Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 August 2019
Many works of Russian literary criticism – among them, Vissarion Belinsky’s ‘Survey of Russian Literature in 1847’, Nikolai Dobroliubov’s ‘What Is Oblomovitis?’ and ‘A Ray of Light in a Dark Kingdom’, and Dmitri Pisarev’s ‘Bazarov’ – have become classics in their own right, their fame rivalling that of the fictional works they critique. The prestige of literary criticism in imperial Russia owes something to the exigencies of tsarist censorship, which forbade (more or less strictly, depending on who was wearing the crown) the publication of anti-establishment social and political views. The discussion of fiction thus provided an outlet for the left-leaning intelligentsia to consider issues that could not otherwise be debated openly. Critique the society represented in a work of realist literature, after all, and you implicitly critique the society you inhabit in real life. The influence of criticism on Russian history has been enormous; it is little exaggeration to say that the intellectual origins of the Russian revolution were forged in mid-nineteenth century literary criticism.
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