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Tolstoy, Gender, and the Family

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  • UserAni Kokobobo (University of Kansas) and Anna Berman (McGill University)
  • ClockFriday 18 January 2019, 16:00-18:00
  • HouseLatimer Room, Clare College.

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Please join us for two short talks by Anna Berman and Ani Kokobobo that will establish a dialogue around questions of family and gender in Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina.

Anna A. Berman takes as her starting point Tolstoy’s ardent admiration of the English family novel whose model he drew on heavily when writing Anna Karenina. Yet his vision of happiness did not match the English ideal of an heir and a landed estate that traditionally marks narrative closure. Berman’s talk will explore the ideology around marriage and family that Tolstoy wrestles with in Anna Karenina, contextualizing it among both the literary precedents he was responding to and also the broader societal debates taking place in Russia’s periodical press. She will argue that in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy reshaped the genre of the family novel to fit Russian realities, with narrative form deeply influenced by the form of the family.

Ani Kokobobo is at work on a book on Tolstoy and his understanding of gender/sexuality and draws on this project in raising a deceptively simple question: Why does Anna die, while Levin lives? As Tolstoy’s core protagonists, Levin and Anna are both actively burdened by suicidal ideation that they verbalize in practically identical ways through questions that mirror ones raised by the author himself in his diary. Yet, in asking why Anna dies while Levin lives, we are also asking, why does the woman die while the man lives? And do gender and gender identity, as conceived by Tolstoy in a nineteenth-century Russian setting, influence these two outcomes? As Kokobobo shows, Tolstoy does not merely raise the questions of why a woman dies from despair while the man lives; rather, this question, if asked in gendered terms, launches a broader discussion with significant contemporary implications about gender, sex, and the extent to which both are less a biological reality, and more a performance and construct originating in the warped realm of sexuality.

Speakers’ bios:

Anna A. Berman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at McGill University. Her research focuses on the nineteenth-century Russian and English novel and issues of kinship and family. She is the author of Siblings in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky: The Path to Universal Brotherhood (2015) and has also published articles on Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Russian opera, the relationship of science and literature, and the family novel as a genre. For the academic year 2018-19 she is a Visiting Fellow Commoner at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Ani Kokobobo received her BA from Dartmouth (2005) and PhD from Columbia University (2011). She is currently Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Slavic Department at the University of Kansas as well as editor of the Tolstoy Studies Journal. She has published a monograph Russian Grotesque Realism: The Great Reforms and Gentry Decline (Ohio State University Press), as well as two edited volumes: Russian Writers and the Fin de Siecle — The Twilight of Realism (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Beyond Moscow: Reading Russia’s Regional Identities and Initiatives (Routledge). She has written over 20 academic articles and her writing for the public has appeared in The Washington Post,, The New Republic, Business Insider, and Los Angeles Review of Books.

This talk is part of the Slavonic Studies series.

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