Essay about Recurring Themes in 19th Century Russian Literature

3530 Words 15 Pages
Just to the east of riotous, industrialising Western Europe sat Imperial Russia, pendent between tradition and modernity, a vast empire of duality. As if trying to vent her frustrations, 19th century Russia produced a selection of history's finest writers; each writer packing their work with themes of duplicity, hope, and heavy social criticism.

Duality was the cardinal theme for Imperial Russia. 19th century Russia was a peasant-filled, agrarian empire rushed through the gawky adolescence of industrialisation. The serfs were only freed in 1861, and by 1900 around 2.3 million Russians worked inside factories: in a century, Russia had moved from a feudal system of serfdom to the shores of modernity. A theme of duplicity was carried
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Svidrigailov has a "propensity for vulgarity" («...и особенно, если к тому и натурально склонность имеешь...»), a philosophical devotion, all-conquering devotion to rationalism (even when he rapes Dounia, Svidrigailov remains rational and emotionless to the end: «Да и не поверит вам никто...так что, если даже и братом пожертвуете, то и тут ничего не докажете: насилие очень трудно доказать, Авдотья Романовна.») and loyalty only to his own pleasure and desires. Svidrigailov is the superhuman in Raskolnikov, the "Napoleon", the Western nihilist. Sonya Semyonova, on the other hand, is the complete antithesis: Russian Orthodox to Svidrigailov's Godless West, a perpetual sufferer to Svidrigailov's Dionysus, the raped rather than the rapist. Sonya demonstrates the Orthodox devotion to suffering as Nikolai does («…пострадать надо…»), suffering to find redemption. For Raskolnikov, Sonya is this other side to his dual persona, a symbol of his suffering personality («Я не тебе поклонился, я всему страданию человеческому поклонился») and a foil to Svidrigailov. The theme of duality, aided and abetted by polar Svidrigailov and Sonya, is key to Raskolnikov's development, Crime and Punishment, and to 19th century Russian literature as a whole.

The juxtaposition of Russian traditional history and Western industrialist future is manifest in a shoal of common Russian literary themes. The Russian 19th century was characterised by an…