New Books in the Arts & Sciences

Celebrating Recent Work by Liza Knapp and Irina Reyfman

Friday, March 24, 2017  12:15pm The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Listen to Irina Reyfman's How Russia Learned to Write: Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks podcast here.

Listen to Liza Knapp's Anna Karenina and Others: Tolstoy’s Labyrinth of Plots podcast here.

New Books in the Arts & Sciences
         —panel discussions celebrating recent work by the Columbia Faculty

Anna Karenina and Others: Tolstoy’s Labyrinth of Plots
by Liza Knapp

With its complex structure, Anna Karenina places special demands on readers who must follow multiple plotlines and discern their hidden linkages. In her well-conceived and jargon-free analysis, Liza Knapp offers a fresh approach to understanding how the novel is constructed, how it creates patterns of meaning, and why it is much more than Tolstoy’s version of an adultery story.

Knapp provides a series of readings of Anna Karenina that draw on other works that were critical to Tolstoy’s understanding of the interconnectedness of human lives. Among the texts she considers are The Scarlet Letter, a novel of adultery with a divided plot; Middlemarch, a multiplot novel with neighborly love as its ideal; and Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, which fascinated Tolstoy during his own religious crisis. She concludes with a tour-de-force reading of Mrs. Dalloway that shows Virginia Woolf constructing this novel in response to Tolstoy’s treatment of Anna Karenina and others.

How Russia Learned to Write: Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks
by Irina Reyfman

‚ÄčIn the eighteenth century, as modern forms of literature began to emerge in Russia, most of the writers producing it were members of the nobility. But their literary pursuits competed with strictly enforced obligations to imperial state service. Unique to Russia was the Table of Ranks, introduced by Emperor Peter the Great in 1722. Noblesse oblige was not just a lofty principle; aristocrats were expected to serve in the military, civil service, or the court, and their status among peers depended on advancement in ranks.

Irina Reyfman illuminates the surprisingly diverse effects of the Table of Ranks on writers, their work, and literary culture in Russia. From Sumarokov and Derzhavin in the eighteenth century through Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, and poets serving in the military in the nineteenth, state service affected the self-images of writers and the themes of their creative output. Reyfman also notes its effects on Russia’s atypical course in the professionalization and social status of literary work.


  • Author

    Liza Knapp

    Associate Professor of Slavic Languages; Chair, Department of Slavic Languages

    Columbia University

  • Author

    Irina Reyfman

    Professor, Department of Slavic Languages

    Columbia University

  • Chair

    Valentina B. Izmirlieva

    Associate Professor of Slavic Languages; Department Chair

    Columbia University

  • Discussant

    Eileen Gillooly

    Executive Director

    Heyman Center for the Humanities

  • Discussant

    Robin Feuer Miller

    Edytha Macy Gross Professor of Humanities

    Brandeis University

  • Discussant

    William Mills Todd III

    Harvard College Professor
    Harry Tuchman Levin Professor of Literature
    Professor of Comparative Literature

    Harvard University

  • Discussant

    Richard S. Wortman

    Bryce Professor Emeritus of European Legal History

    Columbia University


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