What to make of Butler in Hadji Murad

“Butler,” an English word, once meant a wine steward and comes from the Old French word for bottle, bouteille. This could be associated with his tendency to drink, but I’m not sure if Tolstoy was aware of the connection.

What I think is more to the point that “Butler” is clearly an English name. We never hear his given name so we have few clues as to whether Butler is an Englishman trying to be a Russian or a Russian trying to look like an Englishman. In either case, we have a man of divided heritage, someone who is between two cultures: a European culture and Russian culture. Hadji Murad is also a man between cultures: his native Circassian culture and Russian culture.

“Culture and, more importantly, cultural identity provide this appraisal and affirmation of our own self worth, as well as a framework in which to approach life. When confronted with two cultural identities, one innate and the other imposed, imitated, or ”borrowed”, one’s true identity is muddled in a labyrinth of languages, customs, and traditions. This creates a disjointed relationship with both cultures and a “clash of cultures”. The dual identity of the Russian aristocracy in the nineteenth century is a classic example of a culture’s struggle to find the “right” path independent of any imitation, equated with superficiality and insincerity.”

Devin Conley, “French Framing of Anna Karenina: Confused Identities in Russian Aristocratic Culture” (2007)

Butler confronts this clash of culture with imitation, which leaves him ill prepared for the difficulties he will have to face. Hadji Murad has a more authentic cultural identity that grounds him and helps him to navigate the clash of cultures with self-assurance even in the face of failure. This applies in equal measure to the villains as well. Imam Shamil is quite comfortable and unflinching in his cruelty. whereas Tsar Nicholas hides behind a screen of duplicity and contradiction.

English: Signature of Leo Tolstoy

Signature of Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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~ by severalfourmany on January 16, 2013.

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