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­­­European Literature in Comparative Perspective: Method and Interpretation

Priority areas of development: humanitarian
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

European 19th and 20th century literature may be perceived as a complex and contradictory social-cultural system, which is founded on a totally novel type of literary language. This is a period when different cultures appear to form a new type of synthesis. The growing conflict between culture and civilization demanded the appearance of a new type of narrative, as the relation “author-text-reader” was constantly changing and resulted in new approaches towards literary heritage. This is a period when we can speak about the emergence of the concept of “world literature”, which may serve as further proof  of the importance of studying the literature of various countries in a cross-culture perspective. In this light we can note that translation of texts becomes an unprecedentedly important issue (accepting or rejecting “foreign” texts of different epochs and traditions that are connected with them), as well as ideas regarding the history of national culture (accepting or rejecting texts that may or may not serve as ideological “landmarks”). This fundamental analysis of literature presupposes a special focus on the concept of “context”.    

Goal of research

The goal of the research was to examine important episodes from both Russian and European literary history in a broad socio-cultural context. The particular focus was on the problem of reception (in different national traditions) and the mechanisms of the “cultural transfer”.


The basis for the study were both classical works in the history, theory and sociology of literature and culture (Russian Formalism, Tartu-Moscow school, Reception Aesthetics, Comparative studies, works by M.L. Gasparov and S.S. Averintsev) and newer research including interdisciplinary works  (A. Zorin, F. Moretti, M. Saler, B. Kolonitsky, N. Bogomolov, etc.), The authors of the project also based their methodology on the previous research, conducted by their colleagues, in 2013, 2014 and 2015, as well on O.A. Lekmanov’s notes regarding V.P. Katayev’s novel “My Diamond Crown” (2004) and O.A. Mandelshtam’s “Egyptian Mark” (2011).

Empirical base of research

In 2016 the authors of the project worked with the texts of Russian and European literatures such as B. Livshits, O. Mandelshtam, Yu. Koval, A. Platonov, W. Beckford, Gui de Mopassant, A. Conan Doyle, R. Kipling and others, as well as the previously unknown episodes from the history of Russian literature, intellectual history, history of cinema, mechanisms of “cultural transfer” the forgotten personae of Russian pre-revolutionary cinema, etc. 

Results of research

One of the strands of the research focused on the study of the ways of “cultural transfer”, mainly the reception of the Western literature in Russia and Eastern Europe of different periods of time. Thus, N.A. Dolgorukova examined the Belorussian version of the legend about Tristan and Isolde, preserved as a later manuscript of the 15th century, and analyzed the discrepancies between the Belorussian text and its European sources. Y.S. Linkova researched the reception of W. Beckford’s novel “Vathek” in the United States (by E.A. Poe), France (by S. Mallarme) and Russia (by P. Muratov and B. Zaytsev). M.A. Krivosheina demonstrated the specifics of the formation of the A. Conan Doyle’s and R. Kiping’s literary reputation in the late imperial Russia, having examined the critical review of their works in the context of tumultuous and controversial Anglo-Russian relations.

The project also analyzed the contacts between Russian and Western journalists as on of the strands of the cultural transfer. M.A. Krivosheina pointed out the potential connections between the Petrograd weekly magazine “Argus” and British press, such highly popular London-based “The Strand Magazine”, which influenced the editorial practices of V. Reginin (Rappoports), primarily concerning the selection of the translated fiction. The majority of translated works consisted of the text by the Anglo-Saxon authors yet unfamiliar to the Russian readers of 1910s, most of whom reveal “The Strand” connection. E.S. Ostrovskaya studied the history of communication between the British writer and coal-miner H. Heslop with the Soviet magazine “International Literature”, mainly its English edition. E.S. Ostrovkaya demonstrated that the critical reception of Heslop in the USSR and the distribution and circulation of the English edition of the magazine in general, however marginal it may seem, proves to be connected to the mainlines of Anglo-Russian reception in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The philological commentary became one of the main focuses of the project, which is represented by the notes of O.A. Lekmanov (written with the co-authors) for the stories by I. Bunin and Y. Koval, as well as the genre of academic biography (i.e. new edition by O.A. Lekmanov’s biography of O. Mandelshtam).

The authors of the projects also demonstrated the intricate repceptive mechanisms within one particular literary tradition: thus, P.F. Uspensky focused on the pretexts and intertexts for the important works of Russian literature in the early 20th century (Russian modernist literature in particular), having studied the pretexts of the “Elegy” by A. Vvedensky, analyzed the  K. Vaginov in the context of Russian symbolist prose and examined the reception of O. Mandelshtam’s poetry by other Russian poets – B. Livshits, B. Makkaveysky and D. Bedniy

Level of implementation,  recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results

As this project was being realized, its participants took part in many educational programs, like “Literature of Europe and USA”,  ‘History of Russian Literature in the 20th Century”, “Key Texts of French Literature”,  ‘Key Texts of English Literatures”, and research seminar “Foreign Literature in Russia”. The authors of the projects also prepared the materials for the educational websites, such as “Arzamas” (M.A. Krivosheina, O. A. Lekmanov), “Gorky” (M.A. Krivosheina) and “Postnauka” (Y.S. Linkova). Moreover, Y.S. Linkova spoke in RSUH with the lecture “Unknown Maupassant”.


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