Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914

Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914

Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914

Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914

Excerpt

WILLIAM MILLS TODD III

Serious lacunae in the study of Russian literature as a social institution, both in the Soviet Union and in the West, call for new research and new approaches. Of the many ways in which literature is related to life in society, Soviet scholarship has tended in recent decades to ignore all save the obvious reflection of social, economic, and political conditions in the plots, settings, and characters of literary works. As one Soviet scholar puts it, the sociology of literature, after serving in the 1920's as a frequent pretext for nasty political squabbles, has in more recent times limited itself to telling whathappened in a work, who said it, but not how it was said, thereby drawing a rather facile distinction between the form and the content of literature. The other aspects of Russian literature as a social institution remain scarcely examined since the pioneering studies of the 1920's and early 1930's: the composition and expectations of the reading public; the media through which literature is transmitted to that public (serial publication, printing, manuscript, oral recitation); the role of criticism and censorship in mediating between writer and reader; the ways in which the structure of a work, the choice of genre, and the institution of literature as a whole may be related to social conventions.

Silence has fallen over the lively debate of the 1920's between the "vulgar sociology" that sought to imprison the writer's creativity . . .

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