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Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales

A Formalist Analysis


Nathaniel Golden

This book analyses eleven of Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales from a neo-Formalist perspective. The tales are a testament to Shalamov’s seventeen years in Stalin’s Gulags, and were written in an attempt to draw attention to this period in Soviet history. Nathaniel Golden has primarily utilised L. M. O’Toole’s work Structure, Style and Interpretation in the Russian Short Story as the major basis for analysis, but has incorporated many other Formalist and indeed Structuralist methods.
The tales in each chapter are analysed by means of five major Formalist categories: Narrative Structure, Point of View, Fabula and Sujet, Characterisation and Setting. This process highlights many of Shalamov’s ideas and motifs in the tales. He frequently uses techniques of estrangement and paradox to augment camp experience, reflecting his belief that there is no moral, emotional or spiritual gain in suffering. He habitually employs a ‘focaliser’ to tell the tale from a near-death perspective and in consequence distances the author from events. His literary background is prominent within the tales, where he occasionally alludes to earlier Russian authors and their works to indicate the recurring nature of Man’s fallibility against the Gulag background. His characters are often simply portrayed yet representative of flawed heroes and the baseness of human beings subjected to an existence in extremis. His settings are minimal, yet form a major part of his message: Man is compared to nature, but nature is powerful and able to regenerate itself, whereas Man’s existence is temporary and futile.
This book therefore, shows that the Formalist approach is indeed still valid as a literary tool of analysis as well as showing that upon the 50th year of Stalin’s death, Varlam Shalamov’s time has arrived.


Sander Brouwer

In this book, the problem of literary character is investigated in a series of detailed analyses of short stories by I.S.Turgenev: Bezhin Lea, Mumu, A Journey into Polesé, The Dog and Punin and Baburin. Up until roughly the 1920's (in Russia: before Formalism), the approach to character in literary criticism was based on the implicit assumption that literary character somehow reflected characters in real life, who were thought to have a fixed inner essence (psychological and/or ideological). In post-formalist, structuralist studies, on the other hand, character as it were dissolved into the textual fabric of the work. In this book, the basic viewpoint of structuralist theory of character, namely its exclusively textual nature, is retained. But in that case, how is the structure of character in texts of the pre-modernist era to be described, in which the belief in the existence of an inner essence in actual as well as in fictional characters had hardly yet been shaken? In order to tackle this problem, the author turns to Roman Jakobson's idea, taken up and developed by W.Schmid and A.Hansen-Löve, that the meaning of a work of literature is generated by the interaction of paradigmatic and syntagmatic mechanisms. The image of character in Turgenev's stories is the result of devices characteristic of narrative as well as of verbal art. It is partly created with the help of leitmotivs that form sequences of equivalences, and of intertextual references. Thus (social) representation is supplemented by lyrical and philosophical overtones. Comparable observations have been made by V.M.Markovic (1982) on Turgenev's novels, as well as on those by Puškin, Gogol' and Lermontov. For the assessment of intra- and intertextual equivalences it has been found of great importance to pay more attention than is usually done to folkloric connotations of details in Turgenev's fictional world. Thus new layers of meaning can be uncovered in stories that have been considered well-studied; and a first-ever interpretation is given of The Dog, a story traditionally regarded as incomprehensible.


Kamila Pawlikowska

Anti-Portraits: Poetics of the Face in Modern English, Polish and Russian Literature (1835-1965) is a study of a-physiognomic descriptions of the face. It demonstrates that writers such as George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Edgar Allan Poe, Nicolay Gogol, Virginia Woolf and Witold Gombrowicz vigorously resisted the belief that facial features reflect character.

While other studies tend to focus on descriptions which affirm physiognomy, this book examines portraits which question popular face-reading systems and contravene their common premise – the surface-depth principle. Such portraits reveal that physiognomic formula is a cultural construct, invented to abridge, organise and regulate legibility of the human face. Most importantly, strange and ‘unreadable’ fictional faces frequently expose the connection between physiognomic judgement and stereotyping, prejudice and racism.


Wojciech Klepuszewski

’s ideological stance, especially his aversion to religion. However, when she finally confesses, she is harshly rebuked by Zawistowski, who learns about her marriage to a communist. Consequently, she starts to drift away from her religious beliefs until, finally, she accepts and appreciates the new system when


Ruxandra Diaconu

interested in economics, or if he is more interested in economics and for this reason becomes attracted to Debbie. Lodge makes the irony unmistakable: Robyn’s own boyfriend – a person whom she esteems for his ideas, beliefs, knowledge, class and interests –, turns out to be deeply hypocritical (in Robyn


Arthur Langeveld

’s death at the beginning of the book. As a matter of fact all biographical information on Gogol, complete with such hilarious facts as Gogol’s mother’s belief that her son had invented the steam engine, is purloined, quite often almost verbatim, from Veresayev’s standard work. The same goes for all


Roy Groen

attention to anything but the text of the novel itself. He is interested in the intricate details of the very special worlds of the novels themselves, in their personal style and original methods of craftsmanship, an approach that is rooted in his unshakeable belief in the self-sufficiency of literary


Lara Delage-Toriel

light, evolved partly for financial reasons, but it also evidences the novel’s ever-present appeal and the urgency Nabokov therefore felt in giving it full justice in the English-speaking world. This appeal stems from a number of shared beliefs, among which a common endeavour to give precedence to the


Gerard de Vries

orientation that he misreads several of Brooke’s poems and badly misrepresents what we know of Brooke’s beliefs.’ 43 To be sure, although Nabokov’s lecture fails to be a helpful introduction to Stevenson’s story, there is hardly anything in the present lecture that detracts from the merits of Jekyll and Hyde


Ilse Logie

, precisely because his belief in a ‘true’ meaning is so absolute, he nevertheless succeeds in foregrounding interesting aspects of the work. He tries to scrape off the layers of varnish, free the book from the long shadow cast by that ‘afterlife’ and return to the source. But inevitably he is guilty of