Breaking the Frame: Leskov’s “Concerning ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’” and the Ethics of Storytelling by Erica Drennan

This article addresses Nikolai Leskov’s posthumously published frame narrative “Concerning ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’” to argue that it represents a departure from the rest of his body of work. Frame narratives define much of Leskov’s oeuvre—almost half of the works in the 1902-1903 PSS utilize framing structures. Yet in this late story, Leskov calls his signature device into question. I analyze the story’s multiple levels of framing to demonstrate how Leskov exposes the dangers and limitations of frames. I first examine the two levels of storytelling within the text to show how the inner narrator destroys the frame’s authority by departing from the story without explanation. I then consider the story’s extra-textual frame: Tolstoy’s novella “The Kreutzer Sonata.” Although Leskov appears to cite Tolstoy in order to add weight to his ideas about gender equality, his selective reading of the novella reveals Leskov’s own views on sexuality, rather than accurately representing Tolstoy’s. By invoking “The Kreutzer Sonata” as a frame, Leskov effectively reframes Tolstoy’s text.

In “Concerning ‘The Kreutzer Sonata,’” Leskov plays with multiple levels of framing in order to interrogate, and ultimately destroy, the frame’s authority. I argue that by breaking his signature device, Leskov forces us to question the ethics of controlling and representing another’s voice, while also demonstrating how readers can become storytellers in their own right.

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