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Level 5

5AAH1022 Russia in the Age of Anna Karenina

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Stephen Lovell
Teaching pattern: 10 x 1 hour lectures, 10 x 1 hour seminars (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
: 1 x 1,500 word formative essay, 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%)

Assessment pre 2019/20: 2 x 2,500 word essays (50% each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years

This module uses Tolstoy’s novel as a prism through which to explore Russian history of the 1870s. It invites students to treat the novel as a particular kind of historical source: by reading very closely the text itself, by investigating its genesis and reception history, and especially by linking its themes to other sources of the period and the historical literature on the age of Alexander II. By immersing themselves in the novel and surrounding sources, students should gain a richer understanding of this moment in Russian history, an enhanced ability to interpret literary sources, and an understanding of the connections and distinctions between cultural and social history.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Introduction: Tolstoy and His World
  2. The Coordinates of the Novel
  3. The Gentry and the Peasant Question
  4. Russia’s Elites: Aristocracy, Bureaucracy, Army
  5. Reform, Revolution and Modernity
  6. Government and Empire
  7. Russia and the West
  8. The Woman Question
  9. Translating and Interpreting Anna Karenina
  10. Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life

Preliminary readings

Core text:

The recommended edition of the novel is the ‘Norton Critical Edition’, Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (W.W. Norton, 1995). This edition uses the translation by Louise and Alymer Maude. Even if you do not get hold of the Norton edition, it is essential that you read the Maude translation (which is also available in various other places).
Biographies of Tolstoy:
Ernest J. Simmons, Tolstoy (1973).
A. N. Wilson, Tolstoy (1988).
Rosamund Bartlett, Tolstoy: A Russian Life (2010).
General historical background:
Geoffrey Hosking, Russia: People and Empire (1997): see especially chapters on the nobility, the peasantry, the Orthodox Church, ‘Literature as “Nation-Builder”’, ‘The Reforms of Alexander II’.
Walter Moss, Russia in the Age of Alexander II, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (2002): a visually enhanced version of this is available on the author’s website at
David Saunders, Russia in the Age of Reaction and Reform, 1801-1881 (1992).
Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801-1917 (1967).
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