Hadji Murad Summary

Hadji Murad is a novella by Leo Tolstoy, originally published in 1912 and set during the Chechen struggle for independence from Russia.

  • Hadji Murad, a commander in the Chechen rebel army, surrenders himself to the Russian commander Vorontsov after the Chechen leader, Imam Shamil, takes Murad’s family prisoner.
  • Murad ultimately rides out to rescue his family with only a few loyal men and is killed by his old comrade Hadji Aga. A Russian officer brings his head to a small fort in Chechnya and tells the men there the story of Murad’s death.

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Hadji Murad, one of the most prominent fighters in the struggle for Chechen independence from Russia, decides to change sides and join the Russians against the Chechen leader, Imam Shamil. He does this principally because Shamil has taken his mother, wives, and children prisoner, and he believes that the only way to free them is to defeat Shamil with the help of the Russians.

Murad surrenders to a Russian colonel, Prince Vorontsov, whose father is the Russian Commander-in-Chief. The elder Vorontsov is impressed by Murad’s courage and gallantry but does not trust him and keeps him at his headquarters for some time while he decides how to proceed. One of his junior officers, Captain Loris-Melikov, who speaks Tartar, questions Murad about his life and writes down his life story in Russian for the Commander-in-Chief. Murad describes how he grew up in the palace of a minor princely family in the Caucasus. The Khansha, the head of this family, was betrayed, and her sons were killed by the Imam Hamzad. Hadji Murad later killed Hamzad in a mosque in revenge.

After killing Hamzad, Hadji Murad was made governor of Avaria by the Russians. However, they also gave one of his bitterest enemies, Akhmet Khan, the powerful position of Khan of Kazi-Kumukh. Akhmet Khan captured and almost killed him, and after his escape, Hadji Murad fought on the side of Hamzad’s successor, Imam Shamil, against the Russians, though he always hated Shamil. Shamil eventually learned of Murad’s hatred for him and attempted to kill him, capturing his family in the process. This was why Murad finally decided to fight for the Russians.

Vorontsov believes that the best course of action is to allow Murad to return to Chechnya to gather information about his family and perhaps formulate a plan of attack against Imam Shamil. He writes to the Minister of War in Saint Petersburg, asking that his plan be put before the Tsar. The Minister dislikes Vorontsov and attempts to present the plan in a bad light, but the Tsar is in a contrary mood that day and refuses to be influenced by the Minister’s disapproval. There is a long and elaborate description of the way in which the Tsar passes this typical day at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, surrounded by flatterers, making cruel, arbitrary decisions, and engaging in tedious love affairs.

On the Tsar’s orders, a detachment of Russian soldiers moves into Chechen territory and burns a village to the ground. Imam Shamil is forced to retreat to his headquarters at Vedeno, where he has been keeping Hadji Murad’s family prisoner. He tells Murad’s eldest son, Yusuf, to write to his father offering forgiveness if Murad will return to the Chechen side and fight alongside Shamil. If Murad remains with the Russians, however, Shamil will put out his son’s eyes.

With the permission of Vorontsov, Hadji Murad moves to Chechnya and gathers information about his family and Imam Shamil from spies. The news he receives is discouraging, and he begins to despair of ever gaining his family’s freedom. He considers accepting Imam Shamil’s offer and returning to the Chechen side, though he realizes that his former comrades will trust him as little as he trusts Imam Shamil after his defection to Russia. Eventually, Murad decides that he must make a decisive move on his own, without help from the Russians. He takes a few loyal men and rides to Vedeno to rescue his family.

Soon after Murad rides out, Major Petrov, the commander of a small fort in Chechnya, is drinking with a new detachment of soldiers who are...

(This entire section contains 780 words.)

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preparing for a raid on Imam Shamil. A Russian officer interrupts their celebrations to bring him a bag which contains Hadji Murad’s head. Petrov is drunk and wants to kiss the head, saying that Murad was a fine fellow. The Russian officer then relates the story of his death.

Hadji Murad, the Russian officer says, rode out with his murids and an escort of Cossacks. However, the escort consisted only of five men, and the Chechens soon escaped. They were delayed in a waterlogged field, beside which they camped for the night and awoke to find themselves surrounded by the troops of a local militia commander. The Russian commander was soon joined by an old comrade of Hadji Murad’s, named Hadji Aga, who now fought against him. Murad fought a pitched battle against tremendous odds but was wounded twice, the second time fatally. Even as he was dying, he advanced on the enemy, but Hadji Aga hit him with a dagger, then decapitated him, ending his story forever.


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