Slot:       30A-1          Dec. 30, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                                                

Panel:     Poetics and Romanticism

Chair:     Vadim Shkolnikov, Columbia University


Title:       The “sinisterization” of the Term “chuzhoj” in Griboedov’s Woe from Wit

Author:   Jason Galie, Columbia University

The topic of my paper is the interaction of the words svoj and chuzhoj in Russian literature and society.  On the most general level, I would like to explore how the universal feeling of “fitting in” and “not fitting in” in a group dynamic has evolved on Russian soil and what role language and literature have played in this evolution.  I am interested in how Russians perceive and evaluate свой человек (“one of us”) versus чужой человек (“a stranger, an alien, not one of us”).  In my work I focus on certain time periods in Russian history, mostly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For this paper I would like to concentrate on the early nineteenth century and Aleksandr Griboedov’s play Woe from Wit, which, I will argue, marks a significant moment in the history of the interaction of these two words.

I will begin my paper with background information on the words. I will show that the word чужой was not always interpreted as negatively as it is today in Russia.  I will argue that the negative connotation arose in the eighteenth century in connection with the rise of a new line of nobility to rival the ancient Moscow lines that had so powerfully influenced the tsar for centuries.  Certain events of the eighteenth century, namely the adoption of Western customs and ideas, the influx of Germans to the newly built city of St. Petersburg, the forcibly weakened state of the Orthodox Church, and the creation of the Table of Ranks, all contributed to a narrowing in the possible ways that the свой/чужой opposition functioned.

In moving to an analysis of Griboedov’s drama, I will use the свой/чужой lens to examine the similarities between the author’s own social situation and the experience of his protagonist, Aleksandr Chatsky.  Chatsky was once свой человек in the Famusov home, but after an extended absence (in St. Petersburg and/or the West), he returns clearly чужой.  A crucial moment in the play for my argument is the ball scene where Chatsky is labeled insane by Sophia. 

I will argue that the fear that this “diagnosis” evokes in the characters in the play is similar, if not identical, to the fear that had already cropped up in Moscow society (and for Griboedov himself) over the uncertainty of who was still свой and who was not.  The old Moscow nobles felt increasingly insecure and marginalized. They, like the guests at Famusov’s ball, no longer knew who was свой.  In Woe from Wit, this insecurity causes the guests to turn on one of their own, Chatsky.  The diagnoses чужой and “insane” converge in this play, at the very time when society at large is experiencing disruption.  I will argue (and support my argument with examples) that the label чужой, from this time on, begins to be interpreted more negatively than it had before.


Title:       “In the World of My Creation”: The Production of “Real” Readers in Gogol’s Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends

Author:   Jessika Aguilar, Columbia University

The publication of Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends in January, 1847 sparked a storm of controversy that culminated in Belinsky’s infamous Salzbrunn letter.  In the heat of the debate, however, it never occurred to anyone to question whether the text did indeed represent actual correspondence.  Nearly a century later, Vasilii Gippius would be the first to suggest that Selected Passages is a “purely literary work” (Gippius 139).  This interpretation was not explored further until 1981, however, when Ruth Sobel argued that the correspondence in Selected Passages is almost entirely fictional, being only loosely based on actual letters (Sobel 163-64).  Whereas Selected Passages criticism up to that point had revolved exclusively around the ideological content of the work, subsequent criticism has concentrated on its form and literary qualities. 

One question that remains unanswered involves Gogol’s purposes in creating this subtle fabrication.  If Selected Passages was not drawn from actual correspondence, it certainly seemed designed to give that impression and to be accepted as such by others.  Rather than being a factual record of Gogol’s personal life and relationships, however, Selected Passages enacts a re-creation of reality as Gogol wished it to be and of the role he wished to play in it.  This paper hypothesizes that Selected Passages’ is in fact a literary performance, one that was intended to effect change simply by means of its execution.  By reading and accepting Gogol’s guidance, real world readers were supposed to merge with the fictional/implied readers represented by those to whom the letters are addressed in the book.  The effect is that the real reader recreates the relationship between Gogol and his implied readers and in the process changes the reality outside the book to reproduce the created reality of Selected Passages.  Within the framework of J.L. Austin’s theory of performativity, particularly as applied by Judith Butler to the construction of gender, this paper will consider the ways in which Gogol uses epistolary form and the interplay of characters to create an identity and transform reality. 



Austin J.L. How to do Things with Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962

Butler, Judith. ”Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: an Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre. Ed. Sue-Ellen Case. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1990

Gippius, Vasilii, V. Gogol. Ed and trans. Robert A. Maguire. Durham: Duke UniversityPress, 1989

Sobel, Ruth. Gogol’s Forgotten Book: Selected Passages and its Contemporary Readers. Washington, DC.: University Press of America, inc., 1981.


Title:       The Terminological Evolution of the Fantastic Tale During the Nineteenth Century

Author:   Jonathan Perkins, University of Kansas

In the course of the twentieth century the term fantastic (fantastika) came to serve as a convenient literary portemanteau for all Russian works of a “non-realisticcharacter, leading to the use of the term in reference to works ranging from folk tales to science fiction (nauchnaia fantastika). While understandable in view of the Russian penchant for realistic methods, this overly broad usage has greatly impoverished the vocabulary necessary to discuss the diverse manifestations of the supernatural in the literature of the Romantic period.  This paper traces the evolution of the term fantastic during the nineteenth century by examining the negotiation between Russian authors and critics as to the acceptable usage of the supernatural in literature. Using the Russian translations of Sir Walter Scott’s articles on the use of the supernatural in the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann and Anne Radcliffe as the point of departure, my study suggests the emergence of a literary golden mean in which the author neither confirms nor denies the existence of the supernatural in a work, balancing the enlightened reader’s desire to read about the supernatural against his inherent scepticism.  This golden mean, evident in works like Alexander Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades” and Nikolai Gogol’s “The Portrait,” can be traced through the writings of the critics Stepan Shevyryov and Vissarion Belinsky, as well as writers like Vladimir Odoevsky, Vladimir Solovyov and Fyodor Dostoevsky.  This narrower conception of the fantastic, which stresses the interplay between (rather than the opposition of) supernatural and realistic elements, is of far greater critical precision than the current literary portemanteau and is closer to the post-Todorovian usage of the term that informs most literary scholarship.