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The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

The Characters of Theophrastus


The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Hadji Murad

by Leo Tolstoy (graf)



"I Am writing to you specially to say how glad I have been to be your contemporary, and to express my last and sincere request. My friend, return to literary activity! That gift came to you from whence comes all the rest. . . . Great writer of our Russian land, listen to my wish!"

So wrote Turgenev on his deathbed to Tolstoy, when the latter, absorbed in religious struggles and studies, had for five years produced no work of art save one short story.

Nor was it long before the wish was realised, for three years later Tolstoy was writing "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch," and that tremendous drama, "The Power of Darkness"; and these were followed by a number of short stories, some plays, a long novel ("Kesurrection") and the works now posthumously published. Among these latter a foremost place belongs to "Hadji Murad," in which Tolstoy again tells i&f that Caucasian life which supplied him with the matter for some of his earliest tales as well as for his great story "The Cossacks," which Turgenev declared to be "the best story that has been written in our (Russian) language."

The Caucasus indeed offered a rich variety of material on which Tolstoy drew at every stage of his literary career. It was there that, at the age of twenty-three, he first saw war as a volunteer; there he served for two years as a cadet; and there finally he became an officer, before leaving to serve in the Crimean war— which in its turn gave him material for his sketches of "Sevastopol."

In his letters from the Caucasus he often complained of the dulness and emptiness of his life there; yet it certainly attracted him for a while, and was not devoid of stirring and curious incidents.

The most extraordinary of these relates to a gambling debt he incurred and was unable to pay. Having given notes-of-hand, he was in despair when the date of payment approached without his having been able to procure the money needed, and he prayed earnestly to God "to get me out of this disagreeable scrape." The very next morning he received a letter enclosing his notes-of-hand, which were returned to him as a free gift by a young Chechen named Sado, who had become his kundk (devoted friend) and had won them back at cards from the officer who won them from Tolstoy.

It was in company with that same Sado that Tolstoy, when passing from one fort to another, was chased by the enemy and nearly captured.

His life was in imminent danger on another occasion, when a shell, fired by the enemy, smashed the carriage of a cannon he was pointing; but once again he escaped unhurt.

It was during his first year in the Caucasus that Tolstoy began writing for publication. "The Eaid," describing the kind of warfare he was witnessing there, was the second of his stories to appear in print. A little later he wrote two other tales dealing with the same subject: "The "Wood-Felling," and "Meeting a Moscow Acquaintance in the Detachment."

Feeling that he had not exhausted the material at his disposal, he then planned "The Cossacks: a Caucasian Story of 1852," which he kept on hand unfinished for nearly ten years, and might not have published even then had he not happened to lose some money at Chinese billiards to a stranger he met at the club in Moscow. To pay this debt, he sold "The Cossacks" for Rs. 1,000 (about £150 in those days) to Katkov, the well-known publicist and publisher, with whom he subsequently quarrelled. The circumstances under which he had parted with "The Cossacks" were so unpleasant to Tolstoy that he never completed the story.

Ten years later, when he had set his heart on producing an attractive reading-book for children, he wrote the charming little story "A Prisoner in the Caucasus" (one of the gems in "Twenty-three Tales"), founded on the abovementioned incident of his own narrow escape from capture; and finally, after another thirty years had passed, he drew upon his Caucasian recollections for the last time when he composed "Hadji Murad."

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