Less a story than a philosophical tract, this tale is told to a chance listener on a railway journey by a man who has murdered his wife and been exonerated on the grounds that she was unfaithful and deserved it. Tolstoy writes the murderer Pozdnyshev as distraught, given to uttering a strange emotional cry, which Jonathan Oliver renders brilliantly. Oliver's Pozdnyshev, high-strung and tormented, is convinced that his crime was caused by the nature of modern marriage and that any true Christian, married or not, must live celibate or risk his mortal soul. Since Pozdnyshev strikes the listener as delusional, but Tolstoy's afterword makes clear that he is the author's mouthpiece, this makes for a strangely dissonant experience, if a marvelous piece of acting.
One of Tolstoy's most important shorter works, The Kreutzer Sonata presents a problematic view of the relationship between the sexes and promotes abstinence as the solution.
Pozdnyshev jealously observes the intimacy that emerges between his wife and a violin player. Haunted by The Kreutzer Sonata, over which they bonded, it plays round and round in Pozdnyshev's head, driving him to distraction and to an unquenchable rage.
The Kreutzer Sonata is a psychologically fascinating novella, offering interesting insights into the power play between the sexes.
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Public Domain (P)2010 Naxos AudioBooks
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In "The Kreutzer Sonata," Tolstoy seems to be wanting to go Dostoevsky one better. His main character is a bitter, violent man filled with morbid jealousy and analyzing every action and motive with a stifling level of self-consciousness. He tells his story in the first person, to a fellow-traveller in a railway carriage: he killed his wife in a fit of jealous rage and was acquitted because it was a crime of passion. Jonathan Oliver narrates the story well, but it's a tough listen, and the little bit I've read about its publication history makes it sound like it was a tough read from the beginning.
Was his wife really having an affair with a musician? It doesn't look good, but it's ambiguous; he doesn't actually catch them in the act, but he satisfies himself that he has enough evidence to plunge a dagger into her side. Only when he sees her, a few days later, lying dead in the coffin does he realize the enormity of what he's done.
His monologue alternates between suprisingly modern-sounding observations on human sexuality and a prudish disgust with what, to him, seems more like a meat market than an elegant society. Everything seems to arouse him, either to rage or sexual passion: the rocking motion of a train, the "artificial" climax of a piece of music (Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata most specifically).
What's most peculiar, though, is Tolstoy's afterword, included here. What did he think was the solution to this hypersexual conflict between men and women, a conflict that spills over too often into violent rage? Abstinence. Not abstinence before marriage: abstinence period. Only when most people learn to live without sex, he says, will we finally reach our highest level of achievement as a race. That's not the conclusion I drew from the story, but your mileage, like Tolstoy's, may vary.
Not an easy listen but a brilliant performance by the narrator, Jonathan Oliver, and a performance it is! Melodramatic, hysterical, Tolstoy lets his audience know what he thinks of indulgence and lust.
Lazy over-fed fornicators, dressed in the false cloth of an anti-Christ Christianity. Women are to be respected, treated as sisters, mothers, daughters, not as vessels for man's pleasure. People should work, hard. Should abstain from alcohol and sexual passion. Should not marry. Should not waste important energy searching for 'love'. One should be kind helpful good and 'love' all mankind.
'The Kreutzer Sonata' is more a message, and less a novel. But, an exciting story of a murder it certainly is, and, for me at least, it is an interesting idea.
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