Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 12 June 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette


The resonance of paranoia

Last November, many events took place around the world to celebrate the life and work of Leo Tolstoy, also known as Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Writing about this important event, the Moscow correspondent of Daily Telegraph Andrew Osborn said that “Russia now is being accused of abandoning its literary past in case of the outstanding Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, because Russia ignores the 100-year anniversary of his death.”

This is a clear indication how literary works of even literary giants are treated and interpreted over the years. Could universal judgements be passed on the work of writers such as Tolstoy and Pasternak is a key question which merits our attention.

However, interpretations, and analysis of Tolstoy’s work, giving new insights into the work of this literary genius will take place from different cities of the world by different critics.

The following is an exclusive analysis of Leo Tolstoy's much discussed novella--Kreutzer Sonata-- by Dr Siri Galhenage who has worked in the UK and Australia as a Consultant Psychiatrist.

Pozdnychev’s heightened suspicion and jealousy

Tolstoy has established craftily that the marital relationship between Pozdnychev and his wife is not functioning as it should be between a normal husband and wife.

In this toxic arena enters a musician, by the name of Trukhachevski – a semi-professional violinist who is described as ‘not bad looking’ with superficial ‘gaiety’ and ‘maintaining his dignity in externals’, Pozdnychev soon to undervalue him as a ‘worthless man’. But he appeals to his wife as she was looking for a musician to accompany her on the violin.

Trukhachevski’s talent for music; the nearness that came of playing together; the impressionable nature of music, especially of the violin; and his apparent lustful gaze towards his wife, tormented Pozdnychev and creates suspicion and jealousy. He begins to suspect that the sound of the piano was purposely made to drown the sound of their voices and probably their kisses, as they practised.

The tension between the couple came to a head when she approached him to express her displeasure regarding his behaviour towards her. He was full of rage. ‘Having given reins to my rage, I revelled in it and wished to do something still more unusual to show the extreme degree of my anger. I felt a terrible desire to beat her, to kill her’.

‘I value not you [devil take you] but the honour of the family’, he said to her. He confesses that he is jealous of Trukhachevski. ‘Could a decent woman have any other feeling for such a man than the pleasure of his music?’ she replies. Although he thought that she was covering up, they made peace ‘under the influence of the feeling that was called love’.

Despite all these, preparations continued for a musical performance by the duet, followed by dinner to be held the following weekend at their mansion.The musical evening proceeded without incident, except that before the music began Pozdnychev followed the duet’s movements and looks. They played Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, which he revealed had an ‘awful effect’ on him, making him ‘agitated’.

‘It was as if quite new feelings, new possibilities, of which I had ‘till then been unaware, had been revealed to me’. As he left that evening, Trukhachevski said that he hoped to repeat the pleasure when he next came to Moscow.

Pozdnychev goes away on official business and on the second day he receives a letter from his wife. In addition to household matters she mentions that Trukhachevski had called in to deliver some music ‘as promised’.

He was unpleasantly struck by the news that the violinist had stayed on in Moscow and had arranged to visit his wife in his absence. ‘The mad beast of jealousy began to growl in its kennel and wanted to leap out, but I was afraid of that beast and quickly fastened him’.

Pozdnychev was tormented by intrusive thoughts and counter- thoughts regarding the suspected unfaithfulness of his wife. At this stage, it is pure Imagination of what may have gone on between his wife and the violinist in his absence but the very thought process inflames his jealousy, and ‘burnt him with indignation’.

‘The vividness with which they presented themselves seemed to serve as proof that what I imagined was real’. The humiliation he felt as a result of Trukhachevski’s apparent victory over him fills him with a strong feeling of hatred towards his wife.

He even suspected the paternity of his children: ‘perhaps she long ago carried on with the footman, and so got the children who are considered mine!’ He claimed to have complete ownership to her body, yet felt that he had no control over it.

He predicted that some dreadful event is about to happen. A strange sense of joy arises in him that his torture would be over, that now he could punish her, and could get rid of her.

Pozdnychev decides to cut short his official business and returns home. The first thing he noticed on entering the house, past mid- night, is a man’s cloak hanging on a stand: ‘I ought to have been surprised but was not, for I had expected it’.

What he imagined has now become a reality. He picks up a dagger and entered the room where his wife and the violinist were having a union outside their marriage. The expression of terror in them gave him a sense of perverse pleasure.

He also detected signs of annoyance in his wife’s face for what he thought was the disruption to her ‘love’s raptures’. He stabs her on the side below the ribs with all his might. As she lay dying, what was important to him was her confession of unfaithfulness, which he did not receive; he felt that it was beneath her to admit her guilt.

The assailant admitted that he was aware of his action with extraordinary clearness. ‘I knew what I was doing when I did it’. ‘I was doing an awful thing such as I had never done before, which would have terrible consequences’. He said that jealousy was not the only reason for his act of murder.

The court decided that he was a wronged husband who killed his wife defending his outraged honour! He was acquitted!! So he lived to tell his tale.

Pozdnychev’s background

Pozdnychev was born into the nineteenth century Russian upper class of land owners. He was brought up in a social milieu where men determined the ‘moral code’ and women submissively adapted to it, both sexes engaging in debauchery, overtly when single and covertly during marriage. In cases of alleged wrong-doing, the judicial system was designed to protect men. It was a breeding ground for jealousy, suspicion and acrimony.

Pozdnyshev was a landowner, a graduate of the university and a marshal of the gentry.

He grew up in a society that expected men, in their formative years, to engage in sexual activity without making any moral commitment to women with whom men need not develop any attachments.

Such behaviour was considered legitimate, ‘good for health’, ‘something to be proud of’, often sanctioned by parents and even by the State that regulated brothels to make them safe for boys.

Pozdnyshev indulged in debauchery since the age of 16 but suffered a deep sense of remorse for having ‘lost his innocence’ thinking that he has sullied his ability for intimacy with women. He could detect a debauchee by the way the latter eyed a woman.

In defiance of such a sordid and hypocritical background, and through his own experience, Pozdnychev seemed to have developed a certain value system, albeit idiosyncratic, overvalued and even malignant.

He believed that a woman’s charm could be deceptive; love - a pretence; sex - brutish; matrimonial sacrament - a mere ritual without spiritual grace; marriage - acrimonious; pregnancy – a protection against feminine coquetry; and child rearing – a torment.

He demanded his wife’s loyalty, her commitment and the exclusivity of her intimacy, without directly raising issues of sexual fidelity.

It was the alleged transgression of his self imposed code of conduct which led to his wife receiving her ultimate punishment.

But there was an even more virulent psychological aspect hidden beneath the above socio-cultural and moral influences -- a paranoid process presenting in the form of morbid jealousy.

Pozdnychev married a girl of ‘moral perfection’, and his expectation was that she would maintain her morality despite living in ‘a mire of coquetry’.

But with ongoing marital discord, her increased attention to her appearance [free from pregnancy] and her revival in interest in the piano, shoots of suspicion started to spring up in his mind.

The situation came to a head when a third party entered the intimacy of their relationship – a violinist who formed a duet with his wife. Pozdnychev felt threatened by his perceived rival. He compensated for the threat to his self-esteem by either denigrating him or actively encouraging their music [reaction formation].

He was tormented by thoughts of disloyalty, betrayal and of desertion by his wife and became resentful of the imminent loss of his ‘possession’. He viewed with suspicion the proximity of the violinist to the pianist and their apparent amorous gaze, and feared the ‘hypnotising effect’ of music on each other. He thought that the music was purposely made to dampen their chatter and their kisses.

The Kreutzer sonata they played together had a negative impact on his body and mind. Recurrent and vivid imaginings of his wife’s unfaithfulness, in his absence, inflamed his jealousy and led him to believe that they were real.

Faithfulness and loyalty

Faithfulness and loyalty in action alone was never enough for the jealous, it had to be in thought as well.

As such doubt became a constant companion that stirred up his jealousy. Pozdnychev even began to doubt the paternity of his children entertaining transient thoughts that his footman could be their father.

Alongside feelings of humiliation resulting from the perceived preference of the rival by his wife was the insatiable need to expose her unfaithfulness and to deliver punishment.

A central issue in morbid [paranoid] jealousy is a perverse sense of ownership – ‘either I own her or destroy her’. Pozdnychev discovered what he thought was proof of his wife’s unfaithfulness and he destroyed her. No evidence of innocence or confession was going to satisfy him.


Undoubtedly, Kreutzer Sonata is one of the major literary works by Tolstoy, which deals with the perennial issues of morality, love and sexual abstinence.

It is important to recognise that the story is narrated through the perspective of the main protagonist, Pozdnyshev.

According to some critics, the novella presents Tolstoy's controversial view on sexuality, which affirms that physical craving is an impediment to relations between men and women and may result in calamity.

According to the respected German psychiatrist, Ernst Kretschmer [1927], paranoia derives from cumulative influences of a noxious social environment, a characteristic personality with marked ‘sensitivity’ and a personal experience ‘meaningful’ to the individual.

In capturing all the above features of this morbid human condition in Kreutzer Sonata, Leo Tolstoy, acknowledged by many as the greatest writer of the 19th century, appears to me to be one step ahead of the psychiatric profession!

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