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Money and Mad Ambition: Economies of Russian Literature 1830-1850

  • Author(s): Porter, Jillian Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Ram, Harsha
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation offers a sustained examination of the economic paradigms that structure meaning and narrative in Russian literature of the 1830s-1840s, the formative years of nineteenth-century Russian prose. Exploring works by Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Faddei Bulgarin, I view tropes such as spending, counterfeiting, hoarding, and gambling, as well as plots of mad or blocked ambition, in relation to the cultural and economic history of Nicholas I's reign and in the context of the importation of economic discourse and literary conventions from abroad. Furthermore, I consider the impact of culturally and economically conditioned affects--ambition, avarice, and embarrassment--on narrative tone. From the post-Revolutionary French plot of social ambition to the classic character type of the miser, the western economic models Russian writers routinely invoked seemed strangely out of place in Russia's autocratic and serf-based society. At a historical moment when the question of Russian specificity was frequently posed with reference to Europe, and the modern European discourses of aesthetics, the emotions, and political economy were solidifying in opposition to one another, Russian writers made prolific and paradoxical use of economic paradigms to explore the role of literature and the nature of feeling in a society in which the state, rather than the bourgeoisie, was the primary motor of history. Incorporating the perspectives of New Economic Criticism as well as the history of emotions, Money and Mad Ambition strives to account for the interrelationship between Russian literature and economics in the second quarter of the nineteenth century.

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