Duelers, Gamblers, and the Women Who Endured Them: 

The Nineteenth-Century Russian Novel in Translation


Course Blackboard site


Prof. Ian Helfant (Lawrence 219c)

Fall 2008


OH: Wed/Thur 9:45-10:45 and by appt.

Mon/Wed 1:20-2:35


Tel. 228-7721

Room: Lawrence 201



Literary Texts
Class Schedule


Course overview:

Henry James called Russian novels of the 19th century "loose baggy monsters."  He was referring especially to Dostoevsky's "stream of consciousness" narratives, often dictated to a stenographer in the middle of the night after many cups of strong tea.  James was not alone in finding Russian literature perplexing.  Written largely by an educated elite, eerily self-conscious because of czarist censorship, political repression, and a sense of inferiority in relation to Western Europe, Russian literature of the nineteenth century nevertheless confronts many of the crucial concerns of human existence love and friendship, jealousy and hatred, contentment and envy, conformity and independence, the life of the intellect versus that of passion, men's and women's treatment of each other, and religion versus atheism.  In this course we will read a combination of short stories and novels, concentrating upon the canonical "greats" (Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov) but adding a sampling of writers you might otherwise never encounter, including the neglected female author Avodtya Panaeva.  By examining literary depictions of such social institutions as dueling and gambling, courtship and marriage, adultery and spousal abuse, work and leisure, our exploration will emphasize the relationship between literary text and cultural context, as well as the cultural construction of gender.  We will also examine Russian writers' representations of nature.  A range of theoretical and critical texts will inform our discussions, as will film adaptations of certain works.  All works will be read in translation.