The Kreutzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XV.

“Yes, jealousy, that is another of the secrets of marriage known to all and concealed by all. Besides the general cause of the mutual hatred of husbands and wives resulting from complicity in the pollution of a human being, and also from other causes, the inexhaustible source of marital wounds is jealousy. But by tacit consent it is determined to conceal them from all, and we conceal them. Knowing them, each one supposes in himself that it is an unfortunate peculiarity, and not a common destiny. So it was with me, and it had to be so. There cannot fail to be jealousy between husbands and wives who live immorally. If they cannot sacrifice their pleasures for the welfare of their child, they conclude therefrom, and truly, that they will not sacrifice their pleasures for, I will not say happiness and tranquillity (since one may sin in secret), but even for the sake of conscience. Each one knows very well that neither admits any high moral reasons for not betraying the other, since in their mutual relations they fail in the requirements of morality, and from that time distrust and watch each other.

“Oh, what a frightful feeling of jealousy! I do not speak of that real jealousy which has foundations (it is tormenting, but it promises an issue), but of that unconscious jealousy which inevitably accompanies every immoral marriage, and which, having no cause, has no end. This jealousy is frightful. Frightful, that is the word.

“And this is it. A young man speaks to my wife. He looks at her with a smile, and, as it seems to me, he surveys her body. How does he dare to think of her, to think of the possibility of a romance with her? And how can she, seeing this, tolerate him? Not only does she tolerate him, but she seems pleased. I even see that she puts herself to trouble on his account. And in my soul there rises such a hatred for her that each of her words, each gesture, disgusts me. She notices it, she knows not what to do, and how assume an air of indifferent animation? Ah! I suffer! That makes her gay, she is content. And my hatred increases tenfold, but I do not dare to give it free force, because at the bottom of my soul I know that there are no real reasons for it, and I remain in my seat, feigning indifference, and exaggerating my attention and courtesy to HIM.

“Then I get angry with myself. I desire to leave the room, to leave them alone, and I do, in fact, go out; but scarcely am I outside when I am invaded by a fear of what is taking place within my absence. I go in again, inventing some pretext. Or sometimes I do not go in; I remain near the door, and listen. How can she humiliate herself and humiliate me by placing me in this cowardly situation of suspicion and espionage? Oh, abomination! Oh, the wicked animal! And he too, what does he think of you? But he is like all men. He is what I was before my marriage. It gives him pleasure. He even smiles when he looks at me, as much as to say: ‘What have you to do with this? It is my turn now.’

“This feeling is horrible. Its burn is unendurable. To entertain this feeling toward any one, to once suspect a man of lusting after my wife, was enough to spoil this man forever in my eyes, as if he had been sprinkled with vitriol. Let me once become jealous of a being, and nevermore could I re-establish with him simple human relations, and my eyes flashed when I looked at him.

“As for my wife, so many times had I enveloped her with this moral vitriol, with this jealous hatred, that she was degraded thereby. In the periods of this causeless hatred I gradually uncrowned her. I covered her with shame in my imagination.

“I invented impossible knaveries. I suspected, I am ashamed to say, that she, this queen of ‘The Thousand and One Nights,’ deceived me with my serf, under my very eyes, and laughing at me.

Thus, with each new access of jealousy (I speak always of causeless jealousy), I entered into the furrow dug formerly by my filthy suspicions, and I continually deepened it. She did the same thing. If I have reasons to be jealous, she who knew my past had a thousand times more. And she was more ill-natured in her jealousy than I. And the sufferings that I felt from her jealousy were different, and likewise very painful.

“The situation may be described thus. We are living more or less tranquilly. I am even gay and contented. Suddenly we start a conversation on some most commonplace subject, and directly she finds herself disagreeing with me upon matters concerning which we have been generally in accord. And furthermore I see that, without any necessity therefor, she is becoming irritated. I think that she has a nervous attack, or else that the subject of conversation is really disagreeable to her. We talk of something else, and that begins again. Again she torments me, and becomes irritated. I am astonished and look for a reason. Why? For what? She keeps silence, answers me with monosyllables, evidently making allusions to something. I begin to divine that the reason of all this is that I have taken a few walks in the garden with her cousin, to whom I did not give even a thought. I begin to divine, but I cannot say so. If I say so, I confirm her suspicions. I interrogate her, I question her. She does not answer, but she sees that I understand, and that confirms her suspicions.

“‘What is the matter with you?’ I ask.

“‘Nothing, I am as well as usual,’ she answers.

“And at the same time, like a crazy woman, she gives utterance to the silliest remarks, to the most inexplicable explosions of spite.

“Sometimes I am patient, but at other times I break out with anger. Then her own irritation is launched forth in a flood of insults, in charges of imaginary crimes and all carried to the highest degree by sobs, tears, and retreats through the house to the most improbable spots. I go to look for her. I am ashamed before people, before the children, but there is nothing to be done. She is in a condition where I feel that she is ready for anything. I run, and finally find her. Nights of torture follow, in which both of us, with exhausted nerves, appease each other, after the most cruel words and accusations.

“Yes, jealousy, causeless jealousy, is the condition of our debauched conjugal life. And throughout my marriage never did I cease to feel it and to suffer from it. There were two periods in which I suffered most intensely. The first time was after the birth of our first child, when the doctors had forbidden my wife to nurse it. I was particularly jealous, in the first place, because my wife felt that restlessness peculiar to animal matter when the regular course of life is interrupted without occasion. But especially was I jealous because, having seen with what facility she had thrown off her moral duties as a mother, I concluded rightly, though unconsciously, that she would throw off as easily her conjugal duties, feeling all the surer of this because she was in perfect health, as was shown by the fact that, in spite of the prohibition of the dear doctors, she nursed her following children, and even very well.”

“I see that you have no love for the doctors,” said I, having noticed Posdnicheff’s extraordinarily spiteful expression of face and tone of voice whenever he spoke of them.

“It is not a question of loving them or of not loving them. They have ruined my life, as they have ruined the lives of thousands of beings before me, and I cannot help connecting the consequence with the cause. I conceive that they desire, like the lawyers and the rest, to make money. I would willingly have given them half of my income — and any one would have done it in my place, understanding what they do — if they had consented not to meddle in my conjugal life, and to keep themselves at a distance. I have compiled no statistics, but I know scores of cases — in reality, they are innumerable — where they have killed, now a child in its mother’s womb, asserting positively that the mother could not give birth to it (when the mother could give birth to it very well), now mothers, under the pretext of a so-called operation. No one has counted these murders, just as no one counted the murders of the Inquisition, because it was supposed that they were committed for the benefit of humanity. Innumerable are the crimes of the doctors! But all these crimes are nothing compared with the materialistic demoralization which they introduce into the world through women. I say nothing of the fact that, if it were to follow their advice — thanks to the microbe which they see everywhere — humanity, instead of tending to union, would proceed straight to complete disunion. Everybody, according to their doctrine, should isolate himself, and never remove from his mouth a syringe filled with phenic acid (moreover, they have found out now that it does no good). But I would pass over all these things. The supreme poison is the perversion of people, especially of women. One can no longer say now: ‘You live badly, live better.’ One can no longer say it either to himself or to others, for, if you live badly (say the doctors), the cause is in the nervous system or in something similar, and it is necessary to go to consult them, and they will prescribe for you thirty-five copecks’ worth of remedies to be bought at the drug-store, and you must swallow them. Your condition grows worse? Again to the doctors, and more remedies! An excellent business!

“But to return to our subject. I was saying that my wife nursed her children well, that the nursing and the gestation of the children, and the children in general, quieted my tortures of jealousy, but that, on the other hand, they provoked torments of a different sort.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04