One of the most controversial and censored works by Tolstoy.
By the mouth of a man who killed his wife out of jealousy, Tolstoy launched a scathing attack on society’s views and practices with regard to relationships, sex, marriage and child-raising. He even included many materials from his own life and marriage – Like the man in the story, Tolstoy also showed his wife his “memoir” and suffered intensely from jealousy. I could imagine his critics asking: Was he insane, round the bend? Some even cited the fact that Tolstoy left his home shortly before his death as proof that the great man had indeed gone over the edge.
I put off reading this book initially, but, being a fan of Tolstoy, I know that this book would reveal an important aspect of the author, and having read many of his other works, I have no doubt his logical and moral reasonings were intact though he was struggling mightily with internal conflicts, as he himself indicated a few years earlier in “A Confession” .
In this book, Tolstoy’s depth of perception, his mastery of psychology and storytelling are as compelling as they are in “Anna Karenina”. Speaking through Pozdnyshev, he revealed the dark side of love, sexual relationships and marriage, caused by selfish, carnal desires. When there is a rift between husband and wife, even music can be catalyst for adultery, because it induces great intimacy between people. The tragedy was not that Pozdnyshev killed his wife, it was that he never truly lived in the first place. As he confessed, “I killed her before I knew her”.
In the Epilogue, Tolstoy explained his intention in writing the book and strongly promoted Christian virtues and ideals, such as chastity for the service of God and men, and love between husband and wife as brother and sister, as antidote against carnal sins.
The tragedy at the end of Tolstoy’s life was not that he left his home, but that he didn’t reach his destination. Or perhaps he did reach it after all. As he himself wrote in Master and Man, “Whether he is better or worse off there where he awoke after his death, whether he was disappointed or found there what he expected, we shall all soon learn.”