The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories
Count Leo Tolstoi
Part 1 out of 4
Note: I have made the following changes to the text:
PAGE LINE ORIGINAL CHANGED TO
8 10 wife wife.
47 8 is!" is!'
67 4 it she if she
75 22 antimated; animated;
78 6 larity, liarity,
84 19 distance distance.
100 8 imits limits
101 19 children. children,
121 24 firt first
126 8 ention). tention).
135 17 together together.
150 17 pealous jealous
30 1 them.' them."
40 1 th that
166 9 the mare. to the mare.
194 10 indgination indignation
The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories
BY COUNT LEO TOLSTOI
Author of "Resurrection," "Life is Worth Living,"
"Ivan the Fool," Etc.
The Kreutzer Sonata
IVAN THE FOOL.
A LOST OPPORTUNITY.
On comparing with the original Russian some English translations
of Count Tolstoi's works, published both in this country and in
England, I concluded that they were far from being accurate. The
majority of them were retranslations from the French, and I found
that the respective transitions through which they had passed
tended to obliterate many of the beauties of the Russian language
and of the peculiar characteristics of Russian life. A
satisfactory translation can be made only by one who understands
the language and SPIRIT of the Russian people. As Tolstoi's
writings contain so many idioms it is not an easy task to render
them into intelligible English, and the one who successfully
accomplishes this must be a native of Russia, commanding the
English and Russian languages with equal fluency.
The story of "Ivan the Fool" portrays Tolstoi's communistic
ideas, involving the abolition of military forces, middlemen,
despotism, and money. Instead of these he would establish on
earth a kingdom in which each and every person would become a
worker and producer. The author describes the various struggles
through which three brothers passed, beset as they were by devils
large and small, until they reached the ideal state of existence
which he believes to be the only happy one attainable in this
On reading this little story one is surprised that the Russian
censor passed it, as it is devoted to a narration of ideas quite
at variance with the present policy of the government of that
"A Lost Opportunity" is a singularly true picture of peasant
life, which evinces a deep study of the subject on the part of
the writer. Tolstoi has drawn many of the peculiar customs of
the Russian peasant in a masterly manner, and I doubt if he has
given a more comprehensive description of this feature of Russian
life in any of his other works. In this story also he has
presented many traits which are common to human nature throughout
the world, and this gives an added interest to the book. The
language is simple and picturesque, and the characters are drawn
with remarkable fidelity to nature. The moral of this tale
points out how the hero Ivan might have avoided the terrible
consequences of a quarrel with his neighbor (which grew out of
nothing) if he had lived in accordance with the scriptural
injunction to forgive his brother's sins and seek not for
The story of "Polikushka" is a very graphic description of the
life led by a servant of the court household of a certain
nobleman, in which the author portrays the different conditions
and surroundings enjoyed by these servants from those of the
ordinary or common peasants. It is a true and powerful
reproduction of an element in Russian life but little written
about heretofore. Like the other stories of this great writer,
"Polikushka" has a moral to which we all might profitably give
heed. He illustrates the awful consequences of intemperance, and
concludes that only kind treatment can reform the victims of
For much valuable assistance in the work of these translations,
I am deeply indebted to the bright English scholarship of my
THE KREUTZER SONATA.
Travellers left and entered our car at every stopping of the
train. Three persons, however, remained, bound, like myself, for
the farthest station: a lady neither young nor pretty, smoking
cigarettes, with a thin face, a cap on her head, and wearing a
semi-masculine outer garment; then her companion, a very
loquacious gentleman of about forty years, with baggage entirely
new and arranged in an orderly manner; then a gentleman who held
himself entirely aloof, short in stature, very nervous, of
uncertain age, with bright eyes, not pronounced in color, but
extremely attractive,--eyes that darted with rapidity from one
object to another.
This gentleman, during almost all the journey thus far, had
entered into conversation with no fellow-traveller, as if he
carefully avoided all acquaintance. When spoken to, he answered
curtly and decisively, and began to look out of the car window
Yet it seemed to me that the solitude weighed upon him. He
seemed to perceive that I understood this, and when our eyes met,
as happened frequently, since we were sitting almost opposite
each other, he turned away his head, and avoided conversation
with me as much as with the others. At nightfall, during a stop
at a large station, the gentleman with the fine baggage--a
lawyer, as I have since learned--got out with his companion to
drink some tea at the restaurant. During their absence several
new travellers entered the car, among whom was a tall old man,
shaven and wrinkled, evidently a merchant, wearing a large
heavily-lined cloak and a big cap. This merchant sat down
opposite the empty seats of the lawyer and his companion, and
straightway entered into conversation with a young man who seemed
like an employee in some commercial house, and who had likewise
just boarded the train. At first the clerk had remarked that the
seat opposite was occupied, and the old man had answered that he
should get out at the first station. Thus their conversation
I was sitting not far from these two travellers, and, as the
train was not in motion, I could catch bits of their conversation
when others were not talking.
They talked first of the prices of goods and the condition of
business; they referred to a person whom they both knew; then
they plunged into the fair at Nijni Novgorod. The clerk boasted
of knowing people who were leading a gay life there, but the old
man did not allow him to continue, and, interrupting him, began
to describe the festivities of the previous year at Kounavino, in
which he had taken part. He was evidently proud of these
recollections, and, probably thinking that this would detract
nothing from the gravity which his face and manners expressed, he
related with pride how, when drunk, he had fired, at Kounavino,
such a broadside that he could describe it only in the other's
The clerk began to laugh noisily. The old man laughed too,
showing two long yellow teeth. Their conversation not
interesting me, I left the car to stretch my legs. At the door I
met the lawyer and his lady.
"You have no more time," the lawyer said to me. "The second bell
is about to ring."
Indeed I had scarcely reached the rear of the train when the bell
sounded. As I entered the car again, the lawyer was talking with
his companion in an animated fashion. The merchant, sitting
opposite them, was taciturn.
"And then she squarely declared to her husband," said the lawyer
with a smile, as I passed by them, "that she neither could nor
would live with him, because" . . .
And he continued, but I did not hear the rest of the sentence, my
attention being distracted by the passing of the conductor and a
new traveller. When silence was restored, I again heard the
lawyer's voice. The conversation had passed from a special case
to general considerations.
"And afterward comes discord, financial difficulties, disputes
between the two parties, and the couple separate. In the good
old days that seldom happened. Is it not so?" asked the lawyer
of the two merchants, evidently trying to drag them into the
Just then the train started, and the old man, without answering,
took off his cap, and crossed himself three times while muttering
a prayer. When he had finished, he clapped his cap far down on
his head, and said:
"Yes, sir, that happened in former times also, but not as often.
In the present day it is bound to happen more frequently. People
have become too learned."
The lawyer made some reply to the old man, but the train, ever
increasing its speed, made such a clatter upon the rails that I
could no longer hear distinctly. As I was interested in what the
old man was saying, I drew nearer. My neighbor, the nervous
gentleman, was evidently interested also, and, without changing
his seat, he lent an ear.
"But what harm is there in education?" asked the lady, with a
smile that was scarcely perceptible. "Would it be better to
marry as in the old days, when the bride and bridegroom did not
even see each other before marriage?" she continued, answering,
as is the habit of our ladies, not the words that her
interlocutor had spoken, but the words she believed he was going
to speak. "Women did not know whether they would love or would
be loved, and they were married to the first comer, and suffered
all their lives. Then you think it was better so?" she
continued, evidently addressing the lawyer and myself, and not at
all the old man.
"People have become too learned," repeated the last, looking at
the lady with contempt, and leaving her question unanswered.
"I should be curious to know how you explain the correlation
between education and conjugal differences," said the lawyer,
with a slight smile.
The merchant wanted to make some reply, but the lady interrupted
"No, those days are past."
The lawyer cut short her words:--
"Let him express his thought."
"Because there is no more fear," replied the old man.
"But how will you marry people who do not love each other? Only
animals can be coupled at the will of a proprietor. But people
have inclinations, attachments," the lady hastened to say,
casting a glance at the lawyer, at me, and even at the clerk,
who, standing up and leaning his elbow on the back of a seat, was
listening to the conversation with a smile.
"You are wrong to say that, madam," said the old man. "The
animals are beasts, but man has received the law."
"But, nevertheless, how is one to live with a man when there is
no love?" said the lady, evidently excited by the general
sympathy and attention.
"Formerly no such distinctions were made," said the old man,
gravely. "Only now have they become a part of our habits. As
soon as the least thing happens, the wife says: 'I release you.
I am going to leave your house.' Even among the moujiks this
fashion has become acclimated. 'There,' she says, 'here are your
shirts and drawers. I am going off with Vanka. His hair is
curlier than yours.' Just go talk with them. And yet the first
rule for the wife should be fear."
The clerk looked at the lawyer, the lady, and myself, evidently
repressing a smile, and all ready to deride or approve the
merchant's words, according to the attitude of the others.
"What fear?" said the lady.
"This fear,--the wife must fear her husband; that is what fear."
"Oh, that, my little father, that is ended."
"No, madam, that cannot end. As she, Eve, the woman, was taken
from man's ribs, so she will remain unto the end of the world,"
said the old man, shaking his head so triumphantly and so
severely that the clerk, deciding that the victory was on his
side, burst into a loud laugh.
"Yes, you men think so," replied the lady, without surrendering,
and turning toward us. "You have given yourself liberty. As for
woman, you wish to keep her in the seraglio. To you, everything
is permissible. Is it not so?"
"Oh, man,--that's another affair."
"Then, according to you, to man everything is permissible?"
"No one gives him this permission; only, if the man behaves badly
outside, the family is not increased thereby; but the woman, the
wife, is a fragile vessel," continued the merchant, severely.
His tone of authority evidently subjugated his hearers. Even the
lady felt crushed, but she did not surrender.
"Yes, but you will admit, I think, that woman is a human being,
and has feelings like her husband. What should she do if she
does not love her husband?"
"If she does not love him!" repeated the old man, stormily, and
knitting his brows; "why, she will be made to love him."
This unexpected argument pleased the clerk, and he uttered a
murmur of approbation.
"Oh, no, she will not be forced," said the lady. "Where there is
no love, one cannot be obliged to love in spite of herself."
"And if the wife deceives her husband, what is to be done?" said
"That should not happen," said the old man. "He must have his
eyes about him."
"And if it does happen, all the same? You will admit that it
"It happens among the upper classes, not among us," answered the
old man. "And if any husband is found who is such a fool as not
to rule his wife, he will not have robbed her. But no scandal,
nevertheless. Love or not, but do not disturb the household.
Every husband can govern his wife. He has the necessary power.
It is only the imbecile who does not succeed in doing so."
Everybody was silent. The clerk moved, advanced, and, not
wishing to lag behind the others in the conversation, began with
his eternal smile:
"Yes, in the house of our employer, a scandal has arisen, and it
is very difficult to view the matter clearly. The wife loved to
amuse herself, and began to go astray. He is a capable and
serious man. First, it was with the book-keeper. The husband
tried to bring her back to reason through kindness. She did not
change her conduct. She plunged into all sorts of beastliness.
She began to steal his money. He beat her, but she grew worse
and worse. To an unbaptized, to a pagan, to a Jew (saving your
permission), she went in succession for her caresses. What could
the employer do? He has dropped her entirely, and now he lives
as a bachelor. As for her, she is dragging in the depths."
"He is an imbecile," said the old man. "If from the first he had
not allowed her to go in her own fashion, and had kept a firm
hand upon her, she would be living honestly, no danger. Liberty
must be taken away from the beginning. Do not trust yourself to
your horse upon the highway. Do not trust yourself to your wife
At that moment the conductor passed, asking for the tickets for
the next station. The old man gave up his.
"Yes, the feminine sex must be dominated in season, else all will
"And you yourselves, at Kounavino, did you not lead a gay life
with the pretty girls?" asked the lawyer with a smile.
"Oh, that's another matter," said the merchant, severely.
"Good-by," he added, rising. He wrapped himself in his cloak,
lifted his cap, and, taking his bag, left the car.
Scarcely had the old man gone when a general conversation began.
"There's a little Old Testament father for you," said the clerk.
"He is a Domostroy,"* said the lady. "What savage ideas about a
woman and marriage!"
*The Domostroy is a matrimonial code of the days of Ivan the
"Yes, gentlemen," said the lawyer, "we are still a long way from
the European ideas upon marriage. First, the rights of woman,
then free marriage, then divorce, as a question not yet solved."
. . .
"The main thing, and the thing which such people as he do not
understand," rejoined the lady, "is that only love consecrates
marriage, and that the real marriage is that which is consecrated
The clerk listened and smiled, with the air of one accustomed to
store in his memory all intelligent conversation that he hears,
in order to make use of it afterwards.
"But what is this love that consecrates marriage?" said,
suddenly, the voice of the nervous and taciturn gentleman, who,
unnoticed by us, had approached.
He was standing with his hand on the seat, and evidently
agitated. His face was red, a vein in his forehead was swollen,
and the muscles of his cheeks quivered.
"What is this love that consecrates marriage?" he repeated.
"What love?" said the lady. "The ordinary love of husband and
"And how, then, can ordinary love consecrate marriage?" continued
the nervous gentleman, still excited, and with a displeased air.
He seemed to wish to say something disagreeable to the lady. She
felt it, and began to grow agitated.
"How? Why, very simply," said she.
The nervous gentleman seized the word as it left her lips.
"No, not simply."
"Madam says," interceded the lawyer indicating his companion,
"that marriage should be first the result of an attachment, of a
love, if you will, and that, when love exists, and in that case
only, marriage represents something sacred. But every marriage
which is not based on a natural attachment, on love, has in it
nothing that is morally obligatory. Is not that the idea that
you intended to convey?" he asked the lady.
The lady, with a nod of her head, expressed her approval of this
translation of her thoughts.
"Then," resumed the lawyer, continuing his remarks.
But the nervous gentleman, evidently scarcely able to contain
himself, without allowing the lawyer to finish, asked:
"Yes, sir. But what are we to understand by this love that alone
"Everybody knows what love is," said the lady.
"But I don't know, and I should like to know how you define it."
"How? It is very simple," said the lady.
And she seemed thoughtful, and then said:
"Love . . . love . . . is a preference for one man or one woman
to the exclusion of all others. . . ."
"A preference for how long? . . . For a month, two days, or half
an hour?" said the nervous gentleman, with special irritation.
"No, permit me, you evidently are not talking of the same thing."
"Yes, I am talking absolutely of the same thing. Of the
preference for one man or one woman to the exclusion of all
others. But I ask: a preference for how long?"
"For how long? For a long time, for a life-time sometimes."
"But that happens only in novels. In life, never. In life this
preference for one to the exclusion of all others lasts in rare
cases several years, oftener several months, or even weeks, days,
hours. . . ."
"Oh, sir. Oh, no, no, permit me," said all three of us at the
The clerk himself uttered a monosyllable of disapproval.
"Yes, I know," he said, shouting louder than all of us; "you are
talking of what is believed to exist, and I am talking of what
is. Every man feels what you call love toward each pretty woman
he sees, and very little toward his wife. That is the origin of
the proverb,--and it is a true one,--'Another's wife is a white
swan, and ours is bitter wormwood."'
"Ah, but what you say is terrible! There certainly exists among
human beings this feeling which is called love, and which lasts,
not for months and years, but for life."
"No, that does not exist. Even if it should be admitted that
Menelaus had preferred Helen all his life, Helen would have
preferred Paris; and so it has been, is, and will be eternally.
And it cannot be otherwise, just as it cannot happen that, in a
load of chick-peas, two peas marked with a special sign should
fall side by side. Further, this is not only an improbability,
but it is certain that a feeling of satiety will come to Helen or
to Menelaus. The whole difference is that to one it comes
sooner, to the other later. It is only in stupid novels that it
is written that 'they loved each other all their lives.' And
none but children can believe it. To talk of loving a man or
woman for life is like saying that a candle can burn
"But you are talking of physical love. Do you not admit a love
based upon a conformity of ideals, on a spiritual affinity?"
"Why not? But in that case it is not necessary to procreate
together (excuse my brutality). The point is that this
conformity of ideals is not met among old people, but among young
and pretty persons," said he, and he began to laugh disagreeably.
"Yes, I affirm that love, real love, does not consecrate
marriage, as we are in the habit of believing, but that, on the
contrary, it ruins it."
"Permit me," said the lawyer. "The facts contradict your words.
We see that marriage exists, that all humanity--at least the
larger portion--lives conjugally, and that many husbands and
wives honestly end a long life together."
The nervous gentleman smiled ill-naturedly.
"And what then? You say that marriage is based upon love, and
when I give voice to a doubt as to the existence of any other
love than sensual love, you prove to me the existence of love by
marriage. But in our day marriage is only a violence and
"No, pardon me," said the lawyer. "I say only that marriages
have existed and do exist."
"But how and why do they exist? They have existed, and they do
exist, for people who have seen, and do see, in marriage
something sacramental, a sacrament that is binding before God.
For such people marriages exist, but to us they are only
hypocrisy and violence. We feel it, and, to clear ourselves, we
preach free love; but, really, to preach free love is only a call
backward to the promiscuity of the sexes (excuse me, he said to
the lady), the haphazard sin of certain raskolniks. The old
foundation is shattered; we must build a new one, but we must not
He grew so warm that all became silent, looking at him in
"And yet the transition state is terrible. People feel that
haphazard sin is inadmissible. It is necessary in some way or
other to regulate the sexual relations; but there exists no other
foundation than the old one, in which nobody longer believes?
People marry in the old fashion, without believing in what they
do, and the result is falsehood, violence. When it is falsehood
alone, it is easily endured. The husband and wife simply deceive
the world by professing to live monogamically. If they really
are polygamous and polyandrous, it is bad, but acceptable. But
when, as often happens, the husband and the wife have taken upon
themselves the obligation to live together all their lives (they
themselves do not know why), and from the second month have
already a desire to separate, but continue to live together just
the same, then comes that infernal existence in which they resort
to drink, in which they fire revolvers, in which they assassinate
each other, in which they poison each other."
All were silent, but we felt ill at ease.
"Yes, these critical episodes happen in marital life. For
instance, there is the Posdnicheff affair," said the lawyer,
wishing to stop the conversation on this embarrassing and too
exciting ground. "Have you read how he killed his wife through
The lady said that she had not read it. The nervous gentleman
said nothing, and changed color.
"I see that you have divined who I am," said he, suddenly, after
"No, I have not had that pleasure."
"It is no great pleasure. I am Posdnicheff."
New silence. He blushed, then turned pale again.
"What matters it, however?" said he. "Excuse me, I do not wish
to embarrass you."
And he resumed his old seat.
I resumed mine, also. The lawyer and the lady whispered
together. I was sitting beside Posdnicheff, and I maintained
silence. I desired to talk to him, but I did not know how to
begin, and thus an hour passed until we reached the next station.
There the lawyer and the lady went out, as well as the clerk. We
were left alone, Posdnicheff and I.
"They say it, and they lie, or they do not understand," said
"Of what are you talking?"
"Why, still the same thing."
He leaned his elbows upon his knees, and pressed his hands
against his temples.
"Love, marriage, family,--all lies, lies, lies."
He rose, lowered the lamp-shade, lay down with his elbows on the
cushion, and closed his eyes. He remained thus for a minute.
"Is it disagreeable to you to remain with me, now that you know
who I am?"
"You have no desire to sleep?"
"Not at all."
"Then do you want me to tell you the story of my life?"
Just then the conductor passed. He followed him with an
ill-natured look, and did not begin until he had gone again.
Then during all the rest of the story he did not stop once. Even
the new travellers as they entered did not stop him.
His face, while he was talking, changed several times so
completely that it bore positively no resemblance to itself as it
had appeared just before. His eyes, his mouth, his moustache,
and even his beard, all were new. Each time it was a beautiful
and touching physiognomy, and these transformations were produced
suddenly in the penumbra; and for five minutes it was the same
face, that could not be compared to that of five minutes before.
And then, I know not how, it changed again, and became
"Well, I am going then to tell you my life, and my whole
frightful history,--yes, frightful. And the story itself is more
frightful than the outcome."
He became silent for a moment, passed his hands over his eyes,
"To be understood clearly, the whole must be told from the
beginning. It must be told how and why I married, and what I was
before my marriage. First, I will tell you who I am. The son of
a rich gentleman of the steppes, an old marshal of the nobility,
I was a University pupil, a graduate of the law school. I
married in my thirtieth year. But before talking to you of my
marriage, I must tell you how I lived formerly, and what ideas I
had of conjugal life. I led the life of so many other so-called
respectable people,--that is, in debauchery. And like the
majority, while leading the life of a debauche, I was convinced
that I was a man of irreproachable morality.
"The idea that I had of my morality arose from the fact that in
my family there was no knowledge of those special debaucheries,
so common in the surroundings of land-owners, and also from the
fact that my father and my mother did not deceive each other. In
consequence of this, I had built from childhood a dream of high
and poetical conjugal life. My wife was to be perfection itself,
our mutual love was to be incomparable, the purity of our
conjugal life stainless. I thought thus, and all the time I
marvelled at the nobility of my projects.
"At the same time, I passed ten years of my adult life without
hurrying toward marriage, and I led what I called the
well-regulated and reasonable life of a bachelor. I was proud of
it before my friends, and before all men of my age who abandoned
themselves to all sorts of special refinements. I was not a
seducer, I had no unnatural tastes, I did not make debauchery the
principal object of my life; but I found pleasure within the
limits of society's rules, and innocently believed myself a
profoundly moral being. The women with whom I had relations did
not belong to me alone, and I asked of them nothing but the
pleasure of the moment.
"In all this I saw nothing abnormal. On the contrary, from the
fact that I did not engage my heart, but paid in cash, I supposed
that I was honest. I avoided those women who, by attaching
themselves to me, or presenting me with a child, could bind my
future. Moreover, perhaps there may have been children or
attachments; but I so arranged matters that I could not become
aware of them.
"And living thus, I considered myself a perfectly honest man. I
did not understand that debauchery does not consist simply in
physical acts, that no matter what physical ignominy does not yet
constitute debauchery, and that real debauchery consists in
freedom from the moral bonds toward a woman with whom one enters
into carnal relations, and I regarded THIS FREEDOM as a merit. I
remember that I once tortured myself exceedingly for having
forgotten to pay a woman who probably had given herself to me
through love. I only became tranquil again when, having sent her
the money, I had thus shown her that I did not consider myself as
in any way bound to her. Oh, do not shake your head as if you
were in agreement with me (he cried suddenly with vehemence). I
know these tricks. All of you, and you especially, if you are
not a rare exception, have the same ideas that I had then. If
you are in agreement with me, it is now only. Formerly you did
not think so. No more did I; and, if I had been told what I have
just told you, that which has happened would not have happened.
However, it is all the same. Excuse me (he continued): the truth
is that it is frightful, frightful, frightful, this abyss of
errors and debaucheries in which we live face to face with the
real question of the rights of woman." . . .
"What do you mean by the 'real' question of the rights of
"The question of the nature of this special being, organized
otherwise than man, and how this being and man ought to view the
wife. . . .
"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.
I killed THE wife when I first tasted sensual joys without love,
and then it was that I killed MY wife. Yes, sir: it is only
after having suffered, after having tortured myself, that I have
come to understand the root of things, that I have come to
understand my crimes. Thus you will see where and how began the
drama that has led me to misfortune.
"It is necessary to go back to my sixteenth year, when I was
still at school, and my elder brother a first-year student. I
had not yet known women but, like all the unfortunate children of
our society, I was already no longer innocent. I was tortured,
as you were, I am sure, and as are tortured ninety-nine
one-hundredths of our boys. I lived in a frightful dread, I
prayed to God, and I prostrated myself.
"I was already perverted in imagination, but the last steps
remained to be taken. I could still escape, when a friend of my
brother, a very gay student, one of those who are called good
fellows,--that is, the greatest of scamps,--and who had taught us
to drink and play cards, took advantage of a night of
intoxication to drag us THERE. We started. My brother, as
innocent as I, fell that night, and I, a mere lad of sixteen,
polluted myself and helped to pollute a sister-woman, without
understanding what I did. Never had I heard from my elders that
what I thus did was bad. It is true that there are the ten
commandments of the Bible; but the commandments are made only to
be recited before the priests at examinations, and even then are
not as exacting as the commandments in regard to the use of ut in
"Thus, from my elders, whose opinion I esteemed, I had never
heard that this was reprehensible. On the contrary, I had heard
people whom I respected say that it was good. I had heard that
my struggles and my sufferings would be appeased after this act.
I had heard it and read it. I had heard from my elders that it
was excellent for the health, and my friends have always seemed
to believe that it contained I know not what merit and valor. So
nothing is seen in it but what is praiseworthy. As for the
danger of disease, it is a foreseen danger. Does not the
government guard against it? And even science corrupts us."
"How so, science?" I asked.
"Why, the doctors, the pontiffs of science. Who pervert young
people by laying down such rules of hygiene? Who pervert women
by devising and teaching them ways by which not to have children?
"Yes: if only a hundredth of the efforts spent in curing diseases
were spent in curing debauchery, disease would long ago have
ceased to exist, whereas now all efforts are employed, not in
extirpating debauchery, but in favoring it, by assuring the
harmlessness of the consequences. Besides, it is not a question
of that. It is a question of this frightful thing that has
happened to me, as it happens to nine-tenths, if not more, not
only of the men of our society, but of all societies, even
peasants,--this frightful thing that I had fallen, and not
because I was subjected to the natural seduction of a certain
woman. No, no woman seduced me. I fell because the surroundings
in which I found myself saw in this degrading thing only a
legitimate function, useful to the health; because others saw in
it simply a natural amusement, not only excusable, but even
innocent in a young man. I did not understand that it was a fall,
and I began to give myself to those pleasures (partly from desire
and partly from necessity) which I was led to believe were
characteristic of my age, just as I had begun to drink and smoke.
"And yet there was in this first fall something peculiar and
touching. I remember that straightway I was filled with such a
profound sadness that I had a desire to weep, to weep over the
loss forever of my relations with woman. Yes, my relations with
woman were lost forever. Pure relations with women, from that
time forward, I could no longer have. I had become what is
called a voluptuary; and to be a voluptuary is a physical
condition like the condition of a victim of the morphine habit,
of a drunkard, and of a smoker.
"Just as the victim of the morphine habit, the drunkard, the
smoker, is no longer a normal man, so the man who has known
several women for his pleasure is no longer normal? He is
abnormal forever. He is a voluptuary. Just as the drunkard and
the victim of the morphine habit may be recognized by their face
and manner, so we may recognize a voluptuary. He may repress
himself and struggle, but nevermore will he enjoy simple, pure,
and fraternal relations toward woman. By his way of glancing at
a young woman one may at once recognize a voluptuary; and I
became a voluptuary, and I have remained one.
"Yes, so it is; and that went farther and farther with all sorts
of variations. My God! when I remember all my cowardly acts and
bad deeds, I am frightened. And I remember that 'me' who, during
that period, was still the butt of his comrades' ridicule on
account of his innocence.
"And when I hear people talk of the gilded youth, of the
officers, of the Parisians, and all these gentlemen, and myself,
living wild lives at the age of thirty, and who have on our
consciences hundreds of crimes toward women, terrible and varied,
when we enter a parlor or a ball-room, washed, shaven, and
perfumed, with very white linen, in dress coats or in uniform, as
emblems of purity, oh, the disgust! There will surely come a
time, an epoch, when all these lives and all this cowardice will
"So, nevertheless, I lived, until the age of thirty, without
abandoning for a minute my intention of marrying, and building an
elevated conjugal life; and with this in view I watched all young
girls who might suit me. I was buried in rottenness, and at the
same time I looked for virgins, whose purity was worthy of me!
Many of them were rejected: they did not seem to me pure enough!
"Finally I found one that I considered on a level with myself.
She was one of two daughters of a landed proprietor of Penza,
formerly very rich and since ruined. To tell the truth, without
false modesty, they pursued me and finally captured me. The
mother (the father was away) laid all sorts of traps, and one of
these, a trip in a boat, decided my future.
"I made up my mind at the end of the aforesaid trip one night, by
moonlight, on our way home, while I was sitting beside her. I
admired her slender body, whose charming shape was moulded by a
jersey, and her curling hair, and I suddenly concluded that THIS
WAS SHE. It seemed to me on that beautiful evening that she
understood all that I thought and felt, and I thought and felt
the most elevating things.
"Really, it was only the jersey that was so becoming to her, and
her curly hair, and also the fact that I had spent the day beside
her, and that I desired a more intimate relation.
"I returned home enthusiastic, and I persuaded myself that she
realized the highest perfection, and that for that reason she was
worthy to be my wife, and the next day I made to her a proposal
"No, say what you will, we live in such an abyss of falsehood,
that, unless some event strikes us a blow on the head, as in my
case, we cannot awaken. What confusion! Out of the thousands of
men who marry, not only among us, but also among the people,
scarcely will you find a single one who has not previously
married at least ten times. (It is true that there now exist, at
least so I have heard, pure young people who feel and know that
this is not a joke, but a serious matter. May God come to their
aid! But in my time there was not to be found one such in a
"And all know it, and pretend not to know it. In all the novels
are described down to the smallest details the feelings of the
characters, the lakes and brambles around which they walk; but,
when it comes to describing their GREAT love, not a word is
breathed of what HE, the interesting character, has previously
done, not a word about his frequenting of disreputable houses, or
his association with nursery-maids, cooks, and the wives of
"And if anything is said of these things, such IMPROPER novels
are not allowed in the hands of young girls. All men have the
air of believing, in presence of maidens, that these corrupt
pleasures, in which EVERYBODY takes part, do not exist, or exist
only to a very small extent. They pretend it so carefully that
they succeed in convincing themselves of it. As for the poor
young girls, they believe it quite seriously, just as my poor
wife believed it.
"I remember that, being already engaged, I showed her my
'memoirs,' from which she could learn more or less of my past,
and especially my last liaison which she might perhaps have
discovered through the gossip of some third party. It was for
this last reason, for that matter, that I felt the necessity of
communicating these memoirs to her. I can still see her fright,
her despair, her bewilderment, when she had learned and
understood it. She was on the point of breaking the engagement.
What a lucky thing it would have been for both of us!"
Posdnicheff was silent for a moment, and then resumed:--
"After all, no! It is better that things happened as they did,
better!" he cried. "It was a good thing for me. Besides, it
makes no difference. I was saying that in these cases it is the
poor young girls who are deceived. As for the mothers, the
mothers especially, informed by their husbands, they know all,
and, while pretending to believe in the purity of the young man,
they act as if they did not believe in it.
"They know what bait must be held out to people for themselves
and their daughters. We men sin through ignorance, and a
determination not to learn. As for the women, they know very
well that the noblest and most poetic love, as we call it,
depends, not on moral qualities, but on the physical intimacy,
and also on the manner of doing the hair, and the color and
"Ask an experienced coquette, who has undertaken to seduce a man,
which she would prefer,--to be convicted, in presence of the man
whom she is engaged in conquering, of falsehood, perversity,
cruelty, or to appear before him in an ill-fitting dress, or a
dress of an unbecoming color. She will prefer the first
alternative. She knows very well that we simply lie when we talk
of our elevated sentiments, that we seek only the possession of
her body, and that because of that we will forgive her every sort
of baseness, but will not forgive her a costume of an ugly shade,
without taste or fit.
"And these things she knows by reason, where as the maiden knows
them only by instinct, like the animal. Hence these abominable
jerseys, these artificial humps on the back, these bare
shoulders, arms, and throats.
"Women, especially those who have passed through the school of
marriage, know very well that conversations upon elevated
subjects are only conversations, and that man seeks and desires
the body and all that ornaments the body. Consequently, they act
accordingly? If we reject conventional explanations, and view
the life of our upper and lower classes as it is, with all its
shamelessness, it is only a vast perversity. You do not share
this opinion? Permit me, I am going to prove it to you (said he,
"You say that the women of our society live for a different
interest from that which actuates fallen women. And I say no,
and I am going to prove it to you. If beings differ from one
another according to the purpose of their life, according to
their INNER LIFE, this will necessarily be reflected also in
their OUTER LIFE, and their exterior will be very different.
Well, then, compare the wretched, the despised, with the women of
the highest society: the same dresses, the same fashions, the
same perfumeries, the same passion for jewelry, for brilliant and
very expensive articles, the same amusements, dances, music, and
songs. The former attract by all possible means; so do the
latter. No difference, none whatever!
"Yes, and I, too, was captivated by jerseys, bustles, and curly
"And it was very easy to capture me, since I was brought up
under artificial conditions, like cucumbers in a hothouse. Our
too abundant nourishment, together with complete physical
idleness, is nothing but systematic excitement of the
imagination. The men of our society are fed and kept like
reproductive stallions. It is sufficient to close the
valve,--that is, for a young man to live a quiet life for some
time,--to produce as an immediate result a restlessness, which,
becoming exaggerated by reflection through the prism of our
unnatural life, provokes the illusion of love.
"All our idyls and marriage, all, are the result for the most
part of our eating. Does that astonish you? For my part, I am
astonished that we do not see it. Not far from my estate this
spring some moujiks were working on a railway embankment. You
know what a peasant's food is,--bread, kvass,* onions. With this
frugal nourishment he lives, he is alert, he makes light work in
the fields. But on the railway this bill of fare becomes cacha
and a pound of meat. Only he restores this meat by sixteen hours
of labor pushing loads weighing twelve hundred pounds.
*Kvass, a sort of cider.
"And we, who eat two pounds of meat and game, we who absorb all
sorts of heating drinks and food, how do we expend it? In
sensual excesses. If the valve is open, all goes well; but close
it, as I had closed it temporarily before my marriage, and
immediately there will result an excitement which, deformed by
novels, verses, music, by our idle and luxurious life, will give
a love of the finest water. I, too, fell in love, as everybody
does, and there were transports, emotions, poesy; but really all
this passion was prepared by mamma and the dressmakers. If there
had been no trips in boats, no well-fitted garments, etc., if my
wife had worn some shapeless blouse, and I had seen her thus at
her home, I should not have been seduced.
"And note, also, this falsehood, of which all are guilty; the
way in which marriages are made. What could there be more
natural? The young girl is marriageable, she should marry. What
simpler, provided the young person is not a monster, and men can
be found with a desire to marry? Well, no, here begins a new
"Formerly, when the maiden arrived at a favorable age, her
marriage was arranged by her parents. That was done, that is
done still, throughout humanity, among the Chinese, the Hindoos,
the Mussulmans, and among our common people also. Things are so
managed in at least ninety-nine per cent. of the families of the
entire human race.
"Only we riotous livers have imagined that this way was bad, and
have invented another. And this other,--what is it? It is this.
The young girls are seated, and the gentlemen walk up and down
before them, as in a bazaar, and make their choice. The maidens
wait and think, but do not dare to say: 'Take me, young man, me
and not her. Look at these shoulders and the rest.' We males
walk up and down, and estimate the merchandise, and then we
discourse upon the rights of woman, upon the liberty that she
acquires, I know not how, in the theatrical halls."
"But what is to be done?" said I to him. "Shall the woman make
"I do not know. But, if it is a question of equality, let the
equality be complete. Though it has been found that to contract
marriages through the agency of match-makers is humiliating, it
is nevertheless a thousand times preferable to our system. There
the rights and the chances are equal; here the woman is a slave,
exhibited in the market. But as she cannot bend to her
condition, or make advances herself, there begins that other and
more abominable lie which is sometimes called GOING INTO SOCIETY,
sometimes AMUSING ONE'S SELF, and which is really nothing but the
hunt for a husband.
"But say to a mother or to her daughter that they are engaged
only in a hunt for a husband. God! What an offence! Yet they
can do nothing else, and have nothing else to do; and the
terrible feature of it all is to see sometimes very young, poor,
and innocent maidens haunted solely by such ideas. If only, I
repeat, it were done frankly; but it is always accompanied with
lies and babble of this sort:--
"'Ah, the descent of species! How interesting it is!'
"'Oh, Lily is much interested in painting.'
"'Shall you go to the Exposition? How charming it is!'
"'And the troika, and the plays, and the symphony. Ah, how
"'My Lise is passionately fond of music.'
"'And you, why do you not share these convictions?'
"And through all this verbiage, all have but one single idea:
'Take me, take my Lise. No, me! Only try!"'
"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
"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.
"That, then, was the way in which I was captured. I was in
love, as it is called; not only did she appear to me a perfect
being, but I considered myself a white blackbird. It is a
commonplace fact that there is no one so low in the world that he
cannot find some one viler than himself, and consequently puff
with pride and self-contentment. I was in that situation. I did
not marry for money. Interest was foreign to the affair, unlike
the marriages of most of my acquaintances, who married either for
money or for relations. First, I was rich, she was poor.
Second, I was especially proud of the fact that, while others
married with an intention of continuing their polygamic life as
bachelors, it was my firm intention to live monogamically after
my engagement and the wedding, and my pride swelled immeasurably.
"Yes, I was a wretch, convinced that I was an angel. The period
of my engagement did not last long. I cannot remember those days
without shame. What an abomination!
"It is generally agreed that love is a moral sentiment, a
community of thought rather than of sense. If that is the case,
this community of thought ought to find expression in words and
conversation. Nothing of the sort. It was extremely difficult
for us to talk with each other. What a toil of Sisyphus was our
conversation! Scarcely had we thought of something to say, and
said it, when we had to résumé our silence and try to discover
new subjects. Literally, we did not know what to say to each
other. All that we could think of concerning the life that was
before us and our home was said.
"And then what? If we had been animals, we should have known
that we had not to talk. But here, on the contrary, it was
necessary to talk, and there were no resources! For that which
occupied our minds was not a thing to be expressed in words.
"And then that silly custom of eating bon-bons, that brutal
gluttony for sweetmeats, those abominable preparations for the
wedding, those discussions with mamma upon the apartments, upon
the sleeping-rooms, upon the bedding, upon the morning-gowns,
upon the wrappers, the linen, the costumes! Understand that if
people married according to the old fashion, as this old man said
just now, then these eiderdown coverlets and this bedding would
all be sacred details; but with us, out of ten married people
there is scarcely to be found one who, I do not say believes in
sacraments (whether he believes or not is a matter of
indifference to us), but believes in what he promises. Out of a
hundred men, there is scarcely one who has not married before,
and out of fifty scarcely one who has not made up his mind to
deceive his wife.
"The great majority look upon this journey to the church as a
condition necessary to the possession of a certain woman. Think
then of the supreme significance which material details must take
on. Is it not a sort of sale, in which a maiden is given over to
a debauche, the sale being surrounded with the most agreeable
"All marry in this way. And I did like the rest. If the young
people who dream of the honeymoon only knew what a disillusion it
is, and always a disillusion! I really do not know why all think
it necessary to conceal it.
"One day I was walking among the shows in Paris, when, attracted
by a sign, I entered an establishment to see a bearded woman and
a water-dog. The woman was a man in disguise, and the dog was an
ordinary dog, covered with a sealskin, and swimming in a bath.
It was not in the least interesting, but the Barnum accompanied
me to the exit very courteously, and, in addressing the people
who were coming in, made an appeal to my testimony. 'Ask the
gentleman if it is not worth seeing! Come in, come in! It only
costs a franc!' And in my confusion I did not dare to answer
that there was nothing curious to be seen, and it was upon my
false shame that the Barnum must have counted.
"It must be the same with the persons who have passed through the
abominations of the honeymoon. They do not dare to undeceive
their neighbor. And I did the same.
"The felicities of the honeymoon do not exist. On the contrary,
it is a period of uneasiness, of shame, of pity, and, above all,
of ennui,--of ferocious ennui. It is something like the
feeling of a youth when he is beginning to smoke. He desires to
vomit; he drivels, and swallows his drivel, pretending to enjoy
this little amusement. The vice of marriage" . . .
"What! Vice?" I said. "But you are talking of one of the most
"Natural!" said he. "Natural! No, I consider on the contrary
that it is against nature, and it is I, a perverted man, who have
reached this conviction. What would it be, then, if I had not
known corruption? To a young girl, to every unperverted young
girl, it is an act extremely unnatural, just as it is to
children. My sister married, when very young, a man twice her
own age, and who was utterly corrupt. I remember how astonished
we were the night of her wedding, when, pale and covered with
tears, she fled from her husband, her whole body trembling,
saying that for nothing in the world would she tell what he
wanted of her.
"You say natural? It is natural to eat; that is a pleasant,
agreeable function, which no one is ashamed to perform from the
time of his birth. No, it is not natural. A pure young girl
wants one thing,--children. Children, yes, not a lover." . . .
"But," said I, with astonishment, "how would the human race
"But what is the use of its continuing?" he rejoined,
"What! What is the use? But then we should not exist."
"And why is it necessary that we should exist?"
"Why, to live, to be sure."
"And why live? The Schopenhauers, the Hartmanns, and all the
Buddhists, say that the greatest happiness is Nirvana, Non-Life;
and they are right in this sense,--that human happiness is
coincident with the annihilation of 'Self.' Only they do not
express themselves well. They say that Humanity should
annihilate itself to avoid its sufferings, that its object should
be to destroy itself. Now the object of Humanity cannot be to
avoid sufferings by annihilation, since suffering is the result
of activity. The object of activity cannot consist in
suppressing its consequences. The object of Man, as of Humanity,
is happiness, and, to attain it, Humanity has a law which it must
carry out. This law consists in the union of beings. This union
is thwarted by the passions. And that is why, if the passions
disappear, the union will be accomplished. Humanity then will
have carried out the law, and will have no further reason to
"And before Humanity carries out the law?"
"In the meantime it will have the sign of the unfulfilled law,
and the existence of physical love. As long as this love shall
exist, and because of it, generations will be born, one of which
will finally fulfil the law. When at last the law shall be
fulfilled, the Human Race will be annihilated. At least it is
impossible for us to conceive of Life in the perfect union of
"Strange theory!" cried I.
"Strange in what? According to all the doctrines of the Church,
the world will have an end. Science teaches the same fatal
conclusions. Why, then, is it strange that the same thing should
result from moral Doctrine? 'Let those who can, contain,' said
Christ. And I take this passage literally, as it is written.
That morality may exist between people in their worldly
relations, they must make complete chastity their object. In
tending toward this end, man humiliates himself. When he shall
reach the last degree of humiliation, we shall have moral
"But if man, as in our society, tends only toward physical love,
though he may clothe it with pretexts and the false forms of
marriage, he will have only permissible debauchery, he will know
only the same immoral life in which I fell and caused my wife to
fall, a life which we call the honest life of the family. Think
what a perversion of ideas must arise when the happiest situation
of man, liberty, chastity, is looked upon as something wretched
and ridiculous. The highest ideal, the best situation of woman,
to be pure, to be a vestal, a virgin, excites fear and laughter
in our society. How many, how many young girls sacrifice their
purity to this Moloch of opinion by marrying rascals that they
may not remain virgins,--that is, superiors! Through fear of
finding themselves in that ideal state, they ruin themselves.
"But I did not understand formerly, I did not understand that the
words of the Gospel, that 'he who looks upon a woman to lust
after her has already committed adultery,' do not apply to the
wives of others, but notably and especially to our own wives. I
did not understand this, and I thought that the honeymoon and all
of my acts during that period were virtuous, and that to satisfy
one's desires with his wife is an eminently chaste thing. Know,
then, that I consider these departures, these isolations, which
young married couples arrange with the permission of their
parents, as nothing else than a license to engage in debauchery.
"I saw, then, in this nothing bad or shameful, and, hoping for
great joys, I began to live the honeymoon. And very certainly
none of these joys followed. But I had faith, and was determined
to have them, cost what they might. But the more I tried to
secure them, the less I succeeded. All this time I felt anxious,
ashamed, and weary. Soon I began to suffer. I believe that on
the third or fourth day I found my wife sad and asked her the
reason. I began to embrace her, which in my opinion was all that
she could desire. She put me away with her hand, and began to
"At what? She could not tell me. She was filled with sorrow,
with anguish. Probably her tortured nerves had suggested to her
the truth about the baseness of our relations, but she found no
words in which to say it. I began to question her; she answered
that she missed her absent mother. It seemed to me that she was
not telling the truth. I sought to console her by maintaining
silence in regard to her parents. I did not imagine that she
felt herself simply overwhelmed, and that her parents had nothing
to do with her sorrow. She did not listen to me, and I accused
her of caprice. I began to laugh at her gently. She dried her
tears, and began to reproach me, in hard and wounding terms, for
my selfishness and cruelty.
"I looked at her. Her whole face expressed hatred, and hatred of
me. I cannot describe to you the fright which this sight gave
me. 'How? What?' thought I, 'love is the unity of souls, and
here she hates me? Me? Why? But it is impossible! It is no
"I tried to calm her. I came in conflict with an immovable and
cold hostility, so that, having no time to reflect, I was seized
with keen irritation. We exchanged disagreeable remarks. The
impression of this first quarrel was terrible. I say quarrel,
but the term is inexact. It was the sudden discovery of the
abyss that had been dug between us. Love was exhausted with the
satisfaction of sensuality. We stood face to face in our true
light, like two egoists trying to procure the greatest possible
enjoyment, like two individuals trying to mutually exploit each
"So what I called our quarrel was our actual situation as it
appeared after the satisfaction of sensual desire. I did not
realize that this cold hostility was our normal state, and that
this first quarrel would soon be drowned under a new flood of the
intensest sensuality. I thought that we had disputed with each
other, and had become reconciled, and that it would not happen
again. But in this same honeymoon there came a period of
satiety, in which we ceased to be necessary to each other, and a
new quarrel broke out.
"It became evident that the first was not a matter of chance.
'It was inevitable,' I thought. This second quarrel stupefied me
the more, because it was based on an extremely unjust cause. It
was something like a question of money,--and never had I haggled
on that score; it was even impossible that I should do so in
relation to her. I only remember that, in answer to some remark
that I made, she insinuated that it was my intention to rule her
by means of money, and that it was upon money that I based my
sole right over her. In short, something extraordinarily stupid
and base, which was neither in my character nor in hers.
"I was beside myself. I accused her of indelicacy. She made the
same accusation against me, and the dispute broke out. In her
words, in the expression of her face, of her eyes, I noticed
again the hatred that had so astonished me before. With a
brother, friends, my father, I had occasionally quarrelled, but
never had there been between us this fierce spite. Some time
passed. Our mutual hatred was again concealed beneath an access
of sensual desire, and I again consoled myself with the
reflection that these scenes were reparable faults.
"But when they were repeated a third and a fourth time, I
understood that they were not simply faults, but a fatality that
must happen again. I was no longer frightened, I was simply
astonished that I should be precisely the one to live so
uncomfortably with my wife, and that the same thing did not
happen in other households. I did not know that in all
households the same sudden changes take place, but that all, like
myself, imagine that it is a misfortune exclusively reserved for
themselves alone, which they carefully conceal as shameful, not
only to others, but to themselves, like a bad disease.
"That was what happened to me. Begun in the early days, it
continued and increased with characteristics of fury that were
ever more pronounced. At the bottom of my soul, from the first
weeks, I felt that I was in a trap, that I had what I did not
expect, and that marriage is not a joy, but a painful trial.
Like everybody else, I refused to confess it (I should not have
confessed it even now but for the outcome). Now I am astonished
to think that I did not see my real situation. It was so easy to
perceive it, in view of those quarrels, begun for reasons so
trivial that afterwards one could not recall them.
"Just as it often happens among gay young people that, in the
absence of jokes, they laugh at their own laughter, so we found
no reasons for our hatred, and we hated each other because hatred
was naturally boiling up in us. More extraordinary still was the
absence of causes for reconciliation.
"Sometimes words, explanations, or even tears, but sometimes, I
remember, after insulting words, there tacitly followed embraces
and declarations. Abomination! Why is it that I did not then
perceive this baseness?
"All of us, men and women, are brought up in these aberrations
of feeling that we call love. I from childhood had prepared
myself for this thing, and I loved, and I loved during all my
youth, and I was joyous in loving. It had been put into my head
that it was the noblest and highest occupation in the world. But
when this expected feeling came at last, and I, a man, abandoned
myself to it, the lie was pierced through and through.
Theoretically a lofty love is conceivable; practically it is an
ignoble and degrading thing, which it is equally disgusting to
talk about and to remember. It is not in vain that nature has
made ceremonies, but people pretend that the ignoble and the
shameful is beautiful and lofty.
"I will tell you brutally and briefly what were the first signs
of my love. I abandoned myself to beastly excesses, not only not
ashamed of them, but proud of them, giving no thought to the
intellectual life of my wife. And not only did I not think of
her intellectual life, I did not even consider her physical life.
I was astonished at the origin of our hostility, and yet how
clear it was! This hostility is nothing but a protest of human
nature against the beast that enslaves it. It could not be
otherwise. This hatred was the hatred of accomplices in a crime.
Was it not a crime that, this poor woman having become pregnant
in the first month, our liaison should have continued just the
"You imagine that I am wandering from my story. Not at all. I
am always giving you an account of the events that led to the
murder of my wife. The imbeciles! They think that I killed my
wife on the 5th of October. It was long before that that I
immolated her, just as they all kill now. Understand well that
in our society there is an idea shared by all that woman procures
man pleasure (and vice versa, probably, but I know nothing of
that, I only know my own case). Wein, Weiber und Gesang. So say
the poets in their verses: Wine, women, and song!
"If it were only that! Take all the poetry, the painting, the
sculpture, beginning with Pouschkine's 'Little Feet,' with 'Venus
and Phryne,' and you will see that woman is only a means of
enjoyment. That is what she is at Trouba,* at Gratchevka, and in
a court ball-room. And think of this diabolical trick: if she
were a thing without moral value, it might be said that woman is
a fine morsel; but, in the first place, these knights assure us
that they adore woman (they adore her and look upon her, however,
as a means of enjoyment), then all assure us that they esteem
woman. Some give up their seats to her, pick up her
handkerchief; others recognize in her a right to fill all
offices, participate in government, etc., but, in spite of all
that, the essential point remains the same. She is, she remains,
an object of sensual desire, and she knows it. It is slavery,
for slavery is nothing else than the utilization of the labor of
some for the enjoyment of others. That slavery may not exist
people must refuse to enjoy the labor of others, and look upon it
as a shameful act and as a sin.
*A suburb of Moscow.
"Actually, this is what happens. They abolish the external
form, they suppress the formal sales of slaves, and then they
imagine and assure others that slavery is abolished. They are
unwilling to see that it still exists, since people, as before,
like to profit by the labor of others, and think it good and
just. This being given, there will always be found beings
stronger or more cunning than others to profit thereby. The same
thing happens in the emancipation of woman. At bottom feminine
servitude consists entirely in her assimilation with a means of
pleasure. They excite woman, they give her all sorts of rights
equal to those of men, but they continue to look upon her as an
object of sensual desire, and thus they bring her up from infancy
and in public opinion.
"She is always the humiliated and corrupt serf, and man remains
always the debauched Master. Yes, to abolish slavery, public
opinion must admit that it is shameful to exploit one's neighbor,
and, to make woman free, public opinion must admit that it is
shameful to consider woman as an instrument of pleasure.
"The emancipation of woman is not to be effected in the public
courts or in the chamber of deputies, but in the sleeping
chamber. Prostitution is to be combated, not in the houses of
ill-fame, but in the family. They free woman in the public
courts and in the chamber of deputies, but she remains an
instrument. Teach her, as she is taught among us, to look upon
herself as such, and she will always remain an inferior being.
Either, with the aid of the rascally doctors, she will try to
prevent conception, and descend, not to the level of an animal,
but to the level of a thing; or she will be what she is in the
great majority of cases,--sick, hysterical, wretched, without
hope of spiritual progress." . . .
"But why that?" I asked.
"Oh! the most astonishing thing is that no one is willing to see
this thing, evident as it is, which the doctors must understand,
but which they take good care not to do. Man does not wish to
know the law of nature,--children. But children are born and
become an embarrassment. Then man devises means of avoiding this
embarrassment. We have not yet reached the low level of Europe,
nor Paris, nor the 'system of two children,' nor Mahomet. We
have discovered nothing, because we have given it no thought. We
feel that there is something bad in the two first means; but we
wish to preserve the family, and our view of woman is still
"With us woman must be at the same time mistress and nurse, and
her strength is not sufficient. That is why we have hysteria,
nervous attacks, and, among the peasants, witchcraft. Note that
among the young girls of the peasantry this state of things does
not exist, but only among the wives, and the wives who live with
their husbands. The reason is clear, and this is the cause of
the intellectual and moral decline of woman, and of her
"If they would only reflect what a grand work for the wife is the
period of gestation! In her is forming the being who continues
us, and this holy work is thwarted and rendered painful . . . by
what? It is frightful to think of it! And after that they talk
of the liberties and the rights of woman! It is like the
cannibals fattening their prisoners in order to devour them, and
assuring these unfortunates at the same time that their rights
and their liberties are guarded!"
All this was new to me, and astonished me very much.
"But if this is so," said I, "it follows that one may love his
wife only once every two years; and as man" . . .
"And as man has need of her, you are going to say. At least, so
the priests of science assure us. I would force these priests to
fulfil the function of these women, who, in their opinion, are
necessary to man. I wonder what song they would sing then.
Assure man that he needs brandy, tobacco, opium, and he will
believe those poisons necessary. It follows that God did not
know how to arrange matters properly, since, without asking the
opinions of the priests, he has combined things as they are. Man
needs, so they have decided, to satisfy his sensual desire, and
here this function is disturbed by the birth and the nursing of
"What, then, is to be done? Why, apply to the priests; they will
arrange everything, and they have really discovered a way. When,
then, will these rascals with their lies be uncrowned! It is
high time. We have had enough of them. People go mad, and shoot
each other with revolvers, and always because of that! And how
could it be otherwise?
"One would say that the animals know that descent continues their
race, and that they follow a certain law in regard thereto. Only
man does not know this, and is unwilling to know it. He cares
only to have as much sensual enjoyment as possible. The king of
nature,--man! In the name of his love he kills half the human
race. Of woman, who ought to be his aid in the movement of
humanity toward liberty, he makes, in the name of his pleasures,
not an aid, but an enemy. Who is it that everywhere puts a check
upon the progressive movement of humanity? Woman. Why is it so?
For the reason that I have given, and for that reason only.
"Yes, much worse than the animal is man when he does not live as
a man. Thus was I. The horrible part is that I believed,
inasmuch as I did not allow myself to be seduced by other women
that I was leading an honest family life, that I was a very
mortal being, and that if we had quarrels, the fault was in my
wife, and in her character.
"But it is evident that the fault was not in her. She was like
everybody else, like the majority. She was brought up according
to the principles exacted by the situation of our society,--that
is, as all the young girls of our wealthy classes, without
exception, are brought up, and as they cannot fail to be brought
up. How many times we hear or read of reflections upon the
abnormal condition of women, and upon what they ought to be. But
these are only vain words. The education of women results from
the real and not imaginary view which the world entertains of
women's vocation. According to this view, the condition of women
consists in procuring pleasure and it is to that end that her
education is directed. From her infancy she is taught only those
things that are calculated to increase her charm. Every young
girl is accustomed to think only of that.
"As the serfs were brought up solely to please their masters, so
woman is brought up to attract men. It cannot be otherwise. But
you will say, perhaps, that that applies only to young girls who
are badly brought up, but that there is another education, an
education that is serious, in the schools, an education in the
dead languages, an education in the institutions of midwifery, an
education in medical courses, and in other courses. It is
"Every sort of feminine education has for its sole object the
attraction of men.
"Some attract by music or curly hair, others by science or by
civic virtue. The object is the same, and cannot be otherwise
(since no other object exists),--to seduce man in order to
possess him. Imagine courses of instruction for women and
feminine science without men,--that is, learned women, and men
not KNOWING them as learned. Oh, no! No education, no
instruction can change woman as long as her highest ideal shall
be marriage and not virginity, freedom from sensuality. Until
that time she will remain a serf. One need only imagine,
forgetting the universality of the case, the conditions in which
our young girls are brought up, to avoid astonishment at the
debauchery of the women of our upper classes. It is the opposite
that would cause astonishment.
"Follow my reasoning. From infancy garments, ornaments,
cleanliness, grace, dances, music, reading of poetry, novels,
singing, the theatre, the concert, for use within and without,
according as women listen, or practice themselves. With that,
complete physical idleness, an excessive care of the body, a vast
consumption of sweetmeats; and God knows how the poor maidens
suffer from their own sensuality, excited by all these things.
Nine out of ten are tortured intolerably during the first period
of maturity, and afterward provided they do not marry at the age
of twenty. That is what we are unwilling to see, but those who
have eyes see it all the same. And even the majority of these
unfortunate creatures are so excited by a hidden sensuality (and
it is lucky if it is hidden) that they are fit for nothing. They
become animated only in the presence of men. Their whole life is
spent in preparations for coquetry, or in coquetry itself. In
the presence of men they become too animated; they begin to live
by sensual energy. But the moment the man goes away, the life
"And that, not in the presence of a certain man, but in the
presence of any man, provided he is not utterly hideous. You
will say that this is an exception. No, it is a rule. Only in
some it is made very evident, in other less so. But no one lives
by her own life; they are all dependent upon man. They cannot be
otherwise, since to them the attraction of the greatest number of
men is the ideal of life (young girls and married women), and it
is for this reason that they have no feeling stronger than that
of the animal need of every female who tries to attract the
largest number of males in order to increase the opportunities
for choice. So it is in the life of young girls, and so it
continues during marriage. In the life of young girls it is
necessary in order to selection, and in marriage it is necessary
in order to rule the husband. Only one thing suppresses or
interrupts these tendencies for a time,--namely, children,--and
then only when the woman is not a monster,--that is, when she
nurses her own children. Here again the doctor interferes.
"With my wife, who desired to nurse her own children, and who did
nurse six of them, it happened that the first child was sickly.
The doctors, who cynically undressed her and felt of her
everywhere, and whom I had to thank and pay for these
acts,--these dear doctors decided that she ought not to nurse her
child, and she was temporarily deprived of the only remedy for
coquetry. A nurse finished the nursing of this first-born,--that
is to say, we profited by the poverty and ignorance of a woman to
steal her from her own little one in favor of ours, and for that
purpose we dressed her in a kakoschnik trimmed with gold lace.
Nevertheless, that is not the question; but there was again
awakened in my wife that coquetry which had been sleeping during
the nursing period. Thanks to that, she reawakened in me the
torments of jealousy which I had formerly known, though in a much
"Yes, jealousy, that is another of the secrets of marriage known
to all and concealed by all. Besides the general cause of the
mutual hatred of husbands and wives resulting from complicity in
the pollution of a human being, and also from other causes, the
inexhaustible source of marital wounds is jealousy. But by tacit
consent it is determined to conceal them from all, and we conceal
them. Knowing them, each one supposes in himself that it is an
unfortunate peculiarity, and not a common destiny. So it was
with me, and it had to be so. There cannot fail to be jealousy
between husbands and wives who live immorally. If they cannot
sacrifice their pleasures for the welfare of their child, they
conclude therefrom, and truly, that they will not sacrifice their
pleasures for, I will not say happiness and tranquillity (since
one may sin in secret), but even for the sake of conscience. Each
one knows very well that neither admits any high moral reasons
for not betraying the other, since in their mutual relations they
fail in the requirements of morality, and from that time distrust
and watch each other.
"Oh, what a frightful feeling of jealousy! I do not speak of
that real jealousy which has foundations (it is tormenting, but
it promises an issue), but of that unconscious jealousy which
inevitably accompanies every immoral marriage, and which, having
no cause, has no end. This jealousy is frightful. Frightful,
that is the word.
"And this is it. A young man speaks to my wife. He looks at her
with a smile, and, as it seems to me, he surveys her body. How
does he dare to think of her, to think of the possibility of a
romance with her? And how can she, seeing this, tolerate him?
Not only does she tolerate him, but she seems pleased. I even
see that she puts herself to trouble on his account. And in my
soul there rises such a hatred for her that each of her words,
each gesture, disgusts me. She notices it, she knows not what to
do, and how assume an air of indifferent animation? Ah! I
suffer! That makes her gay, she is content. And my hatred
increases tenfold, but I do not dare to give it free force,
because at the bottom of my soul I know that there are no real
reasons for it, and I remain in my seat, feigning indifference,
and exaggerating my attention and courtesy to HIM.
"Then I get angry with myself. I desire to leave the room, to
leave them alone, and I do, in fact, go out; but scarcely am I
outside when I am invaded by a fear of what is taking place
within my absence. I go in again, inventing some pretext. Or
sometimes I do not go in; I remain near the door, and listen.
How can she humiliate herself and humiliate me by placing me in
this cowardly situation of suspicion and espionage? Oh,
abomination! Oh, the wicked animal! And he too, what does he
think of you? But he is like all men. He is what I was before
my marriage. It gives him pleasure. He even smiles when he
looks at me, as much as to say: 'What have you to do with this?
It is my turn now.'
"This feeling is horrible. Its burn is unendurable. To
entertain this feeling toward any one, to once suspect a man of
lusting after my wife, was enough to spoil this man forever in my
eyes, as if he had been sprinkled with vitriol. Let me once
become jealous of a being, and nevermore could I re-establish
with him simple human relations, and my eyes flashed when I
looked at him.
"As for my wife, so many times had I enveloped her with this
moral vitriol, with this jealous hatred, that she was degraded
thereby. In the periods of this causeless hatred I gradually
uncrowned her. I covered her with shame in my imagination.
"I invented impossible knaveries. I suspected, I am ashamed to
say, that she, this queen of 'The Thousand and One Nights,'
deceived me with my serf, under my very eyes, and laughing at me.
Thus, with each new access of jealousy (I speak always of
causeless jealousy), I entered into the furrow dug formerly by my
filthy suspicions, and I continually deepened it. She did the
same thing. If I have reasons to be jealous, she who knew my
past had a thousand times more. And she was more ill-natured in
her jealousy than I. And the sufferings that I felt from her
jealousy were different, and likewise very painful.
"The situation may be described thus. We are living more or less
tranquilly. I am even gay and contented. Suddenly we start a
conversation on some most commonplace subject, and directly she
finds herself disagreeing with me upon matters concerning which
we have been generally in accord. And furthermore I see that,
without any necessity therefor, she is becoming irritated. I
think that she has a nervous attack, or else that the subject of
conversation is really disagreeable to her. We talk of something
else, and that begins again. Again she torments me, and becomes
irritated. I am astonished and look for a reason. Why? For
what? She keeps silence, answers me with monosyllables,
evidently making allusions to something. I begin to divine that
the reason of all this is that I have taken a few walks in the
garden with her cousin, to whom I did not give even a thought. I
begin to divine, but I cannot say so. If I say so, I confirm her
suspicions. I interrogate her, I question her. She does not
answer, but she sees that I understand, and that confirms her
"'What is the matter with you?' I ask.
"'Nothing, I am as well as usual,' she answers.
"And at the same time, like a crazy woman, she gives utterance to
the silliest remarks, to the most inexplicable explosions of
"Sometimes I am patient, but at other times I break out with
anger. Then her own irritation is launched forth in a flood of
insults, in charges of imaginary crimes and all carried to the
highest degree by sobs, tears, and retreats through the house to
the most improbable spots. I go to look for her. I am ashamed
before people, before the children, but there is nothing to be
done. She is in a condition where I feel that she is ready for
anything. I run, and finally find her. Nights of torture
follow, in which both of us, with exhausted nerves, appease each
other, after the most cruel words and accusations.
"Yes, jealousy, causeless jealousy, is the condition of our
debauched conjugal life. And throughout my marriage never did I
cease to feel it and to suffer from it. There were two periods
in which I suffered most intensely. The first time was after the
birth of our first child, when the doctors had forbidden my wife
to nurse it. I was particularly jealous, in the first place,
because my wife felt that restlessness peculiar to animal matter
when the regular course of life is interrupted without occasion.
But especially was I jealous because, having seen with what
facility she had thrown off her moral duties as a mother, I
concluded rightly, though unconsciously, that she would throw off
as easily her conjugal duties, feeling all the surer of this
because she was in perfect health, as was shown by the fact that,
in spite of the prohibition of the dear doctors, she nursed her
following children, and even very well."
"I see that you have no love for the doctors," said I, having
noticed Posdnicheff's extraordinarily spiteful expression of face
and tone of voice whenever he spoke of them.
"It is not a question of loving them or of not loving them. They
have ruined my life, as they have ruined the lives of thousands
of beings before me, and I cannot help connecting the consequence
with the cause. I conceive that they desire, like the lawyers
and the rest, to make money. I would willingly have given them
half of my income--and any one would have done it in my place,
understanding what they do--if they had consented not to meddle
in my conjugal life, and to keep themselves at a distance. I
have compiled no statistics, but I know scores of cases--in
reality, they are innumerable--where they have killed, now a
child in its mother's womb, asserting positively that the mother
could not give birth to it (when the mother could give birth to
it very well), now mothers, under the pretext of a so-called
operation. No one has counted these murders, just as no one
counted the murders of the Inquisition, because it was supposed
that they were committed for the benefit of humanity.
Innumerable are the crimes of the doctors! But all these crimes
are nothing compared with the materialistic demoralization which
they introduce into the world through women. I say nothing of
the fact that, if it were to follow their advice,--thanks to the
microbe which they see everywhere,--humanity, instead of tending
to union, would proceed straight to complete disunion.
Everybody, according to their doctrine, should isolate himself,
and never remove from his mouth a syringe filled with phenic acid
(moreover, they have found out now that it does no good). But I
would pass over all these things. The supreme poison is the
perversion of people, especially of women. One can no longer say
now: 'You live badly, live better.' One can no longer say it
either to himself or to others, for, if you live badly (say the
doctors), the cause is in the nervous system or in something
similar, and it is necessary to go to consult them, and they will
prescribe for you thirty-five copecks' worth of remedies to be
bought at the drug-store, and you must swallow them. Your
condition grows worse? Again to the doctors, and more remedies!
An excellent business!
"But to return to our subject. I was saying that my wife nursed
her children well, that the nursing and the gestation of the
children, and the children in general, quieted my tortures of
jealousy, but that, on the other hand, they provoked torments of
a different sort.
"The children came rapidly, one after another, and there
happened what happens in our society with children and doctors.
Yes, children, maternal love, it is a painful thing. Children,
to a woman of our society, are not a joy, a pride, nor a
fulfilment of her vocation, but a cause of fear, anxiety, and
interminable suffering, torture. Women say it, they think it,
and they feel it too. Children to them are really a torture, not
because they do not wish to give birth to them, nurse them, and
care for them (women with a strong maternal instinct--and such
was my wife--are ready to do that), but because the children may
fall sick and die. They do not wish to give birth to them, and
then not love them; and when they love, they do not wish to feel
fear for the child's health and life. That is why they do not
wish to nurse them. 'If I nurse it,' they say, 'I shall become
too fond of it.' One would think that they preferred
india-rubber children, which could neither be sick nor die, and
could always be repaired. What an entanglement in the brains of
these poor women! Why such abominations to avoid pregnancy, and
to avoid the love of the little ones?
"Love, the most joyous condition of the soul, is represented as a
danger. And why? Because, when a man does not live as a man, he
is worse than a beast. A woman cannot look upon a child
otherwise than as a pleasure. It is true that it is painful to
give birth to it, but what little hands! . . . Oh, the little
hands! Oh, the little feet! Oh, its smile! Oh, its little
body! Oh, its prattle! Oh, its hiccough! In a word, it is a
feeling of animal, sensual maternity. But as for any idea as to
the mysterious significance of the appearance of a new human
being to replace us, there is scarcely a sign of it.
"Nothing of it appears in all that is said and done. No one has
any faith now in a baptism of the child, and yet that was nothing
but a reminder of the human significance of the newborn babe.
"They have rejected all that, but they have not replaced it, and
there remain only the dresses, the laces, the little hands, the
little feet, and whatever exists in the animal. But the animal
has neither imagination, nor foresight, nor reason, nor a doctor.
No! not even a doctor! The chicken droops its head, overwhelmed,
or the calf dies; the hen clucks and the cow lows for a time, and
then these beasts continue to live, forgetting what has happened.
With us, if the child falls sick, what is to be done, how to care
for it, what doctor to call, where to go? If it dies, there will
be no more little hands or little feet, and then what is the use
of the sufferings endured? The cow does not ask all that, and
this is why children are a source of misery. The cow has no
imagination, and for that reason cannot think how it might have
saved the child if it had done this or that, and its grief,
founded in its physical being, lasts but a very short time. It
is only a condition, and not that sorrow which becomes
exaggerated to the point of despair, thanks to idleness and
satiety. The cow has not that reasoning faculty which would
enable it to ask the why. Why endure all these tortures? What
was the use of so much love, if the little ones were to die? The
cow has no logic which tells it to have no more children, and, if
any come accidentally, to neither love nor nurse them, that it
may not suffer. But our wives reason, and reason in this way,
and that is why I said that, when a man does not live as a man,
he is beneath the animal."
"But then, how is it necessary to act, in your opinion, in order
to treat children humanly?" I asked.
"How? Why, love them humanly."
"Well, do not mothers love their children?"
"They do not love them humanly, or very seldom do, and that is
why they do not love them even as dogs. Mark this, a hen, a
goose, a wolf, will always remain to woman inaccessible ideals of
animal love. It is a rare thing for a woman to throw herself, at
the peril of her life, upon an elephant to snatch her child away,
whereas a hen or a sparrow will not fail to fly at a dog and
sacrifice itself utterly for its children. Observe this, also.
Woman has the power to limit her physical love for her children,
which an animal cannot do. Does that mean that, because of this,
woman is inferior to the animal? No. She is superior (and even
to say superior is unjust, she is not superior, she is
different), but she has other duties, human duties. She can
restrain herself in the matter of animal love, and transfer her
love to the soul of the child. That is what woman's role should
be, and that is precisely what we do not see in our society. We
read of the heroic acts of mothers who sacrifice their children
in the name of a superior idea, and these things seem to us like
tales of the ancient world, which do not concern us. And yet I
believe that, if the mother has not some ideal, in the name of
which she can sacrifice the animal feeling, and if this force
finds no employment, she will transfer it to chimerical attempts
to physically preserve her child, aided in this task by the
doctor, and she will suffer as she does suffer.
"So it was with my wife. Whether there was one child or five,
the feeling remained the same. In fact, it was a little better
when there had been five. Life was always poisoned with fear for
the children, not only from their real or imaginary diseases, but
even by their simple presence. For my part, at least, throughout
my conjugal life, all my interests and all my happiness depended
upon the health of my children, their condition, their studies.
Children, it is needless to say, are a serious consideration; but
all ought to live, and in our days parents can no longer live.
Regular life does not exist for them. The whole life of the
family hangs by a hair. What a terrible thing it is to suddenly
receive the news that little Basile is vomiting, or that Lise has
a cramp in the stomach! Immediately you abandon everything, you
forget everything, everything becomes nothing. The essential
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