Russian Grotesque Realism: The Great Reforms and the Gentry Decline offers a comprehensive reevaluation of the Russian realist novel and proposes that a composite style, “grotesque realism,” developed in response to social upheaval during the post-Reform era. In this compelling new study, Ani Kokobobo argues that if the realism of pre-Reform Russia could not depict socioeconomic change directly, the grotesque provided an indirect means for Russian writers to capture the instability of the times and the decline of the gentry. While realism historically represented the psychological depth of characters, the grotesque focused more on the body, materialism, and categorical confusions in order to depict characters whose humanity had eroded.
With original readings of some of Russian realism’s greatest novels, Anna Karenina, Demons, and Brothers Karamazov, as well as lesser known novels like The Family Golovlev, The Precipice, Resurrection, and Cathedral Folk, Russian Grotesque Realism traces the transformation of gentry representation from spiritual strivers and thinkers to more materialist beings. By the end of the nineteenth century, the gentry, originally seen as society’s preservers, were represented as grotesque, reflecting a broader societal breakdown that would eventually precipitate the end of the novel genre itself.