The New Russian Capitalism and Modern Russian Novel: Economics and Morals in the Novels of M. Butov, M. Višneveckaja and A. Dmitriev

Mikhail Makeev, Moscow State University

This work is an attempt to analyze the problem of modern novel within György Lukács’s “theory of novel” framework. Especially important for us is the way in which Lukács demonstrated that the golden age of picaresque novel in Europe was conditioned by the peculiarities of early capitalism, because the entire structure of this genre (a specific kind of main hero, plot, morals etc.) rhapsodizes the spirit of enterprise, self-confidence, aspiration of profit, etc. which are qualities inherent in capitalism as a social formation.

The problem in question in my paper is as follows: does a similar social and economical process that is now taking place in Russia inevitably create a similar type of novel? The object of my research is not “low,” mass literature which has already been studied from a similar point of view (especially in the works of B. Dubin, A. Rejtblat, V. Gudkov), but “high” literature representing changes in conscience of a small but very important part of Russian society. My hypothesis is that although certain traits of picaresque novel can be found in modern Russian “high” literature, mostly its place has been taken by a more complex genre.

In my research I try to find the most frequent motives which represent the capitalist system in modern novel as a whole. One of the them is the motive of debt and credit. In a number of texts it becomes the core of novel structure. As a result of a comparative analysis of more than twenty novels in which this motive is presented  (as representative examples I use Svoboda by M. Butov, Vyšel mesjac iz tumana by M. Višneveckaja and Zakrytaja kniga by A. Dmitriev), the following stable elements of novel structure which resemble the structure of picaresque novel were formulated: 1) debtor – new Russian businessman, the one who has characteristics of traditional hero-rogue: active, self-confident, smart, trying to reach wealth by easy way. He is a representative of a new-born moral of easy life; 2) his creditors – anonymous gangsters, mafia, representing brutal strength and absolutely merciless. But unlike picaresque novel, debtor-rogue is unable either to return his debts or elude his monstrous debtors.

His salvation depends on the intervention of 3) the reflexive hero (resembling a hero of the traditional nineteenth-century Russian social and philosophical novel), socially and economically passive, interested in arts and philosophy. His ability to stand between predators and their victim depends not on power, skill, wealth but on his Debt in the moral sense of this word. Thus the opposition “debts – Debt” becomes not only the opposition of capitalist and traditional ethics but also the opposition of Death and Life. Picaresque novel turns out to be part of the traditional Russian novel of the nineteenth century with all its moral, philosophical and psychological problems. In the conclusion of my analysis I will try to explain the reasons (social and cultural) of such a replacement of classical picaresque novel with a specific hybrid of two genres.