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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 12, Issue 2 (June 2014) : 311-329
Love Across Borders in Hadji Murad
Variations on a Cross-Cultural Motif in Tolstoy, Stendhal, and D. H. Lawrence
John Burt Foster
Rubric A: The Cultural Other
Rubric B: Russian Literature



Tolstoy’s concise, highly suggestive short novel Hadji Murad (posthumously published in 1912) emphasizes war but also includes two distinct depictions of erotic attachment across the Russian/Muslim border.

If Stendhal was a theorist of love before becoming a novelist, and if Lawrence’s love novels became increasingly expository, Tolstoy represents a third alternative: his best thinking about love takes place in narrative. As Isaiah Berlin noted in a different context, he was a Heraclitean fox, splendidly attentive to varied details, rather than a hedgehog expounding one big idea.

Hadji Murad’s first key set of scenes gives parallel accounts of Nicholas I’s and the imam Shamil’s love lives, which undermine sharp distinctions between Christian monogamy and Muslim polygamy. Another group of scenes shows the responses of Murad and the Russian army officer Butler to Marya Dmitrievna, the lower-class mistress of another officer. These scenes of erotic attraction explore potential disruptions in boundaries between cultures and classes alike only to drop the possibility when this war-torn novel ends in brutal tragedy.

Further comparison with Stendhal and Lawrence addresses Fabrizio and Clélia in The Charterhouse of Parma and love conflict in “The Princess.” In highlighting each novelist’s fascination with love across borders, these situations bring out Tolstoy’s relative restraint in an intertextual series where treatment of this motif led to operatic grand passion or intimacy gone horribly awry.


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