Khozyain I rabotnik, Leo Tolstoy
Khozyain I rabotnik Leo Tolstoy
The following entry presents criticism concerning Tolstoy's short novel Khozyain I rabotnik (Master and Man; 1895). For additional coverage of Tolstoy's short fiction, see SSC, Vols. 9 and 30.
The novella Master and Man is considered one of the more notable works from the later stage of Tolstoy's illustrious literary career. Critics often compare it to his earlier classic story, Smert Ivana Illyicha (The Death of Ivan Ilych; 1886), in that both short novels are concerned with protagonists facing impending death and undergoing a profound spiritual transformation.
Plot and Major Characters
The protagonist of Master and Man is Brekhunov, a dishonest country merchant living in nineteenth-century Russia. Brekhunov is both egocentric and materialistic, character traits that contrast dramatically with the artless and instinctual behavior of his servant Nikita. After a local festival, Brekhunov is anxious to pursue a lucrative business deal in another town. The two men depart together and soon encounter a bizarre, apocalyptic snowstorm. They reach shelter, but Brekhunov insists on continuing the journey in pursuit of his business arrangement. After hours of frustrated attempts to reach another shelter, Nikita accepts his ineluctable fate and lies down to die; after which Brekhunov experiences a revelatory moment as he confronts and rejects the hollow values of his past, and comprehends the finality of death. Consequently, he saves Nikita's life by sacrificing his own.
In Master and Man Tolstoy explores the effects imminent death has on a man's perceptions of his own life, and how this parley with death can be a revelatory occurrence. The spiritual crisis and epiphany seen in Master and Man, a result of the intimate encounter with death, fosters a numinous redemption for Brekhunov as he rejects his former, corrupt values and sacrifices his own worldly existence. The story also underscores class differences, as the two men's social standing informs their reaction to the crisis: Nikita, the servant, humbly accepts his fate; Brekhunov, the master, attempts to command his own destiny. When Brekhunov confronts death and accepts its utter inevitability, he embraces a master greater than the self. Another significant theme in Master and Man is the mastery of God or Nature: whereas the fantastic and omnipotent snowstorm renders the two capable men virtually blind and impotent—symbolizing the protagonist Brekhunov's plight as a man spiritually bereft, lost in a tempest of superficial and corrupt meanings—there is an ultimate redemption.
Critically, Tolstoy's works are generally divided into an early period, before he wrote his major novels Voina I mir (War and Peace; 1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), and a later period, the works of which were influenced by the moral and spiritual crisis Tolstoy experienced in the late 1870s. Commentators perceive Master and Man as one of Tolstoy's finest works of this latter stage. While many critics acknowledge the emotional power of the story, others complain that Brekhunov's transformation is too sudden to be credible. Some commentators emphasize the parallels between Brekhunov's conversion and that of Ivan Ilych's, the dying protagonist of Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilych. The correspondence of Master and Man to Tolstoy's own life is also a rich area of literary scholarship, as critics trace autobiographical aspects of the story to the author's own spiritual transformation late in life. The religious symbolism and biblical allusions in the short novel are other commonly analyzed motifs by critics and scholars.
Detstvo [Childhood] 1852
Otrochestvo [Boyhood] 1854
Sevastopolskiye rasskazy 2 vols. 1855-56
Yunost [Youth] 1857
Semeinoe schaste [Family Happiness] 1859
Kazaki [The Cossacks] 1863
Polikushka [Polikouchka] 1863
Smert Ivana Illyicha [The Death of Ivan Ilych] 1886
Kreitserova sonata [The Kreutzer Sonata] 1890
Khozyain I rabotnik [Master and Man] 1895
Otetz sergii [Father Sergius] 1898
The Novels and Other Works of Leo N. Tolstoi 22 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, dramas, essays, and sketches) 1899-1902
Khadzhi Murat [Hadji Murád] 1911
L.N. Tolstoi: polnoe sobranie proizvedenie. 90 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, dramas, essays, and sketches) 1928-58
Short Stories 1968
Voina I mir [War and Peace] (novel) 1869
Anna Karenina (novel) 1877
Ispoved [A Confession] (essay) 1882
V chiom moya vera [What I Believe] (essay) 1884
Vlast tmy [The Dominion of Darkness] (drama)...
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SOURCE: A review of Master and Man, in Bookman, Vol. 1, No. 6, July, 1895, pp. 409-10.
[In the following laudatory review of Tolstoy's story, the critic deems Master and Man “beautiful in conception, so masterly in development, so skillfully delicate in workmanship.”]
Tolstoy has warm admirers who could only under severe compulsion read The Kingdom of God is Within You, just as he has others who read War and Peace and Anna Karénina, in the rather vain hopes of extracting a gospel from them. The former had grown to think that the vein they valued was completely worked out; but the inventive faculty and the power of scenic representation, when they are as strong as they were in Tolstoy, are not easily exhausted or weakened. In his case an absorbing mission, and perhaps some ascetic principles, have had far more to do with the arrest of his artistic career than any decay of genius. The proof is, that now and again in his later peasant stories, written purposely for an uncultured audience, the old strength and beauty of phrase and incident refuse to be suppressed. Notably is this so in Master and Man; and surely we may be allowed to rejoice freely at the reappearance of the earlier Tolstoy. After all, next to life we learn most from art. Precept and homily have not half its reach. And the best reason for rejoicing he himself involuntarily provides. As a...
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SOURCE: “Master and Man and The Death of Ivan Ilych,” in Critical Essays on Tolstoy, edited by Edward Wasiolek, G. K. Hall & Co., 1986, pp. 175-79.
[In the following essay, initially published in 1904, Mikhaylovsky contrasts Tolstoy's approach to death in The Death of Ivan Ilych and Master and Man.]
How does one preserve life without the thought of death that poisons one's existence? How does one burn out, destroy this fear of death that, as we have seen, “is put into everyone?” This is Tolstoy's main task lately. Although it concerned him before, now he is exclusively concerned with it, and all his writings are merely peripheral to it, connecting the various points of his outlook with this fear of death at its center.
All of his discussions of physical labor, about “harness,” pure air of the fields and woods, and other hygienic features of his moral doctrine belong here in the first place. However these things merely guarantee health and longevity, death is only postponed, while still remaining the dreadful, inevitable end. Couldn't it be made at least not so dreadful? For this there is a prescription, already worked out to perfection by the buddhists: without repudiating life, one must reduce its budget as much as possible, so that when one reaches the inevitable end, one can pass without fear and regret into that area of nirvana, which, strictly...
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SOURCE: “The Last Judgment: Tolstoy's Last Works,” in Tolstoy: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1967, pp. 157-72.
[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1932, Shestov summarizes the plot and outlines the major themes of Master and Man.]
Many people, in the effort to calm themselves and dissipate the uneasiness which seizes them on reading Tolstoy's works, have thought to explain his struggles and his wild outbursts as the result of his fear of death. They think that such an explanation would free them once and for all from every difficulty and would also re-establish in their old strength the solutions which he had rendered null and void. This proceeding is not new, but it is effective. Aristotle had already suggested it when, with firm hand, he traced a definite line to mark the limit beyond which human endeavour and inquiry must not go. The ultimate mystery must not be approached, the idea of death must not be allowed to take possession of the human soul.
But Plato taught otherwise. …
Eight years after The Death of Ivan Ilych, Tolstoy wrote Master and Man. These two stories are, in spite of their surface dissimilarity, so intimately connected with one another that they seem to be only variations on a single theme. Since Tolstoy had been forced out of the common way by the terrors which he had described to us in The...
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SOURCE: “L. N. Tolstoj's Master and Man—A Symbolic Narrative,” in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 7, No. 3, 1963, pp. 258-68.
[In the following essay, Trahan explores the symbolism in Master and Man, contending, “even a superficial reading reveals a certain mysterious, magic quality which suggests additional dimensions.”]
In his essay What is Art? (1897), Tolstoj rejects contemporary art as involved, affected and obscure (Ch. X). He attacks the French Symbolists for their incomprehensibility (ibid.) and heaps ridicule on Richard Wagner for his use of myths and leitmotifs (Ch. XIII). Good art, Tolstoj suggests, must express universally valid religious or at least humanitarian feelings, experienced by the author and transmitted through direct emotional infection, as is accomplished in the great religious writings, in folk legends, fairy tales and folk songs. When reviewing his own writings from this critical position, Tolstoj is forced to reject all his literary masterpieces. He can only find two instances of “good” art, two of his Tales for Children (1872)—“The Prisoner of the Caucasus” and “God Sees the Truth but Waits.”
Today, however interesting we may find the essay on art, we will hardly use it as a basis for evaluating Tolstoj's works. Not “The Prisoner of the Caucasus” or “God Sees the Truth but Waits” but War...
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SOURCE: “Later Short Novels,” in Introduction to Tolstoy's Writings, University of Chicago Press, 1968, pp. 146-53.
[In the following excerpt, Simmons regards Master and Man as a successful embodiment of Tolstoy's ideal of religious art.]
In addition to the short story, Tolstoy also devoted a substantial amount of creative effort, after War and Peace and Anna Karenina, to that longer type of fiction which he had attempted in his earlier period—the short novel. Though they vary a great deal in length, no one of them could properly be regarded as either a short story or a novel. For like the earlier short novels, each involves a number of characters and a frame of reference too extensive for the concentrated focus of the short story but not extensive enough for the expansive structure of the full-length novel. Among these eight remaining short novels are several of his most remarkable creations in fiction.
An objective approach to the human condition may be discerned in the early short novels, but in the later ones Tolstoy's own moral presence, combined with a subjective spiritual element, is frequently felt, although he is careful, in the best of them, to embody his personal views in impeccable artistic form. The different emphasis is largely a consequence of Tolstoy's sharply altered outlook on life—all the later short novels were...
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SOURCE: “Detail and Meaning in Tolstoy's Master and Man,” in Criticism, Vol. 11, Winter, 1969, pp. 31-58.
[In the following essay, Hagan analyzes the religious symbolism found in Master and Man to better understand Tolstoy's artistic method.]
Though Master and Man (1895) has long been generally recognized, together with The Death of Ivan Ilych, Father Sergius, and Hadji Murad, as one of the masterpieces of Tolstoy's third period of authorship, close study of its artistic methods has only begun. Turning as it does (in accord with Tolstoy's favorite device of antithesis) on an obvious contrast between two types of men and two sets of moral values, and on the straightforward conversion of one of these men from the one set to the other, no work of equal seriousness and importance might initially seem to be less arcane. But this conclusion would be a mistake. Though transparently didactic, the story is by no means crudely so; the surface clarity and simplicity of the structure, characters, and theme belie a considerable richness and complexity of suggestive detail and symbolism which, once they are perceived, give to the story's claim on our imagination a wholly new authority, and link it more closely to twentieth-century modes of short fiction than we might first suspect. There has, indeed, been a recent discussion of this matter in an essay by Elizabeth Trahan...
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SOURCE: “The Fruits of Conversion,” in Tolstoy, Elek Books Ltd., 1977, pp. 154–64.
[In the following excerpt, Cain offers a thematic and stylistic overview of Master and Man and compares it to The Death of Ivan Ilych.]
Though they too deal with conversion, the accession of illuminating insight as to the true meaning of life and death, the stories of Ivan Ilyich and of the dealer Brekhunov in Master and Man are altogether more convincing than is that of Pozdnyshev. Together, they represent the peak of Tolstoy's achievement in this group of stories and novels: more incisive and much more carefully made than the longer but uneven Resurrection, only the very different Hadji Murat can be put alongside them in an assessment of his work after Anna Karenina.
That this is so is doubtless due in part to the fact that sexual temptation is no longer at the centre of the two narratives. It is the emptiness of the whole spectrum of values by which Ivan Ilyich and Brekhunov live and measure their success that Tolstoy illuminates. But it is at least as important for the regaining of authorial balance that these two stories should both be told in the third person, as that they should not centre on an exclusively sexual corruption. Again in Tolstoy we can see, as so often in Lawrence, how the demands of that narrative mode serve to impose a necessary discipline on...
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SOURCE: “Master and Man: Three Deaths Redivivus,” in American Contributions to the Eighth International Congress of Slavists, Volume 2: Literature, edited by Victor Terras, Slavica Publishers, 1978, pp. 260-70.
[In the following essay, Heim perceives Master and Man as a reworking of Tolstoy's earlier work, Three Deaths.]
Tolstoj's stories Three Deaths [Tri smerti, 1859] and Master and Man [Xozjain i rabotnik, 1895] stand equidistant from the years of his “conversion” and the autobiographical Confession [Ispoved', 1879]. In many respects Master and Man is a reworking of its predecessor. Tolstoj retains the basic structure of the early work while modifying its characters and situations to bring them into line with his new views of life and art.
In each of the stories three characters die. In Three Deaths they are Širkina, the wife of a landowner; Uncle Fedor, an old coachman; and a tree; in Master and Man—Brexunov, a prosperous innkeeper and land speculator; Nikita, a farm laborer; and Muxortyj, a horse.1 Tolstoj structures both stories around the contrast between the inhuman (Širkina/Brexunov), the human (Uncle Fedor/Nikita), and the unhuman (the tree/the horse).2 The mighty, attached to their worldly existence, do not know how to let go of life; they fight tooth and nail...
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SOURCE: “The Way to Love,” in Leo Tolstoy, Resident and Stranger: A Study in Fiction and Theology, Princeton University Press, 1986, pp. 197–202.
[In the following excerpt, Gustafson considers the autobiographical nature of Master and Man.]
The perfect type of Tolstoy's fiction is Master and Man. This late (1895) narrative is an emblematic journey of discovery and a parable of the way to love. Vasily Andreevich Brekhunov, a “local merchant of the second guild,” is the one who thinks he is the master (i). He is in a most profound sense, therefore, a liar and a braggart. His name (brekhun) suggests both. He “boasts to himself and rejoices in himself and his position” (vi). He certainly thinks he is not like everyone else. “With me it's not like with them others where you gotta wait and then there's bills and fines. We go on honor. You serve me and I'll not abandon you” (i). He believes he is a “benefactor.” This kind master lives for all and loves his neighbor as himself. “I desire for you as I do for myself.” Brekhunov lives according to his conscience and will do no harm to a soul. “Let the loss be mine. I am not like others” (ii). Brekhunov the master has no doubt about himself or his virtue as a master. He knows who he is and what he must do. The church elder, he seems a man of faith.
Because he is the master, Brekhunov is the one to whom...
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Noyes, George Rapall. Tolstoy. 1918. Reprint. New York: Dover Publications, 1968, 395 p.
Examines Tolstoy's multifaceted body of literature, offering biographical information pertaining to his short fiction.
Andreyev, Nikolay. Introduction to Master and Man, and Other Parables and Tales, pp. v-xvi. London: Everyman's Library, 1958.
Surveys the defining characteristics of Tolstoy's short fiction.
Additional coverage of Tolstoy's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 123; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Epics for Students, Vol. 2; Novels for Students, Vol. 10; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 5; Something About the Author, Vol. 26; Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 4, 11, 17, 28, 44, 79; and World Literature Criticism.
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