Slavic R5B, Section 1: Reading and Composition: Representing Russian Peasants

TT 8-9:30, 243 Dwinelle. Instructor: Jenny Flaherty.

Units: 4

All Reading & Composition courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to fulfill this requirement for the Bachelor’s Degree. This course satisfies the second half or the “B” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

 Until 1863, the American economy was based on a system of slavery. Russia also had a system of modified slavery known as serfdom; it was abolished in 1861. Before and after serfdom, the Russian peasant captured the imagination and articulated the anxieties of Russian writers. Famous Russian novelists such as Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky had something of an obsession with Russian peasants. After 1850 most well-known Russian prose writers and many poets deal with “the peasant theme” in some way or another.

Why was this such an enduring theme for the great literati of the nineteenth century? In this class, we will consider how poor and oppressed people are represented in nineteenth century Russian literature. We will investigate the complex interaction between Russia’s educated elite and the peasant masses and the impact of this interaction on literature.

The peasantry was conceived of as a homogeneous mass defined by certain qualities: simplicity, closeness to nature, an authentic “Russianness”. There are a lot of words we can use to talk about the Russian peasantry in the literary imagination: the oppressed, the disenfranchised, noble savages, subalterns, the illiterate masses, the simple folk, the common man. “Otherness” is another category we will attempt to define.

Reading list:

For the book store:

Poor Folk, Dostoevsky

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Cossacks, Tolstoy

For a course packet:

A Sportman’s sketches, Turgenev (selections)

Poor Liza, Karamzin

The Captain’s Daughter, Pushkin

Selections from Nekrasov’s poetry

Selections from Belinsky’s articles on Russian literature


“On Cannibals”, Michel de Montaigne

Orientalism, Edward Said (selections)

The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Dubois (selections)

Marxism and Form, Frederic Jameson (selections)

“Can the subaltern speak?”, Gayatari Spivak

Internal Colonization, Alexander Etkind (selections)

“18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, Karl Marx (selections)


Prerequisite: Successful completion of the “A” portion of the Reading & Composition requirement or its equivalent. Students may not enroll in nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.