Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata and book appraisal

2020-06-08 @Literature

One of Tolstoy’s later period novellas, I found Kreutzer Sonata a very worthy of a read.

The Russian-French bilingual edition of the text I dug up by sheer incident. Rummaging the used book store of Rio de Janeiro a few months back, it occupied the depths of those still unpriced and uncategorised book piles. And the discovery arrived barely in time before the employee scorned me for violating some boundaries or such.

It reminded me why I prefer paper to digital, with that similar kind of firmness that I might prefer natural stream water to, say, the toilet bowl. And the adventure aspect behind the acquisition is not the sole cause.

Consider this book.

Beyond the bilingual treatment (useful for my educational purposes), the binding houses a lengthy and annotated inset of period photography and paintings. The prologue entertains with a kind of background insight more personally written than a Wikipedia article. The edition also affixes Tolstoy’s epilogue, offering rather heavy (yet tremendously beneficial) introspection and elaboration of the underlying narrative.

Certes, I derive much pleasure and utility in such book abuse as writing, circling (or the marking of any Euclidean shapes), underlining, beet juice or coffee stains. My 1896 paper binding of Macbeth, priced then at 10 US cents, is abundantly blessed with such artifacts. If my humble appraisal methods are of any worth, the personal touch probably results in value increase.

Lastly, my KS edition packages an Amazon certificate for a free digital download of the sonata performed by Boston Symphony Orchestra. (That’s my dark humor for the day.)

As far as the read, at one point I got the distinct impression that Tolstoy was not crazy over Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. Nor did he seem to approbate the general impact behind music listening, or at least the music of the period. As I’ll comment further below, there isn’t a shortage of controversy.

Granted, the sonata for the violin and piano plays only an ephemeral role in the novella, albeit a symbolic one. But again, I deviate onto a very shrubbery and nearly impassable trail. As Tolstoy plainly puts:

Но приходит время, когда пловцы удалились от берега, и руководством им должны и могут служить только недостижимые светила и компас, показывающий направление. А то и другое дано нам.

Let’s back up. At a high level, Kreutzer Sonata presents an engaging narrative that explores the moral groundwork behind sex, marriage and relationships.

Let that not mislead you into considering KS redundant when juxtaposed with the earlier classics. Tolstoy’s convictions as well as writing style have here undergone a severe shift (if not metamorphosis).

Immediately noticeable are the plainness, the transparency, the explicitness in the language employed, this a radical source of transformation for the period.

For much of the novella, Tolstoy extends arguments in favor of sexual abstinence. Some of it interweaves with the religious framework, although he also lays claim of strictly moral foundation.

Now. You may severely discord with the author’s salient arguments. I did. However, many of the independent building blocks put forth - the reasoning, the cases - the lemmas, so to speak, I found not only inspiring of a deeper reflection, but highly pertinent across any time epoch, including the present.

I’ll speak no further on the narrative, strongly preferring that you intake it in the raw, rather than yield to preformed notions of conceit.

I do that because it’s a valuable of a read; valuable and worthy for the same reason I find throughout much controversial or disagreeable literature:

A work parading myriads of radical or even extremist arguments is bound to contain a handful that hold enough water to channel in a way we deem befitting; in the likeness that we contraband ingredients from grandmother’s unsavory pot of soup for our own concoctions.

Appraise the book not for the overall presentation, cohesiveness, or tractability. That’s an office for the critics. Appraise it for the byproduct you alone derive.

Questions, comments? Connect.