This is Tolstoy’s gut-wrenching tale of the hidden weakness in sexual union. A brilliant observer and recorder of human nature, he concluded that there was an addictive cycle to conventional sex. He also predicts that humanity’s enlightenment will depend upon overcoming the passion that thwarts union.
I had become what is called a voluptuary; and to be a voluptuary is a physical condition like the condition of a victim of the morphine habit, of a drunkard, and of a smoker….
These [post-passion] periods of irritation depended very regularly upon the periods of love. Each of the latter was followed by one of the former. A period of intense love was followed by a long period of anger; a period of mild love induced a mild irritation. We did not understand that this love and this hatred were two opposite faces of the same animal feeling….
Love was exhausted with the satisfaction of sensuality. … I did not realize that this cold hostility was our normal state, and that this first quarrel would soon be drowned under a new flood of the intensest sensuality. I thought that we had disputed with each other, and had become reconciled, and that it would not happen again. But in this same honeymoon there came a period of satiety, in which we ceased to be necessary to each other, and a new quarrel broke out. It became evident that the first was not a matter of chance….[After the honeymoon] the periods of what we call love arrived as often as formerly. They were more brutal, without refinement, without ornament; but they were short, and generally followed by periods of irritation without cause, irritation fed by the most trivial pretexts. We had spats about the coffee, the table-cloth, the carriage, games of cards, – trifles, in short, which could not be of the least importance to either of us. As for me, a terrible execration was continually boiling up within me….
I saw clearly that to her all this [obsessive household management] was, more than anything else, a means of forgetting, an intoxication, just as hunting, card-playing, and my functions at the Zemstvo [senate] served the same purpose for me. It is true that in addition I had an intoxication literally speaking – tobacco, which I smoked in large quantities, and wine, upon which I did not get drunk, but of which I took too much. Vodka before meals, and during meals two glasses of wine, so that a perpetual mist concealed the turmoil of existence….
Finally, a message of hope:
The object of Man, as of Humanity, is happiness, and, to attain it, Humanity has a law which it must carry out. This law consists in the union of beings. This union is thwarted by the passions. And that is why, if the passions disappear, the union will be accomplished. Humanity then will have carried out the law, and will have no further reason to exist….In the meantime it will have the sign of the unfulfilled law, and the existence of physical love. As long as this love shall exist, and because of it, generations will be born, one of which will finally fulfil the law. When at last the law shall be fulfilled, the Human Race will [evolve into a state it is impossible for us to conceive of.]