Researching the Intersection of Russian Literature and Medicine
Since last September, Matthew Mangold has been a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Philology at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. After completing a PhD in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University in 2017, he joined HSE to conduct research on the intersection between Russian literature and the medical arts, in particular environmental medicine and psychology.
‘I came to HSE for the unique opportunity to advance my research on the history of Russian medicine and the work of Anton Chekhov, a writer who was also trained as a physician,’ said Matthew, who spent considerable time during his graduate studies researching the history of Russian medicine in the libraries and archives of St. Petersburg and Moscow. ‘I am currently working on a book manuscript, based on my dissertation, entitled Chekhov's Medical Aesthetics: Environments, Psychology, and Literature. The project reveals the medical context around Chekhov’s writings, opening a new understanding his prose, worldview, and the history of medicine in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century.’
A literary scholar with a background in the history of science, Matthew carefully examines intersections between literature, the arts, and medicine. Through his research, he has become familiar with a rarely examined period in medical history, a project he considers to be refreshing and quite exciting. From his current research, Matthew aims to publish a balanced book about Chekhov’s medical and literary biography. ‘After gaining an understanding of some of the major trends in medicine, I’ve then gone back to look closely at Chekhov’s fiction and have found that he follows insights in psychiatry, psychology, and environmental medicine quite closely. This includes careful thinking about physical and mental illness, their connections, and the psychological phenomena of hypnosis, suggestion, hallucination, and other phenomena with connections to the textual world.’ Matthew said. ‘I look at the range of Chekhov’s writings, from his short fiction to his non-fiction and drama and find that his use of insights from medicine informs his form, themes, and style consistently and across genres. I always loved Chekhov as a writer, and now I think I understand that's because of the balance between scientific and literary insight he achieves in his writing.”
Carefully examining the intersection between medicine and fiction in Chekhov’s work has inspired Matthew to research other writers who were doctors or trained in the life sciences, including Vikenty Veressaev, Mikhail Bulgakov and Lyudmila Ulitskaya. Matthew plans a second book that on these authors that also opens a window onto Russian medicine during the Soviet and contemporary periods.
Focusing on the longer-term prospect of career that balances teaching and research, Matthew says he looks forward to offering interdisciplinary courses on writers trained in biology or medicine, as well as on writers who address medical themes.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service