Thursday, May 13, 2010

344. The Kreutzer Sonata – Leo Tolstoy

History: published in 1889 and promptly censored by the Russian authorities. The work is an argument for the ideal of sexual abstinence and an in-depth first-person description of jealous rage. The novella also inspired the 1901 painting "Kreutzer Sonata" by René François Xavier Prinet, which shows a passionate kiss between the violinist and the pianist. The painting was used for years in Tabu perfume ads.
Plot: During a train ride, Pozdnyshev overhears a conversation concerning marriage, divorce and love. When a woman argues that marriage should not be arranged but based on true love, he asks "what is love?" and points out that, if understood as an exclusive preference for one person, it often passes quickly. Convention dictates that two married people stay together, and initial love can quickly turn into hatred. He then relates how he used to visit prostitutes when he was young, and complains that women's dresses are designed to arouse men's desires. He further states that women will never enjoy equal rights to men as long as men view them as objects of desire, but yet describes their situation as a form of power over men, mentioning how much of society is geared towards their pleasure and well-being and how much sway they have over men's actions.
After meeting and marrying his wife, periods of passionate love and vicious fights alternate. She bears several children, and then receives contraceptives: "The last excuse for our swinish life -- children -- was then taken away, and life became viler than ever." His wife takes a liking to a violinist, and the two perform Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata (Sonata No. 9 in A Major for piano and violin, Op. 47) together. Pozdnyshev complains that some music is powerful enough to change one's internal state to a foreign one. He hides his raging jealousy and goes on a trip, returns early, finds the two together and kills his wife with a dagger. The violinist escapes: "I wanted to run after him, but remembered that it is ridiculous to run after one's wife's lover in one's socks; and I did not wish to be ridiculous but terrible."
Later acquitted of murder in light of his wife's apparent adultery, Pozdnyshev rides the trains seeking forgiveness from fellow passengers.
Review: Born into an aristocratic Russian family, Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was able to enjoy a life of luxury from the very first. Throughout his life, however, and perhaps inspired by personal losses from which even his financial comfort could not protect him, he remained intrigued by philosophical questions about the nature of human existence. Through military service and well into his career as a writer, Tolstoy sought higher truths and found the materialistic lifestyle of many around him to be quite empty.
Opening Line: “Travellers were entering and leaving our carriage whenever the train stopped.”
Closing Line: “People should understand the true significance of the words of St. Matthew as to looking upon a woman with the eye of desire; for the words aply to woman in her sisterly character – not only to another man’s wife, but also, and above all, to one’s own.”
Quotes: "Ask an experienced coquette who has set herself the task of entrapping a man, which she would prefer to risk: being detected in falsehood, cruelty, even immortality, in the presence of the one whom she is trying to entice, or to appear before him in a badly made or unbecomig gown,---and everytime she would choose the first."
“Every husband can rule his wife, he has the power in his hands.”
“And yet the first rule for the wife should be fear."
Rating: Good, I love Tolstoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment