The Kreutzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XIX.

Posdnicheff’s face had become transformed; his eyes were pitiable; their expression seemed strange, like that of another being than himself; his moustache and beard turned up toward the top of his face; his nose was diminished, and his mouth enlarged, immense, frightful.

“Yes,” he resumed “she had grown stouter since ceasing to conceive, and her anxieties about her children began to disappear. Not even to disappear. One would have said that she was waking from a long intoxication, that on coming to herself she had perceived the entire universe with its joys, a whole world in which she had not learned to live, and which she did not understand.

“‘If only this world shall not vanish! When time is past, when old age comes, one cannot recover it.’ Thus, I believe, she thought, or rather felt. Moreover, she could neither think nor feel otherwise. She had been brought up in this idea that there is in the world but one thing worthy of attention — love. In marrying, she had known something of this love, but very far from everything that she had understood as promised her, everything that she expected. How many disillusions! How much suffering! And an unexpected torture — the children! This torture had told upon her, and then, thanks to the obliging doctor, she had learned that it is possible to avoid having children. That had made her glad. She had tried, and she was now revived for the only thing that she knew — for love. But love with a husband polluted by jealousy and ill-nature was no longer her ideal. She began to think of some other tenderness; at least, that is what I thought. She looked about her as if expecting some event or some being. I noticed it, and I could not help being anxious.

“Always, now, it happened that, in talking with me through a third party (that is, in talking with others, but with the intention that I should hear), she boldly expressed — not thinking that an hour before she had said the opposite — half joking, half seriously, this idea that maternal anxieties are a delusion; that it is not worth while to sacrifice one’s life to children. When one is young, it is necessary to enjoy life. So she occupied herself less with the children, not with the same intensity as formerly, and paid more and more attention to herself, to her face — although she concealed it — to her pleasures, and even to her perfection from the worldly point of view. She began to devote herself passionately to the piano, which had formerly stood forgotten in the corner. There, at the piano, began the adventure.

“The MAN appeared.”

Posdnicheff seemed embarrassed, and twice again there escaped him that nasal sound of which I spoke above. I thought that it gave him pain to refer to the MAN, and to remember him. He made an effort, as if to break down the obstacle that embarrassed him, and continued with determination.

“He was a bad man in my eyes, and not because he has played such an important role in my life, but because he was really such. For the rest, from the fact that he was bad, we must conclude that he was irresponsible. He was a musician, a violinist. Not a professional musician, but half man of the world, half artist. His father, a country proprietor, was a neighbor of my father’s. The father had become ruined, and the children, three boys, were all sent away. Our man, the youngest, was sent to his godmother at Paris. There they placed him in the Conservatory, for he showed a taste for music. He came out a violinist, and played in concerts.”

On the point of speaking evil of the other, Posdnicheff checked himself, stopped, and said suddenly:

“In truth, I know not how he lived. I only know that that year he came to Russia, and came to see me. Moist eyes of almond shape, smiling red lips, a little moustache well waxed, hair brushed in the latest fashion, a vulgarly pretty face — what the women call ‘not bad,’— feebly built physically, but with no deformity; with hips as broad as a woman’s; correct, and insinuating himself into the familiarity of people as far as possible, but having that keen sense that quickly detects a false step and retires in reason — a man, in short, observant of the external rules of dignity, with that special Parisianism that is revealed in buttoned boots, a gaudy cravat, and that something which foreigners pick up in Paris, and which, in its peculiarity and novelty, always has an influence on our women. In his manners an external and artificial gayety, a way, you know, of referring to everything by hints, by unfinished fragments, as if everything that one says you knew already, recalled it, and could supply the omissions. Well, he, with his music, was the cause of all.

“At the trial the affair was so represented that everything seemed attributable to jealousy. It is false — that is, not quite false, but there was something else. The verdict was rendered that I was a deceived husband, that I had killed in defence of my sullied honor (that is the way they put it in their language), and thus I was acquitted. I tried to explain the affair from my own point of view, but they concluded that I simply wanted to rehabilitate the memory of my wife. Her relations with the musician, whatever they may have been, are now of no importance to me or to her. The important part is what I have told you. The whole tragedy was due to the fact that this man came into our house at a time when an immense abyss had already been dug between us, that frightful tension of mutual hatred, in which the slightest motive sufficed to precipitate the crisis. Our quarrels in the last days were something terrible, and the more astonishing because they were followed by a brutal passion extremely strained. If it had not been he, some other would have come. If the pretext had not been jealousy, I should have discovered another. I insist upon this point — that all husbands who live the married life that I lived must either resort to outside debauchery, or separate from their wives, or kill themselves, or kill their wives as I did. If there is any one in my case to whom this does not happen, he is a very rare exception, for, before ending as I ended, I was several times on the point of suicide, and my wife made several attempts to poison herself.

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