Reference Guide to Russian Literature

By Neil Cornwell; Nicole Christian | Go to book overview

controversial in its day, it achieved a succès de scandale, making the poet's name as well as confirming the director in his role as the country's leading theatrical experimentalist.

For many people novelty was the order of the day. Valerii Briusov ( 1873-1924) and Nikolai Evreinov ( 1879-1953), among other less well-known theoreticians and directors, condemned the Stanislavskii school as narrow-minded, backward-looking, and stultifying. Taking over from Meierkhol'd at Kommisarzhevskaia's theatre in 1908, Evreinov advanced the anti-realist cause still further in his writings, adaptations, and many productions. He also directed a small experimental theatre called "The Crooked Mirror" that captivated rapturous, if sometimes bemused, audiences from 1908 to 1918. Elsewhere up and down the country theatrical experimentation, often overlapping with avant-garde poetry readings, flowed out from small private theatres into cafés, night-clubs, cabaret rooms, parks, and other public places. The Futurists were shocking the bourgeoisie and everyone else with their crazy stunts and outrageous manifesto pronouncements, bringing iconoclasm, insult, and self-advertisement to a fine art. The poetry readings of Vladimir Maiakovskii ( 1893-1930) were memorable theatrical performances in themselves and some of his works were plays more than poems. His Vladimir Maiakovskii: tragediia ( Vladimir Maiakovskii: A Tragedy) carried on where Blok's The Puppet Show had left off; performed in Luna Park, St Petersburg, in December 1913, it began with an open statement by the poet-actor-director that no one was going to understand what was about to happen, and few did. It is possible retrospectively to view this piece as a "monodrama of

suffering" in which the poet emerges as a scapegoat for the sins of mankind, but contemporary audiences, lacking the hindsight that we now enjoy, were left bemused. Alternating with Vladimir Maiakovskii was Pobeda nad solntsem [ Victory Over the Sun], a kind of opera written by the Futurist most committed to "transrational" language, Aleksei Kruchenykh ( 1886-1968), with a prologue by Khlebnikov, music by Matiushin, and sets by Malevich; when the Futurists caught the sun and dragged it down from the sky the onlookers may have been able to take this as a satirical thrust against the Symbolists, but the words and details of the piece must have bewildered them.

Most people, enjoying the spectacle and scandal, did not mind the obscurity; many were conscious of witnessing significant experiments that could only enrich the cultural achievement of their country. Everyone could feel the intensity of the new theatrical experience; travelling companies took the experimental words out into the far provinces. The nation was shocked, puzzled, disturbed, and impressed by turns; no one could remain indifferent. A kind of excitement bordering on hysteria had taken over the Russian cultural scene, reflecting and prefiguring the apocalyptic political changes about to engulf the nation and its art. The outside world knew about this. Along with Russian art and music (especially ballet), the late-coming theatre of that country, standing now for high professionalism on the one hand and amazing creativity on the other, had risen to such prominence that it had captured the world's imagination, delivering a confident challenge to Europe and America.Then came the Revolution.


Russian Literature in the I8th Century

At the beginning of the i8th century, Russia had no secular literary culture to compare with that of western Europe.There were no acknowledged authors. Consequently there were no readers and no publishers and presses to cater for their needs. There was a lack not only of a literary Russian language, but even of a modern typography. By the end of the century the situation had been transformed. Russia now possessed a vibrant literary culture that was part of Europe's and would produce and sustain a literary genius destined to become her national poet. Significantly Aleksandr Pushkin was born in the closing year of the I8th century on 6 June 1799.

What accounted for this remarkable transformation? The prime mover was Peter the Great who took over the government in 1694 with a mission to Westernize his Empire and make it an equal of the most advanced states of Europe.Peter himself was no writer — unlike his later successor Catherine the Great — and few literary works appeared during his reign. His policy of rapid westernization, however, inevitably led to the emergence of a literary culture modelled on that of Europe and recognizable as "European". That process determined the particular development of Russian literature in the I8th century.

The Russia inherited by Peter had not been immune to western influence. Earlier in the I7th century Catholic Poles had occupied Moscow during the Time of Troubles, and the Protestant Swedish armies of Charles XII had marched through Russian lands at the beginning of Peter's reign. It was the foreign colony of western craftsmen, merchants, and mercenaries established in Moscow's Nemetskaia Sloboda (Foreign Quarter) that nurtured Peter's own enthusiasm for western ways. Peter regained for his Empire extensive areas of traditional Russian lands in today's Belarus and Ukraine that had been deeply influenced by Catholic and Latin culture during long years of Polish domination.

What have come to be recognized as "Petrine" reforms had certainly been under way before Peter's accession. But it was Peter who was acknowledged by both the contemporary opponents of his reform and its supporters to have made a decisive break with the past.

During his reign there was little evidence of the birth of a new literature. But by obliging the influential upper classes to dress in


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Reference Guide to Russian Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Reference Guide to Russian Literature *
  • Contents *
  • Editor's Note vii
  • Advisers xi
  • Contributors xi
  • Alphabetical List of Writers and Works xiii
  • Alphabetical List of Works xix
  • Chronological List of Writers xxiii
  • General Reading List xxvii
  • Chronology xxxv
  • Glossary xxxix
  • Introductory Essays *
  • Old Russian Literature 3
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russian Theatre 9
  • Russian Literature in the I8th Century 13
  • Aleksandr Pushkin: from Byron to Shakespeare 18
  • The Classic Russian Novel 25
  • The Superfluous Man in Russian Literature 29
  • Women's Writing in Russia 35
  • Russian Literary Theory: from the Formalists to Lotman 40
  • Post-Revolutionary Russian Theatre 45
  • Experiment and Emigration: Russian Literature, 1917-1953 49
  • Socialist Realism in Soviet Literature 55
  • Thaws, Freezes, and Wakes: Russian Literature, 1953-1991 59
  • Russian Literature in the Post-Soviet Period 64
  • Writers and Works *
  • A 73
  • B 127
  • C 213
  • D 237
  • E 271
  • F 297
  • G 311
  • H 379
  • I 389
  • K 413
  • L 485
  • M 521
  • N 559
  • O 585
  • P 611
  • R 685
  • S 707
  • T 789
  • U 859
  • V 861
  • Y 897
  • Z 899
  • Title Index 933
  • Notes on Advisers and Contributors 963


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