The Kreutzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter IX.

“Do you know,” suddenly continued Posdnicheff, “that this power of women from which the world suffers arises solely from what I have just spoken of?”

“What do you mean by the power of women?” I said. “Everybody, on the contrary, complains that women have not sufficient rights, that they are in subjection.”

“That’s it; that’s it exactly,” said he, vivaciously. “That is just what I mean, and that is the explanation of this extraordinary phenomenon, that on the one hand woman is reduced to the lowest degree of humiliation and on the other hand she reigns over everything. See the Jews: with their power of money, they avenge their subjection, just as the women do. ‘Ah! you wish us to be only merchants? All right; remaining merchants, we will get possession of you,’ say the Jews. ‘Ah! you wish us to be only objects of sensuality? All right; by the aid of sensuality we will bend you beneath our yoke,’ say the women.

“The absence of the rights of woman does not consist in the fact that she has not the right to vote, or the right to sit on the bench, but in the fact that in her affectional relations she is not the equal of man, she has not the right to abstain, to choose instead of being chosen. You say that that would be abnormal. Very well! But then do not let man enjoy these rights, while his companion is deprived of them, and finds herself obliged to make use of the coquetry by which she governs, so that the result is that man chooses ‘formally,’ whereas really it is woman who chooses. As soon as she is in possession of her means, she abuses them, and acquires a terrible supremacy.”

“But where do you see this exceptional power?”

“Where? Why, everywhere, in everything. Go see the stores in the large cities. There are millions there, millions. It is impossible to estimate the enormous quantity of labor that is expended there. In nine-tenths of these stores is there anything whatever for the use of men? All the luxury of life is demanded and sustained by woman. Count the factories; the greater part of them are engaged in making feminine ornaments. Millions of men, generations of slaves, die toiling like convicts simply to satisfy the whims of our companions.

“Women, like queens, keep nine-tenths of the human race as prisoners of war, or as prisoners at hard labor. And all this because they have been humiliated, because they have been deprived of rights equal to those which men enjoy. They take revenge for our sensuality; they catch us in their nets.

“Yes, the whole thing is there. Women have made of themselves such a weapon to act upon the senses that a young man, and even an old man, cannot remain tranquil in their presence. Watch a popular festival, or our receptions or ball-rooms. Woman well knows her influence there. You will see it in her triumphant smiles.

“As soon as a young man advances toward a woman, directly he falls under the influence of this opium, and loses his head. Long ago I felt ill at ease when I saw a woman too well adorned — whether a woman of the people with her red neckerchief and her looped skirt, or a woman of our own society in her ball-room dress. But now it simply terrifies me. I see in it a danger to men, something contrary to the laws; and I feel a desire to call a policeman, to appeal for defence from some quarter, to demand that this dangerous object be removed.

“And this is not a joke, by any means. I am convinced, I am sure, that the time will come — and perhaps it is not far distant — when the world will understand this, and will be astonished that a society could exist in which actions as harmful as those which appeal to sensuality by adorning the body as our companions do were allowed. As well set traps along our public streets, or worse than that.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00