• Home
  • Cherry Picked - Great 19th century Russian writers and Y2K scare influenced by same anxiety, scholar says

Great 19th century Russian writers and Y2K scare influenced by same anxiety, scholar says

Friday, February 12, 2016

LAWRENCE – The same anxiety that drove the Y2K computer bug panic at the turn of the millennium can be found in “Anna Karenina,” the Russian novel that Leo Tolstoy wrote more than a century earlier, a KU professor argues.

Just as it did in 2000, the turn of the 19th century brought feelings of overwhelming pessimism, anxiety and an apocalyptic sense of an ending. The French dubbed the years between 1890 and 1900 as fin de siècle, a time that the noted French writer Max Nordau described in his 1892 book “Degeneration” as the tension between the feeling of death and the desire for life.

In “Russian Writers and the Fin de Siècle: The Twilight of Realism,” scholars argue that the fin de siècle mood was most pronounced and prolonged in Russia. Themes of foreboding, decline, degeneration, decay and ending influenced Russian realism and some of the greatest Russian writers of the 19th century.

“This anxiety can be found throughout Europe, but in Russia it starts earlier and continues later,” said Ani Kokobobo, an assistant professor of Slavic languages and literatures, who co-edited the book with Katherine Bowers of the University of British Columbia.

The gloominess attributed to the fin de siècle mood dates as far back as Ivan Turgenev’s 1859 novella “A Nest of the Gentry” and continues until the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The book includes 15 essays from established and emerging scholars. Along with Tolstoy and Turgenev, the essays examine the work of other noted 19th century writers such as Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov and Nikolai Gogol.

“What we are really interested in is what happens to the style that produced ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Crime and Punishment.’ At the turn of the century, there is this pessimistic mood, but there is also a lot of artistic experimentation and people playing with different styles. It’s a very productive depression,” Kokobobo said. “It’s clichéd to say, but unhappiness makes for great writing.”

Just as Americans fretted over the fate of the Y2K bug, Tolstoy’s 1878 “Anna Karenina” uses apocalyptic imagery to address industrial progress.

“This anxiety tends to be associated with the boom in technology, and the railroad in particular, and how it was destroying the traditional way of life as they knew it,” Kokobobo said. “Russians glorified their Middle Ages, and groups from both sides of the political spectrum believed that Russia used to be better before Peter the Great tried to make it more European.”

In some ways, Kokobobo said, by rebelling against empirical rationalism, stripping life to the bare bones, using emotionalism and putting characters in positions of crisis and moral dilemma, Russian fin-de-siècle literature reflects the national psyche. While in Europe, there was a belief in the stability of civilization and the middle class, in Russia capitalism, secularism and the modern state weren’t well-developed at that time.

“Instead you have a sense of terrible foreboding and disaster. And in some ways, Russians embrace this,” Kokobobo said.


Read the latest MUSE News!

Find out what KU's Museum Studies Program and our alumni are up to:

September 2017 Newsletter
January 2017 Newsletter
 

 

Museum Events

Art Cart: Painted Fans
Saturday, January 20 | 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Sam and Connie Perkins Central Court, 317
1301 Mississippi St.
The Art Cart is a drop-in activity station where children and grown-ups enjoy hands-on art projects together, taking inspiration from original works of art. After traveling the world, Sallie Casey Thayer donated her collection of objects to KU to form what is now the Spencer Museum of Art. Learn about Mrs. Thayer and create a painted folding fan to start your own collection.

Slow Art Sunday: Steel Wool Peignoir
Sunday, January 21 | 2 p.m.-3 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Kemper Family Foundations Balcony, 408
1301 Mississippi St.
Slow down at the Spencer and spend time getting to know one great work of art. Slow Art Sunday features one work for visitors to contemplate and converse about with Museum staff. In January, get to know Steel Wool Peignoir by Mimi Smith.

Science on Tap: The Cambrian: More than just Trilobites
Wednesday, January 24 | 7:30 p.m.
Free State Brewing Co., 636 Massachusetts St.
The Cambrian is a time in Earth’s history when many modern animal relatives make their first appearance. It is also a time when many bizarre animals without modern relatives appear in the fossil record. At this Science on Tap, Dr. Julien Kimmig will talk about the diversity of animals during this amazing period and what it can teach us about the future of life on earth. 

Career Close-ups: Developing a Career in the Museum World
Friday, January 26 | 2 p.m.-4 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Auditorium 309
1301 Mississippi St.
Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to explore how any major can lead to a career in a cultural organization. A panel of museum professionals will share their experiences, followed by a networking reception and behind-the-scenes tours of KU’s museums. This year’s panelists include: Dina Bennett (Mulvane Art Museum, Washburn University), Glenn North (Black Archives of Mid-America), and Adrianne Russell (Cabinet of Curiosities). Advance registration is required at www.spencerart.ku.edu/career-closeups. Please register by January 24. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/476618689399321/
Sponsored by the Spencer Museum of Art, KU Natural History Museum, University Career Center, and the Museum Studies Program.

Final Friday: Community and Culture Closing Celebration
Friday, January 26 | 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.
The Watkins, in partnership with the Max Kade Center and the Lawrence Opera Theatre, present an evening of 19th-century German-American music and cuisine.

Discovery Day: Celebrating Kansas
Sunday, January 28 | 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
KU Natural History Museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd.
In honor of Kansas Day, join us for hands-on activities that are all about Kansas wildlife, plants and fossils. 

Kenneth A. Spencer Lecture: An Evening with Eve L. Ewing: Poetry in Context
Wednesday, January 31 | 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St.
Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist, poet, essayist, artist, and educator whose research focuses on racism, social inequality, urban policy, and the impact of these forces on American public schools and the lives of young people. Dr. Ewing earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University and is recognized as a leader and social influencer, especially in conversations involving academia, writing, black women, and the intersection of politics and popular culture. Sponsored by The Commons.

University in the Art Museum for Graduate Students
Thursday, February 1 | 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Mississippi St.
University in the Art Museum introduces graduate students to opportunities for object-based teaching, learning, and research through collaborative partnerships with the Spencer Museum of Art. This workshop includes discussions led by graduate students in the departments of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Geography; and Atmospheric Science. Advance registration is required by Monday, January 29. Register online at https://spencerart.ku.edu/uam.

Extraordinary Animals: Awesome Adaptations
Sunday, February 4 | 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
KU Natural History Museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd.
At this new monthly animal event, parents and children are invited to learn about animals of Kansas. Museum Animal Specialist Ashley Welton will offer presentations about animal adaptations using touchable specimens from the museums collections at 1:15, 1:45 and 2:15 pm. 

FeBREWary at the Watkins
Thursday, February 15 | 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.
The Watkins, in partnership with Lawrence Beer Co., presents an evening of beer, food, and knowledge! Enjoy beer and a fascinating talk on brewing provided by Lawrence Beer Co., plus food from local restaurants and an informal museum tour. Tickets are $15 for DCHS members, $20 for non-members. You may sign up online or contact the museum at 785-841-4109. We recommend buying in advance. Ages 21 and over only, please. More information and registration.

Winter Table: An Evening of Herpetology
Wednesday, February 28 | 6:30 p.m.
KU Natural History Museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd.
A celebration of more than 100 years of KU herpetology research programs and the careers of Linda Trueb and Bill Duellman. Explore the Natural History Museum's reptile and amphibian collections and enjoy appetizers and drinks. Dine in the Panorama Gallery with KU herpetology scientists and students conducting reptile and amphibian research across the globe. 

6:30 pm: appetizers, drinks and science salon
7:00 pm: dinner and program
$50 per person 

Reserve your space now at the 2018 Winter Table by ordering tickets online. Tickets are $50 per person. You may also call 785-864-4450 to purchase by phone or you may purchase tickets at the museum lobby during business hours. Questions? Contact biodiversity@ku.edu or 785-864-4450.

Home to 50+ departments, centers, and programs, the School of the Arts, and the School of Public Affairs and Administration
KU offers courses in 40 languages
No. 1 ranking in city management and urban policy —U.S. News and World Report
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times