Saints and Revolutionaries: The Ascetic Hero in Russian Literature

Saints and Revolutionaries: The Ascetic Hero in Russian Literature

Saints and Revolutionaries: The Ascetic Hero in Russian Literature

Saints and Revolutionaries: The Ascetic Hero in Russian Literature


An examination of literary works spanning more than seven centuries, this volume studies the ascetic hero and asceticism, exploring the elusive interplay between religion, politics, and belles lettres in Russia. The first part places works including the thirteenth-century Kievan Crypt Patericon and Life of Avraamii Smolenskii, Epifanii's Life of Sergii Radonezhskii, and other lives written in the north of Russia, in the context of crucial religious doctrines such as apocalypticism and deification. The author shows how Old Russian literature plays a major cultural role in the continuing development of these doctrines on Russian soil.

The second part traces a revival of the Russian fascination with themes of apocalypse and perfectibility to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Morris also documents the development of a divergence in ideological approach between Russian writers who continued to view apocalypticism and deification as religious phenomena and those who used them as tools of social and political struggle. Works by Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chernyshevsky, and Gorky, as well as classic novels of the socialist realist tradition are analyzed as evidence of the underlying unity of the literary manifestations of this ostensibly bifurcated intellectual tradition."


The genesis of this book can be traced to a conversation I had in 1983 with Dr. Deborah Martinsen. At the time I was engaged in preliminary research for a project on medieval Russian ascetics. Deborah very perceptively suggested that further investigation might yield interesting parallels between medieval saints and Rakhmetov, a character central to N. Chernyshevsky novel What Is to Be Done? I pursued her idea and came very quickly to two conclusions: that certain features of Chernyshevsky's novel were, in fact, closely related to the saints' lives I was studying; and that What Is to Be Done? was only one of a number of nineteenth- and twentieth-century works that shared significant elements with the much earlier, medieval lives. I am beholden to Deborah both for the initial impetus for this study and for her advice and suggestions over the years I worked on it.

Professors William E. Harkins, Robert A. Maguire, and Robert L. Belknap read early versions of the manuscript, and I am greatly indebted to them for their comments and support. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my colleagues in the Russian department of Georgetown University, particularly to Valentina G. Brougher and Valery Petrochenkov for their suggestions regarding late twentieth-century realizations of the ascetic hero in Russian literature. I, of course, bear sole responsibility for all errors and deficiencies.

Finally, I would like to thank my family for its ongoing enthusiasm and encouragement. My husband, Martin J. O'Mara, has made numerous suggestions regarding source materials, devoted countless hours to proofreading the manuscript, and has been, through . . .

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