Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Book for Easter: Resurrection by Lev Tolstoy

How does one react when one comes face to face with one's crime? Does one fake ignorance and turn away or does one accept one's wrong-doing and try to atone for it? This is the theme of Lev Tolstoy's last novel Resurrection, first published serially in 1899.

"All this happened,...because all these people... consider that there are circumstances in this world when man owes no humanity to man." 





Prince Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov, a wealthy, aristocrat about to make a fortunate alliance with the Princess Missy Korchagina is summoned to the court for jury duty. Three people - a man and two women - are being tried for the murder of a businessman. Dmitri is shocked to see that the younger woman amongst the accused is somebody whom he had known in his youth.  Katyusha Maslova was a ward of his aunts with whom he had once fallen in love but then had shamefully seduced and abandoned her. Now she stands before him as a prostitute accused of murder.



Dmitri's first instinct is to hide lest she recognise and accuse him and thus destroy his reputation. But as the Public Prosecutor flays Maslova, Dmitry feels that it is he whose crimes are being brought into the light. Already troubled by the aimlessness and cynicism that has become the defining feature of his life, Dmitry decides to help Maslova and through it regain his youthful idealism. He can go to any lengths to achieve it, even sacrifice himself by marrying this 'depraved creature'. The very thought makes him feel good about his exalted self. How noble he has become! But Maslova would have nothing to do with it: "You had your pleasure from me in this world, and now you want to get your salvation through me in the world to come!"

This rejection is the awakening for Dmitry and this gives Tolstoy the perfect opportunity to depict what Scottish poet Robert Burns called 'Man's inhumanity to Man'. Law, institutionalized religion, the prison system, the unequal distribution of wealth, the hypocrisy of the advantaged, the humiliation of the dispossessed, the efforts of the idealistic... the novel becomes one big comment on the human condition.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the novel too much. [In fact, I had forgotten about having read it before and it was only mid-way that it started coming back to me]. It read too much like the portrayal of all the sufferings in the world with characters being introduced ceaselessly to depict one misery or depravity after another but there are certain scenes that stood out. One of them, the innocent, pregnant woman running after her seducer has almost become an archetype with the girl abandoned on a rain-drenched platform while her seducer speeds away in a train which disappears in the dark:

"Gone!" She screamed.

"He is sitting in a velvet arm-chair and joking and drinking in a brightly-lit carriage and I, out here in the mud, in the darkness, in the wind and the rain, am standing and weeping...."



*

First Line: Though hundreds of thousands had done their very best to disfigure the small piece of land on which they were crowded together, paving the ground with stones, scraping away every sprouting blade of grass, lopping off the branches of trees, driving away birds and beasts, filling the air with the smoke of coal and oil - still spring was spring, even in the town.

Title: Resurrection
Original Title: Voskreseniye
Original Language: Russian
Author: Lev Tolstoy
Translator: Louise Maude
Publication Details: Moscow: Progress Publishers: 1977
First Published: 1899
Pages: 585
Source: College Library (891.733 T588R)
Other books read of the same author: A few short stories.

6 comments:

  1. Neeru - Crime, redemption, and as you say, humankind's treatment of others, is such a classic theme for a novel. And Tolstoy could write very starkly. Thanks for the mention of this novel.

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    1. Yes Margot, these are really great themes for a novel. But somewhere I felt that it started reading like a documentary novel.

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  2. Sometimes we're just in the mood to read about man's inhumanity to man, Neer. The opening paragrah is riveting. I've never read any Tolstoy, but maybe one of these days...

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    1. "Spring is spring". That phrase held me spell bound too Yvette. This is the only novel of Tolstoy I have read and I can say that I find his stories better.

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  3. Great choice - easily one of the greatest books ever written - happy Easter Neeru.

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    1. Thank you Sergio. I hope you had a wonderful Easter too.

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