The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy

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“There are two czars in Russia,” pronounced one liberal spokesman, “and the other is Tolstoy.”

That’s what Doris Lessing wrote in her introduction to The Kreutzer Sonata. She also says that the people expected him to “take a stand” on all subjects and so he did, writing about love, marriage, lust and betrayal. This is one strange book, full of contradictions and not at all like what I expected of Tolstoy, or what I heard of Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Lessing said that Tolstoy became a fanatic and this book proves it.

The Kreutzer Sonata is about a man, called Pozdnyshev, who in a fit of jealousy murders his wife. The story starts with the narrator, Pozdnyshev and some other people in a train. Somehow they start discussing divorces and how such things didn’t exist before, when Pozdnyshev tells them he killed his wife for cheating on him and proceeds to tell his tale to the narrator. It’s quite a short story even if you add the sequel to The Kreutzer Sonata which Tolstoy wrote some time later.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I mean, in a fictional sense I liked Pozdnyshev tale and his attempt to explain his madness, but until then I was not taking his view on things as Tolstoy’s own or very seriously. Then came the sequel. Why, Tolstoy? Why did you write that sequel? Because, as you said, people did not seem to understand what exactly was your view on marriage, divorce and betrayal? Well, of course they didn’t! Pozdnyshev’s outlook on life was so bleak that we’re not sure what he means half the time.

“…If the aim of mankind is happiness, goodness, love – if you prefer; if the aim of mankind is what is said in the prophecies, that all men are to unite in universal love, that the spears are to be beaten into pruning hooks and the like, then what stands in the way of the attainment of the aim? Human passions do! Of all passions, the most powerful and vicious and obstinate is sexual, carnal love; and so, if passions are annihilated and with them the most powerful – carnal love – then the prophecy will be fulfilled.”

What? There is something terribly wrong with someone who says sex is evil. Also, this is apparently a new development with Tolstoy (thankfully), because according to Lessing none of this was present in his other books. And so my enjoyment of this book was hindered by the fact that by this point in his life Tolstoy did believe in this sex free life = happiness for all world thing and was quite aware of how impossible it was.

Don’t even get me started on the “women hate sex” and “sex is a vice of men” thing, because I’m not completely sure where he got that from (his wife can’t represent all the women in the world, please). I could quote half the book and put a question mark at the end of each, yes, but then there are some that, taken by themselves and out of context, are quite good and more like what I expected from his hype. Like this one:

It cannot be necessary to destroy some people, body and soul, for the health of others, any more than in can be necessary for some people to drink the blood of others in order to be healthy.

Edward Cullen would certainly agree with the end of the sentence, though I’m sure Count Dracula would be seriously disappointed in you Tolstoy. Still, the first part is quite true and can be taken as anti-slavery and anti some sort of greedy capitalism that only takes and never gives back. So by digging and disregarding some things we can get some truly great ideas out of this book. But that’s not enough to make me give it more than one star on Goodreads. Sorry Tolstoy, I hope your other books are better.

Last, but not least, let me leave you with this little gem (except not):

It is bad to use means to prevent the birth of children, both because so doing frees people from the cares and troubles caused by children, which should serve to redeem sexual love, and also because it comes very near to what is most revolting to our conscience – murder.

Tolstoy would be seriously disappointed in today’s society. Also: that description of what a night at Tolstoy’s house was probably like? Creepy as hell, no wonder his wife didn’t like sex.

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11 thoughts on “The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy

  1. I read this book years ago, right before I finished Anna Karenina and War and Peace. I can’t remember too much of the story (now I do, thanks to your post) but I can recall how disappointed I was with the book and with some of the ideas developed in it. I couldn’t believe The Kreutzer Sonata’s writer was the same man that created one of my favorite book of all time, Anna Karenina.

    Great post! :)

    • I haven’t read any of his other works (I wanted to start small *sigh*), but I was definitely disappointed. That kind of disbelieving thing seems to be the general way people regard this book and that’s reassuring, since I still want to read his other (bigger and more famous) books. Hopefully, I’ll like them!

      Thanks :D

  2. Yikes, one star eh? But from the way you’ve described it The Kreutzer sounds infuriating! I suppose it at least provokes thought from you by being so irritating, but I would rather have a book that I enjoyed and provoked thought in a good way. :P

    I’m a bit terrified to try any Tolstoy, I plan on waiting a few years because it seems really intimidating to me. I totally understand your want to start small! I hope your next Tolstoy read is better. :)

    • I think it’s better to provoke some sort of response from me, even if it’s in a bad way, than just make me indifferent. I mean, I’d still recommend this book, exactly because it’s infuriating and so different from Tolstoy’s other books.

      I’m terrified to read Anna Karenina or War and Peace to be honest, so yeah, a short book by him seemed perfect to a beginner like me. :D Thanks! And I hope you can overcome your (completely understanding) fear of Tolstoy and join in :)

      • Very true, it’s annoying when you don’t get anything out of a book at all! Like you’ve wasted your time.

        Hahaaa thanks! I will one day, but I think I may attempt Les Mis first, it seems slightly easier somehow. :P

      • Yes! It’s like: why did I read this thing when I could have read something way better? But none of us can see the future yet, so for now we’ll just have to do it the old fashioned way hahaha :)

        Oh God, don’t even remind me that I’ve got Les Mis glaring at me from my shelf. I really want to read it, but can’t make myself pick it up (exactly like Game of Thrones). But I can’t wait to hear your opinion on it. Have you seen the new movie?

      • Agggh no way! I really want to read GoT as well and I’m just waiting for the day when my resolve breaks and I finally buy it. Hahaa sorry! I was thinking of making Les Mis the unabridged as my summer reading project, but I don’t own it yet and there are so many other books I want to read this summer so I decided to wait. Nah, I’ve been avoiding the movie like the plague, it’s been so hard to avoid spoilers! I still got told a few I’m very annoyed about. But I figure, a book that big will be a whole lot more boring if you know how it ends! So I will only watch the film or musical after I’ve read it, how about you?

      • I feel so bad that I’ve got GoT on my shelf for months and haven’t started it yet, and all my friends are like: you have t read it! You’ll love it! And then there’s the series and trying to avoid any spoilers from it and ugh, not reading it is just giving me a headache. BUT you should totally buy it and read it and read the others too!

        I totally get what you mean, it just seems like there will be this gap where I’ll be reading this super huge book while I could have read 4 smaller ones. I usually feel like that about big books. And OMG the movie! I simply loved it and was the push I needed to finally buy the book. I won’t say anything else, because spoilers for you :D I just hope I won’t be bored during it, but from what I’ve seen by flipping through there is a lot of stuff that wasn’t in the movie. Also, sorry for the huge reply? Haha :)

      • Haha no worries, I like long comments!

        It looks pretty intimidating though right? Especially when you see how long the rest of the books in the series are, but once you get into it I’m sure the pages will whiz by. :) Just pick it up when you feel like you’re ready or you won’t enjoy it! When we end up reading what we feel we have to rather than what we want to reading begins to feel like a chore. Ah you see I’m watching the series so it does feel like a race against time, it will have already spoilt the first three books, and yet I can’t stop watching it! :S

        Ohh I’m glad to hear you loved it so much, that’s a good sign. I know what you mean, especially when you are a book blogger, you not only think about how many other books you could have read but also how many blog posts you could have written! :P

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