The Kreutzer Sonata  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Kreutzer Sonata is a novella by Leo Tolstoy, published in 1889 and promptly censored by the Russian authorities. The work is an analysis of the nature of marriage, sexual morality, physical love and the effect of having children on a marriage. In his epilogue Tolstoy declared that the novella was intended as an argument for the ideal of sexual abstinence. The main character, Pozdnyshev, relates the events leading up to his killing his wife; in his analysis, the root cause for the deed were the "animal excesses" and "swinish connection" governing the relation between the sexes. The novella is also notable for its in-depth first-person description of jealous rage



During a train ride, Pozdnyshev overhears a conversation concerning marriage, divorce and love. When a woman argues that marriage should not be arranged but based on true love, he asks "what is love?" and points out that, if understood as an exclusive preference for one person, it often passes quickly. Convention dictates that two married people stay together, and initial love can quickly turn into hatred. He then relates how he used to visit prostitutes when he was young, and complains that women's dresses are designed to arouse men's desires. He further states that women will never enjoy equal rights to men as long as men view them as objects of desire, but yet describes their situation as a form of power over men, mentioning how much of society is geared towards their pleasure and well-being and how much sway they have over mens actions.

After meeting and marrying his wife, periods of passionate love and vicious fights alternate. She bears several children, and then receives contraceptives: "The last excuse for our swinish life -- children -- was then taken away, and life became viler than ever."

His wife takes a liking to a violinist, and the two perform Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata (Sonata No. 9 in A Major for piano and violin, Op. 47) together. Pozdnyshev complains that some music is powerful enough to change one's internal state to a foreign one. He hides his raging jealousy and goes on a trip, returns early, finds the two together and kills his wife with a dagger. The violinist escapes: "I wanted to run after him, but remembered that it is ridiculous to run after one's wife's lover in one's socks; and I did not wish to be ridiculous but terrible."

Later acquitted of murder in light of his wife's apparent adultery, Pozdnyshev rides the trains seeking forgiveness from fellow passengers.


'What are the legitimate bounds of realism? To what point is it permissible to describe in repulsive detail the hideous and unseemly things of this world, simply because they exist, when it is quite impossible to say what the effect will be upon thousands of people to whom such description conveys the first knowledge of the existence of evil? It has been proved that public executions, far from inspiring horror of the deeds which led to them, and deterring others from the commission of like deeds, through fear of the result thus presented, actually give rise to crimes copied after those which are thus brought to general attention. The same thing is true in the case of crimes which are minutely described in the newspapers. But books? On the whole, although a sensational realistic book may never reach as many people as an article published in the popular newspaper, it probably produces as much effect because of the weight and respectability which the binding and comparatively high price give to it."--Isabel Florence Hapgood reviewing The Kreutzer Sonata


After the work had been forbidden in Russia by the censors, a mimeographed version was widely circulated. In 1890, the United States Post Office Department prohibited the mailing of newspapers containing serialized installments of The Kreutzer Sonata. This was confirmed by the U.S. Attorney General in the same year. Theodore Roosevelt called Tolstoy a "sexual moral pervert." The ban on its sale was struck down in New York and Pennsylvania courts.


In the Epilogue To The Kreutzer Sonata, published in 1890, Tolstoy clarifies the intended message of the novella, writing:

"Let us stop believing that carnal love is high and noble and understand that any end worth our pursuit -- in service of humanity, our homeland, science, art, let alone God -- any end, so long as we may count it worth our pursuit, is not attained by joining ourselves to the objects of our carnal love in marriage or outside it; that, in fact, infatuation and conjunction with the object of our carnal love (whatever the authors of romances and love poems claim to the contrary) will never help our worthwhile pursuits but only hinder them."

Countering the argument that widespread abstinence would lead to a cessation of the human race, he describes chastity as an ideal that provides guidance and direction, not as a firm rule. Writing from a position of deep religiosity (that he had explained in his Confession in 1882), he points out that not Christ, but the Church (which he despises) instituted marriage. "The Christian's ideal is love of God and his neighbor, self-renunciation in order to serve God and his neighbour; carnal love, marriage, means serving oneself, and therefore is, in any case, a hindrance in the service of God and men".

During the international celebration of Tolstoy's 80th birthday in 1908, G. K. Chesterton would criticize this aspect of Tolstoy's thought in an article in the September 19th issue of Illustrated London News, writing: "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."



  • The novella was made into a play by American playwright Langdon Mitchell and was first performed on Broadway on September 10, 1906.
  • In 2007 in Wellington, New Zealand, a newly devised theatrical work, The Kreutzer, was premiered, combining dance, music, theatre and multimedia projections with both pieces of music (Beethoven and Janáček) played live. Adaptation, direction and choreography was by Sara Brodie. A reworked version was presented in Auckland during March 2009 at The Auckland Festival.
  • The novella was adapted for the stage by Darko Spasov in 2008, and produced as a one-act play in 2009 for the National Theatre in Štip, Republic of Macedonia, directed by Ljupco Bresliski, performed by Milorad Angelov.
  • Laura Wade's Kreutzer vs. Kreutzer is also inspired by Tolstoy.
  • The novella was adapted for the stage by Ted Dykstra and produced as a one-act play for the Art of Time Ensemble of Toronto in 2008, and again for the Soulpepper Theatre Company in 2011.


  • Thais Sher has adapted this Novella for BBC Radio in 2011.


  • Thais Sher has adapted this Novella for Television (2017).


The Kreutzer Sonata has been adapted for film well over a dozen times. Some of these include:


The novella, inspired by Beethoven's music, in turn gave rise to Leoš Janáček's First String Quartet.


In 2000, the Carolina Ballet, with original choreography by Robert Weiss and combining the music of Beethoven, Janáček, and J. Mark Scearce, mounted an innovative production combining dance and drama, with a narrator/actor telling the story and flashbacks leading into the ballet segments.


The novella also inspired the 1901 painting Kreutzer Sonata by René François Xavier Prinet, which shows a passionate kiss between the violinist and the pianist. The painting was used for years in Tabu perfume ads.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Kreutzer Sonata" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools