Hadji Murat (novel)
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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 Christian 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, a successful and famed 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 of Murat. However, the local people learn of his presence and chase him out of the village.
His lieutenant succeeds in making contact with the Russians, who promise to meet Murat. He eventually arrives at the fortress of Vozdvizhenskaya to join the Russian forces, in hopes of drawing their support in order to overthrow Shamil and save his family. Before his arrival, a small skirmish occurs with some Chechens outside the fortress, and Petrukha Avdeyev, a young Russian soldier bleeds out in a local military hospital after being shot. Tolstoy makes a chapter-length aside about Petrukha: childless, he volunteered as a conscript in place of his brother who had a family of his own. Petrukha's father regrets this because he was a dutiful worker compared to his complacent brother.
While at Vozdvizhenskaya, Murat befriends Prince Semyon Vorontsov, his wife Maria and his son, 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 which fascinates him.
On the fifth day of Murat's stay, the governor-general's adjutant, Mikhail 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 due to his mother being the royal family's wetnurse. When he was fifteen some followers of Muridism came into his village calling for a holy war (ghazavat) 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 Muslims hostile to the Russians—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 Chechnya. 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 is killed in the attempt and Shamil 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, Vorontsov's plans are ruined by the War Minister, Chernyshov. A rival prince who is jealous of him, and Murat has to remain in the fortress because the Tsar is told he is possibly a spy. The story digresses into a depiction of the Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, which reveals his lethargic and bitter nature and his egotistical complacency, as well as his contempt towards women, his brother-in-law, Frederick William IV of Prussia, and Russian students.
The Tsar orders an attack on the Chechens and Murat's remains in the fortress. Meanwhile, Murat's mother, wife and eldest son Yusuf, whom Shamil hold captive, are moved to a more defensible 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), Hadji Murat 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—the companion of one of the officers and a friend of Murat—comments on the cruelty of men during times of war calling them 'butchers', the soldiers then tell the story of Murat's death. He had escaped the fortress and shook off his usual Russian escort with the help of his five lieutenants. After they escape they come upon a 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 Murat 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 for one final struggle and falls to his death. Victorious, the Russian soldiers fall upon and decapitate him. The nightingales, which stopped singing during the battle, begin again and the narrator ends by recalling the thistle once more.
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