These stories give an excellent view of Tolstoy's vision on the real nature of man, his place in our world, on sex, marriage and women, on man's ultimate destiny and on morals.
For Tolstoy, man as a species is barely more than an animal incapable of controlling his `animal passion'. More, `it is perhaps better that people should be pure animals, then they would not suffer from death and disease.'
In `The Devil', the main character commits suicide because he cannot control his sexual drive ('his swinish life'). In `The Kreutzer Sonata', the main character knows his wife `only as an animal and nothing can restrain an animal.'
To have sex is `necessary for physical health', but the solution lays in no way in marriage.
In `Family Happiness', the novelty of the first years of marriage (`the wild delight') turns into routine. Pure love for her man becomes `love for her children and the father of her children.'
But in `The Death of Ivan Ilyich', `conjugal love was in reality a very intricate and different business.' And, in `The Devil', marriage is not less than sin, `a deviation from the doctrine of Christ'.
`The Kreutzer Sonata' is not less than the killing of marriage as an institute.
For sex one needs a partner. Here, L. Tolstoy shows his serious misogyny. In `The Devil' it is crystal clear who the devil is and who constantly reminds the main character of his sexual drive. In `The Kreutzer Sonata': `that the women of our society have other interest in life than prostitutes, but I say no.'
The only solution then is chastity and celibacy, in other words the extinction of mankind. Tolstoy has absolutely no problem with this outcome, for in any case science tells us that mankind is doomed with the death of the sun!
Chastity and celibacy makes of man still more an island. In `The Death of Ivan Ilyich', the main character `cried at his awful loneliness, the cruelty of people, the cruelty and the absence of God.'
If celibacy is Tolstoy's ideal of humanity what should man do? `Family Happiness' gives us the answer: `in life there is only one certain happiness - living for others.'
As science has proven, pure altruism is a synonym for evolutionary death.
This extremely emotionally driven short stories reveal clearly Tolstoy's demons and his catastrophic vision on mankind.
Not to be missed.