Slavic 46: 20th-Century Russian Literature

MWF 10-11, Dwinelle 182. Instructor: Robyn Jensen.

Units: 4 Satisfies L&S Arts & Literature breadth requirement.

“We were born to make fairy tales come true!” This line from a popular song of the 1930s captures the utopian dream of forging a new society in the wake of the Russian Revolution — a society that would be more spectacular, more extraordinary than the fairy tales of the past could have envisioned. The 1917 Revolution promised a radical restructuring of society, but the long twentieth century also witnessed war, violence, and massive upheavals. In this course, we will consider how writers and artists responded to these transformations in society, and how their works in turn attempted to shape social reality. Moving from pre-revolutionary works that anticipated the collapse of the old order to the avant-garde and modernist experimentation of the 1920s, from the rise of socialist realism in the 1930s to the post-Stalin Thaw period, and finally from late socialism to the collapse of the Soviet Union, we will trace moments of rupture and continuity with the cultural legacies of the past. How did the utopian ideals of revolutionary Russia generate new literary forms? What roles did laughter and satire have in this revolutionary society? How did writers bear witness to the violence and traumas of the Gulag? How were the scientific and technological innovations of Soviet society refracted in dystopian works of science fiction? At the end of the course, we will consider works that look back on the Soviet experience as we reflect on the emerging canon of contemporary post-Soviet literature.

Students will write two short papers (4-6 pages) and take a midterm and final exam. We will read a range of texts, including: Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard; Alexander Blok’s “The Twelve”; poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky; stories by Isaac Babel; Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We;  Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog; Yuri Olesha’s Envy; short stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko and Daniil Kharms; Anna Akhmatova’s “Requiem”; Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; Viktor Pelevin’s Omon Ra; as well as stories by Varlam Shalamov, Liudmila Petrushevskaya, Tatiana Tolstaya, and Svetlana Alexievich.

In addition to a course reader, students should purchase the following texts:

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, trans. Mirra Ginzburg, Voyager, 1983. ISBN 9780380633135

Mikhail Bulgakov, A Dog’s Heart, trans. Hugh Aplin, Hesperus, 2013. ISBN: 9781843914020

Yuri Olesha, Envy, trans. Marian Schwartz, NYRB, 2004. ISBN 9781590170861

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, trans. H.T. Willetts, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2005. ISBN 9780374529529

Required of the Slavic major track in Russian Language & Literature.

Prerequisites: None. Taught in English with readings in English.