Cover image for Divine and human and other stories
Divine and human and other stories
Tolstoy, Leo, graf, 1828-1910.
Uniform Title:
Short stories. Selections. English
Publication Information:
Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Physical Description:
211 pages ; 23 cm
Son of a thief -- Repentant sinner -- Archangel Gabriel -- Prayer -- Poor people -- Coffeehouse in the city of Surat -- Kornei Vasiliev -- Grain of rye the size of a chicken egg -- Berries -- Stones -- Big Dipper -- Power of childhood -- Why did it happen? -- Divine and human -- Requirements of love -- Sisters.
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Divine and Human stands apart as both a landmark in literary history and master-piece of spiritual and ethical reflection. Suppressed in turn by the tzarist and Soviet regime, the tales contained in this book have, for the most part, never been published in English until now. Emerging at last, they offer western readers fresh glimpses of novelist and philosopher Leo Tolstoy. Divine and Human consists of choice selections from The Sunday Reading Stories, the second volume in a two-part work titled The Circle of Reading. In the words of translator Peter Sekirin, "Tolstoy considered The Circle of Reading to be the major work of his life. Considering its difficult history, it is not surprising that only recently has it been rediscovered." From its sparkling vignettes to its lengthier stories, Divine and Human probes the complexities of life and faith. Its characters range the spectrum of human emotions and qualities, from hatred to love and joy to grief; from sublime nobility to grotesque self-absorption. Tolstoy's world, though far-removed from today's information age, becomes our world -- indeed, has always been and always will be our world. Motor cars may have replaced horse-drawn cars, but human hearts remain the same, and questions of truth, mercy, forgiveness, devotion, justice, and the nature of God knock as insistently on the doors of our lives today as they did in Tolstoy's time. Welcome, then, to Divine and Human: a buried treasure at last unearthed, and certain to be prized by Tolstoy readers and lovers of great literature.

Author Notes

Tolstoy's life was defined by moral and artistic seeking and by conflict with himself and his surroundings. Of the old nobility, he began by living the usual, dissipated life of a man of his class; however, his inner compulsion for moral self-justification led him in a different direction. In 1851 he became a soldier in the Caucasus and began to publish even while stationed there (Childhood [1852] and other works). Even more significant were his experiences during the Crimean War: the siege of Sevastopol provided the background for his sketches of human behavior in battle in the Sevastopol Stories (1855--56). After the war, Tolstoy mixed for a time with St. Petersburg literary society, traveled extensively abroad, and married Sophia Bers. The couple were happy for a long time, with Countess Tolstoy participating actively in her husband's literary and other endeavors. The center of Tolstoy's life became family, which he celebrated in the final section of War and Peace (1869). In this great novel, he unfolded the stories of several families in Russia during the Napoleonic period and explored the nature of historical causation and of freedom and necessity. A different note emerged in Anna Karenina (1876). Here, too, Tolstoy focused on families but this time emphasized an individual's conflict with society's norms. A period of inner crisis, depression, and thoughts of suicide culminated in Tolstoy's 1879 conversion to a rationalistic form of Christianity in which moral behavior was supremely important. Confession (1882) describes this profound transition. Tolstoy now began to proselytize his new-found faith through fiction, essays, and personal contacts. Between 1880 and 1883, he wrote three major works on religion. A supreme polemicist, he participated in debates on a large number of political and social issues, generally at odds with the government. His advocacy of nonresistance to evil attracted many followers and later had a profound influence on Mahatma Gandhi and, through him, Martin Luther King, Jr. (see Vol. 4). Tolstoy's stature as a writer and public figure was enormous both within Russia and abroad, greater than that of any other Russian writer. When the Orthodox Church excommunicated him in 1901, a cartoon depicted him as disproportionately larger than his ecclesiastical judges. Tolstoy's final years were filled with inner torment: Living as he did on a luxurious estate, he felt himself to be a betrayer of his own teachings. He also suffered from disputes with his wife over the disposition of his property, which she wished to safeguard for their children. In 1910, desperately unhappy, the aged writer left his home at Yasnaya Polyana. He did not get far; he caught pneumonia and died of heart failure at a railway station, an event that was headline news throughout the world. In the course of Tolstoy's career, his art evolved significantly, but it possessed a certain underlying unity. From the beginning, he concentrated on the inner life of human beings, though the manner of his analysis changed. The body of his writing is enormous, encompassing both fiction and a vast amount of theoretical and polemical material. Besides his three great novels---War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Resurrection (1899)---he wrote many superb shorter works. Among these, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) stands out as a literary masterpiece and fine philosophical text, while the short novel Hadji Murat (1904), set in the Caucasus and Russia during the reign of Nicholas I, is a gem of narration and plot construction. Tolstoy has been translated extensively. The Louise and Aylmer Maude and Constance Garnett translations are institutions (for many works, the only versions available) and are used by different publishers, sometimes in modernized versions. New translations by Rosemary Edmonds, David Magarshack, and Ann Dunigan are also justifiably popular. (Bowker Author Biography) Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana in the Tula province. He married in 1862 & was the father of 13 children. Tolstoy managed the estate of Yasnaya Polyana & ran its peasant schools, while writing his great novels, "War & Peace" (1869) & "Anna Karenina" (1877). He died in 1910.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The overtly moral works of two past masters are brought back to life, extending our appreciation of their oeuvres and places in history. The reclamation of Alcott's lost works and attendant recognition of her status as a trailblazing writer and social critic has been one of the past decade's most noteworthy literary events. Her thrillers have been republished, and now 19 of her earliest stories, penned for popular magazines when she was in her twenties, have been similarly rescued. These tales reflect her fascination with the grotesque and the sensational as well as her remarkably modern feminism. In tales such as "The Lady and the Woman" and "Ruth's Secret," for instance, Alcott subverts the conventions of melodrama to portray strong, independent heroines who win love and transform lives, not with feminine wiles but by virtue of their intelligence, fortitude, generosity, and compassion. Translator Sekirin writes that on his deathbed Tolstoy asked for the Bible, Shakespeare's collected works, and his own The Circle of Reading, a two-volume work of spiritual edification. The first half, A Calendar of Wisdom (published in English in 1997), consists of daily inspirations. The second contains short stories, both retellings and his own originals, meant for Sunday readings. Translated here for the first time, Tolstoy's dramas of the abuse of privilege and the testing of faith, guilt, and redemption are told with his signature clarity and resonance. In "Kornei Vasiliev," a rich man assaults his wife and daughter in a jealous rage, condemning himself to a life of remorse. In the unforgettable title story, two imprisoned revolutionaries discover the truth about their beliefs. So powerful and unsparing are Tolstoy's tales and the spirituality they embody, they were censored by both the czarists and the Soviets. Their radiance remains undiminished. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Russian writer Leo, or Lev, Tolstoy wrote a number of unpretentious and straightforward stories with a plain Christian moral for primary school children. Sekirin, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, has translated 16 such tales. Some appear here in English for the first time, and some can be found in Tolstoy's Twenty-Three Tales, translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude (1975). Tolstoy did not originate all of these stories, though they did come from his pen: he often rewrote or adapted stories from such diverse writers as Victor Hugo, Nokolai Leskov, and Guy de Maupassant. All the tales, however, show the hand of the Master; Tolstoy is unsurpassed in making his point by letting the facts speak for themselves. Sekirin's translation reads more easily than the Maudes' volume and uses simpler grammar. Though the stories have literary value, they aim primarily at religious readers. Recommended for public and church libraries.DBert Beynen, Des Moines Area Comm. Coll. Lib., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Son of a Thief One day the city court convened for a jury trial. Among the members of the jury were peasants, noblemen, and salesmen. The foreman of the jury was a merchant, Ivan Akimovich Belov, respected and loved by everyone for his good life: he led his business honestly, never cheated anyone, and helped others. He was an old man, in his late sixties. The members of the jury came into the courtroom, took the oath, and took their places. The defendant was brought in, a horse-thief who had stolen a horse from a peasant. But as they started the court proceedings, Ivan Akimovich stood and said, "Excuse me, your honor, but I cannot be a member of the jury." The judge was surprised. "Why is this?" "I simply can't. Please let me go." And suddenly Ivan Akimovich's voice trembled, and he began to cry. He cried and cried, so hard that he couldn't even speak. When he regained control of himself, he said to the judge, "I can't be on this jury, your honor, because my father and I were perhaps worse than this thief. How could I judge someone guilty of the same kind of evil as I am? I can't do this. I ask you, please let me go." The judge let Ivan Akimovich go. That night, the judge invited Ivan Akimovich to his house and asked him a question: "Why did you refuse to be a juror?" "Here's why," said Ivan Akimovich, and told the following story: You think that I am a merchant's son and that I was born in your city. That's not true. I am a peasant's son. My father was a peasant, but he was also a thief, the best thief in the neighborhood, and he died in prison. He was a kind man, but he drank, and when he was drunk, he beat my mother, became violent, and was capable of all kinds of evil deeds, and then he would repent. One day he enticed me to steal, and on that day my happiness came to an end. My father was with other thieves in a pub, and they started to talk about where they could steal something. My father said, "Listen, fellows. You know the merchant Belov's storehouse that faces the street. There are lots of expensive goods in this storehouse. It is hard to get inside, but I have a plan. And here's my plan: There is a small window in the storehouse, high above the ground and too narrow for an adult to get inside. But here's what I think. I have a boy, and he is a very smart boy indeed," he said, about me. "We'll tie a rope around him and hoist him up to the window. Once he is inside, we'll lower him down to the storehouse floor. Then we'll give him another rope, and he'll tie the expensive goods from the storehouse onto it, and we will pull it down. And when we've taken as much as we can carry, then we'll pull him out, too." The thieves liked this idea and they said, "Well then, bring your son here." So my father came home and asked for me. My mother said, "What do you want him for?" "What difference does it make? I need him." My mother said, "He's outside." "Call him inside." My mother knew that when he was drunk she couldn't argue with him or he would beat her. She ran outside and called me into the house. My father asked me, "Vanka, are you good at climbing fences?" "Oh, yes, I can climb anywhere." "Then come with me." My mother tried to talk him out of it, but he threatened to hit her and she became quiet. My father put on my coat and off we went to the pub; they gave me tea with sugar and some snacks, and we sat until night came. When it was dark, all of us there were three men went out. We came to the merchant Belov's storehouse. Right away they tied a rope around me, gave me the other rope, and hoisted me up. "Aren't you afraid?" they asked me. "Why should I be afraid? I'm not afraid of anything." "Then get inside and get hold of the best thing you can find there. Find some furs, and tie them up with the rope you're holding. Make sure you tie the things to the middle of the rope, and not to the end, so that when we pull it out, your end of the rope will stay inside with you. Do you understand?" they asked. Of course I understood. How could I not understand such simple things? So they helped me up to the window, I climbed in, and they lowered me to the floor with the rope. As soon as I felt something solid under my feet, I began to feel around with my hands. It was so dark I couldn't see a thing. When I felt something furry, I fixed it to the rope not to the end but to the middle and they pulled it out. Then I pulled the rope back to me and tied more goods to it. When we had done this about three times, they pulled all the rope to themselves. This meant enough. Then they started to pull me back out the window, while I held the rope with my small hands. They had pulled me only about halfway when boom! the rope went slack, and I fell. It was good that I fell on cushions, and was not hurt. Afterwards, I found out what had happened: a guard saw my father and the other thieves, gave an alarm, and they let go of the rope and ran away with the stolen things, leaving me by myself. Lying alone in the darkness, I became terrified. "Mommy!" I cried. "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!" I was so tired from crying, fear, and lack of sleep that I don't remember how I finally drifted off to sleep on the cushions. Excerpted from Divine and Human: And Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy by Leo Tolstoy, Peter Sekirin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. 7
Translator's Prefacep. 9
Forewordp. 11
About the Storiesp. 19
1. The Son of a Thiefp. 21
2. The Repentant Sinnerp. 27
3. The Archangel Gabrielp. 33
4. The Prayerp. 37
5. The Poor Peoplep. 47
6. A Coffeehouse in the City of Suratp. 53
7. Kornei Vasilievp. 63
8. A Grain of Rye the Size of a Chicken Eggp. 85
9. The Berriesp. 91
10. Stonesp. 107
11. The Big Dipperp. 111
12. The Power of Childhoodp. 115
13. Why Did It Happen?p. 121
14. Divine and Humanp. 151
15. The Requirements of Lovep. 193
16. Sistersp. 201