What were Tolstoy's novels about?

Summary of resurrection

Russia in the second half of the 19th century

In 1861 Tsar raised Alexander II serfdom in Russia. The Russian peasants had been unfree since the 16th century and could be sold along with the land on which they lived. Now they were allowed to acquire land themselves, to cultivate it for their own account, to acquire assets and to employ workers. Alexander also modernized the administration, introduced district assemblies with representatives from the nobility, rural and urban populations, relaxed censorship and university supervision and simplified the judicial system. His son and successor Alexander III However, he reversed some of his father's reforms: he tightened censorship, increased police surveillance, curtailed the participation of the people and cracked down on minorities in Russia. Jews were banished, discriminated against or murdered in ghettos. With industrialization, Russia changed in another way: the feudal structures softened and the miserable working and living conditions in the factories led to great impoverishment in the cities. This in turn prepared the ground for the social revolution: in 1898 the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Russia (RSDLP), later the Communist Party, was founded.


resurrection is Tolstoy's last great novel. It took him ten years to write it down. The starting point for the novel was the so-called "Koni story". Tolstoy's good friend, the lawyer A. F. Koni, had told him an interesting case from his legal practice that never let go of the author. Koni was a prosecutor at the Petersburg District Court in the 1870s. At the time, a young nobleman complained to him that the prison guards insisted on reading a letter he was about to bring to prison from a convict. It turned out that the visitor was not entirely innocent in the condemnation of the young girl. At the age of 16, while working as a maid, she was seduced and made pregnant by her landlady's son. The pregnant woman was chased from the yard, got on the wrong track and ended up in the brothel. She came to court because one of her suitors accused her of theft. As luck would have it, her old lover was present at the trial. With pity he wanted to help the woman and marry her while in prison. However, she died of typhoid shortly after her conviction.

Tolstoy was very impressed by this material and asked Koni to write a book about it, but he did not - instead, he left the material to Tolstoy to shape. The originally short story turned into a long novel. On November 5, 1895, Tolstoy wrote in his diary: “I have now been out for a walk and I have clearly understood why I had the resurrection does not go ahead. I did it wrong ... ”. He revised the story to a symbolic resurrection of Prince Nekhliudov and thus processed his own creed, which he had prepared since his crisis of meaning and his turn to religion. Critics speak of the fact that he made his protagonist a "Tolstoian". From July 1898 the author started the work a third time and gave the novel its final shape. It was first published in the Russian weekly magazine Niva. As usual with Tolstoy, parts of it appeared before the work was completed. The novel was censored and several passages on religion, politics, land ownership and the army were deleted.

Impact history

At about the same time as the first release in Russia, an uncensored version was released in England. Translations in France, Germany and the USA followed. Tolstoy donated the proceeds from the publication of resurrection the Duchoborzen, a Christian sect. He sympathized with them because he had built up his very own religiosity, which largely renounced church rites.

The novel was hostile - even from the American Quakers, who were responsible for distributing the income to the Duchoborzen. For example, they made fun of the portrayal of sexuality in the seduction scene in the book. There was also criticism in Russia. The hopelessness that Tolstoy portrays in the novel prompted one of the first Russian reviewers to criticize sharply: “This novel should not be titled 'Resurrection' but 'Burial'. Tolstoy put us in a coffin, nailed the lid, lowered the coffin into the grave and rammed an aspen stake into the burial mound. ”For a long time, literary studies punished Tolstoy's old age novel with disregard. When it appeared in the author's overall accounts, it was often given only a few lines, in contrast to Tolstoy's major works war and peace and Anna Karenina. In particular, the schoolmaster's style of the narrator and the seemingly constructed ending were criticized. To this day, the novel is considered difficult and leads a shadowy existence alongside Tolstoy's other works. Nevertheless, it has been filmed several times.