How the Russians Read the French
Lermontov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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This book was inspired decades ago by my then-colleague in the Romance languages department, Michael Danahy. We co-taught a course on the French and Russian novel, which has continued to develop over the years with the help of Wesleyan students. Several wonderful colleagues who have written on related subjects generously read my drafts and led me to new insights....
Introduction: The Russians and the French
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The nineteenth-century Russian novel has a philosophical depth and moral power that distinguishes it from its European peers. Where does this come from and can it be located? Russian censorship constrained the discussion of political and philosophical questions in expository prose, so that the issues had to appear in disguised form in fiction, but that is only part of the answer; Russian authors...
1. From Poetry to Prose: Pushkin, Gogol, and the Revue
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2. Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time
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A Hero of Our Time effects a remarkable synthesis of Western European and Russian literature of the first third of the nineteenth century. Lermontov set himself the task of inventing modern Russian prose and founded a tradition of psychological realism, drawing from Pushkin to go beyond the themes and heroes that Russian Romanticism had learned from Western Europe, in particular from France...
3. Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
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In Crime and Punishment, French novels about prostitutes and young men who abandon virtue for vice are set into opposition to the Russian cultural universe in order to be assimilated into it through biblical truth. We will explore four tales of prostitution that contribute to the characterization of Sonya and four tales of sinner-criminals that structure the hero’s quest for redemption. In the first group, Balzac’s is the most substantive subtext;...
4. Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
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The richness and ambiguity of Anna Karenina arises from the conflict between its sympathy with both the adulteress and the family. In his novel, Tolstoy at once empathizes with Anna and reaffirms the biblical understanding of adultery as sinful, while including a vision of family that could prevent it. Tolstoy’s antidote to the decadence he found in the French novel of adultery is made up of...
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The intertextual achievement of the novels we have discussed involves, as Laurent Jenny puts it, “not a confused, mysterious accumulation of influences, but the work of transformation and assimilation of various texts that is accomplished by a focal text which keeps control over the meaning.”1 Russian literary prose, developing only in the second third of the nineteenth century, assimilated French genres that had been absent in the Russian...
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The wind turns to the west, and presses from the ocean rain clouds that for three weeks have torn the grey veil of a harsh winter. The sky has regained all its brilliance; it is under the influence of a pure sun, of a warm and balmy air that opens the month of March of the year 1789. It is about seven o’clock in the morning; great activity reigns in the port of Nantes: and yet, an extraordinary thing, none of its numerous dockyards...
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Publication Year: 2008