Thursday, August 15, 2013

Favoring Debauchery

 As promised yesterday, an excerpt from The Kreutzer Sonata published by Leo Tolstoy in 1889 and still very current:
"It is necessary to go back to my sixteenth year, when I was still at school, and my elder brother a first-year student. I had not yet known women but, like all the unfortunate children of our society, I was already no longer innocent. I was tortured, as you were, I am sure, and as are tortured ninety-nine one-hundredths of our boys. I lived in a frightful dread, I prayed to God, and I prostrated myself.

"I was already perverted in imagination, but the last steps remained to be taken. I could still escape, when a friend of my brother, a very gay student, one of those who are called good fellows,—that is, the greatest of scamps,—and who had taught us to drink and play cards, took advantage of a night of intoxication to drag us THERE*. We started. My brother, as innocent as I, fell that night, and I, a mere lad of sixteen, polluted myself and helped to pollute a sister-woman, without understanding what I did. Never had I heard from my elders that what I thus did was bad. It is true that there are the ten commandments of the Bible; but the commandments are made only to be recited before the priests at examinations, and even then are not as exacting as the commandments in regard to the use of ut in conditional propositions.

"Thus, from my elders, whose opinion I esteemed, I had never heard that this was reprehensible. On the contrary, I had heard people whom I respected say that it was good. I had heard that my struggles and my sufferings would be appeased after this act. I had heard it and read it. I had heard from my elders that it was excellent for the health, and my friends have always seemed to believe that it contained I know not what merit and valor. So nothing is seen in it but what is praiseworthy. As for the danger of disease, it is a foreseen danger. Does not the government guard against it? And even science corrupts us." 

"How so, science?" I asked. 

"Why, the doctors, the pontiffs of science. Who pervert young people by laying down such rules of hygiene? Who pervert women by devising and teaching them ways by which not to have children? 

"Yes: if only a hundredth of the efforts spent in curing diseases were spent in curing debauchery, disease would long ago have ceased to exist, whereas now all efforts are employed, not in extirpating debauchery, but in favoring it, by assuring the harmlessness of the consequences. Besides, it is not a question of that. It is a question of this frightful thing that has happened to me, as it happens to nine-tenths, if not more, not only of the men of our society, but of all societies, even peasants,—this frightful thing that I had fallen, and not because I was subjected to the natural seduction of a certain woman. No, no woman seduced me. I fell because the surroundings in which I found myself saw in this degrading thing only a legitimate function, useful to the health; because others saw in it simply a natural amusement, not only excusable, but even innocent in a young man. I did not understand that it was a fall, and I began to give myself to those pleasures (partly from desire and partly from necessity) which I was led to believe were characteristic of my age, just as I had begun to drink and smoke.  (Emphasis mine.)

*a brothel
Tolstoy, age 20

3 comments:

  1. I read this last year and loved it! I found it very timely. I need to pick it up and read it again.

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  2. Wow, how strikingly well phrased. I will have to add this to my reading list. I've read quite a bit of Tolstoy, but not this. Thanks for posting it.

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  3. What a wonderful article--thank you for sharing! It's so sad that this type of thinking (when what is sinful or harmful is now proclaimed as "cool" or "good") is only getting more widespread. It's interesting to learn that this type of thinking was around over 120 years ago.

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