Monday, August 24, 2009

42. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy

I've been reading this on and off between Jane Austen novels and final exams, and it had a profound psychological effect on me, at least while reading. I adore Anna Karenina and am only less fond of War and Peace, but I had never heard of Resurrection when I discovered it in the library. It is the last of his great novels, and the most pointed. Tolstoy attacks organized religion, in his case, the all-pervasive Russian Orthodoxy, and the Russian criminal justice system. His protagonist, Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov, is clearly a self-portrait in respect to his agonizing reflections on morality and social justice.

As opposed to his former two masterpieces, Resurrection is condensed in plot, character, and message. It is Tolstoy's most finely drawn canvas. He focuses primarily on Nekhlyudov, and a handful of other characters, most importantly Katerina Maslova, or Katusha. Like Anna Karenina, she is a fallen woman, but unlike Anna, she is poor and lower-class. Katusha is half-ward, half-servant, in the home of two maiden gentry, and is first seduced by their nephew Nekhlyudov. She becomes pregnant and is turned out of the house, the baby dies, and she embarks under a series of "protectors," and ultimately ends up in a brothel. Nekhlyudov, a rich aristocrat, meets her again as she is on trial for poisoning a customer (she is innocent).

Tolsyoy's descriptions are exquisite, and it is fascinating to watch Nekhlyudov emerge from this unflattering portrait;

"Everything he used-all the appurtenances of his toilet-his linen, his clothes, boots, neckties, tie-pins, cuff-links were of the best and most expensive kind: unobtrusive, simple, durable, and costly (30)."

Without him specifying, we can infer that Nekhlyudov is a dandy, a spendthrift, and thoughtlessly selfish.

After he sees Maslova, he vows to reform. I related to this description;

"More than once in Nekhlyudov's life there had been what he called a 'purging of the soul' (140)."

I wonder if this is part of the human condition, to continually try to reform one's self, and then "time after time the tempations of the world ensnared him, and before he knew it he had fallen-often lower than before (141)."At the end of the book, he appears to be fully reformed, but what if he falls again? It would seem likely, would not it? Would not it seem human?

I also enjoyed Tolstoy's blasting of the clergyman in prison;

"The priest carried the cup back behind the partition, and drinking up all the blood left in the cup and eating all the remaining bits of God's body, and painstakingly licking round his moustaches and wiping his mouth and the cup, briskly marched out from behind the partition (182)."

It's swarming with intentionally gruesome imagery, and certainly a metaphor for the church growing fat off "God." This whole section was apparently covered by the Russian censor, and the first uncensored version was published in England. Tolstoy, however, was a deeply religious Christian, he only criticizes the way Christianity is used.

Resurrection made me wish for a little revelation of my own. I am feeling that I have to change, perhaps I have to change the world, but I must do something. I joined, but something beyond that!

p.s. This would be book 42!

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