Exiles to the Family in Tolstoj’s Resurrection

Anne Hruska, University of California, Berkeley

In my paper, I begin by examining the role that exclusion plays in Tolstoj’s portraits of the family. I argue that Tolstoj, from his early writings through Resurrection, was deeply concerned with identifying the borders of the family. For much of his life, he felt that the family could survive only by excluding outsiders. Obviously, this means that one must avoid extra-marital affairs, which allow encroaching outsiders into the hallowed domestic realm—but the implications extend beyond simple adultery. Successful families in Tolstoj’s works tend to have hanger-on figures who, through no apparent fault of their own, must live on the outskirts of the family. In this paper, I intend to concentrate on two figures whom Tolstoj saw as archetypal outsiders: the sexless single woman and the prostitute.

Tolstoj was certainly not alone among his contemporaries in seeing similarities between the apparently chaste “old maid” and the prostitute; he was also not alone in feeling that both such figures were necessary for the health of the family. His statements to such effect may shock us today, but they were in fact quite typical for a man of his class and time. What was far less typical in Tolstoj was his lifelong identification with outsiders of all kinds. It is this deep-seated sympathy that complicates his understanding of familial structure, leading him finally to reject the biological family, since it exists on the sufferings of those excluded.

I begin, therefore, by examining the images of single women, or “sterile flowers,” as Tolstoj sometimes calls them, and of prostitutes in War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and other works. I then detail the way in which these figures, formerly handled with, at best, distaste, are now, in the persons of Katjuša and Marija Pavlovna, important members of what Edwina Cruise has called the “universal family,” which, according to Tolstoj, needed to take the place of the narrow, selfish, biological family.

And yet, the supposedly all-inclusive family still has a figure who never quite belongs: this time, it is the aristocrat Nexljudov. While Katjuša, Marija Pavlovna, and others are able to translate God’s universal love into asexual love for individual people, Nexljudov, who tries to love universally, ends the novel in a frighteningly lonely position. He seems to have come to the truth that Prince Andrej recognizes while dying: that “to love everyone … means to love no one.” Nexljudov is not the first of Tolstoj’s aristocratic heroes to be uncertain of his own position within the family. But no other major hero is so thoroughly excluded, and with such apparent finality.