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Leo Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata: when a man kills his wife

IF LEO TOLSTOY were alive today, and if he were born a Filipino, he would've made a profitable career out of writing scripts for modern-day soap operas. He understands Pinoy psyche.

Consider, for example, The Kreutzer Affair, which I read last weekend. As Tolstoy's commentary on the marriage institution, it has this familiar plot: a jealous husband who murders his wife out of rage and hatred. Marital murders and quarrels are the bread and butter of prime time news. The emergency room isn't spared from them, either: last night I saw a bleeding patient who was stabbed by his wife with an ax (bolo) while he was sleeping.

The Kreutzer Affair is set on a train ride. Pozdnyshev, the mysterious short man on the train, relates the events that lead up to the killing of his wife. By telling it to a complete stranger (who remains unnamed in the story), he is coming to terms with his mistake.

Yes: for ten years I lived the most revolting existence, while dreaming of the noblest love, and even in the name of that love. Yes, I want to tell you how I killed my wife, and for that I must tell you how I debauched myself. I killed her before I knew her.

The reader gets an in-depth understanding of how jealousy works: that it clouds one's judgment; nothing makes sense any more. This happens when Podnyshev's wife starts inviting a world-famous musician to their home. When he returns from a business trip he finds that that his wife and the said musician are at home, playing the piano together. Podnyshev bursts in anger and strangles his wife, leaving her lifeless. Then regret sets in.

Then only, when I saw her dead face, did I understand all that I had done. I understood that it was I, I, who had killed her. I understood that I was the cause of the fact that she, who had been a moving, living, palpitating being, had now become motionless and cold, and that there was no way of repairing this thing. He who has not lived through that cannot understand it.

Read the entire novella here, thanks to Project Gutenburg. It's not the most relaxing story in the world, but it is a testament to the literary genius that is Tolstoy.


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