Tolstoy’s Body

Diet, Desire, and Denial
  • Ronald L. LeBlanc


Recent critical thought on the human body has mounted a serious challenge to the mind/body dichotomy, a construct that has long dominated the European philosophical tradition and that became effectively dogmatized in the wake of Rene Descartes’s writings during the early modern period. Contemporary body theorists, especially those who adopt a feminist perspective, boldly reject the dualistic Cartesian model of the body as a machine distinct from, and subordinate to, the workings of the mind and soul.1 Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy’s late-nineteenth-century vision of the human body—as an unruly and dangerous “desiring” machine that must be somehow directed and controlled by instructions from the mind and/or soul—would seem to fit perfectly what Bryan Turner has characterized as the Cartesian paradigm of ascetic rationalism, whereby corporeal government (regulation of the body) enables the soul to become liberated from its incarceration within the body.2 However, the enormity of Tolstoy’s worldwide reputation as a great writer, as well as a committed social reformer, political activist, moral spokesman, and religious prophet, often overshadows and conceals his deeply problematic relationship with the impulses of his own body. As we know from his diaries, letters, and literary works (fictional and non-fictional alike), Tolstoy’s attitude toward sensual pleasure was deeply ambivalent.


Sexual Desire Vegetarian Diet Sexual Addiction Sensual Pleasure Sexual Morality 
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Copyright information

© Christopher E. Forth and Ana Carden-Coyne 2005

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  • Ronald L. LeBlanc

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