No More Horsing Around: Sex, Love, and Motherhood in Tolstoi’s Kholstomer


By giving us a horse’s perspective on human life, Lev Tolstoi’s Kholstomer (1886) has usually been recognized in the west as a stellar example of the author’s use of “defamiliarization.” Most of the critical attention the story has received in Russia, by contrast, consists of Soviet-era studies that examine the creative history of the text and/or remark on its satiric elements. In this article, Ronald D. LeBlanc examines instead the treatment of the themes of sex, love, and motherhood in Tolstoi’s story about a castrated horse. In particular, he explores the significance that castration—with its accompanying cessation of sexual desire—appears to have in this story about a selfless gelding, a tale that may be read as the expression of a desire on the author’s part to be unburdened of the affliction of sexual lust and thus to be freed to pursue a more spiritual, less carnal existence on earth.


Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Journal Title

Slavic Review


Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type



Copyright 2011 Association for Slavic East European and Eurasian Studies