BLS 322: Revolutionary Lives: Radical Reflections in Russian Literature

Russian literature has long served as something more than mere entertainment. For the Russian reading public, the expectation was for literature to raise social issues and express hard truths. The works of literature for our course tackle a variety of issues encountered in the human experience. These novels will take us from the wild mountain ranges of the Caucasus to an unidentified future-world or from a young girl’s life among the provincial gentry to the cold city streets of St. Petersburg in Stalin’s time. While they vary greatly in style, plot, and historical setting, all of them share a focus on the individual’s search for truth and purpose, rejecting conventional (happy) endings and asking readers instead to ponder, indeed to reach, their own conclusions.

Our course objective will be to examine these works within the framework of their historical context and to extract from them our own interpretations of the truths expressed there. We will discuss social barriers to personal happiness, various types of conflicts with authority, censorship, and changing ideas about gender roles as explored in this body of literature. While the Russian historical and cultural context is central to our understanding of these texts, we will also discuss how these works illustrate a more universal context, the human quest for happiness and purpose in life.


  • Tolstoy, Leo. Hadji Murad (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude), from Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy. Perennial, 1967. ISBN 0060830719. —or— Harper Perennial, 2004. ISBN 0060586974. Text is also available online here.
  • Kovalevskaya, Sofya. Nihilist Girl. Modern Language Assoc., 2001. ISBN 0873527909
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. (trans. Mirra Ginzburg) Viking, 1999. ISBN 0380633132
  • Chukovskaya, Lydia. Sofia Petrovna. (trans. Aline Werth) NWUP, 1994. ISBN 0810111500