Anyone else who has read this short story, or Tolstoy in general, will see the humor in reading it on my honeymoon. It's all about the unhappiness and immorality of marriage. I have read Tolstoy before, but I never realized he was a hard-lined Christian who believed music was the root of all evil (which, to me, is so outrageous and laughable, given that some of the most beautiful and poetic operas were being written in his time, and today we appreciate 19th century arts as a point of sophistication). Tolstoy didn't even believe sex within marriage was moral, and while he felt women needed to be treated better, he questioned their intelligence and valued their "purity," though they were bound to tempt men. From the beginning of "The Kreutzer Sonata," the narrator is building up an explanation for why he killed his wife - and hint, hint, it has a lot to do with the downfall of her purity.
Needless to say, I was confused about the fate of marriage for several minutes there, and only when I read Tolstoy's epilogue did I remember that he was a conservative cultural critic of his time, and his literature is considered important because it conveys a mindset. This mindset did not come from Tolstoy like some revolutionary spark; his story was the culmination of ages.
Even more unsettling is that his archaic, illogical ideology is not dead. My honeymoon happened to be in Turkey during their elections - so I was reading a lot about the political dynamics with their neighbor Syria, with refugees pouring across the border, and the current situation with the Islamic State. It hits me how closely Tolstoy's values align with those of ISIL, which doesn't permit music and believes that "the beauty of women can hurt her and attract evil" (Perhaps in the way that Tolstoy's character murdered his wife because he got jealous). Extremist religious code is very specific, and it is believed that one moral slip-up like forgetting the directions to your neighborhood mosque will lead to a domino effect of lascivious behavior. Tragically for those living under the Islamic State, one infringement can land you with an eerily unspecific death certificate - which alone reveals the contradictions of using immoral means to enforce an allegedly "moral" doctrine. After reading "The Kreutzer Sonata" and Tolstoy's other stories, I saw a little more clearly what is behind extremists who develop these fearful, moralist views in order to control their wives and preserve the security and privilege of manhood. I could see, too, how women buy into this system; by wholeheartedly believing that their oppression is virtuous, then they might be able to accept or live with their oppression. We're talking both fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam here, and perhaps any other oppressive expression of cultural beliefs that may manifest behind equivocal interpretations of religious texts.
I wish these mindsets didn't exist, but knowing them at least helps reaffirm my own worldview, which is the complete opposite. Don't get too hopeful that these ethos will disappear in our lifetime. Remember Tolstoy's words were expressed 125 years ago, and long before that, and these beliefs still are echoed today. Perhaps it wasn't a "mistake" that I read this short story on my honeymoon in Turkey. Perhaps I read it at just the right time.