Jul 26, 2016

Tolstoy on the masculine and morality

An extract from "Resurrection", the last novel by Leo Tolstoy:

"Although Novodvoroff was highly esteemed of all the revolutionists, though he was very learned, and considered very wise, Nekhludoff reckoned him among those of the revolutionists who, being below the average moral level, were very far below it.  His inner life was of a nature directly opposite to that of Simonson's. Simonson was one of those people (of an essentially masculine type) whose actions follow the dictates of their reason, and are determined by it.  Novodvoroff belonged, on the contrary, to the class of people of a feminine type, whose reason is directed partly towards the attainment of aims set by their feelings, partly to the justification of acts suggested by their feelings. The whole of Novodvoroff's revolutionary activity, though he could explain it very eloquently and very convincingly, appeared to Nekhludoff to be founded on nothing but ambition and desire for supremacy.  At first his capacity for assimilating the thoughts of others, and of expressing them correctly, had given him a position of supremacy among pupils and teachers in the gymnasium and the university, where such qualities such as his are highly prized, and he was satisfied.  When he had finished his studies and received his diploma he suddenly altered his views, and from a modern liberal he turned into a rabid Narodovoletz, in order (so Kryltzoff, who did not like him, said) to gain supremacy in another sphere.

"As he was devoid of those moral and aesthetic qualities which call forth doubts and hesitation, he very soon acquired a position in the revolutionary world which satisfied him - that of the leader of a party.  Having once chosen a direction, he never doubted or hesitated, and was therefore certain that he never made a mistake.  Everything seemed quite simple, clear and certain.  And the narrowness and one-sidedness of his views did make everything seem simple and clear.  One only had to be logical, as he said.  His self-assurance was so great that it either repelled people or made them submit to him.  As he carried on his work among very young people, his boundless self-assurance led them to believe him very profound and wise; the majority did submit to him, and he had a great success in revolutionary circles.  His activity was directed to the preparation of a rising in which he was to usurp the power and call together a council.  A programme, composed by him, should be proposed before the council, and he felt sure that this programme of his solved every problem, and that it would be impossible not to carry it out.

"His comrades respected him but did not love him.  He did not love any one, looked upon all men of note as upon rivals, and would have willingly treated them as old male monkeys treat young ones if he could have done it. He would have torn all mental power, every capacity, from other men, so that they should not interfere with the display of his talents.  He behaved well only to those who bowed before him.  Now, on the journey he behaved well to Kondratieff, who was influenced by his propaganda; to Vera Doukhova and pretty little Grabetz, who were both in love with him.  Although in principle he was in favour of the women's movement, yet in the depth of his soul he considered all women stupid and insignificant except those he was sentimentally in love with (as he was now in love with Grabetz), and such women he considered to be exceptions, whose merits he alone was capable of discerning.

"The question of the relations of the sexes he also looked upon as thoroughly solved by accepting free union.  He had one nominal and one real wife, from both of whom he was separated, having come to the conclusion that there was no real love between them, and now he thought of entering on a free union with Grabetz.  He despised Nekhludoff for "playing the fool" as Novodvoroff termed it, with Maslova, but especially for the freedom Nekhludoff took of considering the defects of the existing system and the methods of correcting those defects in a manner which was not only not exactly the same as Novodvoroff's, but was Nekhludoff's own - a prince's, that is, a fool's manner.  Nekhludoff felt this relation of Novodvoroff's towards him, and knew to his sorrow that in spite of the state of good will in which he found himself on this journey he could not help paying this man in his own coin, and could not stifle the strong antipathy he felt for him."


I find this extract from Resurrection interesting because Tolstoy's usual theme is that love for others and self-sacrifice are the solutions to human dysfunction, and in this story, about the fundamental flaws of the Russian system of criminal law, such love rests on the principles preached on the Sermon on the Mount, but here he confirms that the moral mind is (1) based on reason and not on feelings, and (2) is masculine and not feminine.  In other words, the love preached by Jesus is not based on feelings, but on reason.  It is not an emotional kind of love, even if it is expressed in pity, concern, and a gentleness, about others.

It is also interesting because Tolstoy regards the feminine-minded and immoral Novodvoroff to be a misogynist.  Throughout this novel, sexual intercourse and sensual love is depicted as degrading, and disgusting in the way it importunes spiritual development.  Both the main characters, the low-class prostitute Katusha Maslova, and the aristocrat Nekhludoff, are redeemed from a history of animal degradation, through becoming celibate.

Kelly Jones