Slavic R5A, Section 2: The Real and the Grotesque: Russian Literature and the American South

MWF 8-9, 183 Dwinelle. Instructor: Kathryn Pribble.

Units: 4

This course satisfies the first half or the “A” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

Despite the geographical and temporal distances separating them, Russian literature of the 19th century has been productively linked to the Southern Gothic mode in 20th century American fiction. Common to both traditions is a preoccupation with the demonic side of everyday life—largely seen as resulting from inherently unequal socioeconomic systems—and a corresponding tendency to blur the line between “realistic” and “grotesque” description. In this course, we will interrogate the tension between avowedly realist representations of daily life and human psychology, and those representations that have been labeled Gothic or grotesque. We will read selected texts from Russian writers including Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Goncharov, Ivan Turgenev, and Fyodor Dostoevsky, alongside texts by Southern writers that may include William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, among others. We may also consider the Southern Gothic mode in other types of contemporary media, including the television series True Detective and American Horror Story.

Over the course of the semester we will attempt to answer the following questions: How do we define the category of the “grotesque” in contradistinction to the “real”? Is the grotesque capable of conveying moral and psychological truths in a way that is inaccessible to more traditional forms of realistic description? What are the sociopolitical conditions that give rise to grotesque art? And finally, how do these conditions manifest themselves in both 19th century Russia and in the 20th century American South, so that Southern modernists frequently drew inspiration from the Russian realist tradition?

While these questions will guide the readings and discussions that form the structural centerpiece of this course, we will also focus on developing the skills of college-level critical reading and writing. In this course students will outline, draft, write, and rewrite a series of essays, honing their ability to read closely and craft persuasive written arguments.

While the majority of readings will be provided either online or in a course reader, students will be asked to purchase the following texts:

Nikolai Gogol. Dead Souls. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Vintage, 1997. [ISBN-10: 0679776443; ISBN-13: 9780679776444]

Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Double and The Gambler. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Vintage, 2007. [ISBN-10: 0375719016; ISBN-13: 9780375719011]

William Faulkner. Selected Short Stories. Modern Library, 1993. [ISBN-10: 0679424784; ISBN-13: 9780679424789]