Love and Sex in Russian Literature and Culture

First-Year Seminar - Russian 017

Fall 2015

Mondays, 1:15-4:00
Kohlberg 318

Sibelan Forrester
Kohlberg 340
office 610-328-8162
home page

Office Hours:
Monday 11:00-12:00
Tuesday 10:00-11:00
Wednesday 11:00-12:00
...or by appointment

The Moodle page for the course is at
Swarthmore Writing Program site:

Course Goals | Assignments | Readings | Syllabus | Course Blog

Disability Statement:
If you believe that you need accommodations for a disability, please contact Leslie Hempling in the Office of Student Disability Services (Parrish 113) to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs. As appropriate, she will issue students with documented disabilities a formal Accommodations Letter. Since accommodations require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact her as soon as possible. For details about the accommodations process, visit the Student Disability Service Website. You are also welcome to contact me at sforres1 privately to discuss your academic needs. However, all disability-related accommodations must be arranged through the Office of Student Disability Services.

Though best known for its political priorities, religious intensity, and philosophical depth, Russian literature has also devoted many words to two other eternal human concerns, love and sex. In this course we will read significant and provocative tales, poems, stories and novels, created over many centuries, analyzing and discussing how they represent and construct these most "natural" impulses -- and, of course, how they imagine the relationship of human attraction to philosophy, politics and religion.

Course goals:

  1. To read and analyze a variety of texts that question love, sex, gender and sexuality, with Russia serving as a provocative Other.
  2. To create an intentional community in our class, centered around thoughtful and respectful discussion and support of one another’s ideas and words.
  3. To practice writing and revising, both informally (on the course blog) and in more formal projects. To develop a writing practice that includes drafting and revision as well as good research skills and proper use of citation. To focus on questions of particular individual interest over the course of the semester.

Course assignments:

  1. Regular attendance is essential in a class that meets only once a week! If you have to miss class, let me know as soon as you can, and make sure you get information on what you missed from me or from a classmate. Your grade will reflect your participation (see below).
  2. Every week, post about two pages/500 words of comments, notes or questions on the week's readings to the course blog. These can include ideas for papers or further readings, comments on other people’s posts, things you'd like to discuss in class or communicate to everyone without saying in class. Please read the blog and make your post by Sunday evening of each week. If you prefer (always or occasionally) to send or hand me two pages of notes as a word document, rather than post on the blog, these are due at the end of each class meeting. I will return any paper/Word notes (with comments/replies) the following week. Blog posts / notes will be graded as part of your participation.
  3. Seminar presentation: Present one work from the list below of relevant works that we will NOT read in class. You'll have fifteen to twenty minutes to outline plot, style, major issues; point out the relation to/differences from works or theories we have been talking about. Consult with instructor to select a work and schedule the presentation; get prior approval if you want to work with appropriate items not on my list.
  4. First writing assignment: A 750-1000-word (three to four-page, double-spaced) paper laying out your own opinions of love and sex. This may be very personal, or you may concentrate on messages received from society, the media, family, earlier reading, gender studies scholarship, etc. Explore patterns that emerge; note your sources for ideas. This will give me a kind of benchmark for your writing, and it might resurface on the final examination. Due September 14.
  5. Second writing assignment: A 1250-word paper on one of our readings. Choose one that lets you say interesting things. If you wish, I can distribute a list of sample topics ahead of time. Rough draft due September 28; meet with me to discuss my comments; final draft due October 19.
  6. Third writing assignment: A book review of one of our readings (literary or scholarly), or a short story (or long poem? short play? elaborate poster, creative web site?) based on issues from our readings that interest you. Write 500-1250 words (2-5 pages; a story should probably be longer than a book review).
    If you decide to write a book review, then it should be something we're reading for class, or something on my list of literary or scholarly resources. (If you find something that isn't on the list, check with me.)
    If you decide to write a creative work, then it should deal with gender and sexuality: I suggest picking a work you enjoyed and writing the next chapter, or a deleted episode, or two of the characters meet in heaven (or not!), or you bring together two characters from different works and have them express their worldviews to each other.
    Due November 2.
  7. Fourth writing assignment: A 2500-word (ten-page) "standard" research paper that applies other scholarly resources to a work or works we have read or are reading for class. Besides writing this one, you'll read the draft of someone else in class and give comments, while getting comments back from someone in the class as well as me. One-page outline due November 9; first draft due November 16; meet with your classmate(s) and me; final draft due November 30.
  8. The final examination will be a three-hour take-home, availanble after the last class meeting, with a short answer section and an essay section (where you'll choose from among several questions). Dur at 5:00 p.m. on December 19
Course grade (for those who like the numerical break-down):

Required texts (for sale in Bookstore):

Mikhail Kuzmin, Wings
Nikolai Leskov, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Other Stories
Evdokia Nagrodskaia, The Wrath of Dionysus
Yuri Olesha, Envy
Karolina Pavlova, A Double Life
Lev Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata
Ivan Turgenev, First Love
Ludmila Ulitskaya, Medea and Her Children
Julia Voznesenskaya, The Women's Decameron

Some readings are out of print and will be on reserve or on the course Moodle page. Let me know if you have trouble getting hold of any texts. I've asked the library to put copies of all the required texts on Reserve.

Works for further reading or for your seminar presentations:

Useful additional or background readings (in library):

  1. Eliyana Adler, In Her Hands: The Education of Jewish Girls in Tsarist Russia LC3585. R8 A34 2011 (at Bryn Mawr)
  2. Aleksandr Afanas'ev, Russian Secret Tales: Bawdy Folktales of Old Russia GR202 .A6613 1998
  3. Joe Andrew, Women in Russian Literature, 1780-1863 PG3013.5 .W6 A53 1988
  4. Lynne Attwood, The New Soviet Man and Woman: Sex-Role Socialization in the USSR HQ1075.5 .S65 A88 1990
  5. Adele Marie Barker, ed., Consuming Russia: Popular Culture, Sex and Society Since Gorbachev DK510.762 .C66 1999
  6. Peter I. Barta, Lindsay Hughes, John T. Alexander, Andreas Schonle, Gender and Sexuality in Russian Civilization HQ1075.5.R8 G46 2001 (at Bryn Mawr)
  7. Laurie Bernstein, Sonia’s Daughters: Prostitutes and Their Regulation in Imperial Russia HQ215 .B47 1995
  8. Robin Bisha et al., eds., Russian Women, 1698-1917: Experience and Expression, an Anthology of Sources HQ1662 .R877 2002
  9. Eliot Borenstein, Men Without Women: Masculinity and Revolution in Russian Fiction, 1917-1929 PG3096.M45 B67 2000
  10. Angela Brintlinger and Ilya Iu. VInitsky, eds., Madness and the Mad in Russian Culture DK32 .M33 2007
  11. Mary Buckley, ed., Post-Soviet Women: from the Baltic to Central Asia HQ1665.15 .P67 1997
  12. Barbara Evans Clements, Barbara Alpern Engel, and Christine D. Worobec, eds., Russia's Women: Accommodation, Resistance, Transformation (at Haverford, and on Reserve for History 128)
  13. Jane T. Costlow, Stephanie Sandler and Judith Bowles, eds., Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture HQ18.R9 S49 1993
  14. Laura Engelstein, The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia HQ18.S65 E54 1992
  15. Cynthia Enloe, The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War HQ1233 .E55 1993
  16. Laurie Essig, Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self and the Other HQ76.3.R8 E85 1999
  17. GLAS: New Russian Writing, 13. A Will and a Way (Arbatova, “My Teachers,” pp. 49-75) PG3213 .G54 v. 13
  18. Rose L. Glickman, Russian Factory Women; Workplace and Society, 1880-1914 HD6068.2.S65 G54 1984
  19. Helena Goscilo, Dehexing Sex: Russian Womanhood During and After Glasnost PG3026.W6 G67 1996
  20. Helena Goscilo, Russian and Polish Women's Fiction PG3276 .R87 1985
  21. Helena Goscilo and Andrea Lanoux, eds., Gender and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Russian Culture HQ1075.5.S65 G45 2006
  22. Dan Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sex and Gender Dissent HQ76.3.S653 H42 2001
  23. Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture BL940.S65 H83 1988
  24. Catriona Kelly, A History of Russian Women's Writing, 1820-1992 PG2997 .K45 1994
  25. Igor Kon, The Sexual Revolution in Russia: From the Age of the Czars to Today HQ18.R9 K66 1995
  26. Igor Kon and James Riordan, eds., Sex and Russian Society HQ18.S65 S46 1993
  27. Mikhail Kuzmin, Selected Prose and Poetry (includes a different translation of Wings, pp. 1-110) PG3467 .K93 A244 1980
  28. Eve Levin, Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700 HQ18.E852 L48 1989
  29. Fran Markowitz, Coming of Age in Post-Soviet Russia HQ799.R9 M285 2000
  30. Rosalind Marsh. ed., Gender and Russian Literature: New Perspectives PG2997 .R86 1996 (at Bryn Mawr)
  31. Rosalind Marsh, ed., Women and Russian Culture: Projections and Self-Perceptions PG3026.W6 W64 1998
  32. Olga Matich, Erotic Eutopia: The Decadent Imagination in Russia's Fin de Siècle PG3020.5 .D43 M38 2005
  33. Eric Naiman, Sex in Public: The Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology DK266 .N22 1997
  34. Temira Pachmuss, ed., Women Writers in Russian Modernism: An Anthology PG3213 .W6
  35. Irina Paert, Old Believers: Religious Dissent and Gender in Russia, 1760-1850 BX601 .P22 2003
  36. Jenifer Presto, Beyond the Flesh: Alexander Blok, Zinaida Gippius. and the Symbolist Sublimation of Sex PG3453.B6 Z69575 2008
  37. Alexander Pushkin, "Ruslan and Liudmila" PG3347 .R85 A7
  38. Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Equality and Revolution: Women's Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905-1917 HQ1236.5 R8 R88 2010
  39. Catherine A. Schuler, Women in Russian Theater: The Actress in the Silver Age PN2727 .S38 1996
  40. Isolde Thyrêt, Between God and Tsar: Religious Symbolism and the Royal Women of Muscovite Russia DK100 .T48 2001
  41. Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia HN523 .S46 1993


August 31 - intro; broad sweep of history; folklore; Russian and Soviet Puritanism
Fairytales (Afanas'ev): handouts (also on Moodle)

Reading for Week 2: Anonymous, "The Tale of Peter and Fevronia;" Anonymous, "Frol Skobeev;" Pushkin, "Ruslan and Liudmila," on Moodle
September 7 - orality in written culture; clerical misogyny; the emerging literary tradition

Reading for Week 3: Karamzin, "Poor Liza;" poems by Zhukovskii, Pushkin, Pavlova, Rostopchina, Tiutchev, Lermontov, Fet, on Moodle
September 14 - Sentimentalism, Romanticism, lyric poetry, the Muse

Reading for Week 4: Evdokiia Rostopchina, "Rank and Money," on Moodle; Karolina Pavlova, A Double Life
September 21 - Society Tales

Reading for Week 5: Turgenev, First Love
September 28 - Realism

Reading for Week 6: Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata
October 5 - More Realism; the writer as moral authority

Reading for Week 7: Leskov, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Maxim Gorky, "Twenty-Six Men and a Girl," on Moodle
October 19 - Later nineteenth-century Realism; non-aristocratic writers


Reading for Week 8: Nagrodskaya, The Wrath of Dionysus; poems by Briusov, Bal'mont, Gippius, Blok, on Moodle
October 26 - At last, the decadent fin de siècle! Nagrodskaya; Symbolism

Reading for Week 9: Pushkin, poem to Vigel', on Moodle; Kuzmin, Wings
November 2 - homoerotic writing

Reading for Week 10: lyric poetry by Parnok, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, Maiakovskii, Mandelshtam, on Moodle
November 9 - Modernist poetry
ONE-PAGE OUTLINE OF FINAL PAPER DUE; schedule appointment with instructor

Reading for Week 11: Olesha, Envy
November 16 - Sex and Revolution

Reading for Week 12: Voznesenskaia, The Women's Decameron
November 23 - Love and Sex in the Soviet Era

Reading for Week 13: Ludmila Ulitkaya, Medea and Her Children
November 30 - Late Soviet sexualities; the impact of nationality and history
FINAL PAPER DUE; also hand in comments from the person in class who read your paper

Your (three-hour, take-home) final examination will be posted on Moodle after the last class meeting. It is due December 19.

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