When one considers the impact of Russian literature on world literature, one thinks first of all of the novel. Russia excelled in the novel to the extent that the Greeks and the English excelled in tragedy. To the extent - but not in the same way, because Greek and English tragedies offer the defining examples of the form, whereas the Russian masterpieces, while surely the greatest novels, defy, rather than define, their genre.
From the time Russian novels began to be widely read abroad, two features struck Western readers: their inclusion of long philosophical arguments and their violation of the formal expectations of the genre. It was also clear that these features are intimately connected, because it is in part the philosophical passages that turn these novels into “loose, baggy monsters.” The essays in War and Peace, Levin's internal dialogues on the meaning of life at the end of Anna Karenina, Kirillov's mad meditations in The Devils, and Ivan Karamazov's “Grand Inquisitor” legend - all these striking sections, which seemed to have few counterparts in Western masterpieces, define the spirit of the Russian novel.
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