That Savage Gaze: Wolves in the Nineteenth-Century Russian Imagination

That Savage Gaze: Wolves in the Nineteenth-Century Russian Imagination

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Ian M. Helfant

Series: The Unknown Nineteenth Century
ISBN: 9781618118431 (hardcover) / 9781644691342 (paper)
Pages: 202 pp.; 14 figs.
Publication Date: August 2018

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Imperial Russia’s large wolf populations were demonized, persecuted, tormented, and sometimes admired. That Savage Gaze explores the significance of wolves in pre-revolutionary Russia utilizing the perspectives of cultural studies, ecocriticism, and human-animal studies. It examines the ways in which hunters, writers, conservationists, members of animal protection societies, scientists, doctors, government officials and others contested Russia’s “Wolf Problem” and the particular threat posed by rabid wolves. It elucidates the ways in which wolves became intertwined with Russian identity both domestically and abroad. It argues that wolves played a foundational role in Russians’ conceptions of the natural world in ways that reverberated throughout Russian society, providing insights into broader aspects of Russian culture and history as well as the opportunities and challenges that modernity posed for the Russian empire.

Ian M. Helfant holds a joint position in Russian & Eurasian Studies and Environmental Studies at Colgate University, where he began teaching in 1998. His previous publications include The High Stakes of Identity: Gambling in the Life and Literature of Nineteenth-Century Russia and many articles on imperial Russia.


Minutely researched and grippingly presented, with vivid illustrations, That Savage Gaze is a fine example of ecocriticism: as representations of wolves lend us insight into the context of nineteenth-century Russian society, we follow Russian writers’ struggles to see the world through lupine eyes. It’s time to reintroduce the wolf, and other threatened species, to Russian Studies.
— Muireann Maguire, University of Exeter, Slavonic and East European Review Vol. 79, No. 3
Although Ian Helfant teaches Russian literature and language at Colgate University, That Savage Gaze presents the reader with a historical narrative: a shift in depictions of wolves in Russian literature during the Golden and Silver Ages, and especially in those isolated moments when human characters look directly into the eyes of wild animals. … Helfant provides scholars with an illuminating instance when literature, medicine, and environmental ethics converged, leading to surprising outcomes.
— Stephen Brain, Mississippi State University, the Russian Review Vol. 78, No. 3
In That Savage Gaze, Ian Helfant covers scholarly territory as vast as the wolf’s native range: Russian fiction, folklore, journals, social institutions, and legal documents, as well as key texts in the modern Western and Russian critical literature. Boldly conceived and innovatively documented, Helfant’s new work is a pioneering study of Russian realia in the nineteenth century. This insightful and moving book is a major step forward for ecocritical approaches to Russian culture and animal studies in the Eurasian context. It also takes its place as one of the richest English-language sources on the history of hunting in Russia.
— Thomas P. Hodge, Wellesley College, translator of Sergei Aksakov’s Notes on Fishing
Helfant’s book is a landmark study of the social, scientific, and cultural contexts in which one particularly important animal was understood in nineteenth-century Russia. Th is lively and richly researched book helps us reconsider classic ‘wolf scenes’ from Tolstoy and Chekhov—but even more importantly, suggests ways in which to situate the literary in scientific, medical, and environmental contexts. Helfant argues convincingly that the texts he has gathered provide crucial insight into nineteenth-century Russians’ understandings not only of wolves, but of the natural world more broadly. An exciting contribution that should be of interest both to Russia scholars and to those interested in animal studies more broadly.
— Jane Costlow, Bates College, co-editor of The Other Animals: Situating the Non-Human in Russian Culture and History
This important study positions Russia’s ‘Wolf Problem’ within the country’s efforts to create an image of a European nation developing a more humane treatment of these feared, victimised, and demonised animals. The book will appeal to multidisciplinary audiences as it shows that wolves played a foundational role in Russia’s conceptualization of the natural world in ways that not only triggered the imagination but also shaped the social realm.
— Henrietta Mondry, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, author of Political Animals: Representing Dogs in Modern Russian Culture

Table of Contents

A Note on Translation and Transliteration


Chapter 1            
Harnessing the Domestic to Confront the Wild: Borzoi Wolf Hunting and Masculine Aggression in War and Peace                                          

Chapter 2
The Rise of Hunting Societies, the Professionalization of Wolf Expertise, and the Legal Sanctioning of Predator Control with Guns and Poison                                 

Chapter 3
Chekhov’s “Hydrophobia,” Kuzminskaya’s “The Rabid Wolf,” and the Fear of Bestial Madness on the Eve of Pasteur’s Panacea                                             

Chapter 4
Fissures in the Flock: Wolf Hounding, the Humane Society, and the Literary Redemption of a Feared Predator