Saturday, January 11, 2014

Russian Realism

I’m certainly no expert of Russian literature (I tend to gravitate towards British Lit). My experience with Russian novels is rather limited: Anna Kerina, We the Living, a brief go at War and Peace, a few histories on Soviet Russia, and most recently Notes from the Underground. However, among these, I've certainly noticed a common theme- Realism.
Earlier this week, Ms. King said something about how the Underground Man saw things that others couldn’t, regarding both individuals and society as a whole. I thought of Tolstoy, who I believe the same can certainly be said about. Even if you haven’t read Anna Kerina, you’ve probably heard the quote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Essentially, humans want to be happy, but we also want to be unique individuals. But can we be happy while being different from everyone else, an outcast? This is likely one of the most well known opening lines of any novel. And as far as interpreting the individual, Leo pretty much hits that nail on the head. 
I used this example because, like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy is so apt at understanding the general dichotomies that the human condition seems to be infested with. Both men lived and wrote during the same time and place-- 19th Century Russia. I wondered if their similarities had anything to do with their surroundings. After all, not every generation produces so many great authors, such as Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. After one Google search, it became apparent that I'm not the only one who has had this thought. 
We already discussed much of the Russian history starting around the 1840s through the 19th century, which was the breeding ground for Russian realistic literature. According to Thomas Gaiton Marullo, the Russian Realist Literature provided an "alternative government" for Russian during the time. It was Vissarion Belinksky who in the 1840s encouraged writers in Russia to take a realistic approach in their writing to bring to light the country's many social issues. The really amazing thing is how Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky turned inwardly to address these issues. They went directly to the source of society- the individual. 


Joseph D'Amico said...

I didn't know any of that history before, that's really interesting. I haven't read that much Russian literature either (funny that you mentioned War and Peace though, I just picked that up at Barnes and Noble today), but from what I have read I think you are right about the prevalence of realism. I also definitely agree that their surroundings shaped their writing style. I think that the utilitarian ideas of the time at least influenced Dostoyevsky, even if they were eventually just something to write against.

Samantha Gillen said...

The quote you mentioned reminds me of Underground Man's argument that sometimes people will go against what is rational, good, and beneficial just to prove to themselves that they are an authentic, unique individual and not just an "organ stop" in the world. People definitely want to feel unique, I know I do. Whenever I finish an art piece, a feeling of pride ignites in me. Why? I think it's because I've created something that nobody else has ever created. A piece of work that resembles uniquely me. With todays enormous population, it sometimes feels impossible to make your mark in the world. I know a common thought nowadays is that everything a person creates, whether its a song, art piece, or novel, has been taken from someone else in the past. I disagree. I think their is still uniqueness left in the world; maybe the current atmosphere just makes it a bit more difficult to tap into.