Russian Literature: A Very Short Introduction
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Rather than presenting a conventional chronology of Russian literature, Russian Literature: A Very Short Introduction explores the place and importance in Russian culture of all types of literature. How and when did a Russian national literature come into being? What shaped its creation? How have the Russians regarded their literary language? The book uses the figure of Pushkin--'the Russian Shakespeare'--as a recurring example, as his work influenced every Russian writer who came after him, whether they wrote prose or verse. It furthermore examines why Russian writers are venerated, how they've been interpreted inside Russia and beyond, and the influences of the folk tale tradition, orthodox religion, and the West.
authorities) rather than numbers of copies sold; sinecures were paid to established figures who were members of the Writer’s Union without regard to how well or even how much they wrote. And commemoration of important authors was always of a ‘cultured’ kind (to use the Soviet term) – that is, contrived in a manner that could be held to contribute to intellectual self-improvement on the part of the masses. A typical item was a set of post cards intended for 21 ture rae Lit 4. A
not all of which were out o necessarily as scrupulously signalled as with the asterisks (***** for ver ‘whore’ or **** for ‘arse’, for instance) that replaced words Pushkin all great himself had brazenly written in full. Piety was equally important in Ru biographical work. As late as 1963, a particularly well-read and s’ reasonably liberal Soviet writer expressed relief that A. L. Rowse, distasteful as his biographical approach might be, had at least ‘completely cleared away any
‘enemies of the people’ as ‘Yudushkas’ (after Saltykov-Shchedrin’s creepy hypocrite Yudushka Golovlyov). They were supposed to be known to everyone, but to discuss them in depth, at any ture rate without the special licence of a scholar speaking to scholars in an rae Lit Academy of Sciences research institute, or to cite the wrong works, would have been decidedly imprudent. ssian Ru The effects of adulation for, and rote-learning of, the classics were not uniformly bad. For a start,
of translations began to make itself felt in literary criticism and in scholarship as well. A crucial event was the founding of the Tartu ssian Ru University series Semiotike (Studies in Sign Systems), under the leadership of the scholar and critic Yury Lotman in 1965. The concentration of semioticians upon the question of meaning within a given culture at a set time, rather than upon the significance of texts for later generations, mounted a covert challenge to the traditional
colleagues could consider Pushkin an ‘encyclopedia’ of Russian life, this was partly because spiritual matters were as marginal here as they were in the French 139 Encyclopédie. Bypassing Pushkin, the Russian tradition of metaphysical poetry was revived, after Derzhavin, by Pushkin’s contemporaries Evgeny Baratynsky and Fyodor Tyutchev; it then resurfaced again – after decades of dormancy – in the 1890s, most notably in the poetry of the religious philosopher Vladimir Solovyov and his