Great Short Works

ISBN: 0060586974
ISBN 13: 9780060586973
By: Leo Tolstoy Aylmer Maude Louise Maude John Bayley

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Classics Currently Reading Fiction Literature Russia Russian Russian Lit Russian Literature Short Stories To Read

About this book

Of all Russian writers Leo Tolstoy is probably the best known to the Western world, largely because of War and Peace, his epic in prose, and Anna Karenina, one of the most splendid novels in any language. But during his long lifetime Tolstoy also wrote enough shorter works to fill many volumes. Here reprinted in one volume are his eight finest short novels, together with "Alyosha the Pot", the little tale that Prince Mirsky described as "a masterpiece of rare perfection."The Death of Ivan IlychThe CossacksFamily HappinessThe DevilThe Kreutzer SonataMaster and ManFather SergiusHaji MuradAlyosha the Pot

Reader's Thoughts


Leo Tolstoy is known as one of the greatest novelists of all time and though this book isn't a novel it certainly shows how good a writer he is. Almost every story has a message and it ideas very hard if not impossible to disagree with the views of Tolstoy.


He is an amazing writer. His short works are perfect introduction to his minds and to beginners alike. I definitely recommends Leo Tolstoy beginners to read his short works first before moving on to his major novels like Anna Karenina or War And Peace in order to get used to his style of writing.I enjoyed this purchase very much.


I'm not sure how to review a collection of stories. Am I commenting on the stories themselves, or on the editors' choices -- which stories they included, the value of the Introduction, and other such choices? So I've mixed all such considerations together and pulled four stars out of my furry ushanka hat. One factor that diminished my rating is simply the poor quality of the print in this particular book. The ink is thick and blobby on many of the rather flimsy pages. I shouldn't have been so cheap in purchasing Tolstoy's great short works -- I will want to own these works for my lifetime, and I'm sure you will too, so don't skimp like I did. On the other hand, perhaps it is more fitting to not get the deluxe edition of Tolstoy's great short works. Surely Hadji Murad did not spend his rubles on fancily bound books. It was nothing in Ivan Illyich's library that redeemed him in his last minutes. And likewise, both "Master" and "Man" were able to act out of truth not because of a treasured book they'd owned but because of...divine inspiration? Sudden insight into their own and others' true nature? An abrupt shifting of perspective away from small self to vastness? However one wishes to phrase it, these heroes of Tolstoy's great short works didn't do their pivotal acts out of intellectual understanding; more importantly, they didn't do them out of habit; and most importantly, Tolstoy somehow actually isn't moralizing about all this, at all. -- Or, if he is, he somehow gets away with it, without alienating moralizing-phobic readers like myself. Perhaps its a sign of our degenerate times that we would even need such stories as these to contemplate, in order to be closer to truth. But we do -- there is so much nontruth pulling at us, screaming for our attention, pleading with us to accept and repeat its litanies. We certainly don't need to develop peasant-envy, but we do need to let ourselves get as close as we can stand to be to what is certain and what is fresh about being alive. It's evident that Tolstoy longed to be as close as he could be to life, and that he must have contemplated the essential truths of life (that we keep going for pleasure and trying to avoid pain, that we get sick, that we die) consistently for many years, all the while not missing out on any of the details that make those truths flesh and blood. So to read his stories (especially the three I referenced above -- there are a couple stories in this collection that I can't rave about) is to sort of have someone do the work for you -- he lays bare the condensed fruit of his contemplations (now that's a weird mixed metaphor, but I can't think of how other to say it). We just sit in bed or wherever and read his work, which seems very second-hand -- but actually, reading these stories isn't painless. Ivan Illyich is not for hypochondriacs! Master and Man is not for the judgmental, and Hadji Murad is not for sissies. So gather your courage, open your mind, do spend money on a nice copy, and read your Tolstoy!

Natalie Bird

This is a fantastic collection both if you've never read Tolstoy, or if you're a seasoned fan. The Kreutzer Sonata is by far my favorite, though the Death of Ivan Ilych and Family Happiness are not far behind. Tolstoy always manages to write in a manner that makes you surprised this was the 1800's and not yesterday. However, as others have mentioned, this is akin to a "Greatest Hits" album, more than a cohesive collection of similar stories.


Do not buy this book. The Maude translation of Tolstoy's works is exceptionally bad. My rating is for the translation, not the merit of Tolstoy's stories. As best I can, let me rate them separately below:Family Happiness -- (*) -- I didn't care for this story because Tolstoy writes it from a female perspective, and he doesn't quite carry it off. This is an early work of his, an idealized portrait of how love and marriage might proceed.The Cossacks -- (***) -- A short work of about 120 pages asking whether someone from one culture can ever really "go native" in another. A little comic and sad, but with good natural descriptions and a study of the Cossack culture.The Death of Ivan Ilych -- (****) -- Tolstoy's best short work with an existentialist ring.The Devil -- (**) -- A man's sexual past catches up with him with a vengeance. This story was a little too short and thin for me.The Kreutzer Sonata -- (***) -- A well structured, controversial story using a frame narrative to describe of the failure of marriage in the 19th century, stemming from the terribly misplaced sexual attitudes of the time. The story traces out the disastrous consequences in the relations between one couple and really pulls readers in. Master and Man -- (***) -- A look at the relations between servants and those they serve.Father Sergius -- (***) -- A story of a nobleman's quest for authentic service to his fellow man. This story was much better than I expected.Hadji Murad -- (***) -- Tolstoy's best, a look at the life of Chechen warlord trying to go over to the Russians in a quest for vengeance. The story is one that will appeal to American readers for its wildness and bravado.Alyosha the Pot -- (**) -- Good story, but much too short.I bought this Perennial Classics collection because it had most of Tolstoy's best stories together between its covers. I advise others not to make the same mistake, and to read these stories in other books. Without belaboring the details, let me repeat that the translation is wretched. Again, do not buy this book.


This collection of short stories are the best. Highly recommend this gem.

Lb Song

The marvel of Tolstoy is his instinctive grasp of the desperate choices humans face in life.He has an uncanny skill in both portraying our ability to love and hate, as well as our motivations and fears. When reading his stories, I often feel myself completely succumbing to his world, as if I’ve known the characters my whole life. The deep emotional and intellectual resonance of his works stay with me long after I close the pages.Such a work is The Death of Ivan Ilych, a short story published in 1886.In it, the reader can see the roots of the moral questions that Tolstoy himself will wrestle with his whole life. The primary question being: what is a good life?For Ivan Ilych, he had answered this question by leading a life that was, “the most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible”. A dutiful Russian bureaucrat, his navigated life by relying on the good sense of society to decide what was proper. His chief pleasure came from a sense of his own power over inferiors, and secondary pleasures from playing bridge and indulging in bourgeoisie tastes at home.Yet throughout this innocent ascendance in social position, there were cracks that betrayed a denial of the truth underneath the life of “legality, correctitude, and propriety”. The truth at last manifested itself in the form of physical and psychological pain, plaguing him endlessly and making life more miserable than death. Faced with this curse and sensing death’s close presence, Ivan Ilych began to wonder, “What if my whole life had been wrong?”.Ilych looked backed at his life, and realized suddenly, “all that for which he had lived- and saw clearly that it was not real at all, but a terrible and huge deception which had hidden both life and death. This consciousness intensified his physical suffering tenfold.”The book ends without answering the question of what is the right life, and the only clue the reader is left with is the fresh and sunny image of Gerásim, a peasant in Ilych’s household. Gerásim alone sympathized with his master’s pain. Yet, his simple nature was unperturbed by the thought of death, and presumably his close relationship with nature allowed him to view it as a natural cycle.In Gerásim’s character, one can see Tolstoy’s admiration for the life-affirming powers of the countryside, which is echoed in Anna Karenina and other works.Tolstoy peeled back the layers of ordinary life to remonstrate against its lack of meaning, but because he was just as human as his characters, he could not show the path to a correct life. He leaves us with the image of Ivan Ilych screaming during his last days in anguish, encapsulating a hidden existential malaise that Tolstoy would struggle with his whole life.

Keith Miller

Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy (Perennial Classics) by Leo Tolstoy (2004)

Erin Hutson

I had this book for a class freshman year, and returned to it for a class this year. I was reaffirmed my love for Tolstoy. He's an absolute literary genius and a short story expert.


Comment:Hadji Murad, which was written towards the end of his life, is the greatest example of heroic epic since the death of Homer! Note that Tolstoy is writing this poem of heroism two decades after becoming a Christian pacifist. Indeed, this single story filled him with such unease that, in a conversation with Gorky (I believe), he referred to it as an 'indulgence'! Even the indulgences of this man will be exalted throughout the Ages!

James Violand

Great works containing The Cossacks, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and The Kreutzer Sonata.

Andrew Vidal

Simply, without a doubt, some of the very best works of literature of all time. Hadji Murad, especially, is a novella that is a miniature epic in itself that does not receive the attention it deserves. Read it, read it, read it!

Kris Newman

Below is a review I wrote for in 2003. I think it sums up my thoughts on Tolstoy quite nicely! - KrisTolstoy? Timeless!What Men Live ByBy Kris A. NewmanNovember 3, 2003In an age where we are inundated with information, sometimes it’s hard to remember what the nitty-gritty of Christianity is all about—is it found in worship? Is it found in Bible memorization? Is it found in hearing the best preacher? Isn’t there someone who can tell us the simple rules that men ought to live by?Actually, the simple lesson has been found. Count Leo Tolstoy wrote it many years ago in his novella and short story collection entitled What Men Live By and Other Tales.It begins with What Men Live By, where we find an angel named Michael, disobedient to the plan of God, has fallen to earth and relies upon the mercy of a simple peasant family. Michael is assigned three lessons to learn—what dwells in man, what is not given to man, and what men live by. Unwittingly, the peasants and their neighbors teach him the answers.Woven through this beautiful allegory of giving is a sense of common beauty. The beauty of family life and community breathe through every chapter. Tolstoy’s characters live simply, unburdened by the traps of possessions. They have one another. They have their work. They have God. What else could they need? They are not oblivious to the grand riches of the wealthy around them. Rather, they are satisfied with the richness of their relationships.The first lesson is learned when the peasant looks beyond his own discomfort to share his coat and clothes with Michael as he suffered by the wayside. The peasant’s wife, likewise, has pity on Michael. They feed him, clothe him, and give him work. Their kindness teaches Michael that love is what dwells in man.A year later, a verbose, obnoxious wealthy man demands that Michael make him a pair of boots from a specially tanned piece of hide. The rich man threatens that Michael will not be paid for the work unless the boots last for an entire year as if they were new. Michael, however, sees the death angel hovering near the rich man. He knows that God is about to take the man’s life. Carefully, he cuts and stitches the leather into a very fine pair of slippers. While the confused peasant is reprimanding Michael for wasting the gentleman’s materials, a messenger enters to tell them the gentleman perished before arriving home. They will need burial slippers instead. Thus, it was learned that it is not given to man to know what he needs. One must rely upon God for his needs to be met.Several years pass before the final lesson is learned. Through the telling of a sad story with a rich ending, we learn that men live by love for another.I John 4:20 tells us, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20). Tolstoy is clearly teaching this lesson in What Men Live By. This thought is exemplified by the last line of the story, “All men live not by the thought they spend on their own welfare, but because love exists in man.” When we learn to give, we discover a new depth in God and the relationship He has with us.Continuing on this theme, Tolstoy moves on to “Three Questions,” the story of a king who seeks to find the answers to these questions—“What is the most important thing to do? Who is the most important person? When is the most important time?” The answers are found when the king becomes actively engaged in helping others. The busier the king is about giving, the happier and safer his life becomes.“The Coffee House of Surat” explores thoughts of spiritual prejudice and misconception. A discussion of religiosity introduced by a bitter, deceived man causes a disruption in the coffee house. Finally, a student of Confucius quietly addresses the crowd. He likens God to the sun and man’s ideas of God to their ideas of the sun. He concludes that the more learned a man becomes about the subject of God, the more he realizes how big God is, how small man is; He points out that our relationship with God should draw us closer to one another and never cause us to become haughty.Finally, the Devil presents himself to a man who is overcome with greed in “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Driven to succeed, Pahom continues seeking after the elusive perfect piece of land. Finally, the title question is answered—six feet deep by six feet long. That’s all you have in the end.It is common knowledge that the great Russian author was a wealthy landowner. How, then, could he write about peasant life, and why would he choose peasant life as his recurring subject in this book? (After all, he did write War and Peace.)However, Tolstoy had a spiritual awakening of some sort in his later years. Realizing his need of people rather than riches, he denounced the money he made, freed his serfs, and worked among them as an equal. Thus, his teachings relating to Christianity flow from a forgiven heart.Although rife with historical intricacies, the substance of Tolstoy’s teaching is timeless. Likewise, the opium drink in the coffee house was a common thing in Tolstoy’s day and certainly not allowable today. However, coffee houses still brew conversations and discussions as meeting places for bright minds.Tolstoy is worth reading. Just don’t start with War and Peace. Start with his short story collections. You need go no© 2003, Kris Newman


I really enjoy Tolstoy's short works. Some are okay, and some are quite brilliant with deep, inspiring messages.


This book is an excellent introduction to works of Tolstoy for anyone who is interested in the author but unsure if reading his lengthy novels is a worthwhile investment or to those who have read the novels and just want to see what else there is to Tolstoy. Having read the novels and religious/political works of Tolstoy first, this collection provided an enjoyable continuation of many of the same themes in a different format. The editor's choice of the selected stories and quality of translation are beyond criticism. The only thing it could benefit from is translation of foreign (mainly french) language used in the notes.

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