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The Sonata was dedicated to the French violin virtuoso Rodolfe Kreutzer, who refused to play it. Never a great fan of Beethoven’s music, Kreutzer found the Sonata “outrageously unintelligible” and said, that “one would have to be in the grip of a kind of aesthetic and artistic terrorism, not to find in this work clear renewed proof of the fact that for some time now this composer has been indulging in whims, above all striving to be absolutely different from other people.”
    Kreutzer Sonata: Expressions of Human Anguish in Music, Literature and Beyond (Marja Karelia, Simon Fraser University)
Nobody, it is true, directly disputes the proposition that debauchery should not be practiced, either before or after marriage, that it is wrong artificially to destroy childbirth, that children are not to be made playthings, and that amatory union ought not to be placed higher than anything else, -- in short, nobody denies that chastity is better than looseness of morals. But they say: "If the single state is better than wedlock, then people ought evidently to do that which is better. But, if people do that, then the human race will come to an end, and therefore the destruction of the human race cannot be its ideal." Yet, not to mention the fact that the destruction of the human race is not a new conception for the people of this world, being a dogma of faith with the religious people and for the scientific men an inevitable deduction from the observations in regard to the sun's congealment, -- there is in this expression a great, wide-spread, and old misunderstanding. They say: "If people will reach the ideal of complete chastity, they will be destroyed, and therefore the ideal is wrong." But those who say so purposely or unwittingly mix up two different things, -- a precept and an ideal.

Chastity is not a rule or a precept, but an ideal, or, more correctly, one of its conditions. An ideal is only then an ideal when its realization is possible in the idea only, in thought, when it presents itself as attainable only at infinity, and when, therefore, the approach to it is infinite. If an ideal were not only attainable, but we could imagine its realization, it would cease to be an ideal. Such is Christ's ideal, the establishment of the kingdom of God upon earth, -- an ideal which had been foretold even by the prophets when they said that the time would come when the people would be instructed by God, when the swords would be forged into ploughshares and the spears into sickles, when the lion would lie with the lamb, when all the creatures would be united in love. The whole meaning of human life consists in a motion toward this ideal, and therefore the striving after the Christian ideal, in all its entirety, and after chastity, as one of the conditions of this ideal, not only does not exclude the possibility of life, but, on the contrary, the absence of this Christian ideal would destroy all movement forward and, consequently, all possibility of life.
    -EPILOGUE TO THE KREUTZER SONATA by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (In the translation by Professor Leo Wiener 1904
When you write a book about a man who comes to despise and eventually murder his wife and your own spouse recognizes it as semi-autobiographical, you may have some issues. And Leo Tolstoy could match up with any author in the personal issues category. Particularly as he grew older he embraced a sort of primitive Christianity, seeking to shed all his vices. But one stumped him: sexual desire. This novella, mainly narrated by the wife-killer Pozdnyshev, is one long screed against sex, marriage, the temptation of men by women, ultimately against our very humanity. The title comes from Beethoven's piece of the same name, which Tolstoy felt served no other purpose but to inflame man's passions.

This last is the sort of thing that has led to Tolstoy being characterized as anti-Romantic, but, really, what is more Romantic than turning a subjective difficulty into a universal rule? It's too bad that he didn't enjoy his own marriage, but we need not wreck our own in turn. Max Beerbohm famously dismissed Freudianism in a line: "They were a tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, weren't they?" G. K. Chesterton lacks that brevity, but his assessment of Kreutzer is, likewise, dispositive:
The narrow notion that an artist may not teach is pretty well exploded by now. But the truth of the matter is, that an artist teaches far more by his mere background and properties, his landscape, his costume, his idiom and technique--all the part of his work, in short, of which he is probably entirely unconscious, than by the elaborate and pompous moral dicta which he fondly imagines to be his opinions. The real distinction between the ethics of high art and the ethics of manufactured and didactic art lies in the simple fact that the bad fable has a moral, while the good fable is a moral. And the real moral of Tolstoy comes out constantly in these stories, the great moral which lies at the heart of all his work, of which he is probably unconscious, and of which it is quite likely that he would vehemently disapprove. The curious cold white light of morning that shines over all the tales, the folklore simplicity with which 'a man or a woman' are spoken of without further identification, the love--one might almost say the lust--for the qualities of brute materials, the hardness of wood, and the softness of mud, the ingrained belief in a certain ancient kindliness sitting beside the very cradle of the race of man--these influences are truly moral. When we put beside them the trumpeting and tearing nonsense of the didactic Tolstoy, screaming for an obscene purity, shouting for an inhuman peace, hacking up human life into small sins with a chopper, sneering at men, women, and children out of respect to humanity, combining in one chaos of contradictions an unmanly Puritan and an uncivilised prig, then, indeed, we scarcely know whither Tolstoy has vanished. We know not what to do with this small and noisy moralist who is inhabiting one corner of a great and good man.

It is difficult in every case to reconcile Tolstoy the great artist with Tolstoy the almost venomous reformer. It is difficult to believe that a man who draws in such noble outlines the dignity of the daily life of humanity regards as evil that divine act of procreation by which that dignity is renewed from age to age. It is difficult to believe that a man who has painted with so frightful an honesty the heartrending emptiness of the life of the poor can really grudge them every one of their pitiful pleasures, from courtship to tobacco. It is difficult to believe that a poet in prose who has so powerfully exhibited the earth-born air of man, the essential kinship of a human being, with the landscape in which he lives, can deny so elemental a virtue as that which attaches a man to his own ancestors and his own land. It is difficult to believe that the man who feels so poignantly the detestable insolence of oppression would not actually, if he had the chance, lay the oppressor flat with his fist. All, however, arises from the search after a false simplicity, the aim of being, if I may so express it, more natural than it is natural to be. It would not only be more human, it would be more humble of us to be content to be complex. The truest kinship with humanity would lie in doing as humanity has always done, accepting with a sportsmanlike relish the estate to which we are called, the star of our happiness, and the fortunes of the land of our birth.
    Leo Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity (G.K. Chesterton, Twelve Types: a Collection of Biographies)
Be such a sportsman, not a Tolstoy.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Leo Tolstoy (3 books reviewed)
Russian Literature
Leo Tolstoy Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Leo Tolstoy    -FILMOGRAPHY:Leo Tolstoy (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Tolstoy (Online Literature Network)
    -ENTRY: Leo Tolstoy Russian writer (Gary Saul Morson, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Leo Tolstoy (
    -VIDEO: Hear Leo Tolstoy Read From His Last Major Work in Four Languages, 1909
-WIKIPEDIA: The Kreutzer Sonata
    -ENTRY: The Kreutzer Sonata (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ETEXT: THE KREUTZER SONATA by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy: First Published in 1889 Translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude (Tolstoy Library OnLine)
    -ETEXT: EPILOGUE TO THE KREUTZER SONATA by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (In the translation by Professor Leo Wiener 1904 (Tolstoy Library)
    -ETEXT: The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories, by Leo Tolstoy: Benj. R. Tucker (Project Gutenberg)
    -AUDIO BOOK: Kreutzer Sonata (AudioBookBuzz)
    -VIDEO: Beethoven.Violin.Sonata.No.9.Op.47.kreutzer (Anne-Sophie Mutter, Lambert Orkis)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (Grade Saver)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (Course Hero)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (eNotes)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and The Silent Universe: Frank Martela relates how science destroyed the meaning of life, but helps us find meaning in life. (Frank Martela, June 2024, Philosophy Now)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy’s search for truth: ‘The Kingdom of God’ (Patrick Maxwell, 2/10/24, The Article)
    -ESSAY: Was Tolstoy An Enemy of Love?: On the Russian Great’s Animosity Towards Desire Ron Rosenbaum Considers the Essential Role of Love in Making Us Human (Ron Rosenbaum, August 16, 2023, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: A Woman in Full: In our eagerness to appreciate sexual difference, it is important not to reduce women to something less than what they are. (Rachel Lu, 3/02/23, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy’s Narratives of Faith: For Tolstoy’s heroes, life’s meaning is to be found not in some remote theory, but in the world and people right before us. (Gary Saul Morson, DECEMBER 30, 2022, Plough)
    -ESSAY: Marriage and Manliness in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” (Scott Yenor, December 12th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: What Tolstoy Could Have Taught Putin (GARY MORSON, 3/30/22, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: Rethinking "Putin's War" (Richard Gunderman, 3/30/22, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata: Love, Murder, and the Violin (Laura Keller, September 27, 2018, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center)
    -ESSAY: Kreutzer Sonata: Expressions of Human Anguish in Music, Literature and Beyond (Marja Karelia, Simon Fraser University, GLS West Coast Symposium at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM)
    -ESSAY: Music in Russian Literature: The Kreutzer Sonata (Russian National Orchestra)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity (G.K. Chesterton, Twelve Types: a Collection of Biographies)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy (William Dean Howells)
    -ESSAY: TOLSTOY'S BESTIARY: animality and animosity in the kreutzer sonata (Dominic Pettman, 17 May 2013, Angeliki)
    -ESSAY: Discourse and intercourse in The Kreutzer Sonata (Alina Wyman, Christianity and Literature)
    -ESSAY: Chapter 17. Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) (Charlotte Alston, Patriarchal Moments: Reading Patriarchal Texts)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy on Musical Mimesis (Liza Knapp)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata or homicidal jealousy according to Tolstoy (M Bénézech, Ann Med Psychol)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata: Three degrees of separation: What links Tolstoy, Beethoven, a virtuoso violinist and a young, married Czech woman? The inspiration for the elderly Janacek's string quartets (Eugene Drucker, 25 Feb 2010, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Bringing him down: Leo Tolstoy’s art, ideas and lived life (Caryl Emerson, TLS)
    -ESSAY: Suspicion on Trial: Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata and Nabokov's “Pozdnyshev's Address” (Tatyana Gershkovich, 23 October 2020, PMLA / Publications of the Modern Language Association of America)
    -ESSAY: How Tolstoy’s banned novella started a sexual revolution in Russia (ALEXANDRA GUZEVA, 1/25/21, Russia Beyond)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy and Spirituality: Chapter 6: Tolstoy’s Divine Madness: An Analysis of The Kreutzer Sonata (Predrag Cicovacki)
-ESSAY: Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata on Stage: Domestic Violence and the Economics of Pity (Fiona Bell, 2/04/21, NYU Jordan Center)
    -ESSAY: “What Did I Want?”: Theatricality and the Crisis of Modern Subjectivity in Tolstoi's Kreutzer Sonata (David Herman, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Music and Literature as Related Infections: Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata Op. 47 and Tolstoj's Novella ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ (Mahoko Eguchi, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Presto and Manifesto: The Kreutzer Sonatas of Tolstoj and Beethoven (Elizabeth A.Papazian, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: The Truth of the Inner Being: ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ as a Tragedy of Forgiveness (Robert Bird, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Narrating the Murder: The Rhetoric of Evasion in ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ (Vladimir Golstein, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Art and Transgression in The Kreutzer Sonata (Literature and Transgression)
    -ESSAY: The Old Magician: A defense of the late, scolding Tolstoy (Irving Howe, January 10, 2014, New Republic)
    -PROFILE: Translating Tolstoy (Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, Nov. 17, 2009, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the End of History (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Forgotten Tolstoy Novel: A Reappraisal of Resurrection (1899) (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Is it Time to Stop Treating Leo Tolstoy as a Novelist? (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the Marriage Plot (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Disease And Purpose In Ivan Ilyich: Covid-19 has exposed our fear of sickness and death, but Tolstoy's novella suggests that the real depravity is a life devoid of meaning. (AUGUSTE MEYRAT, 12/15/21, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: close encounters with tolstoy: War and Peace through a different lens (RHODA FENG, 10/07/2021, Smart Set)
    -ESSAY: “I Would Not Take Prisoners.” Tolstoy’s Case Against Making War Humane: Samuel Moyn Considers Prince Andrei, Carl von Clausewitz, and the Rules of War (Samuel Moyn, September 10, 2021, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Time To Reread ‘Anna Karenina’: Tolstoy’s novel teaches that sexual freedom actually enslaves women (Carmel Richardson, 8/10/21, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: Of THINKING WITH TOLSTOY AND WITTGENSTEIN: Expression, emotion, and art by Henry W. Pickford (Caryl Emerson, Times Literary Supplement)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ Is So Much More Than a Love Story (John Tamny, 7/06/23, Forbes)
-REVIEW: of The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Olga Kerziouk, British Library: European Studies Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Sophie Pinkham, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Frances Wilson, Interlude)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Thoughts on a Train)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Vulpes Libris)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (A Russian Affair)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Terry Freedman, Writers Know-How)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Vishy's Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Scott Manley Hadley, Triumph of the Now)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Orin James)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (John Self, Asylum)
    -PLAY REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Kate Kellaway, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Kreutzer Sonata Variations by Leo Tolstoy, Sofia Tolstoy and Lev Tolstoy (Alison Flood, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (William Grimes, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (Ron Rosenbaum, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (Catherine Brown, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov (Leonard Michaels, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Lectures on Russian Literature (Bruce Allen, CS Monitor)


    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Kreutzer Sonata (2008) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Kreutzer Sonata (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -PROFILE: Tolstoy and me: His Ivans xtc was a vivid reworking of a story about dying. Now director Bernard Rose is returning to the author for a film about sex and Beethoven. (Andrew Pulver, 1 Jul 2008, The guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Anthony Quinn, Independent)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Tim Robey, Telegraph)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Philip French, The Observer)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Ray Bennett, AP)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Leslie Felperin, Variety)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Allan Hunter, Screen Daily)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ivansxtc (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

    -REVIEW: of Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian )
    REVIEW ESSAY: Birth, death, balls and battles: It has no clear beginning, middle or end, but the first translation of War and Peace for 50 years reaffirms its greatness. Tolstoy brilliantly interweaves the historical and the personal (Orlando Figes, 8/27/05, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Leo Tolstoy by ANDREI ZORIN (Maria Rubins, LA Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: One Key To Finding Love Is Dreaming Bigger Than A ‘Soulmate’ (JONATHAN POKLUDA, MARCH 9, 2021, Relevant)