Saturday, March 27, 2010

Leo Tolstoy: The Kreutzer Sonata (povest / a tale)

Крейцерова соната / Kreutzer-sonaatti. RU 1889. Read in a Finnish translation by Valto Kallama. Hämeenlinna: Arvi A. Karisto (Kariston klassillinen kirjasto), 1959.

Re-read in anticipation of getting to see the film adaptation by Gustav Machatý the borderline crazy povest (tale) by Leo Tolstoy. The patriarch of a big family - his wife gave birth to 13 children - preaches abstinence from sex. The tale is an account during a train ride by the nobleman Pozdnyshev who has killed his wife. She, a gifted pianist, had started to practise with the violin virtuoso Trukhachevsky, and the summit of their playing took place during Beethoven's The Kreutzer Sonata.

This is a thesis piece and Tolstoy means literally what he says. Men and women should neither marry nor have sex, even if this means the extinction of mankind. There is an unintentional and irresistibly crazy sense of humour in the piece. When I read the tale for the first time, I happened to travel on a train, and it fitted perfectly to the two-hour duration of the ride from Helsinki to Tampere. I took The Kreutzer Sonata as black humour.

Pozdnyshev's first-person subjective viewpoint to the story is so one-sidedly macho chauvinistic, it borders on parody. Yet Tolstoy the artist manages to let us understand the wife's viewpoint, as well. Although she is artistically talented, she has been bound to the role of a mere housewife in the countryside, and the marriage has stifled her. There is no evidence that she has betrayed her husband, and the whole tragedy may be the result of his mad, jealous imagination.

This tale, like What Is Art? belongs to Tolstoy's studies in excess. A terrible and ridiculous work of a genius.

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