Throughout the development of modern Russian society, the memoir, with its dual agendas of individualized expression and reliable reportage, has maintained a popular and abiding national genre “contract” between Russian writers and readers. The essays in this volume seek to appreciate the literary construction of this much read, yet little analyzed, form and to explore its functions as interpretive history, social modelling, and political expression in Russian culture.
The memoirs under scrutiny range widely, including those of the “private person” Princess Natalia Dolgorukaia, sophisticated high culture writers (Nikolai Zabolotskii, Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Brodsky), cultural critics and facilitators (Lidiia Ginzburg, Avdot’ia Panaeva), political dissidents (Evgeniia Ginzburg, Elena Bonner), and popular artists (filmmaker El’dar Riazanov). The contributors examine each memoir for its aesthetic and rhetorical features as well as its cultural circumstances. In mapping the memoir’s social and historical significance, the essays consider a wide range of influences and issues, including the specific impact of the author’s class, gender, ideology, and life experience on his/her “witnessing” of Russian culture and society. These essays also investigate how the memoir is shaped, conceptually and formally, by contemporary notions of history and the individual’s role in making and relaying it.
Overall, this volume shows how the Russian memoir specifically compares with and complements the writing of Russian fiction and Russian history, helping readers to appreciate and interpret the most popular form of authoritative “nonfiction” in modern Russian society.