This story, which Tolstoi wrote in the rough about the year 1894, was completed and published in 1899. After that he introduced corrections, and it appeared in 1902 in its final form. He has declared that 0ne of the chief aims which he had in mind in writing the book, was to express his abhorrence of lust. The money that he received from it he gave to assist the migration of the Doukhobors from the Caucasus to Canada. The story was dramatized in English in 1905 and presented in England and the United States.
ONE balmy morning at the end of April three prisoners were taken to the court in Moscow to be tried. One woman, as the chief prisoner, was conducted alone. She was about eight-and- twenty years of age, small, with curly black hair, sparkling black eyes, one of which squinted, and a full bust; and possessed a sort of attraction that made every man who saw her take a second look, or pay her some marked attention. Her story was a common one. She was the child of an unmarried village woman and a gipsy tramp, and was born in a cow-shed. One of the maiden ladies who owned the dairy farm took a fancy to the baby, and offered to be its godmother and to help the mother. Thus this child lived, instead of dying like the five that had gone before.
When the little girl was three years old her mother died, and the two ladies took her into their house and brought her up, so that she turned out half servant, half young lady. When she was sixteen, young Prince Nehludoff, then a university student, came to visit his aunts, and Katusha fell in love with him. Two years later, the Prince spent four days with his aunts, on his way to join his regiment, seduced Katusha on the last night of his stay, and went away, after giving her one hundred rubles. When she found that she was to become a mother she grew negligent in her work and rude to the ladies; then asked forgiveness, but begged them to let her Ieave. She filled two or three situations, leaving them because the men of the house persecuted her. Then her baby was born, and it died immediately after being taken to the foundling hospital.
After several fruitless attempts to find safe employment, Katusha met at the registry office a much-bedecked woman who invited her to her house. After some experiences, this ended in her becoming a regular inmate of a notorious house kept by Carolina Kitaeva. In this manner she lived for six years, then that happened for which she was now put on trial.
About the same time that Katusha entered Kitaeva’s establishment, Prince Dmitry Ivanitch Nehludoff left the army, being convinced that he had a talent for art, which proved to be a mistake; and when he was summoned to serve on the jury to try Katusha, he was pondering whether he should or should not marry Princess Mary Kortchagin. Everybody expected it, the match was unimpeachable; but the Prince could not make up his mind that the comforts of a home, children, the possibility of leading a moral life, would offset the loss of his freedom.
Katusha, who was known by her mother’s surname of Maslova, was accused of murder. A merchant from Siberia had died in one of the hotels, and the local police doctor having certified that the death was due to rupture of the heart, caused by the excessive use of alcohol, the body had been buried. Three days later the dead man’s fellow-townsman and companion had returned from Petersburg, and had declared to the authorities that the death was suspicious, and not due to natural causes; but that he had been poisoned by Katusha, Simon Kartinkin, and Euphemia Botchkova (the last two being employés of the hotel), who had stolen some money and a diamond ring, which the dead man had had in his possession, but had not been found. Katusha maintained that she had been sent by the merchant to his lodgings for money, had unlocked the trunk, taken out forty rubles, as the man had ordered her to do, no more, and relocked it, in the presence of Kartinkin and Botchkova; that he had given her the ring (which she had afterward sold to Botchkova), and that she had given him the powder (supplied by Kartinkin) in a glass of brandy, supposing it to be an opiate, not poison, as the examination proved it to have been.
While Katusha was giving her testimony, Prince Nehludoff recognized her, and a fierce and complex struggle began in his soul. This strange coincidence brought everything back to his memory, and demanded from him the acknowledgment of the heartless, cruel cowardice that had :made it possible for him to live those ten years with such a sin on his conscience. When Maslova (Katusha) was told that she might speak in her own defense, she said nothing, but broke out sobbing; and the Prince found himself on the point of sobbing also.
In summing up the case for the jury, the President of the court forgot to tell them that their verdict might be “Yes, guilty, but without intent to take life.” Consequently, when they had become thoroughly fatigued and confused by their long discussion of the case, they only included “without intent to rob,” so that, apparently, Maslova had poisoned the man without any reason. The President whispered to the two other members of the court that this absurd verdict meant penal servitude in Siberia, and the woman was innocent. One of the judges re-fused to allow it to be corrected, because the newspapers accused the juries of acquitting prisoners. So Maslova was condemned to be deprived of all property rights and sent to penal servitude in Siberia for four years, Kartinkin being similarly condemned for eight years, and Botchkova to be imprisoned for three years.
Nehludoff was stunned. He had longed, in the jury-room, to express his opinion that Maslova was innocent, but had feared to do so lest his relations with her should be discovered. He did not need Maslova’s cry protesting her innocence to convince him of it. As soon as the court adjourned he spoke on the matter to the President, who advised him to speak to the lawyers and find a reason for an appeal. Before he left the building he entrusted the case to a famous lawyer. Then he went to the Kortchagins’, where he was expected to dinner. He went in order to distract his thoughts; but everything about the house and the people, elegant as they were, was repulsive to him. He felt, with his whole being, that he could not marry Princess Mary, though he knew she expected it from his recent assiduous attentions. How could he atone for his sin against Katusha? He could not abandon a woman whom he had truly loved, and satisfy himself by paying money to a lawyer to save her from hard labor in Siberia. He frankly confessed to himself that he was a knave and a scoundrel, and he realized that the aversion he had lately (particularly that day) felt for everybody was aversion for himself. He resolved, at any cost, to break the tie that bound him, to see Katusha, beg her forgiveness, and marry her, if necessary.
Maslova could not realize that she was a convict condemned to hard labor, though her rough companions in the prison plainly alluded to it. Kitaeva sent her three rubles, and she treated the woman prisoners to liquor; for she had long since taken to drink herself, and was always ready to share all she had with others. Nehludoff, who had told his housekeeper about the trial and Katusha (the housekeeper had known her at his aunts’) the next morning, and had announced to her that he should no longer need her services or the house, frankly stated the case to the Procureur during an adjournment of the court, and asked permission to see the woman in prison. He had seduced her, and brought her to her present position, he said; she was what he had helped to make her. He wished to follow her and marry her. He also refused to serve longer on the jury, in view of the way matters were conducted. He got the necessary permit, but did not manage to find her that day. Nevertheless, he wrote in his diary that his resolution had set his soul at peace. On Sunday he got his interview.
Katusha had not recognized him in court; she never recalled to mind her youth and her love for him; it would have been too painful, and she never thought of him now. He told her that he wished to redeem his sin, he asked her forgiveness; he told her that he knew she was innocent, and that he had already spoken to an advocate. She merely asked him for ten rubles; and he felt that he could do nothing with her, she was dead. But he persisted, and promised to come again. He had thought that when she knew of his intention to serve her, she would be pleased and touched, and would be Katusha again. To his astonishment and horror, he found that Katusha, the innocent, loving girl, no longer existed, and that in her place was Maslova, the hardened evil-doer.
The lawyer told Nehludoff that there was no valid reason for an appeal. They might try to get the case quashed in the Senate, and, that failing, might appeal directly to the Emperor, all which involved some maneuvering behind the scenes. When he took the petition to the prison, for Maslova to sign, Nehludoff was allowed to speak with her in the office. That day he asked her to marry him, but she positively refused him.
“I feel that it is my duty before God to do it,” he said.
What God have you found now? she retorted. “You ought to have remembered God then. You go away. I am a convict; you are a prince. You wish to save yourself through me. You’ve got pleasure out of me in this life, and wish to save yourself through me in the life to come. You are disgusting to me. Go! It will never be. I’d rather hang myself. I don’t want anything from you. That’s the plain truth.” She added, “Oh, why did I not die then!” and began to cry.
He insisted that he meant still to go on serving her, and al-most wept, which surprised her greatly. And he promised to come again the next day, if possible.
Nehludoff knew that she had been drinking, and made allowance. He bade her think the matter over. When she reached her prison, she lay down on the plank bedstead, with her eyes fixed on a corner of the room, and lay there until evening. A painful struggle was in progress in her soul. Nehludoff’s words had brought back to her memory that world in which she had suffered, and which she had left without under-standing it, but hating it bitterly. She had now been awakened from the trance in which she had been living, but to live with a clear memory of what had been was impossible; it would have been too great torment. So, in the evening, she again bought some of the vodka (strictly prohibited, but always smuggled into the prison, and readily obtainable), and drank with her companions.
Meanwhile, Nehludoff on his way out was handed a note from a political prisoner, Vera Douhova, a medical assistant, whom he had helped to complete her studies, years before, and who now asked him to call on her in prison. He obtained the necessary permit, and though he did not see Maslova on that visit (she was drunk and violent), he interviewed some persons whom she had recommended to him as innocent, though they were accused of arson, and got numerous views of prison life and treatment. Douhova did not appeal to Nehludoff for herself, but for a girl friend named Shoustova, who did not belong to the revolutionary party, but had been arrested five months previously, and imprisoned in the Petropavlovsk fortress for having in her possession some prohibited books and papers which she was keeping for other people. She asked his inter-cession, also, for another person: and she advised him to get Maslova removed either into the political prisoners’ ward, or into the hospital, to help nurse the many sick people.
Nehludoff entrusted these matters to his lawyer, and succeeded in righting the wrongs of one hundred and thirty peas-ants, who had been detained for months in prison because their passports were overdue. When he next saw Maslova she was quiet and timid, but as obstinate as before in her refusal to marry him. This time, on returning to her prison room, she was thoughtful, and refused to drink liquor with the others. Nehludoff said to himself, as he went away, that she was quite a different being; and after all his former doubts, he now felt something he never before had experiencedthe certainty that love is invincible.
Another resolution which Nehludoff had reached was, to give his land to the peasants. On one estate he managed to arrange a more even distribution of matters, although this seriously reduced his income. On the estate of his late aunts, now his, where he had known Katusha, he found her aunt, and learned that his child really had died. He also saw much suffering for the lack of sufficient land, and from other causes, which it was not easy to remedy. The peasants were distrustful of his most disinterested offers. On his return to Moscow he was so utterly out of sympathy with his former life that he hired two small, not over-clean rooms, in a lodging-house near the prison, and left his housekeeper to put things away and care for his big house until his sister should come and take possession of it. Soon, as his lawyer expressed it, he “turned into a spout through which all the complaints of the prison were poured.” But there seemed to him now no other interest in life equal to this. He found Maslova had been transferred to the hospital ward. She still persistently refused him, but her face shone with joy, contradicting her words; and Nehludoff wondered whether she were putting him to the test. When he was gone she thought over the past, and all her old bitterness against him awoke again.
The next day Nehludoff went to Petersburg, where he had three matters, in addition to Maslova’s case, to attend to. To accomplish his just ends in these cases, he resorted to his influential relatives and friends, in a degree, but felt no longer at home in their society. The Senate refused to repeal Maslova’s sentence (legal cause was lacking) ; but he succeeded in securing the release of Shoustova, On his return to Moscow he went to the prison, and found that Maslova had been sent from the hospital to the prison again, “for coquetting with the medical assistant.” He had had a joyful idea of the change that, as he imagined, was going on in her soul, and he was keenly pained. Nevertheless, he hunted her up, to sign the petition to the Emperor, which was their last resource, He looked cold and hard; seeing which, she blushed and cast down her eyes, which seemed to him confirmation of the accusation against her, and he would not offer her his hand, as heretofore, He even repelled her when she began to allude to the hospital matter; so she let him go without telling him that the medical assistant had been pursuing her, and she had done nothing wrong. The head doctor had happened to enter just as Maslova, filled with the aspirations toward a new life with which Nehludoff had inspired her, had flung the persecuting assistant from her, and he had crashed into some glassware. The doctor, knowing her history, had put his own construction upon the half-seen episode. She still tried to persuade herself that she had not forgiven Nehludoff; but in reality she loved him againloved him so that she involuntarily did all he wished her to do, left off smoking, coquetry, drinking, and had entered the hospital because she knew he wished it. That he was perhaps still thinking that she had done wrong there, tormented her more than the news that her sentence was confirmed.
The gang of convicts among whom was Maslova was to set out on July 5th, and Nehludoff arranged to go on the same day. The day before, his sister and her husband came to town to see him. His sister, Natasha, was much interested in his proposed marriage and in his giving away his land to his peasants, of both which matters everyone was talking. Her husband had begun seriously to think of putting Nehludoff under legal guardianship, and demanded that his wife should speak seriously to him about his strange intentions. Natasha secretly admired her beloved brother for the resoluteness he displayed about the marriage, while she was horrified at his wishing to marry so dreadful a woman. The discussion, especially as to the property and the justice of the law, left her husband (who was a judge) much offended.
The gang of convicts was to leave Moscow at three P.m. Nehludoff meant to set out on a train two hours later, and to be at the prison to see them off. The weather was unbearably hot. The prisoners had been on foot since four A.M., as there were nearly seven hundred of them to be counted, inspected, and properly delivered to the officials. Nehludoff was not certain that he caught sight of Maslova in the procession; but when the last of the baggage-carts had passed him, he drove off to overtake them, to see whether he recognized any of the men, and to find Maslova and ask her whether she had received the things he had sent. The sergeant requested him not to speak to her until they should reach the railway station. To occupy the time he went into an eating-house, and having made a vain effort to write a letter to his sister, he got into his carriage again. Presently, he found a convict collapsed with sunstroke, and allowed them to take his cab to transport the man to the station-house. The man died, as did four others from the same cause. At the train, Maslova thanked Nehludoff, with a glad smile, for the things he had sent, and he tried to be helpful to the convicts in the train, but without much success. While he was waiting in the station for his own train, his sister arrived. This was some comfort, as they had always been devotedly attached to each other; but the way in which her face lighted up when he told her that one estate would go to her children, in case of his death, as he had not given it to the peasants, made him sad; because he saw that she was no longer the sister he had loved. Her view of life, which until lately had been his also, was utterly selfish.
He traveled third class, with the husband of one of Maslova’s prison friends, who was going into voluntary exile to be with his wife. The wife had tried to kill him when, at the age of sixteen, he had married her; but had afterward come to love him greatly when she had been released from prison on parole, for the needs of the short-handed household in harvest-time. The car was very hot and uncomfortable, but he was interested in talking to the passengers. Not until the convicts reached Perm did he succeed in getting permission for Maslova to travel with the political prisoners. This rendered her position much more bearable in every way.
Among this party was Simonson, a dark-haired young fellow, on his way to exile in the Yakoutsk district. The acquaintance with him, and with several of the others, exercised a decided and most beneficial influence on Maslova’s character. In spite of hard conditions, life among them seemed very good to her, after the six years of depraved, luxurious life she had led in town, and the several months’ imprisonment. Simonson loved Maslova platonically at first. He had been a village schoolmaster, after rejecting aid from his father in the government service, on principle, and had first been arrested for things he taught the peasants. Afterward, in exile in Archangel Government, he had formulated a religious teaching, which had at its basis the conviction that it is wrong to destroy life., Through his disinterested love for Maslova (he was an advocate of celibacy), he had influence over her, because he loved her just as she was.
On the two occasions when Nehludoff managed to see her before they left Perm, she answered his questions as to her wants and comfort evasively and bashfully. His feeling for her gradually changed to one of pity and tenderness (he had discovered the wrong done her about the hospital affair). Altogether his feelings were so stimulated during the journey that he could not help being attentive and considerate to everyone, from the convoy soldiers to the prison-inspectors and governors. He came to change his opinion of the political prisoners in general, and grew attached to some of them. Finally, at one of the halting-places, Simonson asked an interview of Nehludoff, and said to him frankly that, knowing his relations to Maslova, he felt him-self bound to explain his own. He wished to marry her. She would not come to any decision without Nehludoffthat is, until Nehludoff would acknowledge that he thought as she did about the proposed marriage. Nehludoff, while insisting that he felt himself bound, but that she was free, admitted that he would consider it good for her to marry Simonson. All that Maslova would say, when Nehludoff spoke with her, was:
“What sort of wife can I beI, a convict? Why should I ruin Vladimir Simonson too? Let me alone. There is nothing more to be said.”
When they reached the town where the Governor of the District resided, Nehludoff donned town attire and made his call. He had been promised that the news concerning Maslova’s fate, in reply to her petition to the Emperor, should be sent to him that month, at that place. He asked that she might be allowed to remain there until the reply should arrive. The Governor promised an answer that afternoon, and Nehludoff left him to go to the post-office. There he found a letter from an influential Petersburg friend, enclosing a copy of the order commuting Maslova’s sentence to exile in the less distant parts of Siberia. The original had been sent to the place where she was imprisoned before her trial, and would, probably, be forwarded thence promptly to the principal government office in Siberia. The Governor scorned this copied document, and merely permitted Nehludoff to inform Maslova that a mitigation of sentence had arrived for her. He said she would be notified and released as soon as he received the direct order. When he went to the prison to tell her, he found she already knew it from the jailer; and she said :
“Where Vladimir Simonson goes, there I shall follow.”
Whether she loved the man, she would not say; and Nehludoff concluded that she either did not require the sacrifice he was making, or that she still loved him, and was refusing him for his own sake, and putting an end to the matter by marrying Simonson.
“What a good woman you are,” he said.
“I, good?” she said, through her tears; and a pathetic smile lighted up her face.
Thus they parted; and Nehludoff knew, by the strange look of her squinting eyes, and the smile with which she said not “Good-by,” but “Forgive me,” that of the two reasons that might have led to her resolution, the second was the real oneshe loved him, and thought that by uniting herself to him she would be spoiling his life. She thought that by going with Simonson she would be setting Nehludoff free, and she felt glad that she had done what she meant to do, and yet she suffered at parting from him.
Nehludoff felt that he was not wanted, and this made him sad and ashamed. But his other affairs troubled him more than ever, and insistently demanded his activity. He could see no possibility of conquering all the horrible evil that he had beheld and learned to know in those awful prisons. But after a while he found the answer, through reading the Gospels: Each man must reform himself, and forgive others an infinite number of times; because, since all are guilty, there are none who have a right to punish or reform. The plain confirmation of his thought he found, in particular, in the five laws that are contained in the Sermon on the Mount.
A thoroughly new life dawned for Nehludoff that night; because everything he did after that night had a new meaning for him.