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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  • 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.


  • [I]t redounds to the honour of Russian literature that the leading spirits of that literature were the most efficient adversaries of slavery.


  • 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.


  • 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.

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