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Flashcards in Russian Deck (16)
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Fyodor Dostoyevsky



Notes from Underground

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
a psychological study of an outsider. The book starts with a confession by the narrator. "I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am a most unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased." The story continues with the monologue of the Underground man, who reveals his inner self to his imaginary reader. He is humiliated by his former schoolmates in a party and he gets very drunk. In a dark shop, which functions as a brothel in the evenings, he makes impressive speeches to a humble prostitute, Liza. "What are you giving up here? What are you enslaving? Why, you're enslaving your soul; something you don't really own, together with your body! You're giving away your love to be defiled by any drunkard! Love! After all, that's all there is!" He humiliates her, gives money when she only shows her real caring, but eventually she demonstrates her moral superiority. Inspiration, in part, for Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.


Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The story is set in St. Petersburg. Raskolnikov, a young resentful student, kills a pawnbroker, a greedy old woman, and her half-witted stepsister as well. He attempts to justify the murder in terms of its advantageous social consequences. He argues that each age gives birth to a few superior beings (supermen, as Nietche would say) who are not constrained by ordinary morality - and he is one of such beings. Under the influence of the meek, Christian prostitute Sonia, he confronts the hollowness of his thoughts, which eventually leads to confession and redemption. Raskolnikov's nemesis is Porfiry Petrovich, a police investigator, who knows his guilt. In the demonic Svidrigailov, who commits suicide, Raskolnikov sees his own picture. "You know," confesses Svidrigailov to Raskolnikov, "from the very beginning I always thought it was a pity that your sister had not chanced to be born in the second or third century of our era, as the daughter of a ruling prince somewhere, or some governor or proconsul in Asia minor. She would doubtless have been one of those who suffered martyrdom, and she would, of course, have smiled when they burned her breast with red-hot pinchers. She would have deliberately brought it on herself." In his agony Raskolnikov realizes, that in murdering he has killed the essentially human in himself. Raskolnikov goes to Siberia for seven years. Sonia follows him to his imprisonment.


The Brothers of Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The novel is constructed around a simple plot, dealing with the murder of the father of the Karamazov family by his illegitimate son, Smerdiakov. One of the sons, Dmitri, is arrested. The brothers represent three aspects of man's being: reason (Ivan), emotion (Dmitri) and faith (Alesha). This material is transcended into a moral and spiritual statement of contemporary society. Most famous scene is that of the “Inquisitor,” who is questioning Christ about what good he did (which, let me add, He did a lot of good).


Leo Tolstoy



War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy
The epic tale depicted the story of five families against the background of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Its vast canvas includes 580 characters, many historical, others fictional. The story moves from family life to the headquarters of Napoléon, from the court of Alexander to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. War and Peace reflected Tolstoy's view that all is predestined, but we cannot live unless we imagine that we have free will. The harshest judgement is reserved for Napoleon, who thinks he controls events, but is dreadfully mistaken. Pierre Bezukhov, who wanders on the battlefield of Borodino, and sees only the confusion, comes closer to the truth. Great men are for him ordinary human beings who are vain enough to accept responsibility for the life of society, but unable to recognize their own impotence in the cosmic flow.


Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy
told a tragic story of a married woman, who follows her lover, but finally at a station throws herself in front of an incoming train. Tolstoy juxtaposed in the work crises of family life with the quest for the meaning of life. Anna's love affair with Vronskii parallels with another plot, Konstantin Levin's courtship and marriage to Kitty Shcherbatskaia. Like Flaubert’s Madam Bovary, this is a novel of adultery. Begins: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”


Anton Chekhov

Russian playwright and one of the great masters of modern short story. In his work Chekhov combined the dispassionate attitude of a scientist and a doctor with the sensitivity and psychological understanding of an artist. Chekhov portrayed often life in the Russian small towns, where tragic events occur in a minor key, as a part of everyday life. His characters are passive, filled with the feeling of hopelessness and the fruitlessness of all efforts. "What difference does it make?" says Chebutykin in Three Sisters.


The Cherry Orchard

Anton Chekhov
reflected the larger developments in the Russian society. Mme Ranevskaias returns to her estate and finds out that the family house, together with the adjoining orchard, is to be auctioned. Her brother Gaev is too impractical to help in the crisis. The businessman Lopakhin purchases the estate and the orchard is demolished. "Everything on earth must come to an end..."


The Three Sisters

Anton Chekhov
was set in a provincial garrison town--Perm. The talented Prozorov sisters, whose hopes have much in common with the Brontë sisters, recognize the uselessness of their lives and cling to one another for consolation. "If only we knew! If only we knew!" cries Olga at the end of the play. They are all daughters of a general.


The Seagull

Anton Chekhov
There’s a gun shot off in this one. Here, amid the weariness of life in the country, the famous actress Arkadina presides over a household riven with desperate love, with dreams of success and dread of failure. It is her son, Konstantin, who one day shoots a seagull; it is the novelist Trigorin who will one day write the story of the seagull herself, whose life to come will rewrite the story.


Maskim Gorky

"Gorky” means bitter. He was a anti-Czarist. Gorky formulated the central principles of Socialist Realism, which became doctrine in Soviet literature. The rough, socially conscious naturalism of Gorky was described by Chekhov as 'a destroyer bound to destroy everything that deserved destruction.'


Vladamir Nabokov

Born in Russia, moved to America, but ended up living most of his life in exile in Europe. Lolita was very controversial.



Vladamir Nabokov
This book made it so he could abandon teaching and concentrate on writing. The story, dealing with the desire of a middle-aged pedophile Humbert Humbert for a 12-year-old girl, is said to be a metaphor for the writer and his art, and for the old world - Humbert is an European expatriate - encountering the new, represented by an American teenage girl, in all its vulgarity. Humbert kees a prison-diary of his lifelong fascination with pubescent "nymphets." The first is Annabel Leigh, who dies of typhus, but then he finds Lolita in a New England town. She reminds him of the little girl he loved as a boy. During the course of the story, Humbert loses her to Clare Quilty, a playwright and pornographic filmmaker. Humbert kill him and dies in a prison of a heart attack. Lolita dies in childbirth as delivering a stillborn daughter.


Pale Fire

Vladamir Nabokov
an ambitious mixture of literary forms, partly a one-thousand-line poem in heroic couplets, partly a commentary on them by a mad exiled king. "I can do what only a true artist can do," describes the mad Kinbote himself, "pounce upon the forgotten butterfly or revelation, wean myself abruptly from the habit of things..."



Vladamir Nabokov
Pnin is a professor of Russian at an American college who takes the wrong train to deliver a lecture in a language he cannot master. Pnin is a tireless lover who writes to his treacherous Liza: "A genius needs to keep so much in store, and thus cannot offer you the whole of himself as I do." Pnin is the focal point of subtle academic conspiracies he cannot begin to comprehend, yet he stages a faculty party to end all faculty parties forever.