Humor and Horror in Works by Two Russian Masters, with Rhoda Flaxman on Zoom
Monday afternoons from 4-5:30 on ZOOM
October 17, 24, 31, November 7, 14.
Most of us read Crime and Punishment a long time ago, most likely viewing it as a gripping murder mystery. To be sure, it is that, but there is so much more to this story of a murder and its consequences for Raskolnikov, a poor law student in 19C. St. Petersburg. Although it is part of the realist tradition of the novel, it can also be seen as a mixed genre combining both grotesquerie and humor! Where did Dostoyevsky learn this approach?
Gogol, another great Russian master now neglected by readers, was a key early influence on Dostoyevsky. In fact, Dostoyevsky once said, “We all come out from Gogol’s “Overcoat,” and Nabokov found this short story to be “the greatest Russian short story ever written.” Some critics even believe that Gogol is more of a genius than Dostoyevsky himself!
Clearly, Gogol was one of Dostoyevsky’s idols and heavily influenced his concept of genre, mixing humor and horror, comedy and tragedy, realism and the bizarre. This semester we will explore two famous Gogol short stories, “The Overcoat” and “The Nose” to see how they influenced Dostoyevsky’s novel. We will compare genre, character portrayals, their use of ambiguous, ironic laughter, and their view of humanity. As Gogol once said,” I want to show all Russia” in his prose. Perhaps comparing these two writers will help us better understand the mind of contemporary Russia, as we read famous works by two of the most dazzling and influential Russian writers who ever lived.
Two sections of this class will be offered, one in person and one on Zoom. Class in person will be conducted through a combination of mini-lecture and discussion using organizing questions and topics sent in advance. Class on Zoom will rely more on directed discussion. Each section is limited to twenty participants.
The first session will be devoted to a discussion of “The Nose” (www.gla.ac.uk) and “The Overcoat” (eastoftheweb.com).
The balance of the sessions (Weeks 2, 3, 4, 5) will be devoted to Crime and Punishment (translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky, Vintage, 1992).