A NATIONAL literature may be viewed as a manifestation of a purely creative genius, or as a reflection of the spiritual life of a people, or as a picture of its national character and socio-political conditions. It is evident that descriptions of social groups and classes or reproductions of spiritual gropings must form an element of every literature, the writers being children of their times, members of their nations, and drawing their experience from immediate surroundings. Yet hardly any literature equals the Russian in reproducing the spiritual struggles of men, and few western writers have been as willing as their Russian colleagues to go down to the very bottom of everyday existence and to scrutinize the economic, the social, and the political life of their country. This makes Russian literature a valuable object of study not only as art, but also as the surest road to the understanding of the Russian people and Russian conditions.
The task of the present volume is to be of assistance in such studies. From the literary productions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it selects only those which have a value for the present, either on account of their artistic qualities, or as representing some aspect of Russian life. This marks a point of departure from the traditional histories of literature. The Guide omits many poets who were of importance in their time, yet have been overshadowed by greater contemporaries or successors working in the same field. This is the case with Nikitin