by Leo Tolstoy
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Although now considered one of Tolstoy’s best shorter stories, Russian authorities
censored The Kreutzer Sonata after its publication in 1889. Similarly, other countries
including the United States had banned the book’s translations. The story concerns
Pozdnyshev, a cynical young man overcome by passion, rage, and jealousy. The author
plumbs the innermost depths of Pozdnyshev’s crumbling mind; the callousness of that
mind and its intentions can be profoundly unsettling. Tolstoy explains in the story’s
epilogue, however, that the downfall of the twisted Pozdnyshev serves only to show how
carnal lust destroys lives. While all readers acknowledge the story’s genius, its intended
message of ascetic abstinence remains controversial. G.K. Chesterton, for example,
wrote that “Tolstoy is not content with pitying humanity for its pains: such as poverty
and prisons. He also pities humanity for its pleasures, such as music and patriotism. He
weeps at the thought of hatred; but in The Kreutzer Sonata he weeps almost as much at
the thought of love.”