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National Research University Higher School of EconomicsNewsSocietyThree New Novels on HSE’s Living Pages Project

Three New Novels on HSE’s Living Pages Project

Three new novels are now available on the Living Pages app library: Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, The Captain's Daughter by Alexander Pushkin, and The Twelve Chairs by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov. The app was developed by the HSE School of Linguistics together with Samsung and experts from Tolstoy Digital group.

These three novels were identified as the most requested by Living Pages users. The developers surveyed those who have downloaded Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and who were waiting for updates.

The content, which includes literary portraits, chronology, the intersection of any two given characters’ lives, historical notes, prototype identification, and re-creating the characters’ journeys on a map, was created by staff and students at the HSE School of Linguistics and School of Philology under the supervision of Dr. Anastasiya Bonch-Osmolovskaya, Associate Professor at the School of Linguistics.

‘Our scenarios, including comments, maps, and word games, all remained the same, but they are interpreted in a different way with every new novel, depending on the book’, said Dr. Bonch-Osmolovskaya. It was difficult to adapt Dead Souls for the app format. ‘When we started working on the novel, consulting with philologists (including Lev Sobolev, Honoured Teacher of Russia), we understood that this book by Gogol was not amenable to our format. All our scenarios involve an interactive commentary that ties the text to something material, such as historical events, points on the map, and character prototypes, but Dead Souls is a “world unto itself”’, said Dr. Bonch-Osmolovskaya, ‘Meanwhile, it was much easier to connect The Captain's Daughter and The Twelve Chairs to the materials’.

It was thrilling to create the ‘Time Line’ section for The Twelve Chairs, i.e. correlating the events in the novel with phenomena or events in history

Dr. Bonch-Osmolovskaya said that The Captain's Daughter turned out to be surprisingly similar to War and Peace, in that it includes a lot of content amenable to historical comments, as well as for the ‘Fates’ section. The Twelve Chairsis closer to Crime and Punishment, since for these works, it is not specific historical events, but rather a whole era, which needs to be explained.

‘It was thrilling to create the ‘Time Line’ section for The Twelve Chairs, i.e. correlating the events in the novel with phenomena or events in history’, said Veronika Fainberg, student at the School of Philology, ‘The novel begins with house-searches (prompting Ms Petukhova to sew the diamonds into the chair seat), and ends with a major earthquake in Crimea. This novel comprises parts of contemporary reality, and references white émigrés, avant-garde theatre, futurology fantasies, and the Gudok newspaper, where Ilf and Petrov worked, to name but a few. This new reality featured new words, insane abbreviations, popular songs (old and new), political jokes, and regulations that everyone at the time understood, but are not always clear to us today (Why does the janitor argue with the well-educated plumber? Why could beautiful antique chairs end up being burnt as fuel?). When you think of these questions as you read, you can get the answers simply by clicking on the highlighted words and phrases. That will open up a pop-up comment, most of which come from Yury Sheglov’s book Ilf and Petrov Novels. Reader’s Companion.

There have already been more than 100,000 app downloads. Most of the users are, unexpectedly, not schoolchildren, but adults aged from 35 to 45. The app is available for free.

Fekla Tolstaya, who leads the project on behalf of Tolstoy Digital, said that, when the idea for Living Pages first appeared we had already seen a number of book-related apps offering illustrations and comments, but no one had developed a similar approach involving interactive maps, character timelines, and a visualization of connections between characters (and even today we there is only LotrProject.com on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings ). One of the app’s goals is to overcome the stereotypes that classic novels are archaic and frozen, and that modern technologies kill creativity.

The Living Pages’ authors’ plans now include adding War and Peace in English, so that the international audience has the opportunity to enjoy the full range of the app’s advantages and features.

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