Before They Were Titans: Essays on the Early Works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy

Before They Were Titans: Essays on the Early Works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy

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Edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen
with an afterword by Caryl Emerson

Series: Ars Rossica
ISBN: 9781618114303 (hardcover), 9781618118110 (paperback)
Pages: 352 pp.
Publication Date: April 2015

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Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are the titans of Russian literature. As mature artists, they led very different lives and wrote vastly different works, but their early lives and writings display provocative kinships, while also indicating the divergent paths the two authors would take en route to literary greatness.

The ten new critical essays here, written by leading specialists in nineteenth-century Russian literature, give fresh, sophisticated readings to works from the first decade of the literary life of each Russian author—for Dostoevsky, the 1840s; for Tolstoy, the 1850s. Collectively, these essays yield composite portraits of these two artists as young men finding their literary way. At the same time, they show how the early works merit appreciation for themselves, before their authors were Titans.


Elizabeth Cheresh Allen (Bryn Mawr College), Lewis Bagby (University of Wyoming), Caryl Emerson (Princeton University), Susanne Fusso (Wesleyan University), Liza Knapp (Columbia University), Anne Lounsbery (New York University), Robin Feuer Miller (Brandeis University), Gary Saul Morson (Northwestern University), Dale E. Peterson (Amherst College), William Mills Todd III (Harvard University), Ilya Vinitsky (University of Pennsylvania), Justin Weir (Harvard University)

Elizabeth Cheresh Allen received her PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Yale University in 1984, where she taught for seven years. Since 1991, Allen has taught at Bryn Mawr College as Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature. She is the author of Beyond Realism: Turgenev’s Poetics of Secular Salvation (Stanford UP, 1992) and A Fallen Idol is Still a God: Lermontov and the Quandaries of Cultural Transition (Stanford UP, 2007). She is also the editor of The Essential Turgenev (Northwestern UP, 1994) and co-editor of Freedom and Responsibility in Russian Literature: Essays in Honor of Robert Louis Jackson (Northwestern UP, 1995).

The collective format works well for Before They Were Titans, allowing for the inclusion of disparate critical voices and approaches. The essays’ diversity in this regard is a strength of the volume and the resulting collection is a pleasure to read ... Thoughtfully selected, arranged and composed, these fresh readings of texrs showcase the vibrant experimentation and impressive literary scope of the young Dostoevsky and Tolstoy on their own terms. This early period of each writer’s oeuvre is often critically neglected, and Before They Were Titans comes as a welcome entry in both Dostoevsky and Tolstoy scholarship.
— Katherine Bowers, University of British Columbia, Slavic and East European Journal vol 60.2 (Summer 2016)
This collection of essays by some of the most accomplished scholars, themselves “titans,” in the field of Slavic literary studies brings to bear their extensive knowledge and profound insight on the nascent genius of the young Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. The collection is bookended by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen’s introductory essay and by Caryl Emerson’s Afterword “On the Wondrous Thickness of First Things.” These orient and lend coherence to a collection that is in fact very diverse in form and “thickness”: while some of the pieces are akin to pensees, others are full-fledged scholarly articles with significant research behind them. In short, no standard measure can be applied; each essay is unique in its aims, scope, and approach.
— Lynn Ellen Patyk (Dartmouth College) The Russian Review (January 2016, Vol. 75, No. 1)
This collection of essays exposes readers to early works, most of them little-known or studied, by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Each work is a radical experiment by these young titans, and each anticipates mature masterpieces while representing a road not taken. The contributors to the volume are all well established scholars of nineteenth-century Russian literature who address the works from new perspectives. It opens and closes with excellent commentary — by its editor Elizabeth Cheresh Allen and Caryl Emerson respectively — that knits the volume together.
— Donna Tussing Orwin, University of Toronto

Table of Contents

Note on the Text
List of Contributors

Introduction: Before They Were Titans
Elizabeth Cheresh Allen

Part I.
Dostoevsky: Works of the 1840s

I. Agency, Desire, and Fate in Poor Folk
Lewis Bagby
II. Me and My Double: Selfhood, Consciousness, and Empathy in The Double
Gary Saul Morson
III. Husbands and Lovers: Vaudeville Conventions in “Another Man’s Wife,” “The Jealous Husband,” and The Eternal Husband
Susanne Fusso
IV. Dostoevsky’s White Nights: Memoir of a Petersburg Pathology
Dale E. Peterson
V. Dostoevsky’s Orphan Text: Netochka Nezvanova
Elizabeth Cheresh Allen

Part II.
Tolstoy: Works of the 1850s

VI. The Creative Impulse in Childhood: The Dangerous Beauty of Games, Lies, Betrayal, and Art
Robin Feuer Miller
VII. Fear and Loathing in the Caucasus: Tolstoy’s “The Raid” and Russian Journalism
William Mills Todd III and Justin Weir
VIII. Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Tales: Pathos, Sermon, Protest, and Stowe
Liza Knapp
IX. On Cultivating One’s Own Garden with Other People’s Labor: Serfdom in “A Landowner’s Morning”
Anne Lounsbery
X. Tolstoy’s Lessons: Pedagogy as Salvation
Ilya Vinitsky

An Afterword on the Wondrous Thickness of First Things
Caryl Emerson