Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata and Unconscious Homosexuality

There are elements of bisexuality in every individual. In the course of a normal development, the homosexual instincts are weakened and the heterosexual come to the fore, paralleling the development of the anatomical signs of bisexuality. The nipples of the male, for example, remain in an “embryonic” state.

If the homosexual instinct does not disappear, however, but continues its development, the result will be either open homosexuality, if the individual is conscious of his tendency, or latent homosexuality, if he is unaware of it and it is hidden in the unconscious by the authority of the moral censor.

However, the thinking, the aspirations and the actions of such a person will reflect his internal conflict.

In some cases, the homosexual elements are not manifested till advanced age, appearing like a mysterious flame glowing through the ash.

It seems to us that no other perversion (or to use a better term, paraphilia), in its latent occult state, makes such liberal use of various masks and distortions as the homosexual inclination.

A close study of Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata leaves no doubt in mind that the jealous murderer Pozdnuishef is presented as a homosexual who did not know his own nature; even the author, Tolstoy, failed to realize this.

Nothing is told of Pozdnuishef’s childhood. At the age of fifteen, together with his older brother, a student, he lost his innocence at a house of prostitution.

It is very probable that this older brother had a determining influence on the development of the younger boy. Psychoanalytic studies have shown that a visit to a prostitute may conceal the unconscious wish of entering in this way into symbolic contact with her other clients. This unconscious wish is even more evident in a joint visit to a brothel: a joint visit to a prostitute is one of the masks of homosexuality.

Again there is a long hiatus in the biography. Up to the age of thirty, he and his friends had “on our souls hundreds of the most varied and horrible crimes against women.” (1) Before marriage, he had relations with hundreds or even thousands of women, “just like Don Juan,” and he believed that most men behaved as he did.

Don Juan, this picture of a man in the eternal quest of women, is likewise a masked form of homosexuality. He cannot find the object of his quest and is untiring in his efforts. Nothing can satisfy him since he seeks satisfaction where he cannot find it. He cannot abandon the search because an incessant voice from the unconscious drives him on, and he does not know whence will come the call and where it will lead him.

This unceasing flight from one woman to another is sadistic, and an even stronger sadism must develop when a latent homosexual is bound by marriage to one woman. Unconscious but aggressive homosexual tendencies and sadism are inseparable phenomena. When one of the partners to a marriage is a homosexual, the marriage becomes a form of torture, especially when the homosexuality assumes an aggressive shape. When it is passive in its manifestations, it is associated with self-humiliation and the homosexual then tries to play the role of a woman taken in violence.

Pozdnuishef is a sadist. He does not know, just as his creator did not know, that the hate impulses in his marital life were caused by the unconscious desire for a man, a partner of his own sex, in his marriage. It would be impossible for him to find happiness in any marriage. At the end of the story, Tolstoy, with a fine intuitive feeling for the truth of his character, has him say the following: “Yes, if I had known what I know now, then everything would have been entirely different. I would not have married for ...I would not have married at all."

In his marriage he sought the impossible. We learn something interesting from a chance remark introduced at the beginning of the description of the honeymoon. “That is the way they all get married and that is the way I got married, and the much-vaunted honeymoon began. What a vile name that is in itself! I was making a tour of all the sights of Paris, and I went in to see the bearded woman and the water-dog. It seemed that it was only a man decollete, in a woman’s gown.” A curious chain of associations; from talking of the honeymoon to the story of a woman with a beard who turned out to be a man. This process of association can be understood if it is regarded as a cover for something hidden.

A few pages further: “In spite of all my efforts to make my honeymoon a success, it was a failure. The whole time was merely vile, shameful and tiresome. But very soon it became also painfully oppressive.” At one time sensuality would gain the upper hand but soon hate would come to replace it.

It may be said that when an excessive reaction follows coitus, expressing itself in hate and disgust, the act was contrary to the nature of the individual or was not performed with the real sexual object. Depression expresses the absence of satisfaction or the emergence of regrets at having created an illusion of replacing the real object. This may well be the reason why individuals who substitute an imaginary for a real object prefer to perform the act in complete darkness. Under cover of darkness, the unconscious has a greater leeway to create a fantasy-object.

The feeling of hostility recurred after each episode of sensuality and was the outstanding feature of Pozdniushef’s marriage. “Reason was not quick enough to sophisticate sufficient pretexts for the hostility that constantly existed between us."

"What is chiefly vile about this is that in theory it is taken for granted that love is something ideal and elevated; whereas in practice love is something low and swinish, which it is shameful and disgusting to speak of or remember. You see it is not without reason that nature made it shameful and disgusting."

This is an example of displacement and rationalization. What is actually so revolting is an act which remains unconscious and violates the normal ethical feelings.

There is insight in the following words: “This animosity was nothing else than the protest of human nature against the animal which was crushing it.” “I was amazed at our hatred of each other.... This hatred was identical with the hatred felt by the accomplices in a crime, both for the instigation and the accomplishment of the deed.” An unloved wife, it would seem; but men are usually not jealous of an unloved wife. “During the whole course of my married life I never ceased to experience the pangs of jealousy."

It was not till after ten years of marriage, however, and after his wife was the mother of five children that she gave him any real cause for jealousy. Till then it was groundless and artificial. Finally, he constructed the situation which he needed.

Pozdnuishef himself brought “ him “ together with his wife. “Even at the first glance he impressed me unfavorably. But strangely enough some peculiar fatal power impelled me not to keep him at a distance, not to send him away, but rather to draw him nearer to me. Why, what could have been simpler than to have talked coolly with him a few minutes, and to have said ‘good morning’ without introducing him to my wife? But no, I talked with him deliberately about his playing… I said that my wife played very well. Wonderful thing! My relations to him that very first day, that very first hour of my meeting with him were such as they could have been only after all that occurred subsequently. There was something strained in my relations with him…. I presented him to my wife."

The homosexual, unaware of his inclination, arranges to have his wife meet the man to whom he himself is attracted. Reason struggles with his unconscious desires. He describes “him” in an unfavorable light: “He had almond-shaped, humid eyes, handsome, smiling lips, a little waxed mustache, the latest and most fashionable method of dressing his hair, an insipidly handsome face, such as women call ‘not bad,’ a slender build, though not ill-shaped, and with a largely developed behind, such as they say characterize Hottentot women (my emphasis)."

It was to be expected that this description would contain some reference to the femininity of the object. The behind, like a woman’s , made a special impression on Pozdnuishef, and he remembered it well.

The attempt to make the desired object disgusting is the expression of the struggle against the forbidden impulses. However, the forbidden impulse was victorious and he becomes a match-maker, “I saw that from his very first glance her eyes shone with peculiar brilliancy, and apparently as a consequence of my jealousy there passed between him and her something like an electrical shock, calling forth something like a uniformity in the expression of their eyes and smiles. An unknown something forces him to act, apparently against his own interests."

"I remember that moment especially because at that moment I might have refrained from inviting him to call again, and if I had, the trouble would not have happened.... ‘Do not think for an instant that I am jealous of you,’ said I, mentally, to her,’ or that I am afraid of you,’ said I, mentally, to him, and I invited him to come some evening and bring his fiddle and play with my wife."

The unconscious had triumphed. The homosexual creates his wife’s infidelity first in his fantasy (the first ten years of Pozdnuishef’s jealousy) and then in reality (in the eleventh year), and his sexual affect is expressed as this jealousy. Such a hypertrophied jealousy is almost a certain sign of unconscious homosexuality. In the corollary of this, in the case of the passive homosexual, who desires the female role, the feeling of jealousy may be entirely absent, as in one of my cases. For several years after his marriage, the husband slept with a bachelor friend of his while his young wife slept in another bed close by. Their living conditions did not require such a degree of hospitality.

In another of my cases an active homosexual who did not recognize his true nature carried his jealousy to an insane extreme. This man, who was quite advanced in years, turned his home into a living hell. He suspected his wife of infidelity, and often involved his children, some of whom were still in their teens, in the ugly, embittered scenes, speaking of his suspicions as proved facts. Accusations, leaving home, attempts at murder—all were steeped in tremendous affectivity. But despite the fact that he fed his jealousy for more than twenty years by every possible suspicion, he never made any effort to convince himself of their correctness. He needed the impassioned state; he toyed with pictures of infidelity in his fantasy; he rehearsed the scenes in his thoughts; and he would have nothing of the truth, which might endanger his jealousy, the representative of his homosexual passion.

The chief protagonist of the Kreutzer Sonata played in the same way with the affects of attraction and repulsion, which terminated in catastrophe.

Pozdnuishef knew very well that it was “inevitable that this man should please her, and more than that, that he should get a complete ascendancy over her, without the least hesitation conquer, overwhelm, fascinate, enchain, and do with her whatever he willed. I could not help seeing that, and I suffered awfully. But in spite of this, or possibly in consequence of it, some force, against my will, compelled me to be especially polite and even affectionate to him.... In order not to yield to my desire to kill him on the spot, I had to be friendly toward him."

He again invites the hated seducer to come for an evening of music with his wife, even though “all know that … especially by music, the largest part of the adultery committed in the ranks of our society is committed."

"I wanted to heap abuses on him, to drive him away; but I felt it was my duty to be friendly and affectionate to him again, and so I was. I pretended that I approved of everything, and once more I felt that strange impulse which compelled me to treat him with a friendliness proportioned to the torment which his presence caused me."

Pozdnuishef (and Tolstoy as well) thus believes that the hostile impulses are his true feelings; he regards his endearments only as a cover. To us, however, it would seem more likely that the endearments expressed his true feelings and that the hostile sentiments were the cover. The feeling of hate for his wife, however, was genuine enough.

This chapter ends with the words, “I pressed his soft white hand with special affection.” And the next chapter begins with, “That whole day I did not speak to her—I could not. Her proximity produced in me such hatred of her that I feared for myself.” And when at night she came to visit him, “I began to fan my wrath to a greater heat, and to rejoice because it grew more and more intense in me… Having given free course to my madness I intoxicated myself with it, and I felt the impulse to do something extraordinary which should show the high-water mark of this madness of mine."

The secret feeling of the unconscious homosexual tries in vain to find its adequate expression. “Under the influence of music, it seems to me that I feel what I do not really feel, that I understand what I really do not understand, that I can do what I can’t do… Music excites and does not bring to any conclusion."

Pozdnuishef, who had already had the experience of finding the violinist at his home at an improper hour, forgets all his concern and unthinkingly goes off on a business trip. One night away from home, however, anxiety overtakes him, and forebodings of evil crowd his heart. “How could I have come away?” He feeds fuel to the flame of his jealousy, that he may abandon himself to it.

The description of his return to Moscow is one of the best in Russian literature. The affect intensifies and grows out of all proportion. In the onward rush of the night express, there is something mysterious, symbolic and impassioned. To produce its greatest effect, Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata should be read at night while riding in a train. Jealousy is the expression of a forbidden fantasy; the mental picture of an infidelity scene is a painful experience for the jealous individual, but this suffering is only the secondary perversion of a perverse passion.

"As soon as I took my scat, I had no longer any control over my imagination, which ceaselessly, with extraordinary vividness, began to bring up before me pictures kindling my jealousy; one after the other they arose and always to the same effect: what had taken place during my absence and how she had deceived me! I was on fire with indignation, wrath, and a peculiar sense of frenzy, caused by my humiliation, as I contemplated these pictures, and I could not tear myself away from them, could not help gazing at them, could not rub them out, could not help evoking them… A kind of devil, perfectly against my will, suggested and stimulated the most horrible suggestions."

The blind affect leads him with irresistible force to the inevitable end. He shifts the blame from himself to another, his wife. “If she had not yet done anything out of the way, but had it in mind to—and I know that she did—the case is still worse; it would be better to have it done with, so that I might know, so as to have this uncertainty settled.” In psychoanalysis, this is called rationalization, the use of false motives.

He comes home, late at night. The violinist is in the dining-room as his wife’s guest.” My self-pity vanished and in its place came a strange feeling of gladness that my torture was now at an end, that I could punish her, could get rid of her, that I could give free course to my wrath.” He flung himself down on the divan in his room and sobbed. “’I, an upright man … I, the son of my own parents … I, who have dreamed all my life of the delights of domestic happiness… I, a husband who has never been unfaithful to his wife!… And here she, the mother of five children, and she is embracing a musician because he has red lips!’ “

The red lips—he has already spoken of them before—these lips and the musician’s feminine behind have seduced him.

He turns into a beast. “I came into the state of a wild animal.” He throws open the door of the dining-room. “The very same madness which I had experienced a week before took possession of me. Once more I felt the necessity of destroying something, of using violence; once more I felt the ecstasy of madness and I yielded to it."

When assault and murder are substitute actions, replacing a sexual act, a knife or a revolver, depending on the sexual symbolism, will be the weapon used. Pozdniushef threw himself on his wife and then on the musician.

She seized his arm. “Her touch was repulsive to me and still more inflamed my anger. I was conscious of being in a perfect frenzy and that I ought to be terrible and I exulted in it.” There is a detailed description of the knifing and of the movement of the blade in the wound.

After he had inflicted the fatal wound on his wife, he went to his room, was overcome with drowsiness and went to sleep. The affect of murder, which replaced the affect of the sexual act, had likewise a sedative action. This is one of Tolstoy’s most wonderful intuitions.

He sees his wife in a dream. “I remember I dreamed that she and I were friends, that we had quarreled, but had made it up, and that some trifle stood in our way; but still we were friends.” As he drove the blade into her side, he realized that this was not the deed and this not the person he was really concerned with; he would have liked to recall to life the accidental victim. Her infidelity remained unproved.

Up to this point, the hero of the Kreutzer Sonata speaks in the first person singular. In the sequel, which was written a year later, Tolstoy takes the word himself. He presents the principles of his sexual credo: sexual love should not be practised. Sexual intercourse and marriage are sins. The highest ideal is complete abstinence and celibacy. He is even opposed to the having of children.

Such preaching can come only from one whose sexual life is a surrogate for those forbidden desires the indulgence of which is regarded as sinful, shameful and disgusting.

"We must understand that no aim that we consider worthy of man … is ever reached by means of union with the object of one’s love (whether with or without a marriage rite). On the contrary, being in love, and union with the beloved object, never makes it easier to gain any end worthy of man, but always -makes it more difficult…. But carnal love, marriage, is a serving of self … and consequently it is a fall, a sin."

In this sequel, Tolstoy is no longer a poet, but a law-giver. Over the head of Pozdnuishef towers the figure of Tolstoy; above Tolstoy is the shadow of another who preached to his disciples, “Leave thy wife and follow me."

"To seek to replace sexual love by the pure relationship of brother and sister"—is an error and leads into the shadow-world of deception.

[Translated by Dr. J. V. Coleman, Grasslands Hospital, Valhalla, N. Y. Published in The Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. XXIV. No. 1, January 1937. All quotations used in this paper are from the translation of the Kreutzer Sonata published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. in The Complete Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi.]