52 pages 1 hour read

Leo Tolstoy

The Kreutzer Sonata

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1889

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Sensual Passion as a Corruption of Purity

Content Warning: This section of the guide discusses violence against women and domestic abuse.

When Tolstoy wrote The Kreutzer Sonata, he was a devout anarchist Christian who followed his own literal interpretation of the teachings of Christ. Tolstoy’s personal beliefs were quite different to the established dogma espoused by the institution of the Church. One of Tolstoy’s deeply held beliefs, and the primary argument of The Kreutzer Sonata, is that sexual abstinence is the only truly moral way to live one’s life. In order to convey this message and provide an argument against sexual promiscuity, Tolstoy uses the narrative to explore sensual passion as a corruption of purity.

The initial state of “purity” that Tolstoy idealizes is that of complete sexual abstinence. It is this perceived purity that Pozdnychev relinquishes when he has sex for the first time in a brothel at the age of 16 and this “purity” which he believes he despoils his wife of on their honeymoon. Pozdnychev goes into detail about how a single experience of sensual pleasure forever soiled his relationships with women. He states that he “had become what is called a voluptuary; and to be a voluptuary is a physical condition like the condition of a victim of the morphine habit, of a drunkard, and of a smoker” (5, 9), suggesting the extreme corruptive impact that even a single indulgence in sexual activity can have on both body and mind.