by Leo Tolstoy
The story is about a nobleman named Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov, who seeks redemption for a sin committed years earlier. When he was a younger man, at his Aunts' estate, he fell in love with their ward, Katyusha (Katerina Mikhailovna Maslova), who is goddaughter to one Aunt and treated badly by the other. However, after going to the city and becoming corrupted by drink and gambling, he returns two years later to his Aunts' estate and rapes Katyusha, leaving her pregnant. She is then thrown out by his Aunt, and proceeds to face a series of unfortunate and unpleasant events, before she ends up working as a prostitute, going by her surname, Maslova.
Ten years later, Nekhlyudov sits on a jury which sentences the girl, Maslova, to prison in Siberia for murder (poisoning a client who beat her, a crime of which she is innocent). The book narrates his attempts to help her practically, but focuses on his personal mental and moral struggle. He goes to visit her in prison, meets other prisoners, hears their stories, and slowly comes to realize that below his gilded aristocratic world, yet invisible to it, is a much larger world of cruelty, injustice and suffering. Story after story he hears and even sees people chained without cause, beaten without cause, immured in dungeons for life without cause, and a twelve-year-old boy sleeping in a lake of human dung from an overflowing latrine because there is no other place on the prison floor, but clinging in a vain search for love to the leg of the man next to him, until the book achieves the bizarre intensity of a horrific fever dream. He decides to give up his property and pass ownership on to his peasants, leaving them to argue over the different ways in which they can organise the estate, and he follows Katyusha into exile, planning on marrying her. On their long journey into Siberia, she falls in love with another man, and Nekhludov gives his blessing and still chooses to live as part of the penal community, seeking redemption.
The novel was an unfinished draft which Tolstoy (age 71) began 10 years earlier as the "Konevskaya story". In August 1898 he urgently decided to finish, copyright and sell it to aid the emigration of the most persecuted third of the pacifist Spiritual Christian Dukhobortsy from Russia to Canada. He completed it in December 1899.
The book was eagerly awaited. "How all of us rejoiced," one critic wrote on learning that Tolstoy had decided to make his first fiction in 25 years, not a short novella but a full-length novel. "May God grant that there will be more and more!" It outsold Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Despite its early success, today Resurrection is not as famous as the works that preceded it.
Some writers have said that Resurrection has characters that are one-dimensional and that as a whole the book lacks Tolstoy's earlier attention to detail. By this point, Tolstoy was writing in a style that favored meaning over aesthetic quality.
The book was to be published serially simultaneously in Russia, Germany, France, England and America, to quickly raise funds and give him time to finish the story, but delayed due to contract "difficulties" requiring parts to be censored and shortened. It appeared in the popular Russian weekly magazine Niva illustrated by Leonid Pasternak, and in the American monthly magazine The Cosmopolitan as "The Awakening". Many publishers printed their own editions because they assumed that Tolstoy had given up all copyrights as he had done with previous books. The complete text was not published in Russia until 1936, and in English in 1938.
Tolstoy's contribution of 34,200 roubles to the plight of Dukhobortsy ($17,000) had been acknowledged several times in gratitude and aid to the Tolstoy Estate "Yasnaya Polyana" by the descendants of Dukhobortsy in Canada.
It is said of legendary Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi that he was of the opinion that "All melodrama is based on Tolstoy's Resurrection".
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