CFP: “The Unknown Nineteenth Century” Russian Literature Journal

Deadline: March 15, 2021

The purpose of this special issue on the “unknown nineteenth century” is to collect and highlight new research on less-studied authors, and to encourage the creation of more venues for work on a broader, more diverse, and less predictable nineteenth century. We conceive of this as a project for literary scholarship. Historians have done much to expand the social, cultural, economic, and geographic breadth of nineteenth-century Russian studies, but literary studies, with some prominent exceptions, has tended to remain locked into discussions of major canonical figures. We hope that this special issue will contribute to closing that gap. We welcome proposals for articles focused on specific writers in Russian, as well as other languages of the Russian Empire, and studies of groups of authors and of issues in the broader literary culture of the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. Because the center of gravity for the canon of authors we now study is realism and the latter half of the nineteenth century, this issue will generally focus on the realist period (roughly, 1835-1905), but we are open to studies of literary works in all genres—novel, play, poem, feuilleton.

The six published volumes of Russian Writers, 1800-1917: A Biographical Dictionary contain approximately three and a half thousand entries—and a seventh volume is still forthcoming. Each of the writers included in the dictionary was published and read, participating in the literary culture of the nineteenth century. Yet scholars of Russian literature regularly study no more than one percent of these writers. The giants of nineteenth-century Russian literature are also giants of world literature, and their rich and voluminous work now constitutes the object of several independent fields of study. However, these writers did not work in a vacuum. The nineteenth century was a period of great literary ferment in the Russian Empire, as writing and publishing grew gradually accessible to an ever-wider variety of persons from different socio-economic and class backgrounds, different geographical regions, and ethnicities—and more of them were women. The flourishing of nineteenth-century letters also involved an unprecedented variety of literary forms, heated debates about art and its relationship to life, intervals of both conflict and collaboration between writers and the state, the establishment of extensive personal and professional networks, and much more. In some respects, the twenty-first-century canon of nineteenth-century Russian literature corresponds to the list of writers who were most discussed and most eagerly read in their own time. Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Goncharov, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Leskov, Anton Chekhov, and Maksim Gorky have retained their prominence—their majorness—over a century and a half or more. Other writers—Aleksei Pisemsky, Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia (pseud. V. Krestovsky), Petr Boborykin, to name a few—were household names in educated circles of their time but are now known only to specialists. Still others—and a quick perusal of the volumes of Russian Writers readily confirms this—achieved little renown in the nineteenth century and have vanished into the obscurity of special collections and archives in the present. In many cases they published in periodicals that are scarcely remembered today, when only a handful of nineteenth-century journals—The Russian Messenger, The Contemporary, Notes of the Fatherland—supply nearly all the literature that scholars continue to discuss. A fuller, more nuanced, more accurate understanding of nineteenth-century Russian literature requires attention to these writers.

When we read only six or seven writers from the nineteenth century, we know that we are dealing with exceptions. But how do we know what made them exceptional if we lack basic knowledge about the literary norm? On the other hand, what remarkable experiments in literary form, what evolutionary paths not taken, do we neglect when we neglect the overwhelming majority of what was written? Moreover, an investigation both of what has been forgotten and the process by which the forgetting took place promises to teach us a great deal about the dynamics of cultural memory. Focusing our scholarly attention on the lesser-known authors of the nineteenth century has the potential to offer great insight on the evolution of literary forms, the process of canon-formation, the work of canonical authors, and the cultural history of the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century broadly construed. What is more, this effort will bring attention to those writers who have been marginalized in literary history because they were marginalized in the literary society of their time—a problem that has particularly affected the legacies of women writers.

Possible topics include:

  • What accounts for writers whose contemporary reputation is out of proportion to their importance and popularity in their lifetime?
  • How does a fuller understanding of women writers change our understanding of the literary system?
  • How does a consideration of lesser-read writers alter our sense of the most prominent genres and forms in Russian literature?
  • What can we learn by paying closer attention to literature that was written by or intended for lesser-studied demographics (i.e. women, children, peasants, workers, beginning readers, ethnic or religious minorities, people living in “the provinces”)?
  • What literary works were produced in the Russian Empire that did not pass through the journals and publishing houses of Moscow and St. Petersburg? What localized literary centers existed, and what were the relationships between Imperial center and periphery?
  • What can we learn about Russian print culture by studying writing published in less famous journals?
  • How did the evolution of the genre system consign some writers to minorness (writers of poetry in the era of realism, for example)?
  • What constitutes ‘minorness,’ and how does this category vary from different vantage points (e.g. Russophone v. Anglophone criticism and scholarship, the nineteenth century vs. the twenty-first)?
  • How does a broader reading of the nineteenth century enhance our understanding of the canonical writers?
  • What writers deserve attention in a broader consideration of different publishing venues, such as satirical journals, or genres like the feuilleton?
  • Can attention to lesser-read writers change our understanding of the Russian novel’s distinctiveness in global context?
  • Do sub-canonical writers challenge the traditional periodization of Russian literature?

If you are interested in submitting an article, please send us an abstract (500 words maximum) for your proposed contribution by March 15, 2021. We will review abstracts and invite selected contributors to submit article manuscripts by December 1, 2021. Manuscripts should be 8–9,000 words maximum, excluding bibliography, previously unpublished, and can be written in English or Russian. Please format your manuscript in accordance with the policies of Russian Literature. Once the special issue is assembled, it will undergo peer review in accordance with the journal’s policies. We hope to publish the special issue in late 2022.

Please send your abstract, as well as any questions, to the co-editors: and We look forward to receiving your submissions.