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


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.


The saving grace of the collection was "Family Happiness," this work captivated my mind. I had come across a few quotes from this which hurried me to Tolstoy's shorter works. The complex play of both "marriage" & "innocence" put forth by Tolstoy here make me jovial.


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.


Referring strictly to this particular edition: I speak only a lazy variation of the English language, so when I can tell that a translation is bad something is seriously wrong. I read only "Hadji Murad" and "The Cossacks". The stories themselves were strong enough to shine through, but the wording and syntax was so awkward that I just put the book down and decided to find better translations of the rest.


I love short stories. These were good, but not as good as I was hoping for after reading War and Peace. Tolstoy is so good at dedicating stories towards something of moral consequence and these short stories are no different. I can, however, only handle so many consecutive treatises on humanity and human nature if they aren't carefully concealed in a gripping plot. These, sad to say, really were not.

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.


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.

Blayze Hembree

i mostly enjoyed the read. there were a few things that concerned me about this text. first, like some reviewers have said, this collection was put together posthumously and in no way shows cohesion. it does in some way demonstrate a progression as these are tolstoy's popularized short fiction works in chronological order beginning with 'family happiness' in 1859 and ending with 'alyosha the pot' in 1905. the distance in time is all too obvious to notice while reading the stories through, and while some readers of this fine writer may enjoy encountering an evolution of style in prose, i found it most dissatisfying. second, 'hadji murad' and 'father sergius' both contain french dialogue, but neither story has endnotes with a clarified translation for readers who do not speak french. hadji murad's own language, tartar, is somewhat explained after the conclusion of the story, but i am almost lead to believe that was tolstoy's inclusion. third, the print is not so great, which can only be understood under close examination. fourth, one thing that caused me a little discomfort was the page after the bibliography, which is titled, "About the Author" and it says: "Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828. He died in 1910, having written some of the most timeless works in all of literature, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina". I can't think of how that two sentence addendum could have possibly glorified tolstoy. it wasted a page, that otherwise would have been better had it just been a blank white page added to the book, because let's face it, if you've read the short stories you already know what his two major works are, and something so brief could have easily been added to the introduction or whatever the editor might want, but this short page in the back, just makes me cringe. all that said, i love his stories.


Tolstoy is a beautiful writer. I was deeply touched by his stories and the meaning behind each story. I am in awe!


Many of these short stories are worthy of any and all accolades one could bestow. Superb, excellent writing all around.


Pretty much, if you've read one of these stories, you've read them all. That's for the sweeping, underlying ideas: Tolstoy seems to have contempt for the French-speaking petit bourgeoise, the Russian Orthodox church, the medical profession, and, possibly, women. Any of these works (short works, NOT short stories) will give you a sense of the country before the revolutions at the beginning of the twentieth century. In fact, getting a sense of why there was a revolution would be a good reason to read these works.The individuals in these works are unhappy, pretty much in the same way, despite what Tolstoy said in the opening of Anna Karenina. All of them are self-absorbed and in search of happiness. Tolstoy seems to have the idea that they--and, presumably, by extention, we--would be a whole lot more content in life if they would just get busy and do good works. You know, stop studying our navels in search of Truth. Well, thank you very much for that insight, Leo.I'd read them for the details and the characters. Tolstoy has observed his fellow travelers in this world well and can show you how they tick. He understands envy, pride, even ambition and gives us very human people full of foibles. Unfortunately for the modern American reader, he also tends to present women as temptresses. ("It wasn't me: she made me do it.") Seemingly, men are helpless idiots in his world. I am unable to tell if this is what Tolstoy believed or simply how he feels women are viewed in nineteenth century Russia.You may find that Tolstoy sometimes does go on. And on. And on. Constant readers may not mind this. Others should stick to movies based on his works.

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

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!


This review is of the stories "Father Sergius", "The Devil", and "Alyosha the Pot". I'd read the other stories before in a separate collection which is also on a bookshelf here on goodreads. Of those stories, "The Cossacks", "The Kreutzer Sonata", and "Master and Man" rank among my favorite stories of all time both for enjoyment of the content as well as appreciation for their artistic boldness and creativity. Of the stories being reviewed here, "The Devil" and "Alyosha the Pot" were the better two of the three, particularly the latter in its almost Hemingway-esque brevity and subtle suggestiveness. It's only 5 pages long where a "short work" of Tolstoy can be anywhere from 50-200 pages. Yet, it was almost as profound as "The Devil" which, in spite of some of its long-windedness packs a philosophical punch at the end that leaves the reader dazed for at least a quarter of an hour, if not more. "Father Sergius" was a tad too moralistically sentimental for my taste: Tolstoy falls too often in the 19th century (although the story was written at the tail-end of it) trap of long-winded explanation as opposed to artistic demonstration. Yet, as dated as Tolstoy's style can be (speaking now of his writing as a whole), his ideas and insights are as fresh as if you'd thought them yesterday.

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