I’ve had this one on the shelves for ages, and eventually it bubbled to the top of not one but two of my reading lists simultaneously. I have previously read both War And Peace and Anna Karenina, and I think the first thing to say is that Resurrection is an easier read – shorter, for a start, and with fewer characters who also appear to have fewer variations in their names. The thirty-something Prince Nekhlyudov, who is Tolstoy here as Levin is in Anna Karenina, is serving as juror in a murder trial when he recognises one of the defendants as the girl he seduced ten years before. She is wrongly convicted, and Nekhlyudov’s consciousness and conscience are suddenly activated with respect to the horrible injustices of the penal system and of Russian society as a whole. He follows her to Siberia in an attempt to compensate her.
The social commentary is biting and convincing, and the account of life with convicted criminals and revolutionaries pretty vivid, and likewise his commentary on elite attitudes and behaviour. It’s unfortunate that Nekhlyudov, the viewpoint character, is rather a bore. His decision to marry Katusha seems based much more on what will make him feel better about himself, rather than any attempt to discern what her needs may be. (She never seems very keen on the idea, even before she meets Simonsen.) One feels that, rather than try and write a character with a story, Tolstoy has put himself into the book as a commentator on society. I’m sure it caused quite a stir among his fans in the 1890s, but the ideas that prisons might be unpleasant places or the judicial system imperfect are hardly news to today’s reader. (Are they?) Nekhlyudov’s sudden discovery of these facts seems rather artificial.
Whatever its flaws, though, it’s prettuy digestible and might be a good jumping-off point for readers who haven’t otherwise tried Tolstoy.