Saturday, May 10, 2014

Religion in Tolstoy's Later Works

At the conclusion of Anna Karenina, we see Tolstoy, through Levin, advocating faith in God as the solution to existential quandaries about the meaning and value of life. In The Death of Ivan Ilych, not religion but a kind of revelatory deathbed vision gives Ivan a sense of peace after reflecting on the meaninglessness of his life. Similarly, in Master and Man, the focus is on compassion in general rather than in a religious sense (although perhaps Tolstoy would say that compassion is always religious, in a way). In The Kreutzer Sonata, on the other hand, Tolstoy evinces a very strong, almost didactic, level of religiosity, drawing the message of the story from the Christian gospels. In Hadji Murad, moreover, we see both positive and negative portrayals of Islam as a religion.

I'm curious as to how Tolstoy relates his ideas of compassion and living for others to religion, and as to the interplay between the two. I've also read that Tolstoy was very influenced by the philosophy of Schopenhauer later in his life, in particular by The World as Will and Representation; I'm wondering whether Tolstoy also read Schopenhauer's On the Basis of Morality, in which Schopenhauer attempts to ground morality in compassion. Also, how can we reconcile Tolstoy's apparent esteem for compassion and self-sacrifice with the rather harsh views expressed in The Kreutzer Sonata? While these views certainly seem to conflict with one another, it also seems that Tolstoy was too introspective and relentlessly self-critical to be able to stand being such an apparent hypocrite. Moreover, what is the role of religion in Hadji Murad? Is Hadji Murad being placed before us as a sort of ideal to strive for in terms of religiosity? Is Shamil an example of religious hypocrisy, or something else?

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