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The Kreutzer Sonata

Narrated by: Simon Prebble
Length: 3 hrs and 30 mins
4 out of 5 stars (4 ratings)

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Summary

One of the world’s greatest novelists, Leo Tolstoy was also the author of a number of superb short stories, one of his best known being “The Kreutzer Sonata.” This macabre story involves the murder of a wife by her husband. It is a penetrating study of jealousy as well as a piercing complaint about the way in which society educates men and women in matters of sex - a serious condemnation of the mores and attitudes of the wealthy, educated class.

Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) was born in Russia. His parents, who died when he was young, were of noble birth. He served in the army in the Caucasus and Crimea, where he wrote his first stories. He is especially known for his masterpieces, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

Public Domain (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Tad Davis
  • 20-06-19

Passionate reading

In “The Kreutzer Sonata”, Tolstoy has given us a disturbing and believable portrait of a man whose bitterness, misogyny, and jealousy will eventually lead him to murder his wife. The authorities consider it a crime of passion, and because of that he faces no punishment. He believed his wife was having an affair, and to him and others, that excuses all. He lacks any self-awareness of the contempt and disgust on his part that played a role in making their marriage so unhappy.

The story is anything but “sex-positive.” On the contrary, Tolstoy writes about sex with an almost scatological ferocity. It isn't apparent from this particular edition of the story, but it seems that Tolstoy shared more of his protagonist’s attitude toward sex, and toward women, than was good for him. He apparently shared his protagonist’s belief that total abstinence from all sexual contact, for all people everywhere, was a necessary step in building a just society. He made this explicit in an appendix that is sometimes included with the story (though not here). He overlooked a much simpler solution that was ready to hand: don't be a jerk.

Simon Prebble narrates the story with grace but also with strong passion: I believed him as a character driven to murder by his own demons. He is sometimes downright frightening, especially as the story reaches its climax. But even with that, Prebble’s voice somehow conveys the sense that he's enjoying the task of reading it.

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  • Darwin8u
  • 02-02-19

Love, Marriage, Family:: Wine, Women, Music

"Love, marriage, family,—all lies, lies, lies."
- Leo Tolstoy, The Krutzer Sonata

First, let me start this review by stating I think Anna Karenina might just be a perfect novel. So, I love Tolstoy. War and Peace, also amazes me and easily belongs on the list of Great World Novels. But 'The Kreutzer Sonata' plays like the writings of an over-indulged, philosophically-stretched, cranky, Fundamentalist older man. It is the sad, second wife to Anna Karenina*. That said, I enjoyed the structure. It is basically a man, Pozdnyshev, discussing his feelings on marriage, morality, and family on a train ride with some strangers. During this discussion he admits that in a jealous rage he once killed his wife (and was later aquited).

The story was censored briefly in 1890 (its censorship was later overturned), but that didn't stop Theodore Roosevelt calling Tolstoy a "sexual moral pervert". The novel does allude to wanking, immorality, adultery, abortion, etc. Which is funny, because the whole premise of the book is to rage against our moral failings. In a later piece Tolstoy wrote (Lesson of the"The Kreutzer Sonata") defending the novella, he basically explained his views:

1. Men are basically immoral perverts with the opposite sex when young. Society and families wink at their dissoluteness.
2. The poetic/romantic ideal of "falling in love" has had a detrimental impact on morality.
3. The birth of children has lost its pristine significance and the family has been degraded even in the "modern" view of marriage.
4. Children are being raised NOT to grow into moral adults, but to entertain their parents. They are seen as entertainments of the family.
5. Romatic ideas of music, art, dances, food, etc., has contributed and fanned the sexcual vices and diseases of youth.
6. The best years (youth) of our lives are spent trying to get our "freak on" (my term, not Count Tolstoy's). That period would be better spent not chasing tail, butserving one's country, science, art, or God.
7. Chasity and celibacy are to be admired and marriage and sex should be avoided. If we were really "Christian" we would not "bump uglies" (again, my term not the Count's).

It might seem like I am warping Tolstoy's argument a bit, but really I am not. I think the best response to Tolstoy came in 1908 at a celebration of Tolstoy's 80th* from G.K. Chesterton (not really a big libertine; big yes, libertine no):

"Tolstoy is not content with pitying humanity for its pains: such as poverty and prisons. He also pities humanity for its pleasures, such as music and patriotism. He weeps at the thought of hatred; but in The Kreutzer Sonata he weeps almost as much at the thought of love. He and all the humanitarians pity the joys of men." He went on to address Tolstoy directly: "What you dislike is being a man. You are at least next door to hating humanity, for you pity humanity because it is human”

* There are even a couple lines that seem to borrow scenes from, or allude to, Anna Karenina:
"throw myself under the cars, and thus finish everything."
"I was still unaware that ninety-nine families out of every hundred live in the same hell, and that it cannot be otherwise. I had not learned this fact from others or from myself. The coincidences that are met in regular, and even in irregular life, are surprising."
** Which, if the backward math works, means Kreutzer Sonata was written/published when Tolstoy was in his early 60s.

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  • Erin
  • 21-03-18

Magnificent story and reading!

Worthwhile for any lover of great literature. Uniquely Russian, it is a woeful but powerful tale for all fascinated by the human condition.

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  • waelse1
  • 26-02-16

Very good short story

Tale of a man's jealousy over his wife's affections for another man. Tremendous reading, enjoyed it.

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  • TiffanyD
  • 12-11-18

Leo Tolstoy was kind of a monster

I understand he was a great writer, but in real life he was also kind of a terrible human being and this novella is the best example of that I've read so far.

The narrator is so anti-human sexuality and so ridiculously rationalizing of his own insane behavior that I almost want to believe that it's deliberate. That we have here an unreliable and unaware narrator like the guy from The Telltale Heart or John Fowles' The Collector. But having read Anna Karenina and knowing a little bit about Tolstoy's real-life marriage, I suspected that this might not be the case and a quick bit of internet reading confirms it. These are Tolstoy's actual views.

I wish I could say the views on marriage and women and sexuality were left in the age of the Tsars, but alas, a peek into the darker corners of Twitter will expose you to the same views, less artfully expressed. Contraception is bad because it degrades women! Uh-huh. Sure. It's totally not because it gives women freedom over their own bodies that makes some men uncomfortable.

The views ARE artfully expressed and the performance is quite good but I never want to return to this book or even see it in my audible library. I will be exchanging it posthaste, preferable for something written by a woman.

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