Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Provincial town

Provincial town. Unnamed Russian community in which almost the entire novel takes place. The town is characterized as being unremarkable and thoroughly typical, an example of Russian society in microcosm. Nothing within the town either deserves or receives extensive depiction, and even characters who are new to the town traverse its streets without seeing anything that captures their attention. Against this backdrop of the mundane and the conventional, the violent disruption of the community’s social life by Vladimir Petrovitch Sanine seems particularly shocking. Sanine is a cynic, anarchist, and apostle of complete sexual freedom who exhorts his young and impressionable followers to act on impulse rather than with regard to moral conventions. What follows is an epidemic of seductions and suicides, as his ideas prove to be much more difficult to act on in reality than they appear to be in theory.

Sanine house

Sanine house. Residence of the novel’s principal character, Sanine, and his mother, Maria, and sister Lidia. A once-proud edifice on the main street of the unnamed town, this ancient mansion is in poor repair and much too large for its few inhabitants. Sanine’s lack of interest in maintaining the family home or fulfilling the traditional responsibilities of a prominent citizen is one of many ways that the narrative conveys his disaffection from conventional society.

Svarogitsch house

Svarogitsch house. Residence of Sanine’s most effective opponent among the townsfolk, Yourii...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Engelstein, Laura. The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992. Surveys popular culture in early twentieth century Russia. Elaborates Artsybashev’s role as literary innovator.

Luker, Nicholas. In Defense of a Reputation: Essays on the Early Prose of Mikhail Artsybashev. Nottingham, England: Astra Press, 1990. A balanced consideration of Artsybashev’s major novels and a thorough summary of earlier criticism of Artsybashev’s works, most of which are available only in Russian. Emphasizing the careful structure of Sanine, Luker makes a convincing case for considering Artsybashev a serious author.

Phelps, William. Essays on Russian Novelists. New York: Macmillan, 1911. A contemporary account of the sensation Sanine made abroad as an affront to morality and as a pagan appreciation of nature.

Rosenthal, Bernice G., ed. Nietzsche in Russia. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. Collection of essays about the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on Russian authors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several essays discuss Artsybashev, including one that considers Sanine as a Nietzschean superman.

Todd, William Mills, ed. Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1978. Examines the relations between Russian literature and mass readership. Sanine’s success is considered in the broader context of works read by the middle classes.