The 19th century is considered the “Golden Age” in Russian literature. While in the early years of the accelerated development of the period, Russian literature was overshadowed by West European literature (particularly French, English, and German literature), Russian literature quickly freed itself of these influences and acquired its own unique voice and distinctive originality, turning it into one of the greatest literatures in the world.
Russian literature holds a unique position in the intellectual development of Russian society and in creating official state-approved Russian culture. The publication of every important literary work took on proportions beyond the limited artistic scope of the event. These works bore comprehensive cultural and social impact, and they often spurred volatile and passionate discussions not only on the artistic value of the work, but mainly on the author’s moral and social stance. Through their heroes, classical Russian authors attempted to respond to a variety of fundamental questions regarding human experience: The meaning of life and its purpose, the nature of happiness and liberty, and man’s integral right to both. Several other issues relating to ethics, religion, and art were also discussed.
Classical Russian literature undoubtedly begins with A. S. Pushkin, the first Russian author to write of the aspirations and yearnings of the individual as well as of the “global” issues of his time. Pushkin enriched Russia with a world-encompassing aesthetic tradition, while attempting to capture the intellectual qualities of the ancient era and the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment and the modern period.
As an introductory course, the main goal is to expose students to central trends in 19th century Russian literature and to follow the unique development in Russian realism from Pushkin to Chekhov. Students will analyze the moral dilemmas facing the great Russian writers of the 19th century and discuss their relevance today. The course also employs the works studied to teach students critical reading.
Works by A. S. Griboyedov, MY. Lermontov and N. V. Gogol will also be studied.