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Russian Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 23 Aug 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks (23 Aug. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192801449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192801449
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1 x 10.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 468,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


It is written in a lively and stimulating manner...and displays a range to which few of Dr. Kelly's peers in the field of Russian scholarship are equal.' (Dr Philip Cavendish)

This is a brilliant essay, written with elegance, informed, incisive, provocative...[Dr Kelly] is in the forefront of scholars of Russian literature...she will make her readers engage with a wide variety of authors and texts. (Professor Anthony Cross, head of Slavonic Studies Department, Cambridge University)

It seems to me brilliant and original, taking an unexpected approach to the subject, and it is written with great confidence and clarity. (Professor Peter France, University of Edinburgh)

About the Author

Catriona Kelly is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and the author of A History of Russian Women's Writing (OUP) and co-editor of Russian Cultural Studies (OUP).

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In 1925, the Anglo-Russian literary critic D. S. Mirsky began Modern Russian Literature, a pioneering 'very short' introduction published by Oxford University Press, by referring to Pushkin. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Bass on 23 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
I was looking forward to improving my knowledge and understanding of a period of Russian writing that I have always loved. I thought that this short introduction would give me a few insights into the minds of writers such as Dostoevsky, Lermentov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gogol and Chekhov and the contexts of their famous works. Sadly after only a few pages in it becomes obvious that it only focuses on Pushkin and the influence that his work had on Russian writing. It does mention other writers but only in relation to Pushkin and to back up the argument for his importance as the father of Russian literature. I am not doubting this claim but it is misleading to call this book an Introduction to Russian literature when it focuses so narrowly on Pushkin's influence and not the other writers in there own right.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Che Guevara on 23 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
'Short' it may be. An 'introduction' it is not. This is written by someone who is frightfully clever, with a particular point of view in mind and a particular purpose for sharing it (to attack the so-called Pushkin myth in Russian literature). It's not for the casual reader or the beginner. It's difficult, and assumes a fair bit of knowledge, patience and understanding. Be warned. Prof Kelly knows all that there is to know about Russian literature, and isn't afriad of showing it.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mr. M. P. T. Palmer on 6 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
I won't for a moment dispute Professor Kelly's vast knowledge of her subject. I had naively hoped that this book would not only educate me, but fill me with the enthusiasm to read some of the authors described. I gave up in utter frustration less than a quarter way through.

Sadly, the writing skills of the Russians have not found their way into the author's style. This is of the (sadly, not yet dead) school that confuses "intellectual" with "pretentious" and "challenging writing" with "needlessly verbose and convoluted writing": why use straightforward language and vocabulary when we can show how clever we are with complex forms and obscure words?

"Pious sentiments about the untranslatability of Pushkin seem to be a genre requirement in every introduction to the writer: they are as true, but also as false, as platitudes about poetry getting lost in translation", opines the learned lady on page nine. WHAT?

Does she mean "Lots of reviewers think Pushkin doesn't translate well, but that is not necessarily true"? Then why not just say so? There's 150 pages full of these contestants for Private Eye's "Pseud's Corner". No, thank you.

I'm sure that there is a mountain of brilliant Russian literature to be read and enjoyed. Don't let this turgid and self-indulgent little book put you off it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paul Bowes TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 6 Oct. 2012
Format: Paperback
Catriona Kelly's 'Very Short Introduction' to Russian Literature, first published in 2001, is an odd book. As an introductory text it is completely unsatisfactory. There are none of the features one would expect: no chronology, no potted biographies. The reader with no knowledge of the subject who is looking for basic information and a sequential treatment of Russian literature from its origins to the present day will need to look elsewhere: Kelly leaps from subject to subject and backwards and forwards in time with abandon.

On the other hand, the subtitle of this Oxford series is 'stimulating ways into new subjects', and this particular volume meets that description. In her preface, Kelly explicitly rejects the need for another linear history or canonical compendium, and registers her suspicion of thematic treatments organised around a single 'big idea'. Rather than duplicate approaches readily available elsewhere, Kelly has chosen to explore Russian literature obliquely, taking the figure of Pushkin as foundational and his poem 'Monument' as a springboard from which to take off into an exploration of what makes Russian literature distinctive.

The result is a readable and provocative study that succeeds in breaking down the conventional, artificial divisions between periods and establishing continuity between the Soviet period and what came before. Returning again and again to Pushkin, she uses his treatment and reputation in successive periods as a way of illuminating otherwise obscure and changing aspects of the role of literature in Russian culture.

Emphatically not recommended for complete beginners, who would do better to start with one of the more conventional texts Kelly mentions in her list of further reading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Not for Novices 24 Jun. 2004
By A. Ross - Published on
Format: Paperback
If you're looking for a basic introduction to Russian literature, this is probably not a very good place to start. Now, I know the title has the words "Russian Literature" and "Introduction" in itóbut don't let that mislead you. Kelly has purposely set out to avoid the "standard" approach to the topic, which she says tends to take one of three forms: a chronological canon of writers and their works, a chronological trip through literary movements and cultural topics of relevance, or a more personal essay of appreciation. In retrospect, I now recognize that, not having read a great deal of Russian literature, I was looking for a mix of the canon and the literary movements. Instead, what I found in Kelly's work was a confusing attempt to attack the material by using the "Russian Shakespeare" (Aleksander Pushkin) as a framing device.
Through the seven essayish chapters, Pushkin is used as a starting point for the discussion, and then various other writers and themes are introduced in relation to his work or attitudes. As one jacket blurb puts it, this is "an unexpected approach to the subject". And as another blurb puts it, "you may love it, perhaps loathe it, or feel perplexed, but not remain indifferent." Well, mark me down for perplexed. I'm not at all opposed to this approach to the topic, it just doesn't seem particularly well suited as an introduction. It's hard to imagine anyone without a solid grounding in the major Russian writers being able to summon up love or hate for this brief work. It simply assumes too much familiarity on behalf of the reader to be of any utility to the newcomer to Russian literature. So, perhaps I'll return to it in 15 years, after I've had a chance to read some of the vital works, but in the meantime, I'm still trying to learn what those might be.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Only for those who already know about Russian Literature 24 Feb. 2007
By Dimostenis Yagcioglu - Published on
Format: Paperback
The author of this book is indisputably an expert in Russian Literature -- and it shows in the book. Through her studies and research on various dimensions and periods of Russian Literature, Catriona Kelly has formed her own approach, or her own point of view, about this vast topic, and this book is an introduction to Kelly's approach to Russian Literature, rather than an introduction to Russian Literature per se.

As the previous reviewer wrote, the book is not for people who want to get an initial idea on the Russian Literature. In my case (and I consider myself a "novice" in this subject), it was only after reading another introductory book (as short as this one) that I realized how many important authors and trends and debates were left out of this "very short introduction".

Catriona Kelly is correct to place Pushkin in the center of Russian Literature, but I wish she described in more detail what preceded him, and other, perhaps equally significant authors and poets who followed him.

I would recommend this book only to people who are already familiar with Russian literature and are open to new ways at looking at it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Review of Kelly's 'Russian Literature' 4 Sept. 2012
By Ryan Mease - Published on
Format: Paperback
I agree with the sentiment of the two earlier reviewers. Kelly's decision to move through Pushkin as a representative of Russian literature's long history led me to miss out on the various perspectives of other great writers. Although the work did attempt to introduce me to Pushkin's social and political context, and the later development of his authorial figure within the development of Russian history, I still would have appreciated an introduction to more authors. I feel that I know Pushkin, not Russia. Still, I appreciate Kelly's decision to make a bold move within the Very Short series, and though I feel this work fell flat, I did not fail to notice the artistic quality of prose, or her precise ability to structure the entire work around a single piece of poetry.
Fails totally to meet expectations 7 Jan. 2015
By Vincent Conti - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A totally misleading title. This is a short introduction to Pushkin who is the only Russian author dealt with in any real sense. Passing reference is made to all the other great authors and little effort is put into giving a sense of Russian literature as a whole. The purpose of this series of short introduction books is not well served by an academic who is more enthralled with her unusual approach to the subject. That is not what these books are about. The nature of the series creates an expectation that the editors should have know this book would not fulfill. This thesis has its place but that place is not in a series like the one it is now in. The first "Very Short Introduction" book in which I have been totally disappointed.
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