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Hadji Murad ()

    I gathered myself a large nosegay and was going home when I noticed in a ditch, in full bloom, a
    beautiful thistle plant of the crimson variety, which in our neighborhood they call 'Tartar' and
    carefully avoid when mowing -- or, if they do happen to cut it down, throw out from among the
    grass for fear of pricking their hands.  Thinking to pick this thistle and put it in the center of my
    nosegay, I climbed down into the ditch, and after driving away a velvety bumble-bee that had
    penetrated deep into one of the flowers and had there fallen sweetly asleep, I set to work to pluck
    the flower. But this proved a very difficult task.  Not only did the stalk prick on every side
    -- even through the handkerchief I wrapped round my hand -- but it was so tough that I had to
    struggle with it for nearly five minutes, breaking the fibers one by one; and when I had at last
    plucked it, the stalk was all frayed and the flower itself no longer seemed so fresh and beautiful.
    Moreover, owing to a coarseness and stiffness, it did not seem in place among the delicate blossoms
    of my nosegay.  I threw it away feeling sorry to have vainly destroyed a flower that looked
    beautiful in its proper place.

    'But what energy and tenacity!  With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold
    its life!' thought I, remembering the effort it had cost me to pluck the flower.  The way home led
    across black-earth fields that had just been ploughed up.  I ascended the dusty path.  The ploughed
    field belonged to a landed proprietor and was so large that on both sides and before me to the
    top of the hill nothing was visible but evenly furrowed and moist earth.  The land was well tilled
    and nowhere was there a blade of grass or any kind of plant to be seen, it was all black.  'Ah, what
    a destructive creature is man....How many different plant-lives he destroys to support his own
    existence!' thought I, involuntarily looking around for some living thing in this lifeless black field.
    In front of me to the right of the road I saw some kind of little clump, and drawing nearer I found
    it was the same kind of thistle as that which I had vainly plucked and thrown away.  This 'Tartar'
    plant had three branches.  One was broken and stuck out like the stump of a mutilated arm.  Each of
    the other two bore a flower, once red but now blackened. One stalk was broken, and half of it hung
    down with a soiled flower at its tip.  The other, though also soiled with black mud, still stood
    erect.  Evidently a cartwheel had passed over the plant but it had risen again, and that was why,
    though erect, it stood twisted to one side, as if a piece of its body had been torn from it, its bowels
    drawn out, an arm torn off, and one of its eyes plucked out.  Yet it stood firm and did not surrender
    to man who had destroyed all its brothers around it....

    'What vitality!' I thought.  'Man has conquered everything and destroyed millions of plants, yet this
    one won't submit.'  And I remembered a Caucasian episode of years ago, which I had partly seen
    myself, partly heard of from eye-witnesses, and in part imagined.

    The episode, as it has taken shape in my memory and imagination, was as follows.
        -Hadji Murad

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
    at least the best that I have ever read.

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.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Leo Tolstoy (3 books reviewed)
Russian Literature
Leo Tolstoy Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Leo Tolstoy    -FILMOGRAPHY:Leo Tolstoy (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Tolstoy (Online Literature Network)
    -ENTRY: Leo Tolstoy Russian writer (Gary Saul Morson, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Leo Tolstoy (
    -VIDEO: Hear Leo Tolstoy Read From His Last Major Work in Four Languages, 1909
-WIKIPEDIA: The Kreutzer Sonata
    -ENTRY: The Kreutzer Sonata (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ETEXT: THE KREUTZER SONATA by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy: First Published in 1889 Translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude (Tolstoy Library OnLine)
    -ETEXT: EPILOGUE TO THE KREUTZER SONATA by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (In the translation by Professor Leo Wiener 1904 (Tolstoy Library)
    -ETEXT: The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories, by Leo Tolstoy: Benj. R. Tucker (Project Gutenberg)
    -AUDIO BOOK: Kreutzer Sonata (AudioBookBuzz)
    -VIDEO: Beethoven.Violin.Sonata.No.9.Op.47.kreutzer (Anne-Sophie Mutter, Lambert Orkis)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (Grade Saver)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (Course Hero)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (eNotes)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and The Silent Universe: Frank Martela relates how science destroyed the meaning of life, but helps us find meaning in life. (Frank Martela, June 2024, Philosophy Now)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy’s search for truth: ‘The Kingdom of God’ (Patrick Maxwell, 2/10/24, The Article)
    -ESSAY: Was Tolstoy An Enemy of Love?: On the Russian Great’s Animosity Towards Desire Ron Rosenbaum Considers the Essential Role of Love in Making Us Human (Ron Rosenbaum, August 16, 2023, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: A Woman in Full: In our eagerness to appreciate sexual difference, it is important not to reduce women to something less than what they are. (Rachel Lu, 3/02/23, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy’s Narratives of Faith: For Tolstoy’s heroes, life’s meaning is to be found not in some remote theory, but in the world and people right before us. (Gary Saul Morson, DECEMBER 30, 2022, Plough)
    -ESSAY: Marriage and Manliness in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” (Scott Yenor, December 12th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: What Tolstoy Could Have Taught Putin (GARY MORSON, 3/30/22, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: Rethinking "Putin's War" (Richard Gunderman, 3/30/22, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata: Love, Murder, and the Violin (Laura Keller, September 27, 2018, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center)
    -ESSAY: Kreutzer Sonata: Expressions of Human Anguish in Music, Literature and Beyond (Marja Karelia, Simon Fraser University, GLS West Coast Symposium at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM)
    -ESSAY: Music in Russian Literature: The Kreutzer Sonata (Russian National Orchestra)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity (G.K. Chesterton, Twelve Types: a Collection of Biographies)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy (William Dean Howells)
    -ESSAY: TOLSTOY'S BESTIARY: animality and animosity in the kreutzer sonata (Dominic Pettman, 17 May 2013, Angeliki)
    -ESSAY: Discourse and intercourse in The Kreutzer Sonata (Alina Wyman, Christianity and Literature)
    -ESSAY: Chapter 17. Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) (Charlotte Alston, Patriarchal Moments: Reading Patriarchal Texts)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy on Musical Mimesis (Liza Knapp)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata or homicidal jealousy according to Tolstoy (M Bénézech, Ann Med Psychol)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata: Three degrees of separation: What links Tolstoy, Beethoven, a virtuoso violinist and a young, married Czech woman? The inspiration for the elderly Janacek's string quartets (Eugene Drucker, 25 Feb 2010, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Bringing him down: Leo Tolstoy’s art, ideas and lived life (Caryl Emerson, TLS)
    -ESSAY: Suspicion on Trial: Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata and Nabokov's “Pozdnyshev's Address” (Tatyana Gershkovich, 23 October 2020, PMLA / Publications of the Modern Language Association of America)
    -ESSAY: How Tolstoy’s banned novella started a sexual revolution in Russia (ALEXANDRA GUZEVA, 1/25/21, Russia Beyond)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy and Spirituality: Chapter 6: Tolstoy’s Divine Madness: An Analysis of The Kreutzer Sonata (Predrag Cicovacki)
-ESSAY: Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata on Stage: Domestic Violence and the Economics of Pity (Fiona Bell, 2/04/21, NYU Jordan Center)
    -ESSAY: “What Did I Want?”: Theatricality and the Crisis of Modern Subjectivity in Tolstoi's Kreutzer Sonata (David Herman, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Music and Literature as Related Infections: Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata Op. 47 and Tolstoj's Novella ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ (Mahoko Eguchi, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Presto and Manifesto: The Kreutzer Sonatas of Tolstoj and Beethoven (Elizabeth A.Papazian, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: The Truth of the Inner Being: ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ as a Tragedy of Forgiveness (Robert Bird, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Narrating the Murder: The Rhetoric of Evasion in ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ (Vladimir Golstein, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Art and Transgression in The Kreutzer Sonata (Literature and Transgression)
    -ESSAY: The Old Magician: A defense of the late, scolding Tolstoy (Irving Howe, January 10, 2014, New Republic)
    -PROFILE: Translating Tolstoy (Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, Nov. 17, 2009, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the End of History (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Forgotten Tolstoy Novel: A Reappraisal of Resurrection (1899) (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Is it Time to Stop Treating Leo Tolstoy as a Novelist? (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the Marriage Plot (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Disease And Purpose In Ivan Ilyich: Covid-19 has exposed our fear of sickness and death, but Tolstoy's novella suggests that the real depravity is a life devoid of meaning. (AUGUSTE MEYRAT, 12/15/21, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: close encounters with tolstoy: War and Peace through a different lens (RHODA FENG, 10/07/2021, Smart Set)
    -ESSAY: “I Would Not Take Prisoners.” Tolstoy’s Case Against Making War Humane: Samuel Moyn Considers Prince Andrei, Carl von Clausewitz, and the Rules of War (Samuel Moyn, September 10, 2021, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Time To Reread ‘Anna Karenina’: Tolstoy’s novel teaches that sexual freedom actually enslaves women (Carmel Richardson, 8/10/21, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: Of THINKING WITH TOLSTOY AND WITTGENSTEIN: Expression, emotion, and art by Henry W. Pickford (Caryl Emerson, Times Literary Supplement)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ Is So Much More Than a Love Story (John Tamny, 7/06/23, Forbes)
-REVIEW: of The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Olga Kerziouk, British Library: European Studies Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Sophie Pinkham, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Frances Wilson, Interlude)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Thoughts on a Train)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Vulpes Libris)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (A Russian Affair)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Terry Freedman, Writers Know-How)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Vishy's Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Scott Manley Hadley, Triumph of the Now)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Orin James)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (John Self, Asylum)
    -PLAY REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Kate Kellaway, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Kreutzer Sonata Variations by Leo Tolstoy, Sofia Tolstoy and Lev Tolstoy (Alison Flood, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (William Grimes, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (Ron Rosenbaum, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (Catherine Brown, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov (Leonard Michaels, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Lectures on Russian Literature (Bruce Allen, CS Monitor)


    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Kreutzer Sonata (2008) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Kreutzer Sonata (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -PROFILE: Tolstoy and me: His Ivans xtc was a vivid reworking of a story about dying. Now director Bernard Rose is returning to the author for a film about sex and Beethoven. (Andrew Pulver, 1 Jul 2008, The guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Anthony Quinn, Independent)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Tim Robey, Telegraph)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Philip French, The Observer)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Ray Bennett, AP)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Leslie Felperin, Variety)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Allan Hunter, Screen Daily)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ivansxtc (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

    -REVIEW: of Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian )
    REVIEW ESSAY: 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)
    -REVIEW: of Leo Tolstoy by ANDREI ZORIN (Maria Rubins, LA Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Leo Tolstoi (kirjasto)
    -The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.  2001 : Tolstoy, Leo, Count
    -ETEXTS : Tolstoy, Leo. (
    -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 (
    -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)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Leo Tolstoy (
    -REVIEW : of Prisoner of the Mountains (director, Sergei Bodrov) (Stanley Kaufman, New Republic)

    -REVIEW : of The Western Canon by Harold Bloom (Norman Fruman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Western Canon (Davis Wang, Harvard Salient)

    -ESSAY : The Sabres of Paradise (Mowahid H. Shah, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs)
    -EDITORIAL : Why Chechnya Is Different (Washington Post, October 4, 2001)
    -LINKS : Links to other websites covering Chechnya (chechen Republic Online)