Tolstoy: Resurrection

During the second half of 1899 the atmosphere of the Tolstoy household was tense over the mighty effort to complete 'Resurrection' which was then appearing serially in a magazine. Racing against time in the face of pressing telegrams from the editor for next week's copy, the seventy-one-year old author, deserting his family, shut himself up in his study for days on end, taking his meals at odd hours, and refusing to see visitors. Always the exacting artist, he kept mangling successive sets of proof, repeatedly rewriting whole sections, and hurrying off last-minute changes for an instalment just about to go to press. Fresh manuscript chapters in his almost illegible handwriting were cleanly copied by members of the family and their guests. Duplicate sets of corrected proof had to be prepared for translators for foreign publication. Urgent cablegrams and letters from abroad offered huge sums for first publishing rights. Finally, on December 18, Tolstoy noted in his diary: "Completed Resurrection. Not good, uncorrected, hurried, but it is done with and I'm no longer interested."

Tolstoy's sense of relief may be partly attributed to the fact that he had been working away intermittently on 'Resurrection', the last of his three great full-length novels, for more than ten years. The theme had been supplied by his good friend, the eminent jurist and writer A. F. Koni. He told Tolstoy the story of a man who had come to him for legal aid. As a youth this man had seduced a pretty orphan girl of sixteen who had been taken into the home of a relative of the young man when her parents died. Once her benefactress observed the girl's pregnant condition, she drove her away. Abandoned by her seducer, the girl, after hopeless attempts to earn an honest livelihood, became a prostitute. Detected in stealing money from one of her drunken "guests" in a brothel, the girl was arrested. On the jury that tried the case fate placed her seducer. His conscience awakened to the injustice of his behaviour, he decided to marry the girl, who was sentenced to four months in prison. Koni concluded his story by relating that the couple did actually marry, but shortly after her sentence expired, the girl died from typhus.

The tale deeply moved Tolstoy, and its effect may well have been connected with an acute stirring of conscience. For shortly before his death he told his biographer of two seductions in his own life which he could somehow never forget. "The second," he said, "was the crime I committed with the servant Masha in my aunt's house. She was a virgin. I seduced her, and she was dismissed and perished." At first he urged Koni, a very talented person, to publish the account for Intermediary, the firm that Tolstoy established to market inexpensive moral booklets for the masses. Koni agreed to do this. When a year passed and he failed to fulfil his promise, Tolstoy asked to be allowed to make use of the story.

Tolstoy's efforts to cast this incident of real life into literary form were repeatedly interrupted by the manifold activities and extensive polemical writings growing out of his spiritual revelation. Only with some reluctance did he devote his few free hours to the creation of fiction, and it is possible that 'Resurrection' might never have been finished if it had not been for a special set of circumstances. The government's long and cruel persecution of the Dukhobors, a peasant sect that practiced a form of Christian communism not far removed from Tolstoy's own preaching, and among other things rejected military service, had reached a crucial stage. For several years he and his followers had been aiding the Dukhobors. Now it was decided that the most practical remedy for their misfortunes was to have them emigrate. The Russian government was willing, and Canada agreed to accept them pretty much on their own terms. The problem was to obtain money to transport and settle in Canada some twelve thousand sectarians. Tolstoy helped to organize a campaign to raise funds. Although he had surrendered the copyrights of all his works written since his spiritual change and allowed anyone to publish them free, he now decided to sell a novel and devote the proceeds to the fund to aid the emigration of the Dukhobors. Going over his portfolio of unfinished manuscripts, he settled upon 'Resurrection' as the one calculated to earn the most money, and he set to work with a will to complete this long novel.

Before the serial publication had got well under way in the magazine Niva, Tolstoy began to regard his compact with the publisher as one with the devil—he had sold his soul for an advance of twelve thousand roubles, even though the money went to the fund for the Dukhobors. This only instance of violating the repudiation of his copyright privileges to the extent of accepting money for the initial publication of a novel caused him endless trouble. Niva at first attempted to run the lengthy work in weekly instalments. With his painstaking correction of proof and the constant introduction of new matter, Tolstoy found it extremely difficult to keep up this pace. Finally his health broke down and he virtually decided to end the novel with Part II, omitting the brilliant third part. Only the willingness of the editor to forego his demand for weekly instalments persuaded Tolstoy to continue.

Tolstoy had calculated correctly. The first full-length novel in twenty years from the celebrated author of 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina', and also a man now universally known as a religious reformer and moral thinker, was an event of intense international interest. While 'Resurrection' was appearing serially in Russia, simultaneous publication in translation was arranged in England, France, Germany, and the United States. Partly because of the previous public repudiation of his copy-right privileges, much pirating went on which caused Tolstoy a great deal of embarrassment—he had sold first publication rights to various foreign firms in an effort to realize the maximum income on behalf of the Dukhobors. Pirated copies of the novel quickly appeared in Russia; twelve different translations came out in Germany alone in 1900; and fifteen editions, under authorized and unauthorized imprints, accumulated in France during 1899 and 1900. Extreme liberties were often taken in these foreign versions. When French readers of the serialized translation in 'Echo de Paris' characteristically complained that the love scenes, which they relished, were too infrequent, the businesslike editor had no scruples about omitting the next regular instalment and substituting for it one in which the hero and heroine were again occupied with each other. On the other hand, the editor of 'Cosmopolitan', which had bought first serial rights in the United States, did not hesitate to tone down or delete love passages which he thought might offend the sensibilities of this magazine's respectable middle-class readers. In the end, Tolstoy was happy to revert to his rule of not taking money for his writings, unwilling perhaps to realize that the rule itself had been the cause of all his trouble.

The Russian censor caused additional annoyance and not a little anguish to Tolstoy, who in some instances protested the deletions of this high executioner of words. The censor, however, could hardly be expected in those days to tolerate the author's sacrilegious barbs against the Russian Orthodox Church or his exposure of the way prisoners were treated in Siberia. In fact, very few of the many chapters of the novel escaped the censor's awful blue pencil, and it is estimated that be made four hundred and ninety-seven separate alterations or deletions in the text. Not until 1936 did the complete and unaltered text of 'Resurrection' appear in Russian, in the huge Jubilee Edition of Tolstoy's works.

In the course of writing the novel, Tolstoy did considerable research, reading many books and articles—he read six books on prostitution alone—and he consulted experts on legal procedure, visited jails and talked with convicts. Once he got fairly into the work, it absorbed him completely, and he told his wife that since 'War and Peace' he had never been so powerfully gripped by the creative urge. Koni's slender narrative served only as the initial inspiration for the erection of a huge, complex superstructure, and as in the case of Tolstoy's other two large novels, the story element grew to formidable length, with numerous ramifications. There were several quite different beginnings, and again and again he cast out themes and introduced entirely new ones. Even such a small detail as the description of the external appearance of the heroine exists in as many as twenty variants. There were six separate redactions of 'Resurrection', and before Tolstoy had finished his extensive revisions, he had piled up enough rejected material to fill a volume almost as large as the novel itself.

As in Tolstoy's previous full-length novels, there is a great deal of autobiographical matter in 'Resurrection'. In many respects the hero, Dmitri Nekhlyudov, resembles his creator, and a number of the other characters are plainly modelled on people Tolstoy knew. For example, Toporov is a thinly disguised and unflattering portrait of the sinister and celebrated Procurator of the Holy Synod, K. P. Pobedonostsev. Some of these autobiographical aspects are curiously stressed in an interesting passage in the diary of Tolstoy's wife. While wearing her eyes out over recopying his labyrinthine manuscript, she vented her spleen against 'Resurrection' largely because her husband had refused first publishing rights for her edition of his works—it may be remembered that he had previously allowed her the right to publish for money anything he wrote before his spiritual revelation, that is, before 1881. "I torment myself," she wrote, "over the fact that Leo Nikolaevich, a seventy-year-old man, describes the scene of fornication between the serving girl and the officer with the peculiar relish of a gastronome eating something tasty. I know, because he himself told me about this in detail, that in this scene he is describing his own intimate relations with the serving girl of his sister.... I'm also tormented by the fact that I see in the hero, Nekhlyudov, portrayed as progressing from his downfall to his moral resurrection, Leo Nikolaevich, who thinks this very thing about himself."

Abroad, especially in England and the United States, 'Resurrection' was enthusiastically received and enjoyed a larger sale than any other work by Tolstoy up to that time. Though some conservative foreign critics expressed indignation over what seemed an excessively frank and un-Victorian treatment of sex, as well as the novelist's contemptuous regard for the conventions of law and order and the sacredness of the church, progressive critics showered praises on perhaps the only man in Russia at that time who had the courage to expose in fiction the evils that beset his country. In Russia the publication of 'Resurrection' was an event transcending its artistic significance. Something of the widespread excitement aroused by the novel as it appeared serially is reflected in a letter to Tolstoy by his friend V. V. Stasov, a distinguished art critic: "How all of us here rejoiced when we learned that the chapters of 'Resurrection' will not be 60 or 80 but l00 or more. Without exception all are saying on every side: 'Ah, there will be more, more will be added! May God grant that there will be more and more!"'

Resurrection naturally forces comparison with those supreme works, 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina', and it must be admitted that it falls below the lofty artistic achievements of these earlier novels. However, its best things, artistically speaking, belong to the narrative method of Tolstoy's earlier fiction rather than to the compressed, direct, and stylistically unadorned manner of the later period after 'What Is Art?' was written. In 'Resurrection' there is that same wealth of precise realistic detail which conveys the appearance of indubitable actuality to imagined situations, as well as roundness, completeness, and the vitality of life to his characters. In its enchanting setting, the account of the first pure love of Nekhlyudov and Katusha Maslova, certainly the finest section of the novel, is all compounded of that same wonderful elusive quality that transformed the girlish loves of Natasha in 'War and Peace' into the incommunicable poetry of youthful dreams. Tolstoy never did anything more delightfully infectious in fiction than the scene of the Easter service in the village church, where the young hero and heroine, after the traditional Russian greeting "Christ is risen," exchange kisses with the carefree rapture of mingled religious exaltation and dawning affinity for each other. ...


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