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SL4: Russian Literature from the Golden Age to the Silver Age

Russian literature came of age in the nineteenth century.  Within a few decades (1810s to 1860s), authors went from struggling to develop and refine the literary language, to writing some of the greatest novels of all time.  Beginning with Pushkin and the Golden Age of Russian poetry, this course traces the evolution of the Russian literary tradition and the rise of the great Russian novel, culminating with its heyday in the 1860s-70s, and then the return to shorter forms at the end of the century.  Students will learn how Russian authors engaged with formal/aesthetic problems and also made literature the site for rich debates about all the pressing concerns of their day: social, psychological, political, scientific, and philosophical.

In order to achieve a balance of depth and breadth, the paper is organized around the study of two set texts and four topics. (There are suggested pathways through the texts and topics tailored to Part IB, option A [ex-ab initio] students).

Assessment by Long Essay instead of final examination is available in this paper for students in Part IB (Options A&B).

The nineteenth century saw the rapid development of Russian literary culture – from the emergence of the modern Russian literary language, to the rise of the great Russian novel, and, by the end of the century, the launch of modernism in Russia. Bold in their formal and aesthetic innovation, the works of this period pose the decisive questions of Russian modernity and pursue urgent issues of social, political and theological import.

The course introduces students to a range of authors, genres and issues in the study of nineteenth-century Russian literature. In order to achieve a balance of depth and breadth, the paper is organized around the study of two set texts, two prescribed authors, and three topics. (There are suggested pathways through the texts and topics tailored to Part IB, option A (ex-ab initio) students).

Assessment by Long Essay instead of final examination is available in this paper for students in Part IB (Options A&B).

Topics: 

For full details, see the SL4 Student Handbook   

Section A: Set Texts

A1.  A. S. Pushkin, Evgenii Onegin  (Michaelmas)

Note: Former ab initio students (i.e. those in Part IB, Option A) are only required to read chapters 1, 2, 7 and 8 in Russian; they must read the entire novel in English in order to follow the plot.  (Recommended translation: James E. Falen (rhymed); in addition, Vladimir Nabokov for literal translation)

Students in Part IB, Option B and Part II read the entire novel in Russian.

A2: L. N. Tolstoi, Anna Karenina (Lent)

Note: Former ab initio students (i.e. those in Part IB, Option A) read at least the extracts specified below in Russian (roughly one third of the novel); they read the entire novel in English in order to follow the plot:  Part I: 1-4, 7-11, 13, 16-23, 26-34;  Part 2: 7-12, 21-29;    Part 3: 1-5, 13-16,  22-25, 31-32 ;  Part 4: 1, 3-5,  9-13, 15-23;  Part 6: 3, 7-16,  19-20, 31-33;  Part 7: 9-16, 23-31;  Part 8: 8-19.  Recommended translation: Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Students in Part IB, Option B and Part II read the entire novel in Russian.

Section B: Topics

B1. Lyric Poetry (Michaelmas)

Selected poems by Vasilii Zhukovskii, Konstantin Batiushkov, Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, and Evdokiia Rostopchina

B2.  Exposing the Need for Reform, 1850s (Michaelmas)

Evgeniia Tur, Antonina (1851)

Aleksandr Ostrovskii, Groza (1859)

Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia, ‘Bratets’ (1858), Pansionerka (1860)

B3. The Novel of Ideas, 1860s (Lent)

Ivan Turgenev, Otsy i deti (1862)

Fedor Dostoevskii, Zapiski iz podpol’ia (1864) or Prestuplenie i nakazanie (1866)

B4. Short Forms, 1880-1910 (Lent)

Selected short stories by Anton Chekhov, Lev Tolstoi, and Nikolai Leskov

Preparatory reading: 

Students are urged to buy and read both Set Texts during the summer (or Year Abroad), as well as, in particular, any optional longer texts they wish to cover (e.g. Prestuplenie i nakazanie).

The following reading list serves as an introduction to the subject.

  • Caryl Emerson, The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature (esp. chs 1, 4, 5, 6)
  • William Mills Todd, III, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin: Ideology, Institutions and Narrative (chs. 1,2,3)
  • Malcolm V. Jones and Robin Feuer Miller (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Classic Russian Novel
  • Michael Wachtel, Cambridge Introduction to Russian Poetry (chs 1,2,3,4)
  • a scholarly history of 19th-century Russia such as: Gregory Freeze, Russia: A History (chs. 5, 6, 7, 8) or Nicholas Riasanovsky and Mark Steinberg, A History of Russia (8th edition; Chs 24-30)
Preparatory reading: 

Students are urged to buy and read both Set Texts during the summer (or Year Abroad), as well as, in particular, any optional longer texts they wish to cover (e.g. Prestuplenie i nakazanie).

The following reading list serves as an introduction to the subject.

  • Caryl Emerson, The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature (esp. chs 1, 4, 5, 6)
  • William Mills Todd, III, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin: Ideology, Institutions and Narrative (chs. 1,2,3)
  • Malcolm V. Jones and Robin Feuer Miller (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Classic Russian Novel
  • Michael Wachtel, Cambridge Introduction to Russian Poetry (chs 1,2,3,4)
  • a scholarly history of 19th-century Russia such as: Gregory Freeze, Russia:  A History (chs 5, 6, 7, 8) or Nicholas Riasanovsky and Mark Steinberg, A History of Russia (8th edition; Chs 24-30)
  • Andrzej Walicki, A History of Russian Thought (esp. chs 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11)
Teaching and learning: 

Weekly lectures in Michaelmas and Lent; weekly (2hr) revision seminars in Easter. Ten fortnightly supervisions throughout the year.  

For the SL.4 Moodle site, please see here

Assessment: 

Students in Part IB may elect for assessment by Long Essay instead of final examination in this paper.

The examination is structured as follows: Section A will consist of a commentary on one of the set texts and essay questions on the other. Section B will offer several questions on each of the prescribed topics, as well as more open questions that might be answered with reference to a wide range of texts and periods.  All questions in Section B will require candidates to write about at least two texts.

All candidates must answer three questions. 

Students for Part IB (Options A & B) answer:  

  • 1 question from Section A
  • any other 2 questions (which may include 1 further question from Section A)

Students for Part II answer:    

  • 1 question from Section A
  • 2 questions from Section B

This paper is also available for examination by Long Essay.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Anna Berman

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