Fall 2008

Russian Literature in the Twentieth Century

Listed in: Russian, as RUSS-23


Boris Wolfson (Section 01)


The Russian intelligentsia expected its writers to be the conscience of the nation, twentieth-century saints, or, as Solzhenitsyn put it, “a second government.” Stalin demanded that writers be “engineers of men’s souls.” Are these two visions all that different? Did the avant-garde’s view that art should change the world and the intelligentsia’s moralizing tradition open the door for the excesses of Stalinism and Socialist Realism? Has the fall of the Soviet regime liberated Russian writers or deprived them of their most powerful subject? In search of answers, we will study major works of twentieth-century prose, and some poetry, by Zamiatin, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, Babel, Platonov, Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita), Olesha, Solzhenitsyn, Sinyavsky, Brodsky, Chukovskaya, and others. We will pay considerable attention to parallel developments in the visual arts, using materials from the College’s Thomas P. Whitney Collection. Conducted in English, all readings in translation (students who read Russian will be given special assignments). Two meetings per week. Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Wolfson.