Hadji Murat (novel)
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (August 2009)|
The house of Prince Semyon Vorontsov, illustration by Eugene Lanceray
|Original title||Хаджи-Мурат (Khadzhi-Murat)|
|Translator||Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes (2011)|
|Pages||212 pp (paperback)|
Hadji Murat (or alternatively Hadji Murad, although the first spelling better captures the original title in Russian: Хаджи-Мурат [Khadzhi-Murat]) is a short novel written by Leo Tolstoy from 1896 to 1904 and published posthumously in 1912 (though not in full until 1917). It is Tolstoy’s final work. The protagonist is Hadji Murat, an Avar rebel commander who, for reasons of personal revenge, forges an uneasy alliance with the Russians he had been fighting.
Tolstoy seems to have first heard of the historical Hadji Murad while he was serving in the Caucasus, according to letters he wrote to his brother Sergei. The thistle described at the opening of the story was actually encountered by Tolstoy near his country estate and led him to remember the character and create a story about him. The theme of struggle while remaining faithful resonated with Tolstoy even though he was in ailing health; later letters suggest this work gave him a brief, final moment of vigor. Just as the author was struggling with his near death, his extended meditation on the concept of the individual refusing to give in to the demands of the world helped him to complete the book, although he himself had no inclination to publish it and was only concerned with its completion. In addition to the theme of resistance, there are many other ideas that can be found in the novel, such as determinism; this echoes Tolstoy's major work War and Peace. An even clearer theme is the struggle between a Europeanized Russia and Muslim Chechnya, the classic West vs. East theme found in Russian history and many different stories and novels (and which is once again pertinent in light of First and Second Chechen Wars in Chechnya and Russia). The work is very similar to Alexander Pushkin’s work The Captain's Daughter in that it is a realist work based on actual people and events and has a similar direction, though the main character in this novel does not meet the same end. Tolstoy used material in Russian archives, including Hadji Murad's own account of his life.
The narrator prefaces the story with his comments on a crushed, but still living thistle he finds in a field (a symbol for the main character), after which he begins to tell the story of Hadji Murat. Murat is a separatist guerrilla who falls out with his own commander and eventually sides with the Russians in hope of saving his family. The story opens with Murat and two of his followers fleeing from Shamil, the commander of the Caucasian separatists, who is at war with the Russians. They find refuge at the house of Sado, a loyal supporter. However, the villagers learn of his presence, and he must flee again.
His lieutenant succeeds in making contact with the Russians, who promise to meet Murat. He eventually arrives outside of the fortress of Vozdvizhenskaya to join the Russian forces, in hopes of eventually defeating Shamil. Before his arrival, a small skirmish occurs with some Chechens outside the fortress, and a young man named Petrukha Avdeyev dies after being shot. The narrator makes a chapter length aside about Petrukha: childless, he had joined the military in place of his brother, the family man. His father regrets this because he was such a better worker.
While at Vozdvizhenskaya, Murat befriends Prince Semyon Vorontsov, his wife Maria and his son during his stay and wins over the good will of the soldiers stationed there. They are at once in awe of his physique and reputation, and enjoy his company and find him honest and upright. The Vorontsovs give him a present of a watch that he is fascinated with.
On his fifth day of Murat's stay, the governor-general’s adjutant Loris-Melikov arrives with orders to write down Murat’s story, and the reader learns some of his history: he was born in the village of Tselmes and early on became close to the local khans because his mother was the royal family's wetnurse. When he was fifteen some followers of Muridism come into his village calling for a holy war against Russia. Murat declines at first but after a learned man is sent to explain how it will be run, he tentatively agrees. However, in their first confrontation, Shamil—then a lieutenant for the anti-Russian Muslims—embarrasses Murat when he goes to speak with the leader Gamzat. Gamzat eventually launches an attack on the capital of Khunzakh and kills the pro-Russian khans, taking control of the Chechens. The slaughter of the khans throws Hadji and his brother against Gamzat, and they eventually succeed in tricking and killing him, causing his followers to flee. Unfortunately, Murat's brother was killed in the attempt and Shamil simply replaces Gazmat as leader. He calls on Murat to join his struggle, but Murat refuses because the blood of his brother and the khans are on Shamil.
Once Murat has joined the Russians, who are aware of his position and bargaining ability, they find him the perfect tool for getting to Shamil. However, Vortonsov’s plans are ruined by Chernyshov, a prince who is jealous of him, and Murat has to remain in the fortress because the emperor is told he is possibly a spy. The story digresses for a bit and Tolstoy depicts Nicholas I of Russia, showing his tendency towards women and his condescending nature, as well as his enjoyment in terrifying his subjects.
The emperor orders an attack on the Chechens and Murat remains in the fortress. Meanwhile, Murat’s mother, wife and eldest son Yusuf, who had been captured by Shamil, were moved to a more defendible location. Realizing his position (neither trusted by the Russians to lead an army against Shamil, nor able to return to Shamil because he will be killed) he decides to flee the fortress to gather men to save his family.
At this point the narrative jumps forward in time, to the arrival of a group of soldiers at the fortress bearing Murat's severed head. While Maria Dimitriyevna—companion of one of the officers and friend of by Murat—comments on the cruelty of men during times of war, the soldiers tell the story of Murat's death. He had escaped the fortress and shook his usual Russian escort with the help of his five lieutenants. After they escape they come upon marsh that they are unable to cross, and hide amongst some bushes until the morning. An old man gives away their position and Karganov, the commander of the fortress, the soldiers, and some Cossacks surround the area. Hadji and his men fortify themselves and begin to fire upon the troops, dying valiantly. Hadji himself runs into fire after his men are killed, despite being wounded and plugging up his fatal wounds in his body with cloth. As he fires his last bullet his life flashes before him and the soldiers think he’s dead; he gets up as if to continue attacking and then falls over. Victorious, the Russian soldiers fall upon and decapitate him. The nightingales, which stopped singing during the battle, begin again and the narrator ends by mentioning the thistle once more.
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