Bookman (review date 1895)

(Short Story Criticism)

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 story-writer he is a fastidious artist; none more eager to search for the word, or, at least, the circumstance that will produce the desired effect on our imagination; there is nothing casual or haphazard in word or arrangement. He has plainly loved his imaginings, and tended them till they have become fair. In his books of precept, on the other hand, in spite of their striking thought, the form is as careless, and often as unsatisfactory as it could be. Unconsciously, and against his will, he has himself apportioned the respective values to be set on his two orders of books.


(The entire section is 840 words.)

N. K. Mikhaylovsky (essay date 1904)

(Short Story Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 2310 words.)

Leo Shestov (essay date 1932)

(Short Story Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 4702 words.)

Elizabeth Trahan (essay date 1963)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5630 words.)

Ernest J. Simmons (essay date 1968)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2225 words.)

John Hagan (essay date 1969)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 12379 words.)

T. G. S. Cain (essay date 1977)

(Short Story Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 4457 words.)

Michael Henry Heim (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 4612 words.)

Richard F. Gustafson (essay date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2724 words.)