UBC Lectures, Seminars, and Symposia

Road, River, and Book : the Russian Literary Underworld Henry, Barbara


The Russian literary descent or katabasis takes three distinct forms: the folkloric distant journey, the classical voyage over water, and the Romantic “found manuscript.” Unlike the vertically-organized underworld of western European literature, the lateral orientation of the Russian katabasis reflects both native geography and a psychic ideal that levels social and economic hierarchies. This talk looks at how Dostoevsky’s Notes from the House of the Dead (1862) unifies this tri-partite model. Unlike the inwardly-directed, centripetal emphases of the European descent, the transformations effected in the “dead house” are centrifugal, radiating outwards to echo the colossal changes effected by the 1861 Emancipation of the Serfs.

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