Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 225
Resurrection is Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's 1899 novel about a nobleman trying to right a past wrong and his journey through the class system that existed in Tsarist Russia. It was his last published novel before his death in 1910.
In the story, Russian nobleman Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov has an affair with the maid Katerina "Katusha" Mikhaelovna Maslova in which Maslova is impregnated with Nekhlyudov's child. The child is lost in birth and Maslova becomes an alcoholic prostitute. She is ultimately wrongly accused of murdering one of her clients.
Unknown to Maslova, Nekhlyudov attends her trial. During it, he struggles with his own feelings of guilt for setting Maslova on the path on which she was found herself. He attempts to intervene by aiding in her appeal.
During his visits to Maslova's prison, Nekhlyudov is —seemingly for the first time—exposed to the horrible conditions endured by the lowest classes. And, in the course of fighting for her freedom, he becomes jaded by the bureaucratic indignity of the correctional system. Nekhlyudov is personally tortured by his inability to reconcile the ethics of the system of punishment to which Maslova and the other prisoners are subjected. Through this all, he continues to nurture an on-and-off love for Maslova.
In the end, Nekhlyudov manages to have Maslova's sentence of hard labor reduced but is unable to win her hand.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1315
Katerina Maslova, better known as Katusha, is being led out of prison to attend her trial for murder. Of illegitimate birth, she had been taken in by Sophia and Mary Ivanovna, well-to-do sisters who had cared for her and begun to educate her. When she turned sixteen, Katusha had been seduced by her guardians’ nephew, Prince Dmitri Ivanovitch Nekhludoff. Learning that she was to become a mother, Katusha stayed with a village midwife until her child was born. The baby was taken to the foundling hospital, where it soon died, and Katusha, after a series of tribulations, became a prostitute. When she is twenty-six years old, she is accused of complicity in the murder of a Siberian merchant.
While Katusha is being led into court, Nekhludoff, her seducer, lays in bed considering his position. He had recently been having an affair with a married woman, even though he is almost engaged to marry Princess Mary Korchagin. He also thinks of having given away some of his lands to the peasants. Having arisen, Nekhludoff is reminded that he has to serve that day as a juror in the criminal court.
In court, Nekhludoff is astonished to see that the defendant is Katusha and that she is accused of having helped rob and poison the merchant from Siberia. The trial is disgusting because the officials are vain, stupid, and more concerned with formalities and their own self-interest than with a fair trial for the accused.
When Nekhludoff was a student at the university, he had spent his summers with his aunts, and it was there that he had first come to know and to like Katusha. He had given her books to read and had eventually fallen in love with her. When he next returned, three years later, military life had made him depraved and selfish, and he seduced her. On the following day, he had given her money and left for his regiment. When he returned after the war, he had learned that she had become pregnant and had gone away. Somewhat relieved, he had tried to forget her.
Now, at the trial, the sight of Katusha fills Nekhludoff with a mixture of loathing and pity. At first, he is afraid that his relation to her will be discovered, but Katusha does not recognize him, and gradually he begins to feel remorse for the life to which he has driven her. Because of a careless legalistic oversight by the jury, Katusha, though innocent, is sentenced to four years of hard labor in Siberia. Driven by his uneasy conscience, Nekhludoff goes to a lawyer to discuss the possibility of an appeal.
Later, when Nekhludoff is with the Korchagins, he realizes that their lives are empty and degenerate. He feels the need to cleanse his soul and decides that he will marry Katusha and give up his land.
When Nekhludoff goes to the prison and reveals his identity to Katusha, he is treated coldly by her. She also seems proud of her occupation as a prostitute, because it alone gives some meaning to her otherwise empty life. The next time he visits her, she behaves coarsely to him, and when he says that he wants to marry her, she becomes angry with him and returns to her cell.
On his next visit to the prison, Nekhludoff is told that Katusha cannot be seen because she had become drunk on vodka bought with money he had given her. Nekhludoff then sees Vera Doukhova, a revolutionist acquaintance who had sent him a note from the prison. He is surprised at the inordinate pride Vera takes in the sacrifices she has made for the revolutionary cause. Vera tells him that if he obtains a position for Katusha in the prison hospital, her situation will improve. Nekhludoff arranges to have Katusha transferred.
By this time, Nekhludoff is no longer enamored with the prospect of marrying Katusha. He is still determined to go through with his plan, however, and starts out on a journey to settle his estates in anticipation of his departure for Siberia. At Panovo, he sees the miserable conditions of the people. He sees Matrona Kharina, Katusha’s aunt, and learns about the death of his child at the foundling hospital. He gives up his title to the land at Panovo and arranges for the peasants to have communal holdings in it, an act that brings him great joy.
Nekhludoff then goes to St. Petersburg. His chief reason is to appeal Katusha’s case to the senate and to try to secure the release of Lydia Shoustova, an innocent prisoner who is Vera Doukhova’s friend. In St. Petersburg, he moves within the aristocratic circle of his aunt, Katerina Ivanovna Tcharsky, who claims to be interested in evangelism but who has no pity for the unfortunate of the world. Nekhludoff sees various prominent people. The next day he learns that Lydia Shoustova has been released.
Katusha’s case is put before the senate. Because one of the senators considers himself to be a Darwinian and thinks that Nekhludoff’s morality in the case is disgusting, the girl’s sentence is upheld. On the same day, Nekhludoff meets an old friend, Selenin, who is now a public prosecutor. He is an intelligent, honest man, but he had been drawn into the tangled web of “correct” society and its standards. Nekhludoff begins to see the same principle at work in all official circles: to condemn some who might be innocent to be assured of catching the truly guilty.
Back in Moscow, Nekhludoff visits Katusha to persuade her to sign a petition to the emperor. During his visit, he feels love taking hold of him once more. Katusha also loves Nekhludoff, but she feels that marriage to a woman like herself would be bad for him. While Nekhludoff is preparing for his journey to Siberia with Katusha, he begins to study and to think about the nature of criminal law. Although he begins to read much on the subject, he cannot find the answer to his desire to know by what right some people punish others. He also begins to feel that the only reasonable kinds of punishment are corporal and capital, which are both unfortunate and effective, whereas imprisonment is simply unfortunate.
On the long march to Siberia, Nekhludoff follows the prisoners and sees Katusha whenever possible. He also sees the horrible conditions of the exiles. Nekhludoff begins to feel a new love for Katusha, a love that includes tenderness and pity. He also learns to understand the point of view of the revolutionists, for Katusha had been allowed to travel with the political prisoners. One of these, Valdemar Simonson, falls in love with Katusha. He tells Nekhludoff that he wishes to marry Katusha but that she wants Nekhludoff to decide for her. Nekhludoff says that he would be pleased to know that Katusha is well cared for. When she learns of his answer, Katusha refuses to speak to Nekhludoff.
At a remote town in Eastern Siberia, Nekhludoff collects his mail and learns that Katusha’s sentence to hard labor has been commuted to exile in a less remote region of Siberia. When he leaves to tell Katusha the news, he realizes how much he wants to have a family. Katusha says that she prefers to stay with Simonson; however, she refuses to say that she loves him. She tells Nekhludoff that he will have to live his own life.
Nekhludoff feels he is not needed any longer and that his affair with Katusha has ended. He sees that evil exists because those who try to correct it are themselves evil and that society has persevered, not because of systems of punishments, but because of human pity and love. He then realizes that the Sermon on the Mount could indeed be a practical law, and that night he begins his new life.