These three stories were begun in the 1890s during the period when Tolstoy, tormented by questions of religion and morality, undertook literature almost as a guilty pleasure.
He nonetheless put his highest art into them and only twinges of dogma. Both Father Sergius and Master and Man are preoccupied with material desires—for the flesh in one instance and in the other for money—although the first story, involving a dashing young officer turned monk, also bears out Tolstoy's assertion that "the struggle with lust is . . . only a stage; the main struggle is with worldly fame". Hadji Murat stands apart in that Tolstoy lost all compulsion to moralize and, going back to the Caucasus where he spent most of his young manhood, gives us in a soldier-traitor one of his most memorable heroes. "Written in a language as spare and precise as that of Pushkin," commented Henri Troyat, "without digression, without a trace of self-indulgence, compact, nervous, virile, this novel gives proof that Tolstoy's artistry had reached perfection."
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