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Plotting History

The Russian Historical Novel in the Imperial Age

Dan Ungurianu

Publication Year: 2007

Balanced precariously between fact and fiction, the historical novel is often viewed with suspicion. Some have attacked it as a mongrel form, a “bastard son” born of “history’s flagrant adultery with imagination.” Yet it includes some of the most celebrated achievements of Russian literature, with Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, and scores of other writers contributing to this tradition.
    Dan Ungurianu’s Plotting History traces the development of the Russian historical novel from its inception in the romantic era to the emergence of Modernism on the eve of the Revolution. Organized historically and thematically, the study is focused on the cultural paradigms that shaped the evolution of the genre and are reflected in masterpieces such as The Captain’s Daughter and War and Peace. Ungurianu examines the variety of approaches by which Russian writers combined fact with fiction and explores the range of subjects that inspired the Russian historical imagination.

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine

“Ungurianu has produced a most valuable work for literary scholars.”—Andrew M. Drozd, Slavic and East European Journal

“[Ungurianu’s] overwhelming knowledge, impeccable documentation, erudite notes, and valuable addenda make for a treasure house of information and keen analysis. . . . Essential.”—Choice

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

As the famous dictum goes, Pushkin is our (i.e., Russian literature’s) everything. In a way, this is also true for the present study. Its initial impetus stems from my interest in The Captain’s Daughter, the most perfect piece of Russian historical fiction, which remains elusive and enigmatic despite the appearance of tantalizing simplicity. ...

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Introduction: Fact, Fiction, and the Anxiety of Genre

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pp. 3-12

The historical novel is a suspect genre. It has been compromised by a host of low-grade works that exploit the allure of history, frequently mixing two divergent trends typical of fictional renderings of bygone epochs. On the one hand, the historical record can serve as a kind of coloring book, supplying rather pedestrian writers with ready-made patterns ...

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1. An Overview of the Romantic Era

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pp. 13-39

In the 1830s Russia’s newly born historical novel enjoyed enormous popularity, moving to the forefront of the country’s literary scene and becoming the dominant prose genre to such a degree that the terms “novel” and “historical novel” became synonymous. In looking for the roots of this phenomenon, one should turn first to ...

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2. Fact and Fiction in the Romantic Novel

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pp. 40-54

Despite their diversity, historical novels of the period share a number of essential traits. On the most obvious level, this is reflected in recurrent formulas, narrative devices, character types, plot components, motifs, and other frequently overused commonplaces that gave rise to parodies akin to Marlinsky’s samovar-propelled novel machine ...

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3. The Changing and the Unchanged

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pp. 55-75

Romantic historicism presupposes the idea of the uniqueness of the past, explaining the past within its own peculiar context, as well as the belief that the present emerges from the past in a process of organic growth and development. A corollary to historicism is the comparison between the past and the present, ...

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4. Masterpieces in Context: Taras Bulba and The Captain’s Daughter

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pp. 76-96

Writing in the 1880s, Aleksandr Skabichevsky claimed that Taras Bulba and The Captain’s Daughter “have nothing in common with any of the other historical novels of the thirties, which differ from them like night and day” (“Nash istoricheskii roman,” 665). For a variety of reasons this idiosyncratic premise held sway for many decades. ...

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5. Tolstoy’s “Book” and a New Kind of Historical Novel

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pp. 97-124

In the mid-nineteenth century the historical novel all but disappeared from the literary scene. The emergence of the Natural school and realism rendered the genre associated with the heyday of romanticism hopelessly outmoded, while the sociopolitical atmosphere on the eve of the Great Reforms shifted the focus of public interest ...

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6. The Age of Positivism: “Historiographie Romancée"

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pp. 125-148

The second boom in the Russian historical novel began in the 1870s and continued until World War I. In an effort to present a coherent picture of the genre’s evolution, it is tempting to ascribe these developments to the influence of War and Peace. Tolstoy’s epic did indeed restore the status of the historical novel, ...

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7. The End of Progress: Facets of the Modernist Paradigm

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pp. 149-188

The second peak in the Russian historical novel, which began in the 1870s, lasted throughout the remainder of the imperial period. For obvious reasons it slowed down with the outbreak of World War I and virtually came to a standstill during the Revolution and civil war, which, among other things, disrupted the established system of literary logistics. ...

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In Lieu of a Conclusion: A Tale of Three Cities, or the Reincarnations of Saint Petersburg in the Russian Historical Novel

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pp. 189-208

Rather than following a continuous linear process, the evolution of the Russian historical novel can be divided into three distinct periods—romanticism, realism, and modernism—each possessing its own poetics informed by broader literary and cultural paradigms. A concise summary of the change in the poetics ...

Appendix A: Chronological and Thematic Distribution of Works

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pp. 209-262

Appendix B: Annotated List of Authors

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pp. 263-288


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pp. 289-308

Works Cited

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pp. 309-324


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pp. 325-335

E-ISBN-13: 9780299225032
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299225001

Publication Year: 2007