The Role of Literature in Post-Soviet Russia, 1996-2008

  • Joanne Shelton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis will explore the impact that the disintegration of the Soviet Union had on the role of literature in post-Soviet Russia between 1996 and 2008. The fate of Russian literature became a hotly debated topic after 1991 and among academics and literary critics fears about its quality were widespread. In the immediate post-Soviet period, all eyes were focused on Russia’s writers, and in the light of the new-found political freedom, many commentators, both Western and Russian, eagerly anticipated the emergence of new, even greater Russian literature. When this ‘new’ Russian literature failed to appear in the forms that the intelligentsia expected, and poor quality, mass-produced ‘trash’ gained supremacy in the book market, many declared Russian literature dead and turned away to explore other aspects of post-Soviet life. As a result, since the mid-1990s, there has been comparatively less written about Russian literature and the predictions of the early part of the first post-Soviet decade have not, to a greater or lesser extent, been revisited. This thesis seeks to provide further information about the ways in which the Russian literary scene has changed between 1996 and 2008, after the intense scrutiny of the outside world diminished and commentators became occupied with other aspects of post-Soviet life and leisure time. In an attempt to understand the way in which the changing political and economic landscape has affected the role that literature plays in Russia, this thesis draws on a number of case studies to provide a picture of the Russian literary scene between 1996 and 2008. Chapter One explores the changing face of the book market through the experiences of three publishing houses: Eksmo, Raduga and Feniks, each of which has different origins and has navigated the uncharted waters of an emerging market economy with relative degrees of success. Chapter Two focuses on the ‘thick’ literary journals. The ‘thick’ journals played an active role in the Soviet Union, particularly in the latter part of the 1980s, when the circulation of each publication soared as readers sought to keep abreast of the latest developments socially, politically and culturally. Novyi mir (New world) and Znamya (Banner) are the case studies in Chapter Two, and their changing fortunes are explored in the context of the Soviet era and in comparison to the ‘glossy’ journal, Afisha (Billboard), which has been published in Russia since 1999. No study of Russian literature would be complete without some consideration of the influence of politics on the sorts of texts that are published. Chapter Three questions the extent to which the Putin regime represented a return to a ‘cult of personality’, a phrase that started to reappear on the pages of Russia’s newspapers when Putin came to power. Texts by three authors: Dmitrii Bykov (1967- ); Viktor Teterin (1981- ); and Maksim Kononenko (1971- ) are used in order to explore how far literature and politics remain intertwined even in an era when there is so-called democracy operating within Russia. The fourth chapter investigates how the role of the writer has changed since 1996, and the ways in which popular literary genres have risen to prominence in spite of the intelligentsia’s attempts to preserve the quality of literature. The experiences of writers Boris Akunin (1956- ) and Oksana Robski (1968- ), along with their respective series The Adventures of Erast Fandorin (1998 to the present) and Ca$ual (2005) and Ca$ual 2 (2007) will be examined in Chapter Four. All translations from Russian, with the exception of The Adventures of Erast Fandorin (1998- ) and Ca$ual (2005), are my own. A modified version of the British Standard system of transliteration without diacritics is used. In the text, surnames ending in ‘yi’ and ‘ii’ are rendered as ‘y’, and the surnames of prominent figures, such as Yeltsin, and well-known Russian terms such as glasnost appear in the familiar, rather than in the more strictly transliterated forms. However, when quoting directly from other sources, parity has been retained with the original, even if this means rendering the same term differently owing to differences in the system of transliteration.
Date of Award1 Nov 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRos Marsh (Supervisor) & David Gillespie (Supervisor)

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