Feb 21, 2024  
College Catalog 2023-2024 
    
College Catalog 2023-2024

RUSS 251 - Russian Literature on the Eve of Revolution


How can literature help readers find meaning and purpose in times of crisis? In this course, we will study well-crafted narratives serving as windows into the conditions that led to dissent, social strife, and a thirst for liberation in imperial Russia, culminating in the Bolshevik revolution. Under autocracy in Russia, literature was the only public forum for debates about the things that mattered most. In the lead-up to the revolution, Russian literature had a tangible effect on the world by building compassion and sparking indignation, inspiring questions about how things could be otherwise, and by driving readers to action. In the first half of the semester, we will read short stories by authors such as Gogol and Chekhov who left an indelible impression on world literature, and a selection from a novel that served as a bible for revolutionaries. In the second half, we will focus on Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, a story of rebellion against fathers in every sense, written in response to the rise of revolutionary terrorism in Russia. We will conclude with a novella by Tolstoy, Hadji Murat, about the resistance that the Russian state met in its attempt to subjugate the peoples of the Caucasus. We will consider these texts as works of art and as sources of understanding and impact feeding into the Bolshevik Revolution. These narratives about people caught up in unjust systems of power raise questions about how one can and should act under oppressive circumstances. The characters we will encounter grapple with issues of agency and responsibility, as well as the crucial question of who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong in a secular world. As such, these stories bear witness not only to their times, but to ours as well. No previous knowledge of Russian literature or history is required. For our readings we will use English translations that preserve the pleasures of the original texts. Alternate years. (4 Credits)