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note on russian literary realism, or realism of dostoyevsky

I found it important to add something to my blog entry about Dostoyevsky and explain «realism» of his works.

Realism, as been said in previous entry, is branch of art, that makes showing the real, natural life its point. 

Realism in russian literature developed in early XIX century by Alexander Pushkin and Nicholai Gogol. Pushkin was noble man, very popular in aristocratic society, who brought low, peasant speech into literary russian language of poetry. He reformed poetic speech to the point it could be as close to modern speech as possible. For example, he «invented» words взъерошить волосы (ruffle hair), маяться (suffel/fool around in nervous manner), вожжи (rein), et cetera. It was great step for the school of realism: by using real words, we can show real world.

Nicholai Gogol’s impact could be observed in his most important and valuable work — «Dead Souls». Even though it isn’t finished (there were supposed to be three of volumes, we can observe only one and few chapters of the second), I’d say Gogol did good job (or, i’d better say, attempt) with his goal, which was to show the whole Russia. The used in poem in prose¹ language points out its realism. Take a look on few lines of it: 

Having unfolded the scarf, the gentleman ordered dinner, and whilst the various dishes were being got ready—cabbage soup, a pie several weeks old, a dish of marrow and peas, a dish of sausages and cabbage, a roast fowl, some salted cucumber, and the sweet tart which stands perpetually ready for use in such establishments.²

By describing everything in details — from valet’s appearance and one’s meal to common situations of peasants or aristocrats, conditions they live in, — Gogol lets reader observe the reality of life in its details, no matter how superb or disgusting they may be. I should remind, that it was uncommon for a reader of early xix century to see this kind of language: people those days were brought up by romantic French or German low-quality literature. 

Mikhail Lermontov in worthy of mention as well, he brought byronic hero into russian literature. His psychological novel «A Hero of Our Time» is great example of it. The psychologism of it also points the realism out: realism of one’s soul, one’s complicated soul. But his works include a lot of romanticism, its considered that he combined romanticism and realism and belong to both of the branches. 

This is how russian realism developed, this process, let me remind you, took place in early XIX century. Mentioned in previous entry «Crime and Punishment» was published in 1866. By that time, realism was most common and prevalent branch of literature (as example, «Fathers and Sons» by Turgenev (1862), «War and Peace» by Tolstoy (1867), et cetera). 

We managed to notice few distinctive features of realism in previous paragraph.

First, common speech. The speech of the whole novel is pretty common and «low», in comparison with one that Pushkin reformed. Even though, we can observe even «lower» speech in the novel. Great example of it is Nikolai Dementiev (the painter, who confessed his quilt instead of Raskolnikov). Sadly, the English translation doesn’t let you see the «peasantness» of his speech, but in original Nikolai used some kind of messed, transformed russian speech, that could be used by no one but people from villages, peasants. 

А крестьянина ефтова, Миколая Дементьева, знаю сызмалетства, нашей губернии и уезда, Зарайского, потому-де мы сами рязанские.³

Second, detailed description. The best example I can suggest, is Raskolnikov’s room:

 It was a tiny cupboard of a room about six paces in length. It had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling off the walls, and it was so low-pitched that a man of more than average height was ill at ease in it and felt every moment that he would knock his head against the ceiling. The furniture was in keeping with the room: there were three old chairs, rather rickety; a painted table in the corner on which lay a few manuscripts and books; the dust that lay thick upon them showed that they had been long untouched. A big clumsy sofa occupied almost the whole of one wall and half the floor space of the room; it was once covered with chintz, but was now in rags and served Raskolnikov as a bed.

Even though it is just room, its description shows us how poor Rodion was and how dreadful his conditions were. In addition, for a huge part of Saint-Petersburg citizens it was reality, this is how they used to live.

Third, complicated character. Well, it is well-known how psychological «Crime and Punishment» is, how complicated the main character is. 

In conclusion, I'd like to point out that russian literature has complicated story, it was influenced by a lot of things, including Emancipation reform of 1861, Napoleonic wars, The Decembrist revolt and a lot of other stuff. But these historical events led to consequences, such as a lot of wonderful and great literature. And Dostoyevsky’s works are great example of children of their time.

¹poem in prose — even though this genre is very uncommon, it is worthy of being! it is called poem because of amount of lyrical digressions — parts of the book, in which author parts from the plot and discourses about something. 

²translation by D.J.Hogarth

³brief explanation: "ефтова" is mispronounced word "этого" (this), "сызмалетства" is provincial way of saying "с детства" (since childhood), etc.

⁴translation by Constance Garnett

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