Monday, January 7, 2008

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy

I had to read Anna Karenina for a class on Russian History. Despite the fact that it was assigned to me, and that it is just shy of 900 pages, I really enjoyed the book. I was told by my professor that I should check out some of Tolstoy’s short stories. This was 2003, and I am just now getting around to taking his advice.

The Kreutzer Sonata, named after a piece by Beethoven, begins with the narrator – we never get his name – remembering a train ride that he took not that long ago. A little ways into the trip he became involved in a conversation about men and women, marriage, and love. A number of people were contributing to the lively discussion until an old man, who had kept to himself up to this point, injected himself into the conversation. He asserted that love, as those party to this conversation were defining it, simply did not exist. This brought a rise out of many of the people there. Someone responded that the fact that marriages existed proved that there was such a thing as love. To which the man responded, “[People] enter into marriage without seeing in it anything except copulation, and it usually ends in either infidelity or violence. Infidelity is easier to put up with.” “Yes, there’s no doubt that married life has its critical episodes,” someone responded. The man brought silence with his reply, “Pozdnyshev’s the name. I’m the fellow who had one of those critical episodes you were talking about. So critical was it, in fact, that I ended up murdering my wife.” The narrator of our story later seeks out Pozdnyshev and begins talking with him. The old man opens up and tells his story, which essentially occupies the rest of the novella.

As he did in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy does a good job of creating characters to which the reader can relate. The situations that he puts them in are situations that could essentially happen this day.

The picture that he paints of married life is extremely bleak. The Kreutzer Sonata is really an indictment of marriage, with Tolstoy arguing that most marriages are simply a sham. I found it interesting that Tolstoy drew on his own experiences with marriage when writing this book, much to the shock and dismay of his wife. The Kreutzer Sonata was a quick read and was very interesting.


Christopher said...

I just finished a class about the Russian short story. A lot of them are based around long, philosophical conversations.

Carlton said...

Well, this was definitely one of them.