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Economies of Feeling

Russian Literature under Nicholas I

Jillian Porter

Publication Year: 2017

Economies of Feeling offers new explanations for the fantastical plots of mad or blocked ambition that set the nineteenth-century Russian prose tradition in motion. Jillian Porter compares the conceptual history of social ambition in post-Napoleonic France and post-Decembrist Russia and argues that the dissonance between foreign and domestic understandings of this economic passion shaped the literature of Nicholas I’s reign (1825 —1855).
Porter shows how, for Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Faddei Bulgarin, ambition became a staging ground for experiments with transnational literary exchange. In its encounters with the celebrated Russian cultural value of hospitality and the age-old vice of miserliness, ambition appears both timely and anachronistic, suspiciously foreign and disturbingly Russian—it challenges readers to question the equivalence of local and imported words, feelings, and forms.
Economies of Feeling examines founding texts of nineteenth-century Russian prose alongside nonliterary materials from which they drew energy—from French clinical diagnoses of “ambitious monomania” to the various types of currency that proliferated under Nicholas I. It thus contributes fresh and fascinating insights into Russian characters’ impulses to attain rank and to squander, counterfeit, and hoard. Porter’s interdisciplinary approach will appeal to scholars of comparative as well as Russian literature.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

My first thanks go to Harsha Ram, who advised my doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley, and whose dazzling verbal gifts have inspired me and enriched my work on this book at every stage. As an exceptional teacher and a reader of my dissertation, Irina Paperno modeled a...

Note on the Text

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pp. xi-2

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pp. 3-20

EUGENE’S FATHER WASN’T the only one who didn’t understand his son’s gloss on political economy. Commentators on the above passage from Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (1825–32) have long debated the meaning of the “simple product” the hero values more highly than gold...

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1. Mad Ambition

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pp. 21-54

AMBITION HAS great narrative potential. Stemming from the Latin ambire—to go round, or more specifically, to go round canvassing for votes—it propels movement through space and time. Seminal texts of the nineteenth-century Russian prose tradition harness this dynamism only to curtail it...

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2. Gogol’s Gift

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pp. 55-88

ON AN UNDATED PAGE in a lady’s album, Nikolai Gogol compares his own head to a dirty room in which an unsuccessful party took place the previous night. The owner of the album was Mar’ia Vlasova, whose younger sister, Zinaida Volkonskaya, was among the most celebrated Russian...

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3. Dostoevsky’s Money

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pp. 89-108

MONEY SPREADS like a connective tissue through the pages of Dostoevsky’s fictions. From Poor Folk to The Brothers Karamazov (Brat’ia Karamazovy, 1879– 80), it binds characters to one another and links them to large- scale social and government institutions. Flowing as salary from the...

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4. The Miser Never Dies

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pp. 109-142

AS REALISM BECAME the new aesthetic standard, type became its primary unit of currency. Like the bills and coins that materialize exchange value, character types embody abstract meanings.1 Moreover, both money and type are subject to fluctuation and reform, and both must contend...


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pp. 143-146


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pp. 147-176

Works Cited

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pp. 177-194


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pp. 195-198

E-ISBN-13: 9780810135468
E-ISBN-10: 0810135469
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810135451
Print-ISBN-10: 0810135450

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2017

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory
Series Editor Byline: Gary Saul Morson See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 975236008
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Economies of Feeling

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Gogolʹ, Nikolaĭ Vasilʹevich, 1809-1852 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeevich, 1799-1837 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Ambition in literature.
  • Economics in literature.
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