Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Kreutzer Sonata: Raving Lunatic or Justified Murderer?

I was not overly shocked by the revolutionary aspects of The Kreutzer Sonata - namely its explicit denunciation of marriage and violent ending. I mean revolutionary in the sense that in the late 19th century, Tolstoy's writings would have shocked and outraged Russian society. Ironically, I'm a pessimist about marriage just as the man in The Kreutzer Sonata was. However, I will never condone abuse or violence, which were the most troubling aspects of this novella. Why did the man have to be a murderer? Was divorce really so bad an option? I believe that even in today's society, which is much more free-wheeling than aristocratic Russia in the 19th century, marriages are entered into brashly and unhappiness is far too common. However, - and I may be the devil's advocate here - rather than advocating better selection or striving for "chastity" in marriage, the ease of divorce should lower the possibility of abuse or even murder. I had not previously thought of The Kreutzer Sonata as championing ease of divorce, but this role fits the novella well.
Perhaps ease of divorce is not the issue, but rather the stigma attached to it, which is still seen today (though perhaps not in Russia). This blog post is focusing on whether the murderer could have chosen another path. I believe he was a little loony in the head and more abusive than most men. He seemed to have murdered his wife without sufficient proof and based on a few wrongly-interpreted looks. The fact that the wife did not confess on her deathbed was proof to me of the murderer's impetuousness. Do you believe the murderer had due cause? Was the wife innocent or guilty? Did he have another way out?  


  1. While I certainly agree with your points about the stigma that surrounded/still surrounds divorce, I believe that even if divorce had been a commonplace and socially accepted practice at the time that Pozdnyshev still would have killed his wife. This was obviously a crime of passion, and I don't think that there is any sort of logical reasoning surrounding it. In fact, the text suggests that Pozdnyshev's first instinct is to kill Troukhatchevsky, but he refrains from running after him for fear of looking silly chasing his wife's lover in his socks. Additionally, I interpreted the murder of the wife as Pozdnyshev's attempt to rid himself of the impurity of lust and the jealousy that comes with this; he married his wife for the wrong reasons and this reflects badly on his character. He must get rid of her-commit the ultimate impropriety:murder- in order to lead a life of propriety, free from physical desire and lust.

  2. I completely agree Alosha. Upon further review, Pozdnyshev comes off as a madman. Your last point about murder as an act of purification is disturbing yet accurate. Pozdnyshev certainly does not seem better off after this murder, but does seem quite ready to follow his own advice: that of exercising true chastity. However, I remain a little skeptical that perfect abstinence will cure him of the impurity of lust and jealousy.

  3. While I agree with both of you on most points, I think that his first instinct was to kill his wife, no matter what happened afterwards. It's really strange to me how divorce was not an option, but Pozdnyshev is able to escape prison after killing his wife. To me, that is very telling of what society deemed respectable or not.

    As for the perfect abstinence argument - it still makes me laugh. I think Tolstoy is inclined to believe that is the ultimate salvation because he has not been in the situation of being forced to be pure for a very long time. I think he perceived lust and desire as easy to control because he probably never had to control himself for too long as a young man, and has come to these conclusions in old age where his sexual urges were probably not as high. Many times I feel that Tolstoy comes up with these great ideas about how life should be like, but only because he is never experienced that himself and thinks the grass is greener on the other side. This is a funny comparison, I know, but it kind of reminds me how as a child I would always be jealous of the girls with straight hair and they'd always envy me for my curly hair. Tolstoy wants to be a virgin again, while all the maiden girls are waiting for husbands to take that away from them.