Friday, September 13, 2013

The Golden Age of Russian Literature

English 370: The Russian Novel  

The 19th century Russian novel is said to be the golden age of Russian literature in making some of the greatest contributions to the humanities. The two finest representatives of this period are the writers Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky. With their effortless characterizations of human involvements, and their introduction of psychology into novels, these writers have been enormously influential now into the 21st century.

Dr. Russell Weaver has taught English 370: The Russian Novel for over 20 years, and continues to find new meanings and insights in his analysis of the text with students. In the Spring of 2014 his course will investigate Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Dostoevsky’s Brothers Kamazov.

Dr. Weaver recently talked about his course: One of the nicest things anyone ever said about the course was an older woman who took the course about the third time I offered it. She said she felt like we were reading the Bible. We would read a passage and simply talk about it as deeply as we could. Talking about the text's words in this way puts us into intimate contact with the text in a powerful way. However, even when we talk about the text in this way as thoroughly as we can, it is still the case that these texts always exceed our ability to understand them. This is not because it is difficult to understand the words. Except for a few passages in Karamazov, these novels are actually not difficult to read. The difficulty they pose is simply the difficulty of understanding any living thing, the difficulty of understanding what Melville calls in Moby-Dick "the ungraspable phantom of life." 

“These texts discuss historical, social, religious and philosophical ideas not in the abstract but as on-going concerns of the characters. This means that we get to think about not only the psychological and emotional issues that arise the characters' lives, but we also get to think about their lives in the larger context provided by these powerful ideas.”

If you have interests in the antinomies of human and divine justice, if you are interested in how religious questions play out against the psychology of poverty and humiliation, or if you just like reading some of the coolest books ever, with a professor known for his line-by-line, and even word-by-word analysis, look for Dr. Russell Weaver’s course this spring.

1 comment:

  1. I took The Russian Novel with Dr. Weaver, and it was truly an eye-opening and moving experience. I'd never read books that way, and now I keep it in mind with every book I read.

    Thanks for posting this!