic or evil indicates psychologically, a fear of the irrational or instinctual domain—that whole unpredictable area within humankind and the universe. To attempt to cut away a person's sexuality is to eliminate his passionate nature, which is basic to him, and simply repress and imprison these instinctual forces in the unconscious. The natural response to imprisonment is rage. Blocked within the psyche, these negative powers become stronger and stronger. Every now and then they break out, uncontrollably and viciously.

Pozdnyshev suffers, he tells the narrator, because he feels women dominate the world in general, and his in particular. It is the woman who decides whether she wants her man or whether he must be kept at a distance. This is due, Pozdnyshev reasons, to the fact that women do not enjoy equal rights with men, and so they seek revenge; and they succeed because they know how to work on what is most vulnerable within man: his passions. They ensnare him in their nets. When a man falls under the influence of a woman's "deviltry," he "grows foolish." Here Pozdnyshev reminisces about his ancestor Adam and blames Eve for his weakness. Pozdnyshev, like countless others, was unable to assume responsibility for his acts. Rather than attempt to view Adam's acquiescence objectively, as an example of his own blindness and misguided ideas, Pozdnyshev looks for a scapegoat upon whom he can pile everything he finds objectionable. Nor does Pozdnyshev ever look upon woman as an individual, evolving being; rather he sees her in a self-serving manner—as an object to be repulsed because of her carnality and as a spreader of venality.

As Pozdnyshev describes the days and months following his marriage, his hostility toward his situation and his wife grows more and more overt. It accelerates, taking on presto force, as if he were overwhelmed by an unconscious rage. He regrets having married. His honeymoon was a disaster. Lily was totally unprepared for it all, and, he complains, when he put his arms around her, she burst into tears. Certainly, he must have forgotten the fact that a few days earlier he had given her his diary to read, shocking her to her very foundations. After soothing her, he realized that a "wall of cold venomous hostility" existed within, which was assuaged only when they made love. Thereafter their married life consisted, as do the introductory movements in Beethoven's sonata, in statements and restatements, in quarrels and reconciliations, which came about only after each had experienced complete sexual satisfaction. Nevertheless, beneath this veneer of passionate love, there was hatred between them. It was an "abomination."

Andante con variazoni

Chapters 13 to 19 restate similar situations in andante or moderato movement—a pace that flows along easily, steadily, with variations on the same theme.

Pozdnyshev gives examples from their conjugal life which rouse his repugnance for what people call love. "Love is something swinish," "shameful and disgusting," he remarks. Nevertheless, he fathered five children, after which the doctors told his wife that another pregnancy would endanger her life. The worst of sins was committed at this point: these men of science taught her how to avoid conception. Women, then, and specifically his wife, would no longer be fulfilling their function. Pozdnyshev grew angry as well as jealous. For her not to be pregnant meant that she would have more time to herself and, worse, that she could devote her time to making herself more beautiful. The more his diatribes took on passion, the more irrational was his reasoning. "You see I am a kind of insane man."

Pozdnyshev's jealousy of his wife grew out of proportion. That she would be able to enjoy the sexual act without being burdened with pregnancies and have time to herself without the constant presence of the children "poisoned" their life together. They were transformed, he added, into "two convicts, fastened to one chain and hating each other, each poisoning the life of the other and striving not to recognize the fact." Only then did he realize, he says, that 99 percent of couples live as if in a vise.

Why had Pozdnyshev's psychosis so increased in dimension? His constant rejection and condemnation of his earthly side made him long for its opposite: an ethereal, spiritual relationship rather than a sexual attraction between himself and his wife. Ideals, however, are incompatible with life and are virtually made to crumble, bringing into play the opposite extreme, which plunges the idealist into the most turbid of mires. Since Pozdnyshev had cut himself off so drastically from his own nature and from life in general, every time he performed the sexual act he was revulsed by his own carnality and by the pleasure which he forever equated with evil.

If, psychologically speaking, instincts are properly understood and accepted as part of the life process, they may act in concert with other factors within a personality and become positive forces. When unattended—or rejected—they crave for what is rightly theirs and thereby may become virulent and destructive. That Pozdnyshev associates his wife with evil—as he does women in general—is an age-old attitude. Woman has from time immemorial been marked with infernal, dark, chthonic, devouring, hostile, and terrifying characteristics. Such beings and supernatural forces as Medea, Gorgon, Hecate, Cybele, and Eve, as vagina dentata types, are described throughout history and in religions as destroyers of man, castrators, "deadly mothers," impure creatures, and instigators of orgies. Symbolically, they have been associated with nature and the material world. Imagistically, their bodies are identified with earth, vessel, and cave, putting them in opposition to the spiritual values inherent in the male. Accordingly, they are considered inferior and damned, representatives of flesh and instinct. Eve is blamed for having seduced Adam and for the Fall. Is it any wonder that Pozdnyshev should share the universal contempt for women?

To vary the tempi and beats of their andante life together, with all of its variations on but a single theme—that of sexuality—Pozdnyshev decided that it might be best to move to the city. His wife's health would improve, he reasoned, and indeed it did. She not only grew more and more beautiful but also became increasingly conscious of her attractiveness. She took time out to care for herself, to see that she wore the right clothes and her hair in the right style. Her beauty became "fascinating and disturbing to men," Pozdnyshev remarked. At parties, he was convinced that all the men looked at her with longing. "She was like a well-fed and bridled horse which had not been driven for some time and from which the bridle was taken off. There was no longer any restraint. . . ." A melodic and rhythmic interchange seemed to take place between the two: as his frenzy increased, so she seemed to awaken to the world outside of her home and outside of her role as childbearer and mother. She started to live "for the sake of love." Pozdnyshev's speech grew to tempi and diapason as his fantasy world became more and more dynamic, acting, as it were, of its own accord, creating image upon image, freely and actively replicating his own inner phobias.

Pozdnyshev was convinced at this point that his wife was bored with him because she wanted to improve herself. Before her marriage, she had been a fine pianist, and she was now determined to pursue this art form. "That was the beginning of the end," he stated categorically. Just as sexuality undermined his spiritual longings, and so represented a threat to him, so music would also be experienced as a negative entity and as an evil force to be extirpated. Woman is a kind of Hexe who arouses him sexually; music is likewise demonic, penetrating as it does both his conscious and unconscious spheres. Like a seductress, it is tantalizing and therefore dangerous.

The more Pozdnyshev focuses on his wife's beauty, the more aroused he becomes. His hysterical symptoms, which are representations of unconscious events, cannot be discharged or expressed, because the contents of his fantasies are incompatible with his conscious outlook. Interiorized energy, diverted into the wrong channels, activates Pozdnyshev's fantasies, which then accrete in potency. Jung writes in this regard: "the patient constructs in his imagination little stories that are very coherent and very logical, but when he has to deal with reality, he is no longer capable of attention or comprehension." Pozdnyshev's fantasies, ideas, notions, and sensations revolve around sexuality for the most part; he relates everything in the outer world to the fulfillment of an inner obsession or compulsion. There is no enlightenment or evolution in his monologue. It follows the same theme and variations: those of a man who projects his shadow. As defined by Jung, the shadow is an unconscious aspect of the psyche which contains what the ego may consider to be inferior or negative characteristics and which it will not recognize as its own. The consequences of Pozdnyshev's inability to come to terms with his shadow, and the hysteria which results, may be dangerous.

Soon Pozdnyshev mentions a musician friend of his wife—a violinist. Interestingly enough, he cannot recall this man's first name right away, blocking out the very memory of an evil force. In time we learn that the violinist, a society man of sorts, was a professional or semi-professional musician. Pozdnyshev's intense jealousy of the man he believes to have been his wife's lover peppers each of his statements. "He had almond-shaped humid eyes, handsome, smiling lips, little waxed mustaches, the latest and most fashionable method of dressing his hair, an insipidly handsome face, such as women call 'not bad,' a slender build, though not ill-shaped, and with a largely developed behind such as they say characterize Hottentot women. This it is said is musical." Although underscoring the violinist's fine points, he makes certain he belittles this rival as well, lumping together both the man and his art as a destructive and evil factor in society.

"Well, this man with his music was the cause of all the trouble," Pozdnyshev said, making him the scapegoat and heaping upon him all the evils of sex and marriage. The violinist was to blame for Pozdnyshev's increasing misunderstandings with his wife. Psychologically speaking, Pozdnyshev was projecting his shadow—thereby casting out of himself onto others all those "despicable" characteristics which, in reality, existed within him. Everything Pozdnyshev associated with evil—the violinist and his art—was lumped together and condemned. Let us recall that in the olden days the collective shadow (the evils of the community) was heaped onto a goat by a priest; the animal was then sent out into the wilderness, and the clan, considered purged of its sins, did not have to face the pain of truth and the effort of resolving tensions and problems. By merely rejecting an unpleasant situation or person, one escapes a conflict that could have salutary effects.

By being projected, Pozdnyshev's shadow remains unconscious, so that he experiences it affectively and with virtually no discernment. Since the tension of opposites is nonexistent, he is now engulfed or possessed by his shadow. Having lost whatever capacity he had to differentiate, he can no longer be responsible for his actions. He lives in the darkened realm of his own manufacture, dominated by an ego alienated from reality.

The days, weeks, months pursue their course—as do the variations on the themes of sexuality, hostility, and jealousy. Every time he sees his wife at the piano accompanying the violinist, all blackens before him. He resents the pleasure she takes in her musical renditions and is convinced that the man with whom she makes this music is a lecher. Something is certainly going on between them, he muses, for when they play together it is "like an electrical shock, calling forth something like a uniformity in the expression of their eyes and their smiles."

When Pozdnyshev narrates what he believes to be the evolution of the relationship between the violinist and his wife, he does so in musical terms, viewing archetypal music as a go-between or bridge that encourages an illicit affair between the two.

In the evening he came with his fiddle, and they played together. But for a long time the music did not go very well; we had not the pieces that he wanted, and those he had my wife could not play without preparation. I was very fond of music and sympathized with their playing, arranging the music-stand for him and turning over the leaves. They managed to play something—a few songs without words and a sonata by Mozart. He played excellently, and he had to the highest degree what is called "temperament"—moreover, a delicate, noble art, entirely out of keeping with his character.

Pozdnyshev tried to remain calm that evening, pretending to be interested in music, and even encouraging his wife to play on. Inside, however, he was "tortured by jealousy." His fantasies see only "the wild beast existing in them both."

The violinist and his wife continued their musicales, their talents for art linking them powerfully together. On one occasion, after an evening of music, a strange feeling took hold of Pozdnyshev: an urge to kill the violinist on the spot. Exercising control, he makes certain he has successfully buried his urge by inviting him to stay for dinner and treating him to the finest of wines.

Instruments, tones, melodies, and rhythms are all enemies for Pozdnyshev. The performers of music (Pozdnyshev's wife and the violinist) are involved in rites and liturgies which arouse the wrath of a husband dominated by an obsession.

Two people occupy themselves with the noblest of arts—music; in order to accomplish this a certain proximity is required, and this proximity has nothing reprehensible in it, and only a stupid, jealous husband could find anything undesirable in it. But meantime, all know that precisely by means of these very occupations, especially by music, the largest part of the adultery committed in the ranks of our society is committed.

They were days when their "proximity" caused Pozdnyshev such torment that he could barely converse with his wife. One time, virtually beside himself, he threatened to kill her and began hurling objects at her. She left the room, fully aware that he was no longer "responsible for his madness." Later that evening the usual "sexual" reconciliation took place, and again Pozdnyshev concealed his anger.


No longer working with developing themes and the difficulties involved in probing, combining, and knitting them together, Tolstoy launches into the crisis, which now takes on presto force. Emotions break loose, relationships change, human nature emerges in all of its rawness. Beethovian dynamism is released in this Tolstoyan drama—leading to its fulminating conclusion.

Pozdnyshev agrees that a musicale be given at their home. Although he feels ill at ease throughout the dinner, he watches every movement of his wife and the violinist, "their motions and glances," in an attempt to ferret out the least sign that will corroborate his obsessive jealousy. Pozdnyshev recalls every detail of the evening: how the violinist "brought his fiddle, opened the box, took off the covering which had been embroidered for him by some lady, took out the instrument and began to tune it." As for his wife, she acts relaxed and indifferent as she sits down at the grand piano and strikes the "usual a which was followed by the pizzicato of the fiddle and the getting into tune." After looking at each other and glancing at the audience, they start to play: "His face grew grave, stern, and sympathetic, and as he bent his head to listen to the sounds he produced, he placed his fingers cautiously on the strings. The piano replied."

An entente certainly exists between them, Pozdnyshev thinks, as he looks at them both with hatred. The violinist, in his eyes, is the living incarnation of the Devil and the instrument of perdition. He works in opposition to God and to Light, Pozdnyshev maintains. He is the Great Tempter, the Adversary, the one who prepares humankind for the Fall. He may also be regarded as a projection of Pozdnyshev's disintegrating mental condition.

It is on this particular night that Pozdnyshev's wife and the violinist play Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata. "Do you know the first presto—You know it?" he asks the narrator.

U!U!U! . . . That sonata is a terrible thing. And especially that movement. And music in general is a terrible thing. I cannot comprehend it. What is music? What does it do? And why does it have the effect it has? They say music has the effect of elevating the soul—rubbish! falsehood! It has its effect, it has a terrible effect,—I am speaking about its effect on me,—but not at all by elevating the soul. Its effect is neither to elevate nor to degrade, but to excite.

The archetypal music he hears unleashes Pozdnyshev's emotions, working on his nerves, grating and grinding them so that the pain he feels becomes unbearable. The inner tensions arouse the nuclear dynamism of his psyche. For a psychopath such as Pozdnyshev, Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata triggers an explosion of the ego complex, thus putting an end to relatively smooth-running conscious personality. His acts, henceforth, will be predictable. As he is carried away by the flow of libido implicit in Beethoven's music, it is as if he is being pulled by the undertow of an inner ocean.

Music makes me forget myself, my actual position; it transports me into another state not my natural one; under the influence of music it seems to me that I feel what I don't really really feel, that I understand what I do not really understand, that I can do what I can't do. I explain this by the fact that music acts like gaping or laughing; I am not sleepy but I gape, looking at anyone else who is gaping; I have nothing to laugh at but I laugh when I hear others laugh.

Music holds the power of a drug for Pozdnyshev; it is a spirit, as is alcohol. Let us recall that when Noah began taking care of the vine he became a "man of the ground" and was no longer the "pious one." His elixir caused a disorientation of the senses: "And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent" (Gen. 9:21). So, too, was Pozdnyshev uncovered by music; the melody, pitch, timbre, and rhythms encouraged him to disclose his fantasies, which emerged into life, taking on power in the empirical world. But just as wine is identified with drunkenness and ecstasy, and with the orgies and instincts of Dionysian rituals, so is it part of the Christian ceremony with its sacramental offerings (John 15:1-5).

The archetypal music emanating from the violin and piano transport Pozdnyshev into another domain, where, shedding all restraint and losing his identity, he claims that Beethoven had experienced a similar emotional condition when composing his Kreutzer Sonata. Pozdnyshev, then, is neither earthbound nor celestially oriented. He is in limbo. Confused and faceless, he is a pawn for any musical power that may entice him.

Now they play a military march; the soldiers move forward under its strains, and the music accomplishes something; they play dance music and I dance, and the music accomplishes something; they perform a mass, I take the sacrament, again the music accomplishes its purpose. But in other cases there is only excitement, and it is impossible to tell what to do in this state of mind. And that is why music is so terrible, why it sometimes has such an awful effect.

Music "hypnotizes," he concedes. Like Mesmer's "animal fluid" that influences celestial bodies as well as earth beings, archetypal music is a force capable of communicating impressions and energizing the psyche. So powerful a force was Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata that it took precedence over all else, and in the process it obliterated logos. Identifying archetypal music with the Devil, Pozdnyshev sees it as a metaphor for lovemaking, with its ultimate culmination in the orgasm.

How could anyone play the Kreutzer Sonata—this first presto—he questions, in a drawing room before ladies dressed in décolltés?

To play that presto and then to applaud it, and then to eat ices and talk over the last bit of scandal? These things should be played only in certain grave, significant conditions, and only then when certain deeds corresponding to such music are to be accomplished: first play the music and perform that which this music was composed for. But to call forth an energy which is not consonant with the place or the time, and an impulse which does not manifest itself in anything, cannot fail to have a baneful effect. On me, at least, it had a horrible effect. It seemed to me that entirely new impulses, new possibilities, were revealed to me in myself, such as I had never dreamed of before.

Pozdnyshev was terrified by what he felt: something so unusual, so traumatic, that it seemed to "be whispered into my soul." He did not know what was happening to him. "This new state of mind" did feel delightful. Everything seemed to be altered now that music had penetrated his being. "After the allegro they played the beautiful but rather commonplace and far from original andante, with the cheap variations and the weak finale." A strange happiness flooded Pozdnyshev that evening—a feeling he attributed to the altered state of consciousness he had experienced listening to Beethoven's work.

Two days later, when Pozdnyshev had to go away on business, he was assured by his wife that she would not see the violinist during his absence. When she wrote to him and told him that the violinist had come to return some music, the "fatal step" had been taken. Pozdnyshev's fantasies about her love affair with the violinist gained full sway over his rationality. He returned to Moscow. During his long train ride home, visions of his wife kissing her lover and his own suffering were so intense that there were times when he wanted to throw himself on the tracks. "The one thing that prevented me from doing so was my self-pity which was the immediate source of my hatred for her." When Pozdnyshev arrived home in the morning, his anxiety had reached unparalleled proportions. The children were still asleep when he entered his house. He heard noises in the dining room, and when he pushed the door open, his wife and the violinist wore an expression of "despairing horror," which then turned into one of "annoyance," as if he were interrupting their pleasure. Just as love has its sensual side, so rage has its inner pulsion toward violence.

I threw myself on her, still concealing the dagger in order that he might prevent me from striking her in the side under the breast. I had chosen the spot at the very beginning. The instant I threw myself on her he saw my design, and with an action which I never expected from him, he seized me by the arm.

To touch her even in this manner was repulsive to Pozdnyshev; it "still further inflamed" his anger, and he "exulted in it." Withdrawing his arm, he strikes his wife in the face with his elbow as hard as he can. At the height of this paroxysmal moment, she confesses her innocence. Pozdnyshev, in his madness, concludes just the opposite, convinced more than ever that his worst fears has been realized. The crescendo has reached its climax. "Madness also has its laws," Pozdnyshev remarks.

Rage overwhelms him. He seizes his wife by the throat and strangles her. The violinist turns white, and without uttering a word, "slipped under the piano and darted out the door." As Pozdnyshev's wife attempts to tear herself free, he "struck her with the dagger into the side under the ribs." That he recalled every detail of his act is not unusual for a psychotic.

Before his wife dies, Pozdnyshev begs her to forgive him. But she is by this time delirious, and her hatred seems to cascade forth. Pozdnyshev is taken to prison, where he spends eleven months awaiting trial. Only when he sees his wife's coffin does he realize the extent of his crime: "the terrible consciousness that I was killing and had killed a woman—a defenseless woman—my wife." He even remembers that right after plunging the dagger into her "I immediately withdrew it, with the desire to remedy what I had done and to put a stop to it."

That his protagonist reflected many of Tolstoy's thoughts and ideals is clearly evident in the "Afterword" of The Kreutzer Sonata, written a year later (1890). In it, he castigates doctors for spreading false rumors: that sexual relations are good for the health, that conjugal infidelity is common because relations between men and women are regarded as pleasurable ("something poetic and elevated, and a blessing to life"), that birth control allows women to enjoy sexual union without giving birth. Such aims are unworthy of mankind, although considered by some to be life's supreme goal. Chastity is the ideal: it was Christ's ideal. Tolstoy wrote: "the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth; an ideal already foretold by the prophets who spoke of a time when all men shall be taught of God, and shall beat their plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; when the lions shall lie down with the lambs, and all beings shall be united by love."

Morality for Tolstoy and his protagonist was looked upon as an end unto itself. As such it was a codification of life, an ossification of the human personality, and therefore it was easily turned into an evil, as in Pozdnyshev's case—perhaps even in Tolstoy's. The great Russian writer became the butt of ridicule. Concerning The Kreutzer Sonata, his wife noted in her diary (March 6, 1891):

At tea we talked about . . . the vegetarianism which Lyova advocates. He said he saw a vegetarian menu in a German paper which was composed of bread and almonds. I expect the person who wrote the menu practises vegetarianism as much as the author of The Kreutzer Sonata practices chastity.

In December 1890 she wrote in her diary of her fear of becoming pregnant, "for everybody will hear of the disgrace and jubilantly repeat the recent Moscow joke: 'Voilà le véritable postscriptum de la Sonate de Kreutzer.'"

That Tolstoy was tyrannized or possessed by an idea or ideal indicates that he and his hero were under the spell of a powerful complex—"a splinter psyche"—or a split-off. When the shadow remains unconscious and is not integrated into the total psyche, some of its unacceptable qualities may become autonomous and go their own way. Such was Pozdnyshev's situation and, to a lesser degree, Tolstoy's. The latter's once relatively harmonious psyche had become fragmented and split into various complexes. Each miniature complex developed a strange fantasy life of its own, assuming abnormal proportions. In Pozdnyshev's and Tolstoy's cases, fantasies may be regarded as toxins, because not only do they not fit into their conscious patternings but they resist all attempts on the part of the will to cope with them.

Tolstoy and Pozdnyshev were so deeply entrenched in their ideals and their ideologies that they lost contact with the world of reality and instead lived in the abyss of their own minds. There they abandoned themselves to torrents of thoughts, energized still further by Beethoven's archetypal Kreutzer Sonata. It was a one-way trajectory for both Tolstoy and his hero; like geologists, they burrowed deeply within their psyche, coming face to face with the raw matter that lay buried in their own rich substance. Neither was redeemed!

John M. Kopper (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy and the Narrative of Sex: A Reading of 'Father Sergius,' 'The Devil,' and The Kreutzer Sonata,'" in In the Shade of the Giant: Essays on Tolstoy, edited by Hugh McLean, University of California Press, 1989, pp. 158-86.

[In the excerpt below, Kopper concentrates on various aspects of sexuality in Tolstoy's late short fiction, emphasizing the consequences of the writer's narrative strategies for the historical development of narrative literature.]

Like their confrères in France twenty years before, the generation of Russian writers who began their careers around midcentury—Turgenev, Goncharov, Tolstoy, and Pisemsky—found a stubborn problem of narrative lying across their path. The enterprise that they collectively pursued demanded the bodying forth of a fluid social world, filled with the motions of decay and resurgence, mobility and disruption. Railroads made travel easier and extended the possibilities of economic and social commerce both within the country and abroad. Capitalism was focusing the economic life of nations more and more in urban areas, and writers had to record not only the new importance of cities but the functions of new classes dwelling in those cities. Though change in nineteenth-century Russia moved at a slower pace than in Western Europe, her writers did begin to describe this new geographical and social mobility, the evolution of the class hierarchy, and the gradual redistribution of power. In the preceding decades Gogol in "The Overcoat" and Dostoevsky in Poor Folk, delving as low into the class structure as their European contemporaries Eugène Sue and Charles Dickens had done, defined the aspirations to bourgeois respectability of Russia's clerical proletariat. In A Hunter's Notes, Turgenev crowned the bottom man on the social ladder, the serf, as worthy and ready to bear the weight of serious fictional discourse.

These literary achievements were followed by two events which would quickly put Russia on a par with Europe in terms of political instability and social malaise. First, the Crimean War of 1853-1856 began a moral erosion of the autocracy that no ruler till Stalin absolutely succeeded in reversing. Shortly afterward followed the emancipation of the serfs, which threatened the wealthier classes, for the first time since Pugachev, with the existence of a majority of poor, who if not capable of a jacquerie could at least bankrupt the landowning class. Thus Russia experienced its French Revolution and its Revolution of 1848, though in considerably watered-down versions.

But in recording recent social changes, writers confronted a narrative paradox: an event can only be seen as an intelligible change in the given scene, and change can only be registered if it takes place against a (relatively) stable background. The Renaissance code of kingship in force at Elsinore helps make the dynastic and familial struggles that occur there distinguishable actions. Laurence Sterne's traveler can make an eventful "sentimental journey" across a landscape of social immutability. In the nineteenth century, writers, describing a world that was defined by change, were compelled to find a new reference point against which the motion of both hero and society could be measured.

One solution, available in an age when social transformation was still felt to be a novelty, was to make an event out of the conflict between a semantic field consisting of the old and inflexible and an impinging semantic field of the new and fluid. In Regency England, Jane Austen discovered this solution and applied it in many of her novels. Mary and Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park are infected and infecting foreign substances who invade the sanctity and torpor of English country living like germs attacking a host. Their entry into and expulsion from the aristocratic universe of the Bertrams can be seen as events. Forty years later, Russian writers would hit upon the same formula. Turgenev, Goncharov, and Pisemsky seem consciously to dramatize in their works the search for forces of flux and instability: there is a Rudin for every Pigasov, an Andrei Stolz for every Ilya Oblomov, a Kalinovich for every Flegont Godnev. In each case the agent for change transgresses a field of inertia. His very restlessness in a stagnant culture constitutes an event.

Writers found a second solution in the stratification of rates of change within the plot. As Yury Lotman has pointed out, in War and Peace Nikolai Rostov does not undergo the same extensive metamorphosis of person as do Prince Andrei and Pierre Bezukhov. Despite his geographic mobility, his participation in great historical events, and his evolving of a sense of family responsibility, Nikolai appears to be the unchanging member of the novel's trio of male heroes. Against him the development of the other two characters appears in bold relief. Making Nikolai a background figure entails selecting paradigms of progress (spiritual, political) according to which Nikolai will appear fixed and opposing them to others (geographical, social) that grant him mobility. The result, in Tolstoy, is a character who transverses many semantic fields but who, relative to some characters, appears fixed. Hence the usual conviction of a reader of War and Peace that Nikolai changes, but—crudely put—Pierre and Prince Andrei change "more."

A third solution depended very much on the reading conventions we associate with realist writing. First, plots tended to proliferate within the text. One has only to compare Anna Karenina with Dead Souls to see how dense the weave of the fictional universe had become. At the same time, narrative passed increasingly under the influence of a voice marked by its stability, articulateness, erudition, intelligence, and profound seriousness. The novels of Tolstoy record this change, as will any novel of Turgenev's, weighed against A Hero of Our Time and Evgeny Onegin; Balzac against Stendhal; or Eliot, and Dickens after 1850, with the Dickens of the late 1830s and early 1840s. The multiplication of plots led to a pretense of fictional universality, to a saturation of the narrative medium and the seeming exhaustion of its resources in every conceivable way. Narrative fiction presented a world in which every action, however cryptic and apparently unmotivated on emergence, could be recovered, traced, and described and thus be perceived as determined. Furthermore, the narrative voice became the voice of legitimacy and reconciliation in a world of indeterminate values and shifting claims to authority. By encompassing an overwhelming heterogeneity of material, the narrative came to represent a homogeneous vessel, the solid jar within which the stormy dramas of alteration and experiences of alterity could be contained. Thus nineteenth-century narrative on the one hand came to illuminate its own projected world with the light of textual determinism, and on the other hand itself became the symbol for the authoritative reconciliation of diversity. It thereby organized two new static fields against which its action could take place. The universality of its determinism and the uniformity of its narrative voice both helped to create the stability needed to describe a world in constant erosion.

This constellation of newly found narrative strategies accounts for a brief but significant moment in the history of nineteenth-century European fiction. It can be found operating in most of Dickens's and Eliot's novels and with surprisingly little qualification fits Thackeray as well. In France, it describes Balzac; and in Russia, Turgenev, Goncharov, Pisemsky, and Tolstoy up to the time of his religious crisis. For them, a narrative that can embrace everything cannot be surprised. Moreover, since it accounts for everything it narrates, its goal is to remove surprise. Finally, its reassuringly stable narrative point of view cannot give surprise.

Dissatisfaction and impatience with the conventions of this moment—the moment that has worn the protean label "realist" with least challenge from the critics—permeates the work of the American writers of the period and causes the curious cleavage through the middle of Flaubert's oeuvre. In Dostoevsky's novels it is reflected preeminently in the lapse of a consistently maintained narrative focus; the "gratuitous," random action; the replacement of action with dialogue, which is not necessarily eventful or event-producing; and the retreat of the narrative into micro-societies: the family, the political group, the individual. Dostoevsky gives such prominence to these in the organization of value hierarchies that the stable ground of larger social units fades from sight.

Tolstoy, though he reacted just as strongly as Dostoevsky to the inherited canons of writing, took his fiction down another road. In three works of the 1880s and 1890s, The Kreutzer Sonata (published in 1889), "The Devil" (written in 1889 and published posthumously), and Father Sergius (completed in 1898 and published posthumously), Tolstoy tries to redefine the idea of "event." These stories are often gathered up in one critical net. Grouped together for their merciless indictment of relations between women and men, they are taken to be the collective outcome of a meditation on chastity that Tolstoy began in the mid-1880s. In fact the three stories should be judged as much for their typically Tolstoyan—and equally merciless—scrutiny of narrative.

To produce the absorbent wall which would first set off, then finally blunt, the dissonances of storytelling, the author relies neither on the stability of a sententious narrator nor on the intricate density of plot connections. In fact he compounds his initial difficulty. All prose writers of the time faced the problem of establishing a notion of event in a milieu in which not only the hero but the society itself was mobile, but Tolstoy sets himself the task of describing an event in a society so permissive that it has few norms to be violated.

His conception of the permissive society has its roots in earlier works. In War and Peace Tolstoy appears, if not to embrace the social order, at least to identify healthy elements within it. The society of Tolstoy's construction is itself under too great a threat during the war episodes of the novel for it ever to acquire sinister force in peacetime. In Anna Karenina, however—the novel that only escapes to war near its conclusion, with Vronsky's departure for the Turkish war—the question of whether to belong to social groups becomes paramount. Nor does it appear that Tolstoy finds much of his culture worth participating in. Town life is rejected, and country life, unlike its manifestation in War and Peace, becomes in large measure the appendix of municipal cultures. Zemstvos form a rural bureaucracy that apes the St. Petersburg ministries. A city dandy like Veslovsky intrudes into the country. On Vronsky's estate, Anna and Vronsky, with their Anglophile fads, are a terrifying tableau of unsuccessful flight. It would seem that here the rural idyll of Tolstoy—perhaps in spite of the author's wish to make it otherwise—is itself a fiction; Levin must resist the fact that country estates have become moral suburbs of city life.

It is from the isolation of Anna and Vronsky that Tolstoy begins in his late stories. He has paradoxically found culture so corrupt as to be of little interest, so incapable of respect that it cannot resist, refract, or mirror the hero's ethical positions in any meaningful way. Each of the three stories is built upon a society's collective failure to understand that anything of significance is happening. Thus Tolstoy applies to fiction-making the complications inherent in a Karamazovian universe, where "all is permitted." Tolstoy's three heroes must first define what event is, and each is constrained to find a private solution, since his culture does not provide a distinct moral field within which to operate. By describing permissive societies Tolstoy infinitely stretches the elastic domain of value networks in his stories and jeopardizes the very idea of event. When the hero seems to move toward a frontier, the moral horizon retreats, leaving him still helpless to define his event. Of the three stories, only Father Sergius records any violation of the social code before the denouement. At the very beginning of the story, Kasatsky astonishes St. Petersburg's beau monde by taking holy orders. But the narrator quickly moves to redefine this surprise and shifts the story's focus to Kasatsky's "inner motives." By the end of its first section, the story successfully resolves the enigma of Kasatsky's renunciation, as if Tolstoy were deliberately writing "through" a conventional plot to see what lay beyond.

More remarkable is the fact that the societies of the stories so quickly forgive the heroes' most violent behavior. In both of the endings that Tolstoy wrote for "The Devil," Irtenev's suicide and his murder of Stepanida are alike ascribed to his being "mentally ill." In The Kreutzer Sonata, Pozdnyshev kills his wife and is acquitted as a "deceived husband" for defending "his besmirched honor." In Father Sergius, Kasatsky cuts off his finger to save himself from a sexual fall, but the notoriety of his action only moves him more rapidly along the road to elder-hood. His action is ironic for being a cliché of hagiography. Thus even his holy exploit becomes a conventional step. Like Irtenev and Pozdnyshev, Kasatsky finds himself in a world in which he has immense difficulty violating the norms of behavior.

In these three stories, as in many of his late works, including The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Hadji Murad, Tolstoy uses a conventional notion of event as a narrative threshold. Part of Tolstoy's solution to the problem of defining event, therefore, is to transgress the reigning codes of narrative and make violation of the notion of event itself eventful. . . .

Pozdnyshev, the protagonist of Kreutzer Sonata, finds that every aspect of his married life revolts him. Repugnance suggests standards, and their violation would produce events. But in fact Pozdnyshev repeatedly emphasizes the absolute ordinariness of his particular marital experience. By marrying, he has located himself within a certain code of behavior that permits what he only later will conclude to be impermissible: jealousy, sex, and deceit. Thus Tolstoy has his characters choose certain isolated micro-cultures: the monastery (Kasatsky), marriage (Irtenev and Pozdnyshev), and rural life (Irtenev), but then traces the heroes' gradual recognition that these subworlds, like Leibniz's monads, in fact reduplicate the codes of a larger universe, a society of wide-ranging permissiveness. The characters in search of an ethical landfall remain on open seas.

Tolstoy's formulation of the ethical dilemma is romantic in conception and antiromantic in conclusion. The Tolstoy subject is in fundamental conflict with a social totality and employs various strategies for removing himself from the diseased context. But precisely what the subject demands for his world is a code of discipline. In his fancied isolation, he seeks to create the law which his culture has failed to furnish. In all three stories, the protagonist ends by replacing a potential act of at most venial gravity—in "The Devil," sex with Stepanida; in Father Sergius, sex with Makovkina; and in The Kreutzer Sonata, flirting with Trukhachevsky—with murder, suicide, and dismemberment. Of the original sexual impetus only its violent component survives. Tolstoy's stories have traversed a great distance from Karamzin's "The Island of Bornholm," where the isolation of the island's micro-culture does not prove illusory and the sexual act, in opposition to its place in Tolstoy's stories, is perceived as criminal by both the social commonality and the outcast group.

The discussion has not yet acknowledged the specific forces that Tolstoy attached to his chosen topic, sex. To understand the centrality of sex to his sense of self and to his attitude toward art, one can look to the various media through which Tolstoy expressed himself, such as published conversations and his polemical works. And above all one can trace the arc plotted by his fiction over a fifty-year period. Sex and writing were closely linked for Tolstoy, because sex is preeminently a form of passion, and Tolstoy, with increasing Platonic fervor, came to believe that art aroused the passions. The remainder of this essay, however, will concentrate on sexuality not as a moral, philosophical, or biographical problem but as a semantic field possessing specific laws. In Father Sergius, The Kreutzer Sonata, and "The Devil," the lead character puts himself in a position in which sex becomes a significant issue and therefore can be eventful. In order to move his characters onto a potentially charged narrative ground, Tolstoy finds a literary correlative for their moral impasse, a narrative where the issue is not the predicaments of plot but the difficulty of generating plot predicaments. His solution lies with male sexuality.

As Anna Karenina begins by destroying the happy families left at the end of War and Peace, so in the 1880s and 1890s Tolstoy seems to begin with the end of Anna Karenina. Sexual passion, a potential source of criminality hitherto assigned to female heroines—Natasha Rostova and Anna Karenina—now spreads to the male world. In "The Devil," The Kreutzer Sonata, and Father Sergius, Tolstoy inspects the sexual component of male identity as if it were something new. Vronsky's sexual values hardly matter; he is faithful to Anna, and his earlier affairs are overlooked by his society and by the narrator who relates them. Levin's premarital liaisons, to his astonishment, shock and anger Kitty, but the problem remains Kitty's, and it is Kitty who must change, not Levin. In both War and Peace and Anna Karenina, male characters who violate the sexual codes of the society as a whole are not heroes (Dolokhov, for example). Male heroes at most run against the private standards of their loved ones.

In the eyes of the culture within which Tolstoy's male characters must function, there is little they can do that is absolutely wrong. It is extremely difficult for the hero to change position with respect to his moral environment. Levin, for example, faces a conflict between the religious standard of sexual behavior, established by the church and embraced by Kitty, and the highest practical ideal of his society, which endorses matrimonial fidelity but permits men to have premarital affairs with lower-class women. The religious ideal he must reach is beyond reach because he must restore his virginity to obtain it. However much Levin defers to his wife's prescripts for behavior, there is nothing he can do to alter his fallen condition and therefore no change or struggle toward change to narrate. The only taboo that his class at large would recognize is the stricture against his having affairs with women of noble birth who have never married. This line seems so fixed to Tolstoy that he rarely brings a character to cross it. Even the debauched Anatole Kuragin in War and Peace contemplates polygamy rather than think of running off with Natasha Rostova without marrying her.

What he perceives to be an asymmetrical relation between the sexes provides Tolstoy, from Anna Karenina onward, with an important field in which to explore these narrative issues. That which remains a subsidiary matter in Anna Karenina (the disparate receptions given Vronsky and Anna by Petersburg society while they are having their affair) becomes a central concern in some of the stories of the 1880s and 1890s: the sexuality of a man has little inherent plot interest. Because his chastity is not valued, it is more difficult for a man to create a sexual field with a distinct "here" (approved conduct) and "there" (reprehensible conduct). A woman's threatened chastity, on the other hand, will always provide the stuff of narration. . . .

In The Kreutzer Sonata we see Tolstoy's most radical experiment with narrative. Pozdnyshev plays a frustrated author, as it were, trying to bring his heroine to fall. Tolstoy thus correctly identifies the potential narrative interest of the threatened yet faithful woman, but also manifests his interest in evading this traditional plot. By firmly, irrationally insisting that his wife has transgressed, that she is "there" when we know her to be "here," Pozdnyshev creates the narrative. Instead of the story being about something that has happened, it is about the effort to make something from nothing, that is, about fiction-making. The irony of the story is that Pozdnyshev's wife resists participating, and Pozdnyshev must replace her inertness with his own activity. Pozdnyshev substitutes a traditional plot, the exposure of a woman's body (realized in his typically Tolstoyan obsession with low-cut gowns and with male doctors examining a nude female patient) with his own discourse, the self-exposure of confession.

This is not to say that Tolstoy's characters intend such replacements but, rather, that they perform them. Indeed, once they have created a context of potential eventfulness, his characters struggle with all their might to forestall situations in which they would have to act. The construction of barriers and their subsequent avoidance are both actions that acquire eventful force and help to constitute the story.

From here a discussion of Tolstoy's stories forks. One can look in greater detail at the replacements that the characters effect, not in their unwilled pursuit of a narrative, but in their conscious choice to avoid transgression, that is, to contain or circumvent the diffuse energies of sex. Or one can inspect the characters' actions as performance, with a view to discovering the ways their behavior dramatizes the undramatic material in the stories. We will follow both paths a little distance, knowing that farther away they will inevitably meet. What especially intrigued Tolstoy the writer about sex was that it was in two senses public. First, it was a form of commerce, a transaction that involved the potentially promiscuous possession and rejection of an ever-replaceable object of desire. And because it could be performed with a succession of people, it led, in his world of writing, to a thematic of circulation. Second, sex was public because it was performed not only with someone but before someone.

To turn first to the operations of substitution and exchange: in all three stories the protagonists alter the venue of their activities in order to defuse a sexual crisis. Irtenev journeys to the Crimea with his wife. Kasatsky enters a monastery, then changes monasteries, isolates himself in a hut, and finally takes to the road. Pozdnyshev and his wife busy themselves with the transit from city to country and back again. . . .

Pozdnyshev differs from the other two heroes, in good measure because of the autobiographical form of The Kreutzer Sonata. There is a schism between Pozdnyshev's narrating and narrated selves. The married, jealous Pozdnyshev reflects little; it is Pozdnyshev the narrator who is responsible for the long philippics against women, sex, marriage, and children. Thus Pozdnyshev comes to use language to replace his miserable experience. As unstoppable commentary, the narration flows over and surrounds the unhappy event of his marriage, reducing it, managing it, substituting for it a didactic and generalizing discourse. But just as Kasatsky fixed and institutionalized the experience of chastity through his choice of profession, so Pozdnyshev does not dissipate, but prolongs, his passion by describing it. The emotions of his marriage appear redivivi for recirculation in his discourse. The acts of containment that the protagonists of these stories prefer—economy, career choice, and language—simply provide alternate routes for the migration of sexuality.

Confession is also used to displace sex, and just as unsuccessfully. Irtenev speaks to his uncle, Kasatsky to a novice and then to Praskovya Mikhailovna, his cousin. Pozdnyshev addresses the train audience. (Pozdnyshev's face is never distinctly visible to his interlocutors, since he delivers his tirade at night. This darkness is also suggestive of the confessional.) . . .

The idea of confession provides a transition to the second object of Tolstoy's interest in sex: its performative aspect. Sex is not only a form of commerce but a kind of theater. Similarly, while the confession substitutes for sex, it is also like it in being an exposure of self to another. Tolstoy suggests that in the moment of revelation the self divides, becoming simultaneously a perceiving and a perceived self. In all three stories involving sex/confession, one would expect to find this schism within the "actor" self. . . .

Pozdnyshev's schizophrenia lies in the autobiographical split discussed above. Tolstoy makes explicit reference to the theater of schizophrenia by having the protagonist echo his most famous ancestor in the line of jealous spouses, Othello. . . .

I am that Pozdnyshev, who was involved in that critical episode.

Or, as Shakespeare has it, "That's he that was Othello. Here I am" (Othello, Act 5, scene 2, line 284).

All three stories thus chronicle the avoidance of event through a series of displacements. They also describe a fissure of the self induced by sex, a split which cannot be escaped through the strategies of displacement but is in fact reconstituted through them. The very titles of the three stories reflect displacements: desire is caused by music, the careerist is a holy father, woman is the devil.

In harmony with his emphasis on the theatricality of sex, Tolstoy assigns a certain dramatic rhetoric to each of his stories. These lend artistic unity to the works and deserve detailed treatment, but here can only be mentioned briefly. The Kreutzer Sonata is obviously built on the spoken word. "The Devil" borrows from another aspect of the theater: its visuality. The story is permeated with references to the glance, to gazes, to darkness and day, to what can and cannot be hidden from view, to Irtenev's shortsightedness and propensity for losing his glasses (that is, his vision), especially during his encounters with Stepanida. Father Sergius reenacts the fluctuations of dramatic time: intense, pivotal scenes of short duration are narrated in elaborate detail, so that the time of storytelling approximates, as it does on the stage, the duration of the action. These moments are punctuated by frequent summaries that span enormous lapses of time.

The rhythms of sight, speech, and time unify the stories, but also remind one of the ever-present sexual theme, since each serves to answer a question for the hero: how can the sexual crisis be done away with? Irtenev avoids the gaze of others; Pozdnyshev incorporates his crisis into language; Kasatsky hopes that with the passage of time his sexual humiliation will be forgotten, for others will not survive to remember. . . .

If there is an aspect of sex that unites the two features that drew Tolstoy's attention—commerce and performance, exchange and theatricality—it would be repetition. Tolstoy's stories emphasize the fact that desire has the rhythm of repetition; it comes, goes, and returns, and the condition of its departure is always the same sexual act. Sexual desire is like the repetition, night after night, of a stage performance, and simultaneously like the repetitive uses to which money or words are put. The substitutions initiated by characters, and by the narrative, are all essays in repetition, and the stories are founded on this principle. Kasatsky repeats his military career as a monk. He has merely substituted the clerical hierarchy for a lay one and progresses through the churchly tabula rangov as quickly as he would have moved up a worldly ladder. He also duplicates a woman's body with his own. He seeks in the repetitiousness of ritual an escape from sex. Finally, his moment of temptation with Makovkina repeats in his episode with Marya, and he repeats his search for an axe. Pozdnyshev repeats his sexual misfortunes through storytelling; even the milieu is repeated. Pozdnyshev recounts to fellow train travelers the anguish he felt on his own train trip back to surprise his wife. His sense of isolation and lack of a sympathetic audience are repeated in the train ride of the story's outer frame. Pozdnyshev's audience is soon reduced to the narrator, who offers little comment on the tale he hears. Irtenev three times is on the verge of renewing his affair with Stepanida, and it is his failure each time to do so that allows the possibility of the incident repeating. Furthermore, each story underscores the repetitiveness of human life and the succession of generations. Kasatsky looks on the tsar as his father and tries to emulate him. Irtenev wants to manage the estate as his grandfather did, be as careful with his sexual activities as were both his grandfather and his father, and reproduce himself in a family (in fact his family repeats; he has two children by two women). Of all Tolstoy's characters, Pozdnyshev is concerned most with the reproductive side of sex; his speeches on bearing and raising children take up nearly half his discourse. Pozdnyshev's chief aversion to childbearing is that the repetition of a human being reminds him that the sexual act will be repeated by new generations. Tolstoy's three stories await a reading as essays on patriarchy and repetition.

To conclude, in Father Sergius, The Kreutzer Sonata, and "The Devil" Tolstoy takes a narrative situation that presents a rather infertile semiological field. What can be said about a man's sexuality when the man can do what he wants? The author makes each story into an experimental answer to his narrative dilemma. In each, first, the central characters struggle to erect moral barriers that they can then knock down. That is, they attempt to create the condition for narrative. Second, the heroes try to avoid knocking down the barriers of their own making, through an elaborate strategy of replacements and containments. And, third, the story itself comes to include and reduplicate many of the aspects of the sexual act which so disgusts the protagonists. It produces rituals of self-exposure and makes repetition a founding principle of the narrative.

These three "actions" become Tolstoy's subject in Father Sergius, The Kreutzer Sonata, and "The Devil." In a sense he has made narrative out of (1) the effort to make narrative, (2) the actions carried out in an effort to avoid action, and (3) the narrative's mimesis of the taboo subject. The consequences of these moves are radical enough to shake the foundations of storytelling. Tolstoy left "The Devil" unfinished; like a Nabokovian plot, it has a dual ending. The Kreutzer Sonata borrows from the literature of confession, but the protagonist is indistinctly seen, and his audience leaves; revelation has become isolation and mystery. Father Sergius models itself on many of the conventions of the zhitie, but at the moment Kasatsky has sex the genre is abandoned, and the holy father's bodily disappearance from the monastery becomes a travesty of the Resurrection and the Assumption. All three stories refuse a traditional closure and define a narrative space as fresh and interesting as the sexual politics that permits it is morbidly narrow.


Critical Evaluation