A Selected Shorts Special: 'The Kreutzer Sonata'

In celebration of the Tolstoy centenary, host Isaiah Sheffer reads an excerpt from this powerful tale.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In Tolstoy's most famous short story, a stranger on a train reveals himself to be a wife murderer, and unravels for his companions a complex tale of jealousy and obsession.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Count Leo Tolstoy.  This prodigious writer and social reformer penned dozens of stories, essays, and plays, in addition to his two great novels, "War and Peace," and "Anna Karenina."

Completed between 1887 and 1889, "The Kreutzer Sonata" caused both a private rift and a public scandal. Tolstoy's wife, Sofia Andreyevna, with whom he had thirteen children, saw the novella as an exposure of their difficult relationship, while its combination of sexual frankness and physical violence made it the subject of a banning order by the Tzar. Today, "The Kreutzer Sonata" is treasured as a complex example of Tolstoy's own struggle between passion and reason, and his conflicted attitude towards women and intimate love.

The "Kruetzer Sonata" of the title is a well-known work by Ludwig von Beethoven, and was actually played in Tolstoy's own home. In this excerpt, the narrator recounts his meeting with the musician who he comes to see as a rival, his growing obsessive jealousy, and his conviction that music somehow acted as an erotic catalyst.


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