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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

On one level, Resurrection is a love story about two characters from vastly different backgrounds, Prince Dmitri Ivanovitch Nekhludoff and Katerina Mikhaelovna Maslova (known as Katusha). More broadly, however, the novel offers Leo Tolstoy’s indictment of the inequities of the Tsarist Russian legal and judicial system and political structure. The title refers to the personal awakenings of both characters, as well as to the possibility of political change stimulated by ethical self-reflection.

The novel is primarily set during the period from Katusha’s trial for murder—in which Dmitri, her former lover, happens to serve as a juror—through her conviction, imprisonment, and exile to Siberia. The story extends back, however, into her teenage years—the brief time they were together—and the outcome of the relationship: her pregnancy, the death of their baby, and her descent into prostitution. As Dmitri learns of the events in her life after he had seduced and abandoned her, a radical change begins to take place in him. After she is convicted, he not only decides to help her but also falls in love with her.

Much of the novel is a sharp critique of the justice system, as Katusha is falsely convicted. Through the character of Dmitri, many of the system’s workings are revealed. After trying various mechanisms to get her released, which fail, he follows her to Siberia, where she has been exiled. The relative severity of conditions in different parts of Siberia is presented, along with the developments in their growing love. Tolstoy portrays the emotional conflicts they both experience, combined with the serious class differences, as reasons they cannot end up together. Dmitri’s love shifts toward wanting what is best for her, which is a relationship with a political radical, Valdemar Simonson; Katusha likewise sees that Dmitri cannot be matched with a former prostitute and convicted murderer.

Overall, while the author’s focus on their stories encourages readers’ personal involvement with the subject matter, the plot strains the reader’s credulity, and his tendency toward romanticism dulls the impact of the social critique. Dmitri, rather than Katusha, is the main protagonist, and contemporary readers are less likely than those of Tolstoy’s day to empathize with members of the Russian royalty or nobility.

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