Russian literature

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Aleksander Pushkin, 1799–1837

Introduction to the Russian Novel[edit | edit source]

Russia’s contribution to world culture in literature and the arts (e.g., painting, dance, theater, and music) has been incredibly robust in the past century and a half, with the Russian novel emerging as preeminent in the development of the novel as a literary form. What were the social and cultural factors that led to nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian writers producing such a remarkable outpouring of literary works? Why did these texts resonate so strongly with European and American readers to earn them the reputation of some of the best works of literature ever written? How did the novel become such a prominent form not only of literary art, but also of social criticism? How has Russia’s position between East and West shaped this intellectual tradition and informed the productive and destructive tensions that have defined Russia’s cultural heritage?

These are just some of the questions addressed in this introductory course on the Russian novel. Whether you are deeply interested and well read in Russian cultural history or just an avid reader looking for some great books, this course provides much of the necessary background to bring these famous books to life. The study questions below will help direct the reading of those new to Russian literature, and will provide food for thought even for those well verse in Russian literary history.

Readings[edit | edit source]

Any standard edition of the following works will suffice for those looking for a convenient introduction to the Russian, but we have listed preferred translations for those who feel that translations matter (we do). By clicking on the links to each novel below, you will find a comprehensive introduction to each work, including plot summaries, major themes, lists of main characters, publication histories, and references to scholarly works on each novel.

Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, trans. James Falen (available on Kindle)

Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls, trans. Bernard Guerney, ed. Susanne Fusso

Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time, trans. Vladimir and Dmitri Nabokov

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Children, trans. Michael Katz

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, trans. Michael Katz

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Yevgeney Zamyatin, We, trans. Natasha Randall and Bruce Sterling

Yuri Olesha, Envy, trans. Marian Schwartz

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, trans. R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky

Viktor Pelevin, Buddha’s Little Finger, trans. Andrew Bromfield