Phew… I finished it. Don’t get me wrong, I really am quite emphatic when it comes to my love of the Russian classics, but this one took me a while.
Everyone is acquainted with War and Peace, and most have heard of Anna Karenina. Resurrection, is the third, final, and least known of Tolstoy’s longer fictional works.
568 pages, a month, and I’ve done it. Was it, I hear you ask, worth the slog?
Yes and no.
Resurrection has a wonderful premise. Nekhlyudov, a nobleman just past his prime, is called to serve on the jury in a case concerning a supposed murderess/prostitute, who he recognises as his abandoned first love, the once-enchanting Katusha.
So begins a mirrored journey of two people on the road of moral self-discovery, in which Nekhlyudov confronts not only the wrongs he has done, and their grave consequences, but the price of his class’ privileges on the character of society.
“Without removing his pince-nez he stared at Maslova, while a complex, painful process took place in his soul.”
This is a book about the many different types of love, debauchery, divinity, and redemption. It straddles the whole of society, from baron to beggar, and paints a harrowing picture of the divide between 19th century drawing rooms and the lives of the masses who lived and died under the heel of the Russian justice system.
It is a beautiful, ambitious epic of a book. Tolstoy could write, by gad, and by the time he wrote Resurrection it can be argued that he was at the height of his literary powers.
It’s just a shame that I couldn’t enjoy it like I enjoyed War and Peace. Perhaps Resurrection is just that little bit too idealistic, maybe I’m a cynic, or perhaps (though I don’t believe it) it’s just not as good, but as much as I love the premise of this novel, support the majority of its, albeit religious, ideals, and wanted to love it, I couldn’t muster up the same level of empathy that I had for the characters in Tolstoy’s longest work.
“‘Was I really like that once?’ Nekhlyudov thought, continuing on his way to the lawyer’s. ‘Perhaps not quite like that, but I wanted to be, and believed I should spend life in that way.'”
I am wrong. I know that. My failure to adore this book is my own failing. I read too much trash, and sometimes it dulls my ability to appreciate true art. Much as it was a struggle to finish Resurrection, I am glad I did. I have emerged, not in a state of rapture, but at least with my mind awakened from the stupor that threatens to descend whenever I go too long without reading something weighty.
Most amazing about this book is, I think, how much it still has to say. Social injustice, sexism and the cruelty of those in whose hands power resides remain prominent topics of discussion. Though dated, perhaps, by its density, this novel remains immensely relevant. More so, I would say, than many of its counterparts.
It is also impossible not to appreciate Tolstoy’s conviction and bravery, in writing a book like this, living in the era he did.
“Was it possible that so complicated a phenomenon could have so simple and terrible an explanation? Could it really be that all the talk about justice, goodness, law, religion, God and so on, was nothing but so many words to conceal the grossest self-interest and cruelty?”
So… yes. Overall, this one is worth the challenge it presents. Maybe not one for a casual read on a Sunday afternoon, but ideal for a long-haul flight, or some other environment in which it is possible to focus on the book and nothing but the book for several hours. I think some novels deserve their reader’s full attention, and this is, for all that I don’t appreciate it as much as I should, one of them.