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SL4: Russian Literature from the Golden Age to the Silver Age

The nineteenth century saw the rapid development of Russian literary culture – from the emergence of the modern Russian literary language, to the rise of the great Russian novel, and, by the end of the century, the launch of modernism in Russia. Bold in their formal and aesthetic innovation, the works of this period pose the decisive questions of Russian modernity and pursue urgent issues of social, political and theological import.

The course introduces students to a range of authors, genres and issues in the study of nineteenth-century Russian literature. In order to achieve a balance of depth and breadth, the paper is organized around the study of two set texts, two prescribed authors, and three topics. (There are suggested pathways through the texts and topics tailored to Part IB, option A (ex-ab initio) students).

Assessment by Long Essay instead of final examination is available in this paper for students in Part IB (Options A&B).


For full details, see the SL4 Student Handbook

Section A: Set Texts

A1.  A. S. Pushkin, Evgenii Onegin  (Michaelmas)

Note: Former ab initio students (i.e. those in Part IB, Option A) are only required to read chapters 1, 2, 7 and 8 in Russian; they must read the entire novel in English in order to follow the plot.  (Recommended translation: James E. Falen (rhymed); in addition, Vladimir Nabokov for literal translation)

Students in Part IB, Option B and Part II read the entire novel in Russian.

A2: L. N. Tolstoi, Anna Karenina (Lent)

Note: Former ab initio students (i.e. those in Part IB, Option A) read at least the extracts specified below in Russian (roughly one third of the novel); they read the entire novel in English in order to follow the plot:  Part I: 1-4, 7-11, 13, 16-23, 26-34;  Part 2: 7-12, 21-29;    Part 3: 1-5, 13-16,  22-25, 31-32 ;  Part 4: 1, 3-5,  9-13, 15-23;  Part 6: 3, 7-16,  19-20, 31-33;  Part 7: 9-16, 23-31;  Part 8: 8-19.  Recommended translations: either Rosemary Edmonds OR Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Students in Part IB, Option B and Part II read the entire novel in Russian.

Section B: Topics

B1.  The Elegy (Michaelmas)

Selected poetry by Zhukovskii, Batiushkov, Pushkin, Baratynskii, Lermontov.

B2.  Petersburg Tales

Nikolai Gogol, Nevskii ProspektNosZapiski sumasshedshego, Portret

Fedor Dostoevskii, Dvoinik (1846)

B3. Fiction and Ideology in the 1860s (Lent)

Ivan Turgenev, Otsy i deti (1862)

Nikolai Chernyshevskii, ‘Chetvertyi son Very Pavlovny’ (excerpt from Chto delat’?, 1863)

Fedor Dostoevskii, Zapiski iz podpol'ia (1864), Besy (1872)

B4. Chekhov: Prose and Plays

Selected prose and drama.

Preparatory reading: 

Students are urged to buy and read both Set Texts during the summer (or Year Abroad), as well as, in particular, any optional longer texts they wish to cover (e.g. Besy).

The following reading list serves as an introduction to the subject.

  • Caryl Emerson, The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature (esp. chs 1, 4, 5, 6)
  • William Mills Todd, III, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin: Ideology, Institutions and Narrative (chs. 1,2,3)
  • Malcolm V. Jones and Robin Feuer Miller (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Classic Russian Novel
  • Michael Wachtel, Cambridge Introduction to Russian Poetry (chs 1,2,3,4)
  • Andrew Wachtel and Ilya Vinitsky. “The Spirit of Poetry: Russian Culture in the Age of Alexander I” in Russian Literature
  • a scholarly history of 19th-century Russia such as: Gregory Freeze, Russia:  A History (chs 5, 6, 7, 8) or Nicholas Riasanovsky and Mark Steinberg, A History of Russia (8th edition; Chs 24-30)
  • Andrzej Walicki, A History of Russian Thought (esp. chs 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11)
Teaching and learning: 

Weekly lectures in Michaelmas and Lent; weekly (2hr) revision seminars in Easter. Ten fortnightly supervisions throughout the year.  

For the SL.4 Moodle site, please see here


Students in Part IB may elect for assessment by Long Essay instead of final examination in this paper.

The examination is structured as follows: Section A will consist of a commentary on one of the set texts and essay questions on the other. Section B will offer several questions on each of the prescribed topics, as well as more open questions that might be answered with reference to a wide range of texts and periods.  All questions in Section B will require candidates to write about at least two texts.

All candidates must answer three questions. 

Students for Part IB (Options A & B) answer:  

  • 1 question from Section A
  • any other 2 questions (which may include 1 further question from Section A)

Students for Part II answer:    

  • 1 question from Section A
  • 2 questions from Section B

This paper is also available for examination by Long Essay.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Alyson Tapp

Keep in touch


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