Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tolstoy Writes About Shidduchim

The following is an excerpt from Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata, a book he wrote after he had his religious experience and decided that sex was awful and everyone should be virgins.

Leaving that aside, his depiction of the world in which women lived then is pretty accurate as far as the shidduch system goes.


Chapter VIII

"Well, so my rank, my fortune, my good clothes, the excursions in boats did the job. Twenty times it did not succeed, but this time it succeeded like a trap. I am not jesting. You see, nowadays marriages are always arranged- like traps. Do you see how natural it is? The girl has arrived at maturity and must be married. What could be simpler when the girl is not a monster and there are men who wish to get married? That is the way it used to be done. The girl reaches the right age; her parents arrange a marriage/ So it has been done, throughout the world, among the Chinese, the Hindus, the Mohammedans, among the common Russian people- among at least ninety-nine per cent of the human race. It is only among a small one per cent, among us libertines and debauchees, that this custom has been found to be bad, and so we have invented another. Now, what is this new way? It is this: the girls sit round and the men come, as at a bazaar, to take their choice. And the girls wait and wonder and have their own ideas, but they dare not say, "Dear sir, take me!" or "No, me!" or, "Not her, but me!" or, "Look at my shoulders and all the rest!"

"And we, the men, all walk around and look them over and are quite smug. 'I know a thing or two; I won't be caught.' They go around, they look, they are satisfied that this is all arranged for their specia pleasure. 'Look, but don't get taken in!' "

"What is to be done then?" I asked. "You would not expect the young women to make the offers, would you?"

"Well, I can't say exactly how; but if there is to be equality, then let it be equality. If the system of the matchmaker is considered humiliating, this is a thousand times more so! In the first case the rights and chances were equal, but in our method the woman is either a slave in a bazaar or the bait in the trap. Tell any mother or the girl herself the truth, that she is only occupied in husband-catching - my God, what an insult! But that is the truth and they have nothing else to do. And what is really dreadful is to see poor innocent young girls involved in all this. It wouldn't be so bad if it were done openly, but it is all deception. "Ah, the origin of species, how interesting!' 'Lily is greatly interested in painting.' 'And will you be at the exhibition? How instructive!' And the carriage rides and the theater and the symphony. 'Oh, how remarkable!' 'My Lily is crazy about music!' 'And why don't you share these views?' And the boat rides. And always one thought: "Take me!" "Take my Lily!" "No, me!" "Just try your luck!" Oh, what vileness and falsehood!' he exclaimed, and swallowing the last of his tea, proceeded to put away his utensils.

-pages 20-21

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Kreutzer Sonata is a convincing artistic study of jealousy and ill tempered polemic against society's sexual education of young men and women.