Saturday, April 9, 2016
If OJ Simpson fled the scene of murdering his wife and her (possible) lover on a train instead of in a white Ford Bronco, then told the story to a fellow passenger, the story would be "The Kreutzer Sonata" by Leo Tolstoy. The jealous Russian husband, like the football player, was acquitted of murder, but guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
Whether the wife and the suspected lover were actually lovers is in doubt in both stories. The murder weapon in both cases is a knife. But in the Russian story, the lover gets away. The jealous husband in the Russian story is not a former NFL running back, so he only stabs his wife.
The story opens with a half-dozen passengers discussing love and marriage in a compartment on a slow-moving train. The argument, like so many arguments everywhere and through all of time, is based on misunderstanding the subject they are arguing about. In this case, Love. A very modern (in the 1890s) woman and her friend say marriage should only be based on Love, by which they mean Romantic Love--mutual attraction between the man and the woman.
An old man in the compartment asserts that marriage can only be based on a strong man controlling a weak woman and keeping her from following her natural inclination to sleep with every man in the village. He says a marriage based on Romantic Love is doomed and that Love in marriage is "learned." Tolstoy makes very clear the old man thinks it is perfectly fine for men to sleep with other women, just not the reverse. When confronted about his double standard, the old man goes quiet.
Into this lively argument steps the Podnischeff, the recently acquitted murderer of his wife. He asserts "with glowing eyes" that Romantic Love leads to tragedy, and says why he knows this. Most of the other passengers, finding out they are riding on a slow train with a murderer, leave at the first opportunity, but the narrator sticks around to hear the story of the murder.
In the Podnischeff's story of the murder, Tolstoy makes clear the problems with basing a marriage on Romantic Love. But Tolstoy also questions marriage itself. However they get together, can two selfish people spend years and decades together and still love? Tolstoy's own marriage answered that question with an emphatic No!
By the time he wrote this story, Tolstoy was 61 years old and becoming more of a radical both in his politics and his religion.
There is no military angle to this story, but it is clearly a story written by a soldier. Love, death, passion and tragedy are intertwined in a way that I find in many authors I love who were soldiers.