In A Nutshell
Leo Tolstoy was a literary giant known for epic works such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He also had extreme views on sex later in life, which may have been a reaction to his far-reaching sexual behavior as a young man.
The Whole Bushel
Leo Tolstoy is well known for writing literary epics, but what many people don’t realize is that his later works were much more didactic. When Tolstoy was a rich young man, he liked to gamble, drink, and spend lots of time in the company of beautiful women, including prostitutes. However, while his sexual appetite never vanished, Tolstoy started to become bothered by his own womanizing behavior and decided to make a change. He courted a lovely young woman named Sophia, but before they wedded he wanted to be totally up front with her, so he showed her a diary explaining all of his past sexual encounters, including claims of an illegitimate child. Although Sophia still married him, the diary was quite a shock to her and included a passage explaining his contraction of gonorrhea.
Plagued by his own inner demons, Tolstoy turned to the written word to find solace. He wrote a novella called The Kreutzer Sonata about a man who murders his wife because he suspects that she is cheating on him. In the story, the man who murders his wife narrates his tale to another passenger, and explains Tolstoy’s newfound philosophy on sex. The narrator, who is usually seen as a stand-in for Tolstoy, goes on a long-winded monologue about women tempting men with their revealing clothes and the evils of sex in general. Many people found the story to be a little over-the-top ridiculous, as Tolstoy essentially says sex is wrong and blames women for his urges. Of course, copious letters were sent to him to clarify his stance on the issue, and he confirmed that he did indeed agree with the character in his novel. He explained that his true ideal would be a world where there were no marriages or sex. While this would obviously lead to the end of the human race, he acknowledges this but explains that his argument still makes sense because it is an “ideal.”
However, according to Tolstoy’s wife the man was hardly very good at practicing anything he preached and treated her pretty terribly. He couldn’t just keep his beliefs to himself, but made sure to enforce them on his wife. His extreme views on sex also kept her confined for a large portion of time. The two of them had 13 children together and he felt that if his wife was nursing, then it was wrong for her to leave the house or really go much of anywhere. He also categorically refused to have sex with his wife if she was pregnant, nursing, or anything of that nature. Unfortunately, it seems that Tolstoy never completely got over his inner demons, but if not for the passion that drove him he may never have written the literary classics he is known for today.
Show Me The Proof
Master and Man and Other Tales and Plays, by Leo Tolstoy
NY Times: The Wife of the Genius
Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography, by Alexandra Popoff
NY Times: The Tolstoys’ War
Featured photo credit: Ilya Repin