• Richard Freeborn
Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


That Russian literature is a literature predominantly of ideas can hardly be in dispute. Its difference from English literature appears most conspicuous in this very respect. Shakespeare with ideas or — better — with that heavyweight term, an ideology, would be as incongruous as Dostoevsky without ideas, and neither would be the supreme masters that they are. Ideology and literature exist in an uneasy symbiosis which tends to involve the subordination of literature to ideological purposes, at a cost of the kind which in Russia, whether Tsarist or Soviet, can entail arrest and official condemnation as insane (as the example of Pëtr Chaadaev painfully reminds us) or arrest, trial, imprisonment and exile as anti-Soviet (as the example of Andrei Sinyavsky has served poignantly and sombrely to demonstrate to us in this century). Such examples, for all that they illustrate the dangers to which literature is liable when opposed by an ideology, do not in the final analysis diminish the enrichment which ideas, or an ideology of a writer’s or poet’s own choosing, can bring to a literature. As Andrei Sinyavsky asserts in his contribution on Rozanov in this volume:

Russian writers frequently have bad consciences over being writers pure and simple, they want to be something more. But this very same characteristic can be the greatest blessing, because it spurs Russian literature on towards goodness and truth and to intense spiritual quest.


Russian Literature Russian People Official Condemnation Russian Writer Russian Context 
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© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1990

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  • Richard Freeborn

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