Epic and the Russian Novel from Gogol to Pasternak

Epic and the Russian Novel from Gogol to Pasternak

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Frederick T. Griffiths & Stanley J. Rabinowitz

Series: Studies in Russian and Slavic Literatures, Cultures and History
ISBN: 9781936235537 (hardcover), 9781618118141 (paperback)
Pages: 240 pp.
Publication Date: April 2011

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Epic and the Russian Novel from Gogol to Pasternak examines the origin of the nineteen- century Russian novel and challenges the Lukacs-Bakhtin theory of epic. By removing the Russian novel from its European context, the authors reveal that it developed as a means of reconnecting the narrative form with its origins in classical and Christian epic in a way that expressed the Russian desire to renew and restore ancient spirituality. Through this methodology, Griffiths and Rabinowitz dispute Bakhtin’s classification of epic as a monophonic and dead genre whose time has passed. Due to its grand themes and cultural centrality, the epic is the form most suited to newcomers or cultural outsiders seeking legitimacy through appropriation of the past. Through readings of Gogol’s Dead Souls—a uniquely problematic work, and one which Bakhtin argued was novelistic rather than epic—Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace, this book redefines “epic” and how we understand the sweep of Russian literature as a whole.

Frederick T. Griffiths (PhD Harvard University) is Class of 1880 Professor of Greek and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Amherst College. His research interests have focused on the relationship of literature and politics in Hellenistic Alexandria (Theocritus and Apollonius Rhodius), 19th and 20th century Russian (with S. J. Rabinowitz: Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pasternak), and 20th century America (Willa Cather, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Charles Johnson).  He is the author of Theocritus at Court: articles on Apollonius Rhodius, Willa Cather, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison.

Griffiths and Rabinowitz reveal the genre’s liveliness, fluidity, and seemingly limitless ability to assert itself in modern letters. Nearly every sentence rewards, and will provoke serious readers to pause and think. The impressive erudition and critical imagination which Griffiths/Rabinowitz combine make one hope that this ancient/modern pair of critical bogatyri will sally forth again.
— John M. Kopper, Dartmouth College
Felicitous phrasing throughout (the Odyssey as “the grandfather of all Baedekers,” 155) renders this erudite volume a pleasure to read and ponder. Griffiths and Rabinowitz have created an exemplary and inspirational work of interdisciplinary scholarship. Any scholar of Slavic studies, classics, Russian intellectual history, or the classical heritage should gladly welcome this book.
— Judith E. Kalb, University of South Carolina

Table of Contents


1. Epic and Novel
The Double Plot of Epic
The Death of Epic
Polyphony and Pentecost
Temporal Closure
2. Gogol in Rome
“Taras Bulba” 
Dead Souls, Part One
Dead Souls, Part Two
Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends
3. Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
4. Tolstoy and Homer
5. Doctor Zhivago and the Tradition of National Epic
6. Stalin and the Death of Epic: Mikhail Bakhtin, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak

Works Cited