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Febris Erotica

Lovesickness in the Russian Literary Imagination

by Valeria Sobol

Publication Year: 2009

The destructive power of obsessive love was a defining subject of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian literature. In Febris Erotica, Sobol argues that Russian writers were deeply preoccupied with the nature of romantic relationships and were persistent in their use of lovesickness not simply as a traditional theme but as a way to address pressing philosophical, ethical, and ideological concerns through a recognizable literary trope. Sobol examines stereotypes about the damaging effects of romantic love and offers a short history of the topos of lovesickness in Western literature and medicine.

Published by: University of Washington Press

Series: Literary Conjugations


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xvi

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pp. xvii-xviii

I WOULD LIKE TO THANK ALL THE PEOPLE WHO, IN DIFFERENT WAYS, HAVE enriched and supported this project at its various stages. Ilya Vinitsky's fascinating work on melancholy inspired my own inquiry into a related medicalcultural notion. I am grateful to my Columbia University advisers Irina Reyfman, Cathy Popkin, and Robert Belknap for their help with an early...

Note on Translation, Transliteration, and Abbreviations

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pp. xix-xx

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Introduction: Cases in History

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pp. 3-20

THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN PASSIONATE LOVE AND ILLNESS HAS A LONG history, in both medicine and literature, and is not unique to Western civilization.1 Western literature and medicine, however, through a long process of interaction and mutual enrichment, have developed a distinct tradition of theorizing and representing lovesickness. Scholars have traced this concept's...


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1. The Anatomy of Feeling and the Mind-Body Problem in Russian Sentimentalism

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pp. 23-54

IN NIKOLAI KARAMZIN'S LETTERS OF A RUSSIAN TRAVELER (PIS'MA RUS-skogo puteshestvennika, 1791-95)---a semi-fictional travel narrative constructed as a series of letters written by a young Russian nobleman traveling in the West to his friends in Russia---the narrator jokingly reports a case of "love malady" he had observed.1 His travel companion and friend, the young...


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2. Diagnosing Love: Tradition

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pp. 57-72

THE PROBLEM OF DIAGNOSTICS WAS ADDRESSED VERY EARLY IN THE WESTern tradition of lovesickness, although it did not immediately develop the polemical and philosophical overtones characteristic of the treatment of this theme in Russian literature later on. One of the oldest literary examples confronting the interpretative challenge posed by the malady of love is the story...

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3. "Febris Erotica" in Herzen's Who Is to Blame?

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pp. 73-93

IN HERZEN'S NOVEL WHO IS TO BLAME? A PECULIAR DIAGNOSTIC OPERation takes place. The provincial town physician Doctor Krupov hears of a marriage arrangement between his young friend Dmitrii Krutsifersky and Liuba, a ward and illegitimate daughter of the local landowner Negrov. The doctor rushes to dissuade the young man from a decision dictated by...

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4. An Ordinary Story: Goncharov's Romantic Patients

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pp. 94-120

IVAN GONCHAROV'S AN ORDINARY STORY PROVIDES ANOTHER ILLUMINATing case of an early post-Romantic work that attempts to settle scores with the Romantic heritage through the medicalization of the love emotion, among other things. But unlike Herzen, Goncharov distinguishes between two types of Romantic sensibility according to gender divisions and presents the "male"...


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5. The "Question of the Soul" in the Age of Positivism

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pp. 123-133

ON FEBRUARY 8, 1863, TOLSTOY JOTTED IN HIS DIARY, "OR I SHOULD FORget that I have body and soul in me, and only remember that I have a body with nerves. That's a success for medicine, but for psychology just the opposite."1 This comment, for all its brevity, encapsulates some of the major tensions and concerns of the positivist era, including a fundamental shift in the...

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6. What Is to Be Done about a Lovesick Woman? Chernyshevsky's Treatment

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pp. 134-157


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7. From Lovesickness to Shamesickness: Tolstoy's Solution

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pp. 156-188

LEV TOLSTOY DID NOT SHARE CHERNYSHEVSKY'S OPTIMISTIC BELIEF IN THE universal applicability of the natural sciences. While Tolstoy was clearly interested in science, especially mathematics and later physics and chemistry, and while his own method of dissecting the human psyche has often been labeled scientific, he was deeply disturbed by the positivist and strictly materialist...

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pp. 189-200

TOLSTOY'S SUBTLE SUBVERSION OF THE LOVESICKNESS TRADITION CARried out in Anna Karenina demonstrates, paradoxically, the topos's continuing relevance in Russian literature throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, Tolstoy's substitution of shame for love within the same paradigm shows, once again, the topos's resilience and its rich potential for addressing...


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pp. 201-268

Works Cited

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pp. 269-283


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pp. 284-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780295990378
E-ISBN-10: 0295990376
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295988962
Print-ISBN-10: 0295988967

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Literary Conjugations