Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tolstoy on the madness of a jealous heart

In an earlier entry I wrote that Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata" reminded me of Poe stylistically. Having finished the story, I can now say why.

It's because it focuses entirely on the emotional state of a single person while calling attention to the stability and reliability of that person.

Podnyshev is not saint turned from a pure life to one of hatred and vileness by some temptress or temptation.

Throughout the retelling of his life story he mentions the fact that he had lived a life of debauchery, like the men that he grew wary of as his wife stopped having children (after having five) and started focusing more on making herself noticeably beautiful, before marriage and thus knew their thoughts and feelings when they looked upon her.

Podnyshev also admits to being a jealous husband. Much of the final quarter of "The Kreutzer Sonata" is spent in his comparing this jealousy to a beast that he had to shackle to keep in check.

This combination of assumption and jealousy makes for a narrator who is much too much in his own head. So much so that there isn't enough room for readers to get in there with him. Yet, his thinking that his wife is having an affair with a travelling violinist is nonetheless something that we can see but that we doubt and hope against as much as he does.

We're lead to ask questions like "as an admitted owner of a jealous heart, surely he is remembering something incorrectly or embellishing words and actions, right?"



Whatever the truth of the matter is, after having finished this story, I don't see it as Tolstoy's raging against the establishment of marriage or the ideals of love. I see it more as a cautionary tale.

Before you can love another in the ideal way you need to not be Podnyshev with his rushing into marriage. Nor can you be someone who sees the opposite sex as simply objects for animal release. Instead, you need to slowly build a relationship with another person in which you recognize and acknowledge that they are, in fact, another person.

I think that could be seen as a pro for pornography. As much as it denigrates its subjects, it also separates them from the people that you interact with every day, leaving you with the room to realize that those other people in your life are people. Ultimately, you could then go on to see those performing for the boudoir camera as people too, but that's much less likely, speaking generally.

Podnyshev's problem isn't that love as the poets sing of it doesn't exist, but that he has closed himself off from it making women into objects of sexual desire first rather than regarding them as fellow human beings.

Tolstoy's granting him this revelation in the climax of his story seals this interpretation for me. If you go down the road of Podnyshev, the only way you'll realize that the opposite sex are people too is if you exercise the ultimate power over one of them and look into his/her eyes as you plunge a dagger into his/her chest. Otherwise jealousy, a product of possessiveness, will lead you to madness. The madness that breeds murder in the mind.

Though that internal struggle is ultimately what makes "The Kreutzer Sonata" so much like Poe's stories in my mind. To the point where I have to highly recommend it, in fact.

No comments:

Post a Comment