A Review Of Sofiya Tolstoy’s Response To The Kreutzer Sonata

by Rachel Baker on February 3, 2015

This is a phenomenally well-written review of Countess Tolstoy’s response to Tolstoy’s story she felt was inspired by the events in their own bad marriage.

According to this review, it turns out she was a pretty good writer and had the ability to explore the many different facets of love and sex in a way her husband was incredibly inept at.

Read the Article: The Other Tolstoy and the Book of Night

None too surprisingly, Tolstoy’s wife, Sofiya, took his tale of a wife-murderer personally, especially since it seemed to her it was inspired by the “issues” in her own marriage. The Kreutzer narrator—a Tolstoy-like landowner—fantasized an adulterous tryst between his wife and the violinist she played duets with. Mad sexual jealousy. And then when he comes home one night and unexpectedly finds the two dining together, he imagines the worst and stabs her to death.

It was fair to say Sofiya was humiliated and incensed when the novella was published and her marriage to The Great Man became suspect, subject to nationwide speculation. (And yet such was her devotion she made a special plea to the Czar to allow its publication after Orthodox Church objections banned it. In an unusual moment in the annals of censorship, the church objected not so much to a surplus of sex in Kreutzer, but rather to its denunciation of even church-sanctified marital sex as legitimized depravity.)

For a long time, it had been thought Sofiya kept her dismay to her private diary. But now—and this is the revelation I first saw reported in the New York Times last summer—it turns out she wrote an entire novella of her own that has languished unpublished and untranslated in the depths of the archives of the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow for more than a century.

And what a novel it is! Just published for the first time in English in a translation by the scholar Michael R. Katz, it appears in a Yale University Press edition that includes not only Tolstoy’s original Kreutzer, not only Sofiya’s “answer novel,” not only a response document from Tolstoy’s son and from his daughter, but much more. The volume is called The Kreutzer Sonata Variations.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to Become a Patron or to follow on Twitter.

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