This course surveys Russian prose of the nineteenth century, a time of rebellions, reforms, and shifting cultural and social values. Our main approach will be to read and closely analyze a series of texts that became the foundation for the Russian novelistic tradition. We will begin with three works that defy the definition of the novel in their own special ways: the novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin, the series of interlocking short stories that make up A Hero of Our Time, and the “poema” Dead Souls. We will also read texts that address many of the central themes of Russian nineteenth-century literature—family, love, the individual and society—and analyze the best-known works of two literary giants: Fyodor Dostoevsky and Lev Tolstoy.

Some of the questions that we will consider include: Which contexts shaped these novels? Which common features (themes, devices, character types, images, etc.) do these novels share? What makes each text distinct? How do these novels speak to our own lives and the present moment, either in Russia or at home?

This course will provide students with a deeper knowledge of the masterworks of the nineteenth century and the broader literary, historical, political, intellectual, and cultural contexts surrounding them and survey the various critical approaches we might use to understand these texts. We will also devote time to improving our writing through drafting, peer editing, and revisions. Per the guidelines for writing-intensive classes at Swarthmore College, you will be required to produce at least 20 pages of original work over the course of the semester.

Class time will be devoted to both introductory lectures and seminar-style discussions. Readings, lecture, and discussion will be in English; no previous knowledge of Russian language, culture, or history is assumed. Students who know Russian, however, are encouraged to read the texts in the original.