Honors | Tolstoi & Dostoeuskii in Context
H203 | 0007 | Durkin, A


The course will focus on two of the greatest Russian novels, Lev Tolstoi's
War and Peace (1863-69) and Fedor Dostoevskii's The Brothers Karamazov
(1880), as texts which encode the crucial social, cultural, and
ideological currents of their time. In both novels, the authors engage
directly or indirectly in controversies that were at the heart of the
intense debates that characterized Russian public life in the nineteenth
century. Often challenging the "politically correct" notions of the day.
Tolstoi and Dostoevskii each confronted the "accursed questions," both
those that dealt with national destiny and those that concerned the
individual. These included the relation between the elite and the narod
(the people), Russia's relationship with Western Europe and Russia's
proper role in European culture, and Russia's historical destiny. In
addition, both explored man's psychological make-up, the question of moral
responsibility, and the role of the individual in history. Both novels are
"encyclopedias of Russian life" (to borrow Belinskii's phrase concerning
Evgenii Onegin), but of Russian life in its most intense dialogue with
itself.

In part because of their deep involvement in the ideological life of their
time, both novels have attracted a broad critical response; some of the
most important and influential Russian (and Western) criticism has focused
on these authors and these particular texts, for example, Shklovskii
(sources/polemics), Eikhenbaum (form in relation to analysis/theme),
Bakhtin (dialogue, discourse of culture), Berlin (intellectual history),
Ginzburg (psychological analysis). Feuer (development of text), Morson
(epistemological implications). Selected (brief) readings in these critics
will help both to "open" the texts and serve as illustration of the impact
of works of literature on the cultural/intellectual life of a society.