What do you think have been the main themes of Russian writers in the 19th Century?


All media forms, be they written or audio-visual reflect ideologies and themes of the era in which they are produced. 19th century Russian Literature similarly presents a pattern of themes and ideologies, relative to the social circumstances surrounding their creation. Many themes running through the Russian literature of this period parallels with the social change and political conflict of the time, bringing such issues to the forefront of society in an easily accessible and understandable fashion.


Not only did the writers of the 19th Century in Russia reflect change within society and regarding the political arena, they also wrote about emerging philosophies and ideologies surrounding such activity.


One such writer to discuss emerging philosophies was Dostoevsky, who examined the concept of responsibility. Dostoevsky believed that people gained feedback for any action committed and thus they should be responsible and accountable every minute of their lives. This social critique is evident in his novel, ‘Crime and Punishment’ which depicts the phenomena of contemporary social life in 19th Century Russia. Despite Dostoevsky’s approach to every day social interaction within Russia, he also broached the idea of political ideology and development. There have been a number of opposing theories regarding the political element of the novel. Two notable contrasting theories are those by Pisarev and Strakhov. Pisarev takes the stance that the main ideological theme of ‘Crime and Punishment’ is that of exposing the guiltless evil system in place within contemporary Russian society that was engendered by poverty. However, on the contrary, Strakhov refutes the ideological stance of Pisarev and adopts the aesthetic perspective which assumes a more sympathetic view towards the main character, Raskolnikov. With two such opposing theories, it is possible to say that one of the main themes of the novel is the conflict inevitable conflict between theoretical analysis and life itself. As well as this predominant theme, the subject of realism and symbolism appears within ‘Crime and Punishment’. The novel, like others contempoarary to itself presents the opposing themes of realist perspective and symbolic representation and thus it is hard to the reader to understand whether or not Dostoevsky intends for the reader to take the narrative on face value or on a figurative front.


Another novel of the 19th Century in Russia which combines emblematic narrative with realist perception is that of ‘Fathers and Sons’ by Turgenev. Within ‘Fathers and Sons’, Turgenev uses his characters as representations of political and social movements in Russia at the time. Through these representations, one can realize the main themes of political and social conflict. These conflicts are evident on many different levels regarding the principle themes of Westernisation, liberalism and serf emancipation. These principle themes are not specific to ‘Fathers and Sons’ but subject matter approached by many writers of the 19th century.


A lot of the writers in Russia around the 19th century took a psychological perspective within their writing, with the emotional critique of individuals running as a predominant theme throughout many novels, plays and verse. Writers to adopt such a perspective include Chekhov, Tolstoy and Pushkin. All three of these writers, as well as embodying changing political and social climates as their main themes within their writing, adopted the psychological evaluation as a main thread of their narrative fabric.


Chekhov approached his writing with a mix of clinical assessment of ordinary life with a delicate poetic realism. This ménage of elements coincided with the key theme of naturalism entering the theatre within the 19th century. As well as Chekhov’s obvious psychological perspective, the main themes running through his works (particularly ‘The Lady with the Dog’) are work, love and the trivialities of every day life. Furthermore, as with novels such as ‘Fathers and Sons’(Turgenev) where generational conflict is explored, so Chekhov pursues this issue. In ‘The Lady with the Dog’, Chekhov explores the idea that the younger generation are victims of illusion, whereas the older characters are also victims, but of disillusionment as opposed to illusion. As well as these fundamental principal themes within Chekhov’s writing, he strived to move away from the traditional limitations and restrictions of traditional dramatic conventions, thus ‘The Lady with the Dog’ appears as a considerably different contemporary literary text.