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[20] Resurrection – Leo Tolstoy

The fact that this blog has been deprived of a mention of Tolstoy’s work nags my conscience. Resurrection (1899) is the last of Tolstoy’s great novels and unlike the previous War and Peace and Anna Karenina the architectural lines are fairly unique. Whereas in the previous novels attention is continually shifted from one hero to another, in Resurrection Tolstoy follows Dimitri Nekhlydov step by step, drilling to the core of his thoughts, commenting on his actions, analyzing his motives, evincing his engendered acts, and verbalizing the purging of his soul that inexorably manifests into a non-Christian regeneration process. Tolstoy hardly lets Nekhlydov out of sight for an instant: his conscience continually demands of him to atone for his sin. Interwoven with the flow of the story is Nekhlydov’s painful realization of the demoralization that develops into such perfect madness of selfishness.
If it had not been for the Doukhobors, who was accused of fighting against the spirit of God by the Orthodox Church, Tolstoy might never have finished the novel, the idea for which had been suggested to him ten years previously in order to raise fund for the sect. A nobleman, namely, Dimitri Nekhlydov, serves on a jury and recognizes the prostitute on trial for theft and poisoning a merchant as a girl he had seduced and loved when he was a young man. Katusha (Maslova), who is a yellow-card prostitute sanctioned by the government, has a checkered fate. She is wrongfully convicted as the jury inadvertently left out the phrase “no intent to take life” in the verdict. She is found not guilty in the theft but guilty of administering a powder and is sentenced to hard labor in the outlandish Siberia.

As Nekhlydov embarks on the campaign to appeal for Katusha and do her justice, in the depth of his soul he becomes so conscious of all the cruelty, cowardice, and baseness – not only of this particular action of his but of his whole idle, dissolute, selfish and complacent life. The dreadful veil that has all this time, for ten years, conceals from him his sin, and the whole of his life, dictated by the religious sophisms, begins to wobble. He has to confront with his entire being that the faith of his is farther than anything else from being the right thing.

One can gauge the progress of Nekhlydov’s awakening by Katusha’s attitude toward him. Ten years of prostitution has not completely extinguished the spiritual spark in her. This can be proven by the merchant’s trust in her, the truth behind the poisoning of which she was accused, her behavior with a breath of equanimity at the trial toward the real culprits, the attitude of her fellow prisoners, and the outburst in which she would not allow Nekhlydov to gain his salvation at her expense.

When Nekhlydov witnesses the cruelty of the government officials who put duties and responsibilities of office above humanity and the sufferings of the innocent people who have not in the least transgressed against justice or committed lawless acts but merely because they are an obstacle hindering the officials and the rich from enjoying the wealth they amass from the people, he repents of his selfishness and a spiritual resurrection dawns on him. Simplicity of the explanation seems very overwhelming: the officials can insensibly ill-treat others without feeling any personal responsibility for the evil they do because they are completely devoid of not only compassion but the chief human attribute, that is, love and pity for one another.

As Nekhlydov becomes the mouthpiece for the innocent in Siberian prison, in whom Tolstoy expresses his own deepest aspirations and views on aspects of human existence. Nekhlydov’s ambitious and heroic search to discover the purpose of life not only has become readers’ striving, rekindled Katusha’s love for him, but also unites with Tolstoy’s ideals. Through the convoluted relationship between Nekhlydov and Katusha, Tolstoy treats the themes of love, passion and death with such compelling sincerity that one’s heart is infected by pity and compulsive need to crusade against cruelty, injustice and repression.

Resurrection is psychologically superb in the treatment of one man’s thoughts and feelings, which stem from a study of his physical being. Tolstoy deftly builds up this “dramatis personae” line upon line, and through which he turns a highly critical eye on the law, the penal system and above all, the Church. He ridicules the usual sophisms that so inveterately dictate his hero’s life, that the enlightened ones plunge the people into greater darkness with their hypocrisy and heresy. Line by line Tolstoy sets up Nekhlydov’s awakening in which he must overcome the laborious path of expiation stimulated by a voluntarily moral desire to repent. This very teaching brings Tolstoy at loggerhead to the Church, whose practices of deceit and delusion Tolstoy vehemently rejects with utter intransigence.

Resurrection gives us a vision that is beyond the historical reality of the given time period. A literary masterpiece it is, Tolstoy propagates his faith and moral ideals through his hero. Resurrection is an ultimate achievement of literary power that accentuates life of people in Russia.

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