Leo Tolstoy’s and Vladimir Nabokov’s radically opposed aesthetic worldviews emanate from a shared intuition—that approaching a text skeptically is easy, but trusting it is hard
Two figures central to the Russian literary tradition—Tolstoy, the moralist, and Nabokov, the aesthete—seem to have sharply conflicting ideas about the purpose of literature. Tatyana Gershkovich undermines this familiar opposition by identifying a shared fear at the root of their seemingly antithetical aesthetics: that one’s experience of the world might be entirely one’s own, private and impossible to share through art.
Art in Doubt: Tolstoy, Nabokov, and the Problem of Other Minds reconceives the pair’s celebrated fiction and contentious theorizing as coherent, lifelong efforts to reckon with the problem of other people’s minds. Gershkovich demonstrates how the authors’ shared yearning for an impossibly intimate knowledge of others formed and deformed their fiction and brought them through parallel logic to their rival late styles: Tolstoy’s rustic simplicity and Nabokov’s baroque complexity. Unlike those authors for whom the skeptical predicament ends in absurdity or despair, Tolstoy and Nabokov both hold out hope that skepticism can be overcome, not by force of will but with the right kind of text, one designed to withstand our impulse to doubt it. Through close readings of key canonical works—Anna Karenina, The Kreutzer Sonata, Hadji Murat, The Gift, Pale Fire—this book brings the twin titans of Russian fiction to bear on contemporary debates about how we read now, and how we ought to.
The early decades of the nineteenth century in Imperial Russia embraced a sequence of catastrophic events—the assassination of Paul I, Napoleon’s invasion, the Decembrist rebellion, the cholera epidemic, the Polish uprising—along with radical changes in the fabric of society. Yet, far from exhausted by these convulsions, Russian literature blossomed as never before, producing the first in the long line of novels now regarded as masterpieces throughout the world. With all the sentimentality, nostalgia, and mythic echoes the term evokes, posterity has called this the golden age of Russian letters.William Mills Todd describes the ideology of the educated westernized gentry (obshchestvo) of the time, then charts the various possibilities for literary life: first patronage, the salons, popular literature; then the rapid emergence of an incipient literary profession, which was encouraged by copyright laws, journals and booksellers, and an increasing readership. Through an examination of three brilliant fictions—Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, and Gogol’s Dead Souls—he explores the complicated interactions of literature and society as these writers “discovered” their own milieu and were discovered by it, confronting the fragility, exclusiveness, and potential for hypocrisy and self-delusion in Russian culture. Todd’s interdisciplinary approach will ensure his book’s appeal to students of comparative and other national literatures as well as of Russian culture.
The Imperative of Reliability examines the development of nineteenth-century Russian prose and the remarkably swift emergence of the Russian novel. Victoria Somoff identifies an unprecedented situation in the production and perception of the utterance that came to define nascent novelistic fictionality both in European and Russian prose, where the utterance itself—whether an oral story or a “found” manuscript—became the object of representation within the compositional format of the frame narrative. This circumstance generated a narrative perspective from which both the events and their representation appeared as concomitant in time and space: the events did not precede their narration but rather occurred and developed along with and within the narration itself. Somoff establishes this story-discourse convergence as a major factor in enabling the transition from shorter forms of Russian prose to the full-fledged realist novel.
Balanced precariously between fact and fiction, the historical novel is often viewed with suspicion. Some have attacked it as a mongrel form, a “bastard son” born of “history’s flagrant adultery with imagination.” Yet it includes some of the most celebrated achievements of Russian literature, with Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, and scores of other writers contributing to this tradition.
Dan Ungurianu’s Plotting History traces the development of the Russian historical novel from its inception in the romantic era to the emergence of Modernism on the eve of the Revolution. Organized historically and thematically, the study is focused on the cultural paradigms that shaped the evolution of the genre and are reflected in masterpieces such as The Captain’s Daughter and War and Peace. Ungurianu examines the variety of approaches by which Russian writers combined fact with fiction and explores the range of subjects that inspired the Russian historical imagination.
Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine
“Ungurianu has produced a most valuable work for literary scholars.”—Andrew M. Drozd, Slavic and East European Journal
“[Ungurianu’s] overwhelming knowledge, impeccable documentation, erudite notes, and valuable addenda make for a treasure house of information and keen analysis. . . . Essential.”—Choice
Anna A. Berman’s book brings to light the significance of sibling relationships in the writings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Relationships in their works have typically been studied through the lens of erotic love in the former, and intergenerational conflict in the latter.
In close readings of their major novels, Berman shows how both writers portray sibling relationships as a stabilizing force that counters the unpredictable, often destructive elements of romantic entanglements and the hierarchical structure of generations. Power and interconnectedness are cast in a new light. Berman persuasively argues that both authors gradually come to consider siblinghood a model of all human relations, discerning a career arc in each that moves from the dynamics within families to a much broader vision of universal brotherhood.
Winner, 2012 Northern California Book Award for Fiction in Translation
More faithful to the original text and its deeply resonant humor, this new translation of The Twelve Chairs brings Ilf and Petrov’s Russian classic fully to life. The novel’s iconic hero, Ostap Bender, an unemployed con artist living by his wits, joins forces with Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, a former nobleman who has returned to his hometown to look for a cache of missing jewels hidden in chairs that have been appropriated by the Soviet authorities. The search for the chairs takes them from the provinces of Moscow to the wilds of the Transcaucasus mountains. On their quest they encounter a variety of characters, from opportunistic Soviet bureaucrats to aging survivors of the old propertied classes, each one more selfish, venal, and bungling than the last. A brilliant satire of the early years of the Soviet Union, as well as the inspiration for a Mel Brooks film, The Twelve Chairs retains its universal appeal.
2016 AATSEEL Prize for Best Book in Literary/Cultural Studies
Vasilii Aksenov, Andrei Bitov, and Venedikt Erofeev were among the most acclaimed authors of samizdat, the literature that was self-published in the former Soviet Union in order to evade censorship and prosecution. In Uncensored, Ann Komaromi uses their work to argue for a far more sophisticated understanding of the phenomenon of samizdat, showing how the material circumstances of its creation and dissemination exercised a profound influence on the very idea of dissidence, reconfiguring the relationship between author and reader.
Using archival research to fully illustrate samizdat’s social and historical context, Komaromi arrives at a more nuanced theoretical position that breaks down the opposition between the autonomous work of art and direct political engagement. The similarities between samizdat and digital culture have particular relevance for contemporary discourses of dissident subjectivity.
Winner, 2014 AWSS Best Book in Slavic/East European/Eurasian Women's Studies
In Russian culture, the archetypal mother is noble and self-sacrificing. In Women with a Thirst for Destruction, however, Jenny Kaminer shows how this image is destabilized during periods of dramatic rupture in Russian society, examining in detail the aftermath of three key moments in the country’s history: the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the fall of the Communist regime in 1991. She explores works both familiar and relatively unexamined: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovlev Family, Fyodor Gladkov’s Cement, and Liudmila Petrushevskaia’s The Time: Night, as well as a late Soviet film (Vyacheslav Krishtofovich’s Adam’s Rib, 1990) and media coverage of the Chechen conflict. Kaminer’s book speaks broadly to the mutability of seemingly established cultural norms in the face of political and social upheaval.
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