Who is to blame? Art and the senses in Lev Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata (1889)

Departing from a mapping of the aesthetic «regime» of late nineteenth century literary culture, this article interprets Lev Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) in relation to the Scandinavian «war» on sexual morality, pointing to similarities between Tolstoy’s work and August Strindberg’s Le Plaidoyer d’un Fou (1888). Both works are about the confession and self-defence of a man who tells the story of his marriage and the «war» between the sexes taking place within it. Both also blame the woman for the fatal conclusion: in Strindberg’s case, the divorce, in Tolstoy’s, the husband’s murder of his wife. Tolstoy’s work was meant to be a «counter narrative» to the liberal, sexual discourse dominating the literary field at the time, but inscribes itself into the same sexual discourse, although as a negative version where sexuality is an obsession connected to shame and guilt.

Keywords: Late nineteenth century literary culture and sexual discourse, Lev Tolstoy, August Strindberg, male confessions on the war of the sexes