BA Russian and Japanese / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Russophone Literature and Society, 1800-2000s

Course unit fact file
Unit code RUSS20700
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Full year
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit examines the interplay between Russophone (Russian-language) literature and the culture, society and politics of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia from the early 19th-early 21st centuries. Organised around the changing settings and media through which Russophone literature has developed—and through which it has been consumed—over the last two centuries, the unit examines Russophone literature not just as a cultural artefact but also as a social institution and (to use Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s formulation) as a ‘second government’. This approach facilitates an understanding of the development of Russophone literature itself, including key movements, authors and works, whilst also highlighting the important socio-political roles that literature has played in country where writers have long had to contend with censorship, repression and frequent shifts in the boundaries of acceptable public discourse. 


  • To survey the development of Russophone literature over the course of the early 19th-early 21st centuries; 
  • To examine key movements, authors and texts in their social, historical and cultural contexts; 
  • Within these contexts, to consider the environments in which Russophone literature has developed and the multiple artistic, cultural, philosophical and political roles it has played; 
  • To explore the complex relationship between Russophone literature and Imperial Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet culture, society and politics over the course of the past two centuries. 

Knowledge and understanding

On successful completion of the course unit, students will have: 

  • A broad understanding of the development of Russophone literature from the early 19th century to the early 21st centuries; 
  • An in-depth understanding of key movements, authors and texts; 
  • A thorough understanding of the relationship between Russophone literature and Imperial Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet culture, society and politics during key historical periods; 
  • An understanding of Russophone literature as a cultural practice, a social institution and a 'second government'. 

Intellectual skills

On successful completion of the course unit, students will have acquired and developed:

  • Their skills in analysing literary texts, drawing on a range of theoretical approaches and critical terms;
  • Their ability to explore and appreciate the cultural, social and political roles that literature can play;
  • Their understanding of the impact of proscriptive and prescriptive censorship practices on literature as well as on debates about literature.

Practical skills

Through assessed coursework; in-class discussions; and feedback from and interaction with both the instructor and their classmates, students will develop skills in:

  • conducting independent research effectively, using a range of approaches and tools;
  • communicating ideas effectively and presenting cogent arguments in both oral and written form;
  • assessing the relevance, provenance, objectivity and timeliness of secondary sources;
  • understanding and applying feedback to improve mastery of skills and knowledge and to reflect upon and improve performance.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

On this course unit, students will develop

  • The ability to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts;
  • The ability to conduct focused research and to assimilate, summarise and present information clearly and concisely;
  • The ability to work constructively as part of a group;
  • The ability to take responsibility for their own learning;
  • The ability to manage their time and other resources effectively;
  • The ability to communicate their views cogently and compellingly, both orally and in writing.

Employability skills

All of the transferable skills and personal qualities listed above are valuable employability skills.

Assessment methods

Literary commentary (Semester 1) - 40%

Essay (Semester 2) - 60%


Resit assessment:



Feedback methods

Feedback method Formative or Summative
Individual written feedback on the literary commentary, plus oral feedback upon request Summative
Individual written feedback on the essay, plus oral feedback upon request Summative


Recommended reading

  1. Cornwell, Neil, The Routledge Companion to Russian Literature (London: Routledge, 2001)
  2. Cornwell, Neil and Nicole Christian, eds., Reference Guide to Russian Literature (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998)
  3. Dobrenko, Evgeny, and Galin Tihanov,  A History of Russian Literary Theory and Criticism: The Soviet Age and Beyond (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011)
  4. Emerson, Caryl, The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
  5. Wachtel, Andrew and Ilya Vinitskii, Russian Literature (Cambridge: Polity, 2009)
  6. Walicki, Andrzej, A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 156

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Rachel Platonov Unit coordinator

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