Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Kreutzer Sonata by Count Lev Tolstoy

Kreutzer SonataThus we passed two years more. The method prescribed by the rascals [doctors] had evidently succeeded. My wife had grown stouter and handsomer. It was the beauty of the end of summer. She felt it, and paid much attention to her person. She had acquired that provoking beauty that stirs men. She was in all the brilliancy of the wife of thirty years, who conceives no children, eats heartily, and is excited. The very sight of her was enough to frighten one. She was like a spirited carriage-horse that has long been idle, and suddenly finds itself without a bridle. As for my wife, she had no bridle, as for that matter, ninety-nine hundredths of our women have none. – The Kreutzer Sonata, Chapter XVIII

I hate Tolstoy. This always horrifies people, outside of Russia anyway, because Tolstoy is one of the Great Russian Authors People Know. OMGWTFBBQ you don’t like Tolstoy? ! As if Tolstoy was compulsory; as if not liking him was an insult to the Great Russian Soul. Again, this is outside of Russia. Perhaps within Russia my boundless geek-love for Pushkin gets me off the hook. (Pushkin is probably the ultimate holy cow of Russian-literature-not-in-translation). But at any rate I’ve yet to be denied a Russian visa for not finishing Anna Karenina, although I’ve met plenty of zealous anglophone Tolstoyans who would deny me one if they could.

Now, just to be clear, it’s not that I don’t believe Tolstoy is Important. Of course he’s Important, he’s a Great Writer, and with my literary analysis hat on I can see exactly why. I still hate him though, with his simpleton peasants and his vacuous women and his delusions of supreme ethical and religious authority. And to remind myself why (and make this review more interesting), this week I went back to that steaming, stinking torrent of moral vomit that is The Kreutzer Sonata.

The Kreutzer Sonata is the story of a man who kills his wife out of jealousy, and who later tells his story to a stranger he meets on a train. The man is clearly a disturbed individual with a number of fixations, notably about the evils of sex, the impurity of women and the corruption of family life. Discovering that his wife, whom he hates, has started an intimate friendship with a violinist, he kills her quite deliberately. As he tells his story, he continually harps back to his obsessions, and the narrative of his marriage becomes framed in the terms of a struggle between purity and corruption. It looks, in outline, like the psychological portrait of a madman.

But no! The Kreutzer Sonata is not some mere piece of literature! It is supposed to teach us all a lesson! We know this because Tolstoy, ever the preacher, wrote us a nice epilogue just to make sure. It is a long epilogue with a number of well-elaborated points, and it’s not within my power to sum it up here. But this short extract conveys the essential thrust (sorry, Lev Nikolaevich) of the argument:

Fashionable dress to-day, the course of reading, plays, music, dances, luscious food, all the elements of our modern life, in a word, from the pictures on the little boxes of sweetmeats up to the novel, the tale, and the poem, contribute to fan this sensuality into a strong, consuming flame, with the result that sexual vices and diseases have come to be the normal conditions of the period of tender youth, and often continue into the riper age of full-blown manhood. And I am of the opinion that this is not right.

Above all, Tolstoy wishes us to understand that The Kreutzer Sonata is not merely a novella narrated by an unbalanced, homicidal, misogynistic character. It is a polemic from which we might all learn a valuable lesson. The reader is not allowed simply to read. We must read as we are told to! We must arrive at the correct conclusion, and to that end, we require the guidance of the Wise Man holding the pen! Oh, if we read The Kreutzer Sonata merely for enjoyment (perish the thought) then we should fall into the same trap as the poor lost souls Tolstoy describes. We would languish in a pit of brutish, sensual corruption, or something.

So, following the Great Writer’s instructions, let’s have a look at The Kreutzer Sonata and see what we can learn.

1. Sex is bad. Sex outside of marriage, of course, is morally wrong and corrupts the poor woman who is the object of some man’s “imagined” desires; because let us not be mistaken, the sexual urge is a false construct and there is nothing natural or laudable about it. Sex within marriage is as bad, if not worse. It validates “love” – also a false construct – as the basis for marriage, and it distracts both man and woman from the primary purpose of marriage which is to have and raise children.

2. Did I mention that only men have a sex drive? Women, the poor deluded creatures, are raised in such a way that their tiny brains are addled with the necessity to attract a man; no, men, because a woman will only be happy when she has a number of admirers. Indeed, “every sort of feminine education has for its sole object the attraction of men”. Poor, misguided girls! If only Woman had not lost sight of the purity of the humble peasant who lives to gestate and nurture her children. Childbirth and nursing is “the only remedy for coquetry”, and coquetry is… well, anything that is not childbirth or nursing.

3. The evil doctors conspire in this subjugation of women by providing their female patients with contraception, and thus “allowing” them to have sex without conceiving. This can lead to the woman developing an unnatural and undesirable degree of freedom, as shown in the extract at the head of this review.

4. Children are the greatest duty and greatest joy of human life. They are also a burden and further complicate the already sinful, angry picture of the average marriage. They are to be loved completely (by their mother) and cherished to the exclusion of all else (by their mother) but on no account should they be treated when sick, or otherwise fussed over. Your child is dying? Get over it and make another one, but try not to enjoy yourself. (By this point I’m experiencing a violent rage of my own, and wish to strangle the Wise Man with his own beard.)

And so, over 28 short but pungent chapters, the narrator returns, again and again and with varying degrees of coherence, to the four cardinal points outlined above. By the time he finally kills his wife, we are supposed to understand that he was driven by the unnatural and sinful feelings created by the state of marriage and, ultimately, the sexual act itself. Are we expected to forgive him, or to understand him, or to see him as a puppet in the control of some stronger, baser force? By this stage, I for one no longer know or care. My overriding feeling is that read in isolation, without the nasty little Epilogue and without any previous knowledge of Tolstoy and his convictions, The Kreutzer Sonata could be an astonishing experience. A story of love and hate and violence told through the eyes of an obsessed madman; a disturbing story that would force you to confront levels of human behaviour far removed from the norm; an exploration of ideas about sex and marriage in which the reader could make up his or her own mind. But instead it is presented to us as a polemic, and one filled with spite and prejudice at that; and if we do not read it as the author intended, we have failed to learn the lesson correctly. The moral of the story must always, for the good of the reader, for the good of society, be explicit.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I hate Tolstoy.

The Kreutzer Sonata is shortly to be released in a new translation from Penguin Classics. The quotations in my review are from the version published on Project Gutenberg, because I could not bring myself to sit and translate the original myself.

33 comments on “The Kreutzer Sonata by Count Lev Tolstoy

  1. Stewart
    April 8, 2008

    Ooh, in a perverse way, you are driving me to go read The Kreutzer Sonata this instant. It’s been sitting in my Penguin Great Loves collection begging, like all the others, to be read. Incidentally, I bought two Tolstoy’s this afternoon: Anna Karenina and Resurrection.

  2. rosyb
    April 8, 2008

    “I went back to that steaming, stinking torrent of moral vomit that is The Kreutzer Sonata.” Wow, don’t hold back, Kirsty!

    You’ve convinced me. Anything that wants women to get back in their peasant garb and devote themselves to the production of children has my bile.

  3. Mhairi
    April 8, 2008

    Absolutely. I think you should tell us what you REALLY think, instead of mincing words. :mrgreen:

  4. Jackie
    April 8, 2008

    Wow, Kirsty, this must be the ultimate hatchet job! And you presented your points in such an organized and clear headed way, too.With humor. Very admirable and quite enjoyable to read.
    Well done!

  5. marygm
    April 8, 2008

    Fascinating, Kirsty. And yet so many people believe he is the greatest writer ever. I read Anna Karenina years and years ago but I’d love to read it again in the light of what you’ve said.

  6. Kirsty
    April 8, 2008

    Well, I do understand people who genuinely love him as a writer and can engage with/disagree with his moral standpoints – it’s just that for me, his proselytising puts me off to a degree that Kafka or Gogol, or Wagner or Mussorgsky, do not despite their own disagreeable views. I suppose Tolstoy just doesn’t hook me enough to make me overlook his personality; rather like Neruda.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure why, but Tolstoy is one of the names people always evoke when they want to look clever. “Oh, and of course I simply *love* Tolstoy”. And in my mind at least, truly engaging with an author ought to mean seeing them warts and all. Tolstoy has plenty of warts.

  7. marygm
    April 8, 2008

    Interesting comment, Kirsty. So do you think that in order to fully engage with a piece of work you need to understand the author as a person? I can think of lots of books I love but I know little or nothing about the writer (eg Catch 22) but then there are other writers like John McGahern where an understanding of the man gives me a huge insight into his fiction. I’m not disagreeing, just wondering.

  8. Kirsty
    April 8, 2008

    Of course you can appreciate a work without knowing the author, at least so i believe. If anything I’d say that in an ideal world books should stand for themselves without the author’s private life impinging on how they are read.

    I suppose what I wanted to express was partly that in the case of someone with such a strong authorial presence, like Tolstoy, you can’t avoid engaging with the author’s personality, and it’s perfectly OK to appreciate their work while disagreeing with their views; and partly that with any author (even those who try to efface themselves from their work) it’s also perfectly OK to see the flaws/changes/variances in their literary style, and to find elements you don’t like so much, even in your favourite works. I guess I’m just not convinced that uncritical adoration is the best way of relating to an author, and Tolstoy seems to attract a *lot* of that.

    This is one of my hobby horses, since as a historian I run screaming from the school of psycho-history and its corollaries in literary studies. Here I’ve tried to engage with Tolstoy the author rather than Tolstoy the person, but there’s such a vast and conscious overspill from his personal life into his work that it’s hard to avoid bringing real life personalities into it. At any rate, his authorial voice is not one I enjoy!

  9. Sam
    April 8, 2008

    For another reading of the book you could visit the estimable John Self at:

    http://theasylum.wordpress.com/2007/08/31/leo-tolstoy-the-kreutzer-sonata/

    And below is linked James Wood’s essay on why Tolstoy ‘can seem at once an intrusive narrator, telling us what to think, and an absent one, letting the world speak for itself.’

    (If for no other reason, click on the link to see a great picture of the Grand Old Man.)

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2007/11/26/071126crat_atlarge_wood

  10. marygm
    April 8, 2008

    I see your point, certain authors have more of a ‘personal presence’ than others and as you point out in this review, Tolstoy himself brings his personal philosophy and dictates to the attention of the reader by amending an epilogue to the novel.

    One last question, Kirsty, how does Tolstoy translate into English? Can you feel a difference in his work in both languages.

  11. Kirsty
    April 8, 2008

    I think maybe one of the reasons Tolstoy is so popular outside of Russia is that he translates very well. Partly just because he writes prose, but there’s also just something that transfers across beautifully.

    I think it was Nabokov who pointed out that if you ask a Russian person who are the greatest Russian authors, you usually hear “Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov” and if you ask an English speaking person, you usually hear “Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky”. This has always stuck with me and I believe it to be true, from experience. The first three gentlemen write either poetry (Pushkin and Lermontov) or prose (all three) that is very Russian, both in terms of the structure of their language and their points of reference. The second three write prose, and they tend to address more universal/philosophical themes. So while I don’t agree with Nabokov on a few things I certainly see eye to eye with him on this, if it was him and my memory isn’t failing me.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure Chekhov transfers as well as people think. I’ve seen one too many productions that were far too earnest; I even almost got thrown out of one for laughing at the jokes. But that’s a question for another time!

    EDIT: fixed for major typo

  12. John Self
    April 8, 2008

    I do actually like Tolstoy, or at least more than Dostoevsky, who I’ve yet to finish a book by. The Kreutzer Sonata however would go down third in the three I’ve read by him, after Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The last is a terrific piece, short and potent. I have Hadji Murat to go next. I can’t remember what I said about The Kreutzer Sonata when I read the Great Loves edition last year, but I think I presumed the views espoused were ironic or supposed to make us think the character was an idiot. I think they probably weren’t though…

  13. Kirsty
    April 9, 2008

    By the way, I’m disappointed at the lack of rotten tomatoes being thrown here, comrades! I expect better when I rip into a sacred beast like Tolstoy! Throw them at him, throw them at me, throw them at each other… Lev Nikolaevich would want a fight, the man was an aristocrat as well as a self-defined guru!

  14. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    “Incidentally, I’m not sure Chekhov transfers as well as people think. I’ve seen one too many productions that were far too earnest; I even almost got thrown out of one for laughing at the jokes. But that’s a question for another time!”

    I wouldn’t dare throw a tomato at you about this, Kirsty, you know much more about it. But I am interested to find out more about the above. The comic side of Chekov has always been a bit lost on me and maybe that is something to do with dreary productions that not only treat him like a sacred cow but act like one too.

  15. Kirsty
    April 9, 2008

    Yes, it’s got to be at least partly that. I understand reverence for Chekhov as a great dramaturgist, but not the po-faced reverence you see outside of Russia. It’s also partly that you need to know the context of the time and place to get the most out of the jokes.

    For example, the line that really set me off in The Three Sisters and almost resulted in my expulsion along with another friend from the Russian department (this was a student production) was “But I am blessed with the character of Lermontov”.

    1. *Blessed* with the character of Lermontov? If ever anything summed up a certain school of class and literary pretention it would be that.
    2. The character, needless to say, actually has nothing of Lermontov at all.
    3. Not only did the actor deliver this line as if it were the greatest duty on earth, that’s how everyone received it. Being glared at for laughing only made it funnier.

    Honestly, though, if you don’t get the jokes, it’s probably because they just don’t appeal. You could have all the references at your fingertips and still find Chekhov deadly. I enjoy the average Shakespeare comedy as much as I would enjoy sitting in a pit of hot tar having Tolstoy read to me.

    Poor Chekhov. Another victim of people’s urgent need to look as if they appreciate the right things.

  16. sequinonsea
    April 9, 2008

    Kirsty, this was wonderful.

    First, a big guffaw at this:

    I went back to that steaming, stinking torrent of moral vomit that is The Kreutzer Sonata.

    But this had me totally hooked!!

    The Kreutzer Sonata is the story of a man who kills his wife out of jealousy, and who later tells his story to a stranger he meets on a train. The man is clearly a disturbed individual with a number of fixations, notably about the evils of sex, the impurity of women and the corruption of family life.

    That sounds like a book I’d love to read. But my dream was cruelly shattered at this:

    The Kreutzer Sonata is not some mere piece of literature! It is supposed to teach us all a lesson!

    Surely not. Noooo.

    I must admit I’m in two minds though. It has a hook.

  17. Kirsty
    April 9, 2008

    Lisa, you should actually read The Kreutzer Sonata as it is right up your street in terms of material. Just don’t read any more of the Epilogue than I quoted in this piece. It might appeal to you enough that you would be able to overlook the authorial voice, and that would be great!

  18. Sam
    April 9, 2008

    Checkhov is funny, just unhappily so.

    cf. the beginning of The Seagull:

    The schoolmaster: Why do you always wear black?
    Masha: I’m in mourning for my life.

    Funny (because it’s so overdramatic) but sad, too (because the underlying sentiment if true for the character – it’s not just someone being witty for the sake of it.)

    I’ve never thought of Checkhov as doing jokes, as such; his humour seems to be more tragic than that, rooted in disappointed characters, like the soldier in The Kiss, or the example above, or even The Three Sisters. There is something tragi-comic about three isolated women getting in a tizz when a stranger walks into town.

  19. Kirsty
    April 9, 2008

    I can see both in Chekhov. There are jokes and references that are intended to trigger a laugh, like the Lermontov one above, and there’s situational humour. It isn’t funny to everyone; it certainly isn’t to Rosy, by the sound of it.

    Humour is such a subjective thing anyway. I find Klopstock intensely funny and he doesn’t even intend to write comic poetry. But it is certainly the case that the way a play is presented can kill its humour dead before the audience has a chance to react, and I think the over-earnestness with which many people seem to approach Chekhov is entirely annoying and unfair.

  20. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    Oh I don’t dislike Chekov . I just have a theory it needs to be done faster. Like Beckett (needs to be done faster.)

    “and I think the over-earnestness with which many people seem to approach Chekhov is entirely annoying and unfair.”

    Yes!

  21. kirstyjane
    April 9, 2008

    🙂

    By the way, I’m changing my display name to avoid confusion with the other Kirsty who comments too and who probably has seniority!

  22. Ariadne
    April 10, 2008

    The note at the end thing reminds me of Psycho – you know when Hitchcock comes on at the end and goes ‘This film demonstrates a Freudian complex bla bla bla…’ boy, did that wreck the film for me…

  23. Mhairi
    April 11, 2008

    You’re not encouraging me to do anything about my criminal lack of knowledge about Russian literature, you know …

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  26. Rob
    August 20, 2008

    It sounds like you know your Russian literature a good deal better than I do, since I’m one of those Anglophones who wouldn’t even be able to name all the characters in the Russian alphabet. But from what I’ve read of Tolstoy, it seems like The Kruetzer may not be the best example of his work. From what I understand, Tolstoy got polemic in his old age, but earlier on, he wasn’t nearly as much so.

    I’ve read through a good deal of War and Peace, and there just doesn’t seem to be the same sense of constant moral outrage that comes across in almost every page of the Kruetzer. In War and Peace it feels like Tolstoy genuinely likes all the characters.

    The Kruetzer Sonata actually reminds me of some things that happened in 20th century literature in other places like Look Back in Anger by John Osborne or the plays of Tennessee Williams. If you take away the later Tolstoy’s moralizing in this book, he reads a lot like 20th century stuff.

  27. Allen
    October 19, 2008

    No tomatoes from me, your assesment is spot on!

    Reminds me of a train ride from Stavropol to Novorossiysk. The guy opposite realising I was a foreigner, was very suprised when I pulled out a copy of the 12 Chairs. ‘AHA that is a real classic! Who reads Dostoevsky, but everyone knows Ilf and Petrov.’ A slight exaggeration, but you get the point.
    In that book there is a fun reference to Tolstoy. A pair of newlyweds are having an argument because the husband is too stingy to buy any meat. He tells her that Tolstoy didn’t eat meat. “When he wrote ‘War and Peace’ he ate meat! He did, he did, he did!” Answers the wife. “And when he wrote ‘Anna Karenina’ he scarfed it down- scarfed! Scarfed! Scarfed!”
    “Oh yeah?? What about the ‘Kreutzer Sonata’?????”
    “That one’s tiny. Do you think he would have attempted ‘War and Peace’ on veggie sausages?”
    No sacred cow angle in Russia!

    I’ve only recently started reading Chekhov in earnest. He is an amazing short story writer, the pictures he can paint with only a few words! I don’t know how it is in English. There is a lot of humour and satire in Chekhov, so it’s a mistake to treat him with awe and reverence. I wonder what his crowd of worshippers would make of his hobbies. Hunting, fishing, but also buying ceramic knicknacks (mainly rams) in all the markets.

    Maybe Dostoevsky can be considered universal, but there is a very pronounced Russian Orthodox element to his stories. That said, he doesn’t occupy such a lofty place in the ‘greats’.

    I hate Tolstoy’s smugness, that narrative voice, but the works based on his own experiences, such as Hadji Murad or the Prisoner of the Caucasus are terrific.

  28. novelfootsteps
    January 24, 2011

    Hi Kirsty.

    Much of your criticism comes from the fact that Tolstoy portrayed the book as a polemic.

    But, just because Tolstoy says this, is it true? Was Tolstoy so foolish to think that he could open other people’s eyes to corruption by using a homicidal, almost catatonic wretch? The murderer is not even depicted as a greatly sympathetic character either. I, like you, did not find the book didactic.

    Whatever Tolstoy might say in his epilogue, the near hysterical nature of the book indicates to me that it was written in the spirit of catharsis rather than to preach.

    Certainly, in the epilogue, Tolstoy is preaching – but I think the Kreutzer Sonata should not be besmirched by this later publication.

  29. Tomer
    August 3, 2011

    Yo Kirsty!

    I admire your way of voicing your opinion and embracing both praise and criticism. I’m looking for some rotten vegetables thrown at me as well.

    Just finished reading the story in English (a second language for me; hence forgive me for any spelling or grammar errors). The only other Tolstoy story I’ve read so far is The Death of Ivan Ilych, and I haven’t read neither Dostoyevsky nor Chekhov nor Pushkin nor the other Russian Greats. Perhaps it means I can’t judge Tolstoy well yet, and perhaps it means my mind is clear of the urge to compare to other people who happen to be of the same nationality (surely a viable comparison due to some background and societal similarities, but not inherently necessary, and not one that I can make at the moment, anyway).

    My impression is that Tolstoy was a very self-doubting preacher. Both Protagonists, Ivan Illych and Pozdnyshev, are not interested so much in preaching and guiding other people, but in self-improvement. Even upon his deathbed, Ivan Ilych doesn’t tell his beloved child his hard-earned life lessons, and leaves the poor boy to experience all the despair on his own, possibly to come to understanding only when he (the boy) will be on the verge of dying. And Pozdnyshev, he only tells his story when he’s pratically obliged to, when he can remain quiet no longer. Those are not the ways of the preacher. I get the feeling that Tolstoy himself thought, while writing: “Who am I kidding? I was the greatest libertine ever: drank endlessly, gambled to bankruptcy, had sex with them all, killed in war and in duels, and now I come here to preach? I’m such an hyppocrite!”

    You can feel the self-doubt in the way these stories are told. It’s as if he had an epipahny, but simultaneously realized it’s impossible to apply. That left him with two choices: either to forget about it because of its inapplicability, or to write in spite of it. And it didn’t stop there: from his diaries it seems he had this constant inner struggle between writing morally and writing artistically; when he focused on artistic writing, he lamented the way it shadowed the morals. On the other hand, he constantly rewrote and revised his stories before publication until he felt that they are artistically complete (only to regret them later, as any artist).

    Finally, allow me to throw a rotten tomato at your face. Indeed, I’m a man and not a woman and so will probably be treated automatically as a mysogenic pig by some readers, but I find your 4-point analysis to be rather simplistic. Tolstoy definitely acknowledges the sexual desires of women in the story. He doesn’t see women’s freedom as something “undesired”, but a thing utterly desired; yet, it is poorly executed, by men, out of their own interests. Regarding children – they are a burden, period – both for men and women. I think the main point of the story is the fight between so called spirituallity (= morals, holy marriage) and impulses (sex, rage, jealousy) and its pathetic conclusion – that there is no resolution, for both women and men. The characters and the writer himself represent this conflict; and every other human being since the dawn of history, probably. Tolstoy is pathetic, and knows he is; that’s why I love him (so far).

  30. kirstyjane
    November 11, 2011

    My summary is very schematic, yes, because the above was written as a soapbox piece for a whole week of hatchet job reviews. I still think you’re being rather generous to Tolstoy, but I am glad to hear you love him — authors deserve to be loved for what they write, not what people think they represent!

  31. Siz
    April 6, 2013

    Hi Kirsty,

    I believe in your last paragraph you essentially say that the work is great, but that you wrestled with the implications of the views of the narrator, and that it was spoiled by your knowledge of the author’s prejudices. This is probably what happened. Yet you characterize the work, in your introduction as “Moral vomit.” This implies a moral obviousness, which it is not really, and an artlessness, which it certainly is not. The power, and therefore any moral force it has, comes from the emotional experience of the story. You take Pozdynshev at face value as the author and as the lesson maker, criticizing him for the exact thing Tolstoy criticizes him for. If he comes off as grotesque, it is because Tolstoy made him that way. You take his contradictions, which are intentional, not part of the real argument, and use those against the more generalized, and justified criticism of male-female relationships, and of the decadence, sensuality, and materialism of his society.

  32. jackmorganjonesjack
    March 31, 2016

    Totally agree, it was perhaps his worst ever novel. However, I think you are wrong to say that it is redeemable if not for the nature in which he rams it down our throats. Take out the epilogue and it would still reads awfully compared to the rest of his works (or at least any edition I’ve read). From purely a literary perspective, this was Tolstoy on his knees.
    (from a lover of Tolstoy)

  33. Olivia
    March 19, 2021

    I read your article because it appeared very high up on my Google search. If we take your article as a work of influence, what impact are you having? Just as Tolstoy’s writing has disturbed you, I could just as easily interpret your article as suggesting that because human reproductive processes are natural, we should partake in them wherever, whenever we want, with someone other than our partner, if we so wish (especially if they hate us – then it’s even more ok!). Although you may say ‘No, no, that’s really not what I was suggesting,’ that’s what I’m getting from your article.

    I like Tolstoy’s strong, decided approach to morality. A weaker approach renders a person, or a society, vulnerable to moral decline, of the sort that, very possibly, nobody ever intended, or wanted.

    Tolstoy was already witnessing this moral decline towards the end of his life (read his treatise, ‘What is Art’, if you can stomach it!), and tried hard to fight against this. If more people had fought with him, perhaps his efforts would not have been so futile.

    By the way, don’t assume that having loose morals in your personal life will not lead to a loosening of morals in other aspects of your life or in society as a whole.

    I have read that Sofia Tolstoy herself experienced feelings of jealous rage, and sometimes even fantasised about killing her husband. Now, nobody is saying that’s right. Tolstoy actually had strong objections to murder, and war. But the whole feminist interpretation isn’t looking so strong any more, is it?

    If moralism so disgusts you, why don’t you think about the fact that you yourself have published an article which doesn’t tell anyone anything apart from your own moral objections to the morals in the work? Moral objections which, in themselves, really aren’t new to anyone in today’s world.

    Projecting feminist values onto 19th century works really is pointless. People who want to be annoyed by Tolstoy’s ‘misogyny’ will always continue to be annoyed. And those who want to look deeper and take from Tolstoy’s works something more than their own ideology will also continue to do so.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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