19th Century Russian Literature


What should one learn from a course on literature?

Students and professors may and likely do have differing opinions on the content and form of a course on literature.  What are your expectations? What are you hoping to learn? If you are not the first comment, then examine and think about what has come before you. Your answer need not be long, but it should be thoughtful.

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  1. February 9th, 2009 | 3:05 pm

    This will be my first “lit” class (my high school did not offer them, and I seem to have sucessfully avoided them at Middlebury), so my expectations may be unrealistic, or just wrong.

    I hope that by the end of the class (after close readings and class discussions) I am closer to understanding the glimpses of Russian culture that I have been exposed to in my Russian language and history classes.

    However, I have learned that with most Russian things, to “understand”, is often too much to hope for.

    I expect this class, perhaps unlike other lit classes, to focus less on the mechanics of the writing (which seems impossible because we are reading translations) and more on the relationships between the themes in the stories, and the audience, purpose, and historical and cultural contexts.

  2. Brett Basarab
    February 9th, 2009 | 4:27 pm

    Essentially I hope to get similar things out of a literature course. It makes sense that anyone writing literature would be influenced by the culture they live in and the particular events that occur during their lifetime. In lots of literature, the particular culture serves as a backdrop and influences the themes and messages presented in the literature. I don’t know much about Russian history, but I know there were many difficult times and it will be interesting to see how the writers deal with the frequent upheaval they may have faced.
    Also, I hope that Russian literature deepens my understanding of all literature in general. I’ve heard good things about Russian novels and would like to see how they are written and what types of themes they explore.

  3. Ben Tabb
    February 9th, 2009 | 4:32 pm

    This is my first literature course at Middlebury, so I have more hopes than expectations. In high school my English classes focused on teaching students how to read and understand literature, analyze, and write about literature. In picking my courses for this semester, my assumption was that a course like “reading literature” would help further develop these skills, whereas a more specified literature course, such as this one, would assume that its students are already capable of such tasks.

    I picked this course, because I hoped it will focus more on the actual literature than on learning how to read literature in general (if that makes any sense). The only experience I have with Russian literature has been reading “Crime and Punishment,” junior year in high school which I really enjoyed. From what I know, it seems Russian literature often deals with grand themes and memorable protagonists, both of which appeal to me. Additionally, I’m interested to learn about an area of the world that, although of great importance, is mentioned only in passing in most of the textbooks I’ve read.

    While I do wish to improve my reading and writing skills in this class, my main objective is to have an opportunity to read and discuss some of the world’s greatest fiction and expand my horizons beyond just English and American writing.

  4. Susanna Merrill
    February 9th, 2009 | 5:09 pm

    I am looking forward to reading classical works of Russian literature with time and opportunity to think about them and discuss them in ways that may not have occurred to me on my own. As a senior Russian major, I have read many of these works before, some more than once, but I know that I can get a lot more out of them with additional readings in the context of a literature class. I hope that we will approach the works as more than illustrations of their historical settings, which is the context in which I have read them in classes in the past.

  5. Kaylen Baker
    February 9th, 2009 | 5:39 pm

    My older sister took a Russian Literature class in college and said at the on the very last day of their semester, the teacher told them the secret of life.

    It would be great to learn that, but that’s not what I’m expecting. I think the most interesting part about this class will be learning how to interpret and accept a much different style of writing that Russian authors (probably) communicate in, compared to American and English authors. I think I’ve only read 1 or 2 books translated from Spanish and French, but I noticed a different perception of reality in those stories.

    Plus, murder, prostitution, ghosts, and duels? That’s hard to resist.

  6. Kara Shurmantine
    February 9th, 2009 | 6:02 pm

    I’m hoping to get out of this course what I feel I’ve gotten from every literature course I’ve taken: a glimpse of life from a variety of illuminating perspectives, and a deeper, broader, and more thoughtful outlook on my world and the people who occupy it. I love reading because it makes me feel more connected with the rest of the world: with strangers—landowners in nineteenth-century Russia, for instance—and even people I’m already close to. I’m an English major because literature has always expanded my world in ways other disciplines haven’t.

  7. Matthew Rothman
    February 9th, 2009 | 6:02 pm

    I am a literary studies major, so the most practical and immediate reason for my taking this class is the ubiquitous and looming fear of my comprehensive exams, which grow ever closer.

    On a less facetious note, however, this class is one that I’ve looked forward to taking for quite some time. My lack of exposure to Russian literature is somewhat alarming, considering how much I enjoy reading classical literature in general. I am somewhat familiar with literature from the Soviet period (Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is one of my favorite books in any language), but I have read very little from the great Russian authors of the 19th century. From the little bit that I have experienced (namely Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov), Russian literature seems to embrace open discussions of religion and philosophy that American authors avoid, or at least prefer to confine to subtext. Dostoevsky’s insight into human motivation and psychology seemed at once intimidating and genuine to me, and I look forward to reexamining this conclusion in other works, both by him as well as the other authors we will read.

  8. Catherine Ahearn
    February 9th, 2009 | 6:39 pm

    Being that I have loved the Russian literature that I have encountered so far, my expectations for this class are mainly directed at the literature itself. I expect to very much enjoy every novel we read and hope that the class guides me towards a full appreciation of the literary and cultural merit and significance of the works.

    After taking Russian Modernism last year, I am unsure as to the best was for a literature class to be taught. We were for the most part studying the texts independently and yet I still feel as though I learned a great deal from the course.

    This semester, we will be tackling another century, new authors and different contexts and I hope the form of this course will be instrumental in helping each student in the class gain a grasp on what 19th century Russian literature really entails.

  9. Casey Mahoney
    February 9th, 2009 | 7:42 pm

    By the end of this class, my goal is to have a solid grasp on what (late) 1800s Russia was like. Obviously, I could get that from taking a history course, reading a biography, etc., but I feel that the actually important contextual details to a study of Russia/Russian (my major) will necessarily come up in our discussions on the lit itself.

    That said, I’m also excited to take up the same questions that our authors explored in their works, and to examine them with whatever perspective this group of people can offer–whether those questions deal with philosophy, morality, or literature/writing itself.

    Finally, I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to spend lots of time with these texts without having to deal with the stress of completing lots of extensive written work.

  10. Zachary Harris
    February 9th, 2009 | 7:51 pm

    I am a Russian and Eastern European Studies major and am very interested in all things Russian. I take Russian here at Middlebury, and have also taken a Russian history class and a class on the Orthodox Church, yet I am fairly unfamiliar with Russian Literature. I have read a few Russian novels such as Gogol’s Dead Souls and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, but I am very eager to read more classic Russian novels.

    I have always enjoyed English, yet what I am mostly hoping to gain from this class is a better grasp of Russian culture and history, and how the literature we read fits into the Russian mentality. I expect this class to greatly enhance my sense of Russian culture and thus further my academic goals in college.

  11. Lisa Eppich
    February 9th, 2009 | 8:09 pm

    I hope, like everyone else, to understand more extensively the culture and people of Russia in this time period through the literature. Since what we’ll be reading is largely the building blocks of all other Russian literature, I really look forward to understanding more fully what it is about this literature that was so influential and what ideas caused these works to become literary models not just in Russia, but in the rest of the world.

    Also, I would really like to have explore the connection between these works and what was going on in Russia when they were written. I know we’ll be getting some historical context prefacing the readings, but I think one of the greatest things about Russian literature is how inseparable it is from Russia’s history, especially how through the literature you can better understand how and why this country developed the way it did, which helps to unravel some of the fabled Russian “enigma”.

  12. Alexandra Boillot
    February 9th, 2009 | 8:30 pm

    In my first year seminar we read Chernyschevsky’s What Is to Be Done? as a way of looking at literature that has brought about revolution. This novel was different from anything I’ve read before since it was a Russian novel, obviously, and because it was written with such a distinct purpose that the author did not pay attention to the traditional rules of literature. What Is to Be Done? sparked an interest in Russian literature for me and also showed me how important it is to read the major works of the influential countries in our world. I think that literature is one of the clearest views into a society that either no longer exists or that we cannot clearly see or understand otherwise. As a student deeply interested in history, this class offers an insight into Russia’s history which also attracted me to this class.

  13. Elise Hanks
    February 9th, 2009 | 10:11 pm

    I’m looking foward to being exposed to an aspect of the literary canon that I haven’t formally studied. I know little to nothing about Russian authors and can only recognize famous names and titles.

    After reading Anna Karenina on my own I realized that it was a work I would most likely enjoy more when accompanied by insightful lectures and some history. I’m hoping to get a grasp on this epic era of Russian literature to help deepen and expand my understanding of intertextuality within the works I will be studying in the coming years. I expect to have a better working knowledge of Russian style and diction (as much as possible within translated works) and am looking forward to hearing about all the things I don’t think of from my peers and professor.

  14. Patrick O'Neill
    February 9th, 2009 | 10:33 pm

    I am hoping that this course will serve as a perfect follow up to “The Russian Mind.” Throughout that entire course, we learnt just about everything pertaining to the culture and history of Russia. The literature and the great writers such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were often mentioned in the course but due to other demands and time constraints, we were not able to read much more than a few excerpts and some short stories, most notably “The Nose” and “The Overcoat” from Gogol. I think this course will bridge those gaps and also provide a ton of further insight into the culture of the time, one which seems very different in comparison to that of contemporary Russian society. Finally, while I hope that the reading will not prove to be too copious, I am also looking forward to checking some great works off of my “to-read list.”

  15. Alicia Wright
    February 9th, 2009 | 10:44 pm

    I am drawn to Russian literature, or rather the allure of it because I’m so totally unfamiliar with it…I’m interested in what particular choices these authors worked into their novels, how and why they became so revered, why they’re so important, etc. I want to understand the creative and novelistic approaches formed from the culture of the times.

  16. Matthew Lazarus
    February 9th, 2009 | 10:50 pm

    Having just begun studying Russian language, I find myself now very susceptible to what I have taken to calling the mystique — or more crudley put the awesomeness — of any or all of the following: Russia, Russians, literature of Russia, 1970s Russian cartoons, Russian dietary habits, etc. Why not indulge myself? The so-called aura of Russian literature, especially to a starry-eyed me glows with considerable wattage, and this is one of several issues I hope to resolve internally as well as through discussion during this semester. Why do I feel this way about the particular genre? Is it the themes? The images of the authors I have fabricated in my head (possibly…)? The fact that the books are at times but are more often stereotyped to be exceedingly lengthy? Maybe it’s just a Russian thing and I’ll “get it” eventually. Because right now I’m still trying to wrap my head around this Russian vibe that seems to have become such a significant part of my education here thus far. I also think I owe it to myself (and to the people that know how to run my life better than I do) to expose myself to these texts — not only for the purpose of absorbing the richness of the culture during this golden age as one claiming to be a student of the liberal arts, but also for the purpose (I am hopeful) of getting inside the author’s head as a writer, and trying to understand how this author develops character and how this one moves the plot along and wow that’s just a beautiful passage let me stare at it for awhile. I’m also hoping this course whips me into shape as a reader. I would like that.

  17. Stewart Moore
    February 9th, 2009 | 11:04 pm

    Being from the US, I would like to say that I have a somewhat decent knowledge of American Lit and English Lit. During the past few years, I have devoted my “pleasure” reading to French classics. Some of these have been the best books I’ve read. In my experience, classics and well known works from other countries kick, and this class seems to cover some big names in Russian literature, so I couldn’t refuse. By taking this course I hope to expand my knowledge of mediocrity to Russian literature as well. Also I’m going for the intimidation factor; when you can whip out some Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, you could possibly gain the upper hand on anyone.

    In my other lit class at Middlebury, I gained so much more rather than reading the books by my lonesome. The class provided background information that truly made the books more enjoyable and sometimes more comical. I hope this class will do the same: give me a better understand of the events and time period surrounding the work and in doing so, give me a better understanding of these works. Everyone takes something of there own from what they read, and I’m not exactly sure what I will learn or take from these works. But I do know they will somehow impact me.

  18. Ashley Quisol
    February 9th, 2009 | 11:29 pm

    In light of the fact that I am not actually registered (but with green card in hand)for this class, my first and foremost hope is for enrollment.
    The expectations that follow this essential step are quite simple and have already been expressed by most of the class already: I want to learn more about Russian culture and I hope to do so through its literature. If I have learned anything after a year and a half of groping blindly through my Russian language courses and dissecting the politics of the ever changing empire, it is that the Russian soul is a complicated beast expressed in its most accurate form through the written word. Simply put, my greatest expectation for this course is that it will prepare me (as much as possible) for my coming year-long escapade in motherland of these enchanting pages.

    Also, it’s required for the Russian major, so……that is also, obviously, a small factor.

  19. Harry Morgenthau
    February 9th, 2009 | 11:47 pm

    Like most of the students in this class, I have not read very much Russian literature up to this point, but find myself very intrigued by the mysterious behemoth of Russia. Reading “Fathers and Sons” in high school I was struck by the underlying struggle between European values and something that was distinctly Russian and different. My hope for this class is to come to better understand this struggle for Russian identity, and see how it evolved across the entire spectrum of 19th century Russian literature.

  20. Natalie Komrovsky
    February 10th, 2009 | 12:36 am

    I, like Susanna, have also read a number of these works. However, I’ve only read them in the context of a history class. Although I found it fascinating to see certain novels as products of their time, I’d like to study them from a different perspective. I’m mostly interested in things such as plot, characters, themes, and other interesting things that I wouldn’t pick up on just reading the book by myself. Although I mentioned this already, I do still find it fascinating to read works and see how they are products of their culture and time.

  21. Natalie Komrovsky
    February 10th, 2009 | 12:39 am

    One of the things I’m most interested in studying is Russian culture, as seen in the works of great Russian writers. In addition, I’m interested to pick up on themes and other things I wouldn’t notice just by reading a book myself. I hope that after this class, I’ll have a much deeper understanding of all of these works. I also find it fascinating to read books such as these and study them as products of their culture and time.

  22. Hannah Wilson
    February 10th, 2009 | 10:14 am

    For me, Russian Literature does a fantastic job at describing a plethora of human emotions and mortal questions. It makes me think about the world in a new and different way. Discussing these ideas and themes allow me to both develop a deeper understanding of and to challenge my interpretation of a book.
    I am hoping to learn more about how the novels were influenced and received in their time, how they relate to other novels of the time, and what impact they have on Russian Literature. I am also very interested in the art of translation, specifically the choices a translator must make and the impact of these choices.

  23. Adam Levine
    February 10th, 2009 | 10:15 am

    Like every other student in the class, I am extremely excited to read works of Russian literature that I have heard so much about, and yet have not experienced yet. As an English major, I have been limited to reading works in the Anglophone canon, which certainly supplies me with a thorough literary background, but confines me to the English and American regions. As a result, I have not had the opportunity to engage in the wonders and marvels of books from other countries, and I knew before I graduated that I had to at least taste the magic that Russian literature generates. Thus, I look forward to reading great works in the Russian canon, and getting a chance to read relevant and well-known authors with a mix of students – some taking their first literature class ever, and some graduating with a degree in Russian.

  24. Jennifer Ridder
    February 11th, 2009 | 12:00 am

    Alright, I know I am the last to respond. I think I am most looking forward to delving into another world. Literature allows one to escape their own reality and live the story of another. However,you must always come back to yourself and see your own perspective, it never really leaves you. thats what makes discussion of literature so interesting, for a moment everyone is in the same fictional world but they each bring their own ideas from differing realties. I look forward to seeing how the class interprets the books. Already I can see that we have different backgrounds and ideas. Some have already been engaged in Russian history and politics, others see Russian as part of their culture and identity, some have enjoyed literature classes throughout college and some none at all. I am excited to learn from this diversity, as everyone is sure to explore creative and new ideas as we discuss the books.

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