Close Encounters: Essays on Russian Literature

Close Encounters: Essays on Russian Literature

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Robert Louis Jackson

Series: Ars Rossica
ISBN: 9781936235568 (hardcover), 9781618118110 (paperback)
Pages: 380 pp.
Publication Date: March 2013

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Drawing on the prose, poetry, and criticism of a broad range of Russian writers and critics, including Pushkin, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Bakhtin, Gorky, Nabokov, and Solzhenitsyn, Close Encounters: Essays on Russian Literature explores themes of chance and fate, freedom and responsibility, beauty and disfiguration, and loss and separation, as well as concepts of criticism and the moral purpose of art. Through close textual analysis, the author offers a view of the unity of form and content in Russian writing and of its unique capacity to disclose the universal in the detail of human experience. With an emphasis on Dostoevsky, Close Encounters foregrounds ethical and spiritual concerns of Russian writers and stimulates the reader to pursue his or her own critical exploration of Russian literature. This work will be of interest to academic libraries, university students, and specialists in literature, criticism, philosophy, and esthetics, as well as enthusiastic general readers of Russian literature.

Robert Louis Jackson (PhD University of California) is B.E. Bensinger Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University, and taught at Yale from 1954 to 2000. He is the author of Dostoevsky’s Underground Man in Russian Literature (1958); Dostoevsky’s Quest for Form. A Study of his Philosophy of Art (1966); The Art of Dostoevsky.  Deliriums and Nocturnes (1981); and Dialogues with Dostoevsky. The Overwhelming Questions (1993).


Demonstrating a broad, yet detailed, knowledge of Russian literature ranging from Alexander Pushkin to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jackson invokes an impressive array of classical and modern European writers, including a significant number of German literati. . . . This collection appeals to a range of audiences with the close engagement of major works by canonical authors being instructive for the undergraduate and with many themes addressing graduate and special interests. . . . [T]he organization of these collected essays represents well Jackson’s “binding interest” in aesthetic and “moral-philosophical questions,” as he explores transcendent realities in dialogue with various types of realism, competing artistic expressions of freedom, beauty, and responsibility , and individual choices in light of a shared inevitable final departure.
— Elizabeth Blake, Saint Louis University, Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 58, no. 4 (Winter 2015)
Jackson’s luminous selection of his own critical writings over the past half-century is based overwhelmingly on close reading, immediate contexts, and direct quotation. Get all three right, he seems to suggest, and the literary critic can leap to the artist’s integral worldview in an instant. . . . Will this collection become the Essential or Portable Robert Louis Jackson? Probably not; Jackson has more to write . . . the reader senses in the final two essays that Jackson is on the edge of big new interests: in Goethe, Zhukovsky, Nabokov. This is exactly the sense one wants from essays that stretch over half a century, on some of the greatest writers in the world.
— Caryl Emerson, Princeton University, in The Russian Review, January 2014 (Vol. 73, No. 1)
Serves as an excellent example of lucid, accessible literary criticism that will inform and inspire students at all levels. Highly recommended.
— C. A. Rydel, formerly, Grand Valley State University, in CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November 2013
This collection of essays is neither a history of Russian literature in disguise nor is it a collection of separate interpretations of great Russian books. Close Encounters is an answer, a new answer to the old question of what to look for in Russian literature. . . For sheer power of convincing argument and didactic knowhow, Close Encounters, I think, can only be compared to the essays of T. S. Eliot. They need no introduction. Try reading any single one of them and you will find yourself reading all of them.
— Horst-Jurgen Gerigk, Universitat Heidelberg
Robert Louis Jackson is a passionate advocate of Russian literature. . . . His style as a writer can be appreciated by general readers who share a literary academic’s conviction of the importance of literature in the larger scheme of things. Though the essays here have a writer’s sense of clarity, they are annotated with footnotes for academic use, and their subjects and concerns are academic. . . . . Where relevant (which is often), the author unpacks important shades of meaning for English readers by looking at the original Russian words and phrases.
— Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Table of Contents

Introductory Note
Horst-Jürgen Gerigk
A Glance at the Essays

Fate, Freedom, and Responsibility
Moral-Philosophical Subtext in Pushkin’s The Stone Guest
Turgenev’s “Knock... Knock... Knock!..”:
The Riddle of the Story
Polina and Lady Luck in Dostoevsky’s The Gambler
Pierre and Dolokhov at the Barrier:
The Lesson of the Duel
Chance and Design:
Anna Karenina’s First Meeting with Vronsky
Breaking the Moral Barrier:
Anna Karenina’s Night Train to St. Petersburg
Uzhas in the Subtext:
Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych
“What Time Is It? Where Are We Going?”
Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard: The Story of a Verb
Two Kinds of Beauty
Two Kinds of Beauty
The Sentencing of Fyodor Karamazov
The Defiled and Defiling “Physiognomy” of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov
Dostoevsky’s “Anecdote from a Child’s Life”:
A Case of Bifurcation
The Triple Vision:
Dostoevsky’s “The Peasant Marey”
The Making of a Russian Icon:
Solzhenitsyn’s “Matryona’s Home”
Critical Perspectives
Dostoevsky’s Concept of Reality and Its Representation in Art
In the Interests of Social Pedagogy:
Maxim Gorky’s Polemic with Dostoevsky
Bakhtin’s Poetics of Dostoevsky and “Dostoevsky’s Christian Declaration of Faith” 
Vyacheslav I. Ivanov’s Poem “Nudus Salta!” and the Purpose of Art
Poetry of Parting
Intimations of Mortality:
Fyodor I. Tyutchev’s “In Parting there is a Lofty Meaning” 
The Poetry of Memory and the Memory of Poetry:
Igor Severyanin’s “No More Than a Dream”
Supremum Vale:
The Last Stanzas of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
Goethe, Zhukovsky, and the Decembrists
From the Other Shore: Nabokov’s Translation into Russian of Goethe’s “Dedication” to Faust