Hadji Murad (1911)
I gathered myself a large nosegay and was going home
when I noticed in a ditch, in full bloom, a
'But what energy and tenacity! With what determination
it defended itself, and how dearly it sold
'What vitality!' I thought. 'Man has conquered
everything and destroyed millions of plants, yet this
The episode, as it has taken shape in my memory and
imagination, was as follows.
Thus the famous opening on Tolstoy's short novel and here we are, some hundred years on, and the Chechens still won't submit to the Russians, though they are still being crushed underfoot...
Like most everyone who's read his terrific book The Western Canon, it was Harold Bloom who sent me scurrying to find Hadji Murad. We, all of us, take a stab at War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and many schools assign the shorter Death of Ivan Ilych as required reading. But not many of us venture beyond these narrowly circumscribed borders. Heck, the thousands of pages required just to finish his major works seems like all we should be required to stand. But then came Bloom's soaring endorsement of this minor work, and suddenly it was back into the breech.
Now, I confess, though I did like the novella and found it much easier reading, perhaps only because shorter, than his other books. But I can't fathom Bloom's statement that :
It is my personal touchstone for the sublime of prose
fiction, to me the best story in the world, or
Bloom seems particularly taken by the character of Hadji Murad, his heroic qualities, and by the "growth" he displays over the course of the tale. Indeed, he is likable in a roguish way, but he's also utterly unreliable and ultimately foolish. These are not heroic qualities in my book.
He's unreliable in the sense that his allegiances switch back and forth between the Russians and the Chechens whenever changing circumstances make the one side or the other more personally convenient. Absent is the kind of consistent political philosophy or moral matrix that makes for a great hero. And he's foolish in that he rides off to near certain death in a futile effort to rescue his family. Though appealingly sentimental, this is the suicidal gesture of an unserious person. What good does adding his death to theirs do anyone?
Tolstoy does an impressive job of detailing many of the layers of the society of the time and of presenting both sides in the conflict. He is generous with the Chechens, whom, as a Russian, he might be expected to treat ill, and ungentle with the Tsar, who he might be expected to spare. Hadji Murad, even if he does not rise to the level of archetypal hero, is nonetheless someone we root for and who we are genuinely sorry to see meet tragedy. All of this is more than enough to recommend the book, without being enough to call it the greatest piece of prose in the history of man.
See also:Russian Literature
-REVIEW: of Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian )
Birth, death, balls and battles: It has no clear beginning, middle or end, but the first translation of War and Peace for 50 years reaffirms its greatness. Tolstoy brilliantly interweaves the historical and the personal (Orlando Figes, 8/27/05, Times of London)
Book-related and General Links:
-Leo Tolstoi (kirjasto)
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : tolstoy, leo
-The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001 : Tolstoy, Leo, Count
-ETEXTS : Tolstoy, Leo. (Bartleby.com)
-ETEXT : HADJI MURAD by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy First Published in 1904 Translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude
-ETEXT : Hadji Murad
-Tolstoy Library : Dedicated to the collection and dissemination of electronic text material related to the life and work of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
-Leo Tolstoy (ltolstoy.com)
-About Leo Tolstoy (Under the Sun)
-The Last Days of Leo Tolstoy (Leo Finegold)
-Leo Tolstoy 1828-1910 (Anarchist Library)
-Leo Tolstoy - Biography and Works (Literature Network)
-ESSAY : 100 Years After Excommunication, Church Cannot Look Kindly Upon Tolstoy : Russian Orthodox hierarchy rejects request of writer's great-great-grandson. (Andrei Zolotov in Moscow | posted 3/8/01, Christianity Today)
-ESSAY : Tolstoy's prophesy: 'What Is Art?' today. (James Sloan Allen, Dec98, New Criterion)
-LINKS : Academic Info : Russian Literature: Leo Tolstoy
-EXCERPT : from Introduction To Tolstoy's Writings by Ernest J Simmons : 9. Later Short Novels
-ESSAY : How A Russian Maupassant Was Made in Odessa and Yasnaya Polyana: Isaak Babel' and the Tolstoy Legacy (Alexander Zholkovsky)
-ESSAY : Death in "Hadji Murad" (Pieris Berreitter)
-PHOTO : grave marker for Hadji-Murad a folk hero
-ONLINE STUDY GUIDE : Anna Karenina (Spark Notes)
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