Slavic 281: Proseminar: Evgenii Onegin

Th 3-6, 6115 Dwinelle. Instructor: Harsha Ram.

Units: 4

This seminar seeks to acquaint students with various approaches to literary scholarship. Numerous methodologies, both Russian and Western, will be introduced and tested with respect to the questions they inherently pose and with respect to their applicability to Pushkin’s Evgenii Onegin, the primary text we will be working with over the course of the semester. We shall be asking such questions as: what is a text, philologically and theoretically speaking? What, if any, are its boundaries? What is the relationship between text, intertext and context? What is an author? How does the classic notion of authorial freedom or agency become complicated through the workings of romantic irony? What is the relationship of author to hero? How are we to understand the introduction of the romantic (Byronic) hero on Russian soil? What is a reader? How are we to understand the interpretive and psychological processes by which a reader “identifies” with her prototype? What constitutes a legitimate reading? What is commentary? What is genre? How to understand the prosaic and the poetic in themselves, and as fused aspects of a “novel in verse,” Pushkin’s paradoxical definition of Evgenii Onegin? What is the relationship of a text to literary history? How to understand such significant literary movements as sentimentalism and romanticism, their formal preoccupations and cultural assumptions? Evgenii Onegin has generated vastly divergent interpretations, from Belinskii, who viewed the novel as an “encyclopedia of Russian life,” to Nabokov’s insistence that the novel and its characters were a purely literary stylization of prior European and Russian sources. These divergences point to two broadly distinct approaches to scholarship, one pointing in the direction of historicism, the other to various formalisms and structuralisms. Over the course of the semester we will be examining both historicist and formalist approaches to the text, those arising from Pushkin criticism as well as from much further afield. We will be exploring the largely thematic and socio-historical approaches typical of nineteenth-century Russian criticism; at the same time we will be asking if 20th-century scholars of the novel, such as Bakhtin, or of cultural history, such as Lotman, might serve to refine the assumptions of 19th-century criticism. At the same time we will be examining the stylistic specificities of the text, focusing on such questions as the correlation of rhythm and syntax or the patterning of the Onegin stanza. Can we usefully compare Russian and Western approaches to genre theory, cultural history, intertextuality, romantic irony, the unconscious, gender and sexuality?

Requirements: Students are expected to have purchased and already read Evgenii Onegin prior to the commencement of the semester.  All other readings are to be provided online on bCourses. Make sure to bring a copy of the novel as well as the week’s readings (as a hard copy or on your computer) every week.

The final grade will be based on:

  1. your brief (10-15 minute) oral reports (sign up for at least two such reports during the second week’s class) as well as your participation in class discussion
  2. nine tightly argued 1-2 page written assignments due when indicated in the syllabus
  3. A paper proposal (due November 28) and a 8-12 page term paper (due December 9). Students may also opt for a take-home exam in place of a final paper.

Required text:
A.S. Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, A.D. Briggs (editor). Duckworth Press.
ISBN-13: 978-1853993961

Prerequisite:  Graduate standing.