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Russian Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 6 Dec 2001
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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 and co-editor of Russian Cultural Studies, both published by OUP.
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Wish I had read the other reviews before purchasing. Perhaps Catriona Kelly only knows about Pushkin?
The chapters are built around Pushkin's most famous poem 'The monument' which go on to talk about the cult of Russian writers, Pushkin's influence on other writers, role of government and religion. I still remember this poem from school - every Russian student learns it by heart. It is truly a beautiful piece crafted by a careful selection of Russian words but it sounds rather clumsy and grotesque in English.. I can only imagine the first frustration of unprepared English readers.
The second frustration for a novice to Russian literature might come from a chaotic introduction of other Russian writers from different literary epochs: Derzhavin, the contemporary of Pushkin, features along great Russian poets of the early 20th century, such Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva or even Soviet writers, such as Solzhenitsyn and Bulgakov. They might be unknown to European readers.
To me a prepared reader, this book gave some insights I was after and I would like read up on it further. But for readers who are just starting to understand great Russian literature, I would not recommend this book: it's not written in a very engaging manner, throws in chaotic facts that might overwhelm and put you off from further reading of great philosophical Russian novels.
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. However, to the extent that this small but well-packed book fails to function as a genuinely introductory text, it is all the more useful to the reader who comes to it with at least a working knowledge of the history and principal figures.
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