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The Kreutzer Sonata (Penguin Great Loves) [Paperback]

Leo Tolstoy
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Aug 2007 Penguin Great Loves

Pozdnyshev and his wife have a turbulent relationship. When her beauty blossoms after the birth of their children, men begin to flock around her, and he becomes increasingly jealous. Convinced his wife is betraying him with a young musician, his overpowering suspicion drives him to ever more dangerous lengths.

United by the theme of love, the writings in the Great Loves series span over two thousand years and vastly different worlds. Readers will be introduced to love’s endlessly fascinating possibilities and extremities: romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, gay love, virginal love, adulterous love, parental love, filial love, nostalgic love, unrequited love, illicit love, not to mention lost love, twisted and obsessional love….

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (2 Aug 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141032847
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141032849
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 11.1 x 18.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, where he spent most of his early years, together with his several brothers. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan to read Oriental Languages and later Law, but left before completing a degree. He spent the following years in a round of drinking, gambling and womanizing, until weary of his idle existence he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus in 1851.

He took part in the Crimean war and after the defence of Sevastopol wrote The Sevastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his literary reputation. After leaving the army in 1856 Tolstoy spent some time mixing with the literati in St Petersburg before travelling abroad and then settling at Yasnaya Polyana, where he involved himself in the running of peasant schools and the emancipation of the serfs. His marriage to Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862 marked the beginning of a period of contentment centred around family life; they had thirteen children. Tolstoy managed his vast estates, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote both his great novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

During the 1870s he underwent a spiritual crisis, the moral and religious ideas that had always dogged him coming to the fore. A Confession (1879-82) marked an outward change in his life and works; he became an extreme rationalist and moralist, and in a series of pamphlets written after 1880 he rejected church and state, indicted the demands of flesh, and denounced private property. His teachings earned him numerous followers in Russia and abroad, and also led finally to his excommunication by the Russian Holy Synod in 1901. In 1910 at the age of eighty-two he fled from home 'leaving this worldly life in order to live out my last days in peace and solitude'; dying some days later at the station master's house at Astapovo.

Product Description

About the Author

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), the Russian prose writer, is chiefly remembered for his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

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First Sentence
His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and prophetic 6 Feb 2004
I have to raise one quibble with the other review as it's very misleading: this is not a piece of autobiography, however much some of the events and ideas parallel those in Tolstoy's life.
It is, rather, a melodramatic monologue (and a brilliant, gripping novella) told by the cuckolded Pozdynshev to a chance railway carriage listener. A discussion on marriage and love amongst the travellers provokes the prematurely aged 'hero' to tell his own story, and offer his take on marriage based on his own bitter experience.
What is particularly striking in the tale - which caused a huge sensation when leaked in the 1890s - is the protagonist's (and Tolstoy's) take on sex. Love is merely, on the part of men, lust, a sensual pleasure with nothing noble about it. With the institution of marriage, this is ingrained in society in the most hypocritical way - we live in a kind of licensed brothel. Women, subjugated, find their power in the manipulation of the one thing men want them for - and in turn use the man for their own sensual pleasure, namely profiting from his work by spending his earnings on unnecessary clothes, furnishings, trinkets...
I'm not going to go into the full argument here - its subtlety and nuances would be lost. Some points he makes may seem outdated. Still, I can't help seeing the world he describes - of sex and consumerism that are sanctified as being essential for life, morally good, noble even, but which in reality lead to violence and hatred when left to run their natural course - as a near perfect projection of our own society of Sex and the City, Ikea, Ibiza, the Sun, Ann Summers...
In short, it's a great story in itself, but also, notwithstanding Tolstoy's own peculiarities of argument (abstinence) one that holds as much relevance today as it ever did.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spleen 8 Feb 2013
By s k
Many view The Kreutzer Sonata as Leo Tolstoy's ferocious denunciation of marriage. But that interpretation is far too narrow, as the narrative expands into a vitriolic howl against fin-de-siècle Russian culture in its entirety. The tale is marked, however, by a intense repudiation of the flesh and a call for existence to be rebuilt upon Tolstoy's own idiosyncratic doctrine. Pozdnyshev's story of jealousy and grief, then, is simply a smokescreen, a flimsy construct that allows the author his precious yet strangulating soapbox.

Cooped up in a carriage on an all-night train journey, the anonymous narrator must listen to Pozdnyshev recount his tale of deceit and murder. But the narrative's momentum is compromised by bouts of foolish philosophising. To modern sensibilities, Tolstoy's dogma is drastically archaic, its contents the strained yelp of a reactionary. Beneath all the didacticism, though, there is an intense story waiting to be birthed, but Tolstoy clearly isn't the midwife. For this reason it begins to pall, and the reader's patience dribbles away with the exhaustion of Pozdnyshev's spleen.

The narrator simply doesn't challenge his interlocutor. There was a chance to have the two interact dialectically, to tease out solutions to Pozdnyshev's cantankerousness, but Tolstoy avoids it. Instead, the reader is subjected to a list of grievances: 'Women are like empresses, keeping nine tenths of the human race in servitude', marriage is 'exceedingly painful and distressing', 'Children are a torment', ' extra expense...a burden', virginity is 'the most exalted condition a human being can aspire to' and so on. It lacks nuance and refined thinking, and begins to distract the reader from the subtle story of deception unfolding in Pozdnyshev's past.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jealousy and lust dominate 13 Jun 2012
Not all of Tolstoy's works were the size of War & Peace as this rather short novella demonstrates. The Kreutzer Sonata begins with a man on a train (because most Russian novels have to involve a train ride at some point) telling the story of his marriage to a rather shocked passenger. The whole affair turns out to be a melodramatic, dark little tale about a couple that can't live with each other but then can't seem to live without each other either.

Jealousy and lust dominate the bitter marriage of the protagonist and of course it's not going to end well at all. The story takes the couple down a more and more tragic route before leading to the eventual violence which is described in quite a vivid way.

Tolstoy manages to stick in his views on marriage in general (bitter much!) which now seem outdated from a modern perspective (only men have sex drives apparently) Unfortunately I fear that Tolstoy wanted the reader to come away from this having learned some kind of lesson and if this is the case then the reader should promptly ignore it, but if you like your fiction tragic and dark there is still a lot to be gained by reading this.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably my favorite book this year, 5 July 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I approached the Kreutzer Sonata with some misgivings, expecting, after reading Tolstoy's "Confession" to be an anti-sex hyper conservative Christian themed rant, fears that only intensified at the discovery of Bible quotes in the inside cover.

However, I was so, so wrong. Instead this is a tragic insight to the jealous mind. Tolstoy even attacks the traditionalist views on marriage towards the start of the novella, and shows Tolstoy to be the man of great heart every critic takes him for. The way Tolstoy paints a murderer as a human being, while still preserving a feeling of disgust throughout the novella is masterful. Just as you start to sway gradually towards the murderer's delicate character, Tolstoy will reveal something shocking or distasteful which will keep your mind affixed that a convicted murderer is the narrator here.

The simplicity of it all is staggering. The whole story is set in one carriage compartment on a Russian sleeper train. It is two men (one largely listening) conversing on a life gone wrong. The train, though maybe a cliche setting nowadays, is beautifully used to show emotions, and when multiple characters at the start are introduced, you feel part of an animated discussion.

The brutality however, is also staggering. While not throwing any spoliers in, the description of the murder itself is brutal and shocking almost. Testament indeed to the many skills Tolstoy possesses as a writer.

I found it simply unputdownable, and is one of the best I've read this year. (I'm currently slogging through War and Peace though, so maybe it will be beaten) The penguin translation as ever is excellent, and the cover is a thing of beauty. A wonderful little thought provoking book which needs to be added to any collection. As concrete a five stars I've ever awarded on Amazon. Tolstoy is a genius, and all his writings, however small, demand respect and reading.
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