Russian literature

literature of Russia and in Russian language

Russian literature refers to the literature of Russia and its émigrés and to Russian-language literature. The roots of Russian literature can be traced to the Middle Ages, when epics and chronicles in Old East Slavic were composed. By the Age of Enlightenment, literature had grown in importance, and from the early 1830s, Russian literature underwent an astounding golden age in poetry, prose and drama.

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  • From mid-1988, the growing weakness of the Soviet state, and the division and confusion of the government’s response to nationalism, was accentuated by the strength of nationalist sentiment, especially in the Baltic republics, the Caucasus republics, and the western Ukraine. This sentiment had been manifested from the mid-1980s in increased opposition to Communist rule. The waving of national flags and singing of national songs became more frequent. On 23 August 1989, two million people formed a human chain between the capitals of the Baltic Republics. The Soviet idea of a limited flowering of national cultures as part of a wider concept of a unified Soviet people, a policy adopted in 1923, had proved a total failure, although, during the late Soviet period, some Russians resented the ‘internationalism’ of the Soviet Union wherein resources, money and technical know-how were handed over by Moscow to the non-Russian sectors. There was also resentment over the foreign accents that the non-Russians had when speaking Russian in the army and elsewhere. Moreover, an explicitly conveyed sense of Russian identity had emerged by the late 1960s with the derevenshchiki (ruralists): Russian writers such as Valentin Rasputin. Without tackling the censorship head-on, what the derevenshchiki tended to do was to decry the baneful effects of Soviet Communist modernisation upon the older rural way of life and its values. By the later 1970s, different strands of Russian national identity, expressed in the form of resentment over the perceived shunning of Russian cultural values, emerged with other writers.
  • I think the first discovery I made for myself which I didn't necessarily share with my family or my friends, but came upon myself, was Russian literature. I've always felt very much enthralled to writers like Dostoevsky, especially, and Chekhov. In later years, modern Russian poets like Pasternak and Mandelstam and Akhmatova have meant a great deal to me. Poetry more than prose.
    • Anita Desai In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock (1992)
  • The critics were seized with the impression that Russian authors did not merely write novels, but celebrated mass as it were, with the "why and wherefore" ever present in all they wrote.
    • J. A. Joffe, Russian Literature, page 311, in Lectures on Literature (various authors from Columbia University, 1911)external scan
  • I calculated once that the acknowledged best in the way of Russian fiction and poetry which had been produced since the beginning of the last century runs to about 23,000 pages of ordinary print. It is evident that neither French nor English literature can be so compactly handled. They sprawl over many more centuries; the number of masterpieces is formidable. This brings me to my first point. If we exclude one medieval masterpiece, the beautifully commodious thing about Russian prose is that it is all contained in the amphora of one round century — with an additional little cream jug provided for whatever surplus may have accumulated since. One century, the nineteenth, had been sufficient for a country with practically no literary tradition of its own to create a literature which in artistic worth, in wide-spread influence, in everything except bulk, equals the glorious output of England or France, although their production of permanent masterpieces had begun so much earlier. This miraculous flow of esthetic values in so young a civilization could not have taken place unless in all other ramifications of spiritual growth nineteenth-century Russia had not attained with the same abnormal speed a degree of culture which again matched that of the oldest Western countries.
  • Russia has always been a curiously unpleasant country despite her great literature.
    • Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (1990), p. 21.
  • But the history of totalitarian societies, or of groups of people who have adopted the totalitarian outlook, suggests that loss of liberty is inimical to all forms of literature. German literature almost disappeared during the Hitler regime, and the case was not much better in Italy. Russian literature, so far as one can judge by translations, has deteriorated markedly since the early days of the revolution, though some of the verse appears to be better than the prose. Few if any Russian novels that it is possible to take seriously have been translated for about fifteen years. In western Europe and America large sections of the literary intelligentsia have either passed through the Communist Party or have been warmly sympathetic to it, but this whole leftward movement has produced extraordinarily few books worth reading.
  • Russia is old; her literature is new. Russian history goes back to the ninth century; Russian literature, so far as it interests the world, begins in the nineteenth. Russian literature and American literature are twins. But there is this strong contrast, caused partly by the difference in the age of the two nations. In the early years of the nineteenth century, American literature sounds like a child learning to talk, and then aping its elders; Russian literature is the voice of a giant, waking from a long sleep, and becoming articulate. It is as though the world had watched this giant's deep slumber for a long time, wondering what he would say when he awakened. And what he has said has been well worth the thousand years of waiting.
  • But I hope you know I go on about these things not simply to extol the virtues of my own country but to speak to the true greatness of the heart and soul of your land. Who, after all, needs to tell the land of Dostoyevsky about the quest for truth, the home of Kandinsky and Scriabin about imagination, the rich and noble culture of the Uzbek man of letters Alisher Navoi about beauty and heart? The great culture of your diverse land speaks with a glowing passion to all humanity. Let me cite one of the most eloquent contemporary passages on human freedom. It comes, not from the literature of America, but from this country, from one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Boris Pasternak, in the novel "Dr. Zhivago." He writes: "I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats -- any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death -- then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself. But this is just the point -- what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel, but an inward music -- the irresistible power of unarmed truth." The irresistible power of unarmed truth. Today the world looks expectantly to signs of change, steps toward greater freedom in the Soviet Union. We watch and we hope as we see positive changes taking place.
  • Russian literature has long been familiar with the notions that a writer can do much within his society, and that it is his duty to do so.
  • Let us not expect Russia to do what she is incapable of, to restrict herself within certain limits, to concentrate her attention upon one point, or bring her conception of life down to one doctrine. Her literary productions must reflect the moral chaos which she is passing through.
  • Один мой знакомый поляк назвал русские буквы стульчиками. На этих стульчиках сидят апостолы русской литературы. Некоторые стульчики оказались электрическими.

See also

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