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Celebrating Recent Work by Liza Knapp and Irina Reyfman

New Books in the Arts and Sciences

dateMarch 24, 2017 timeFriday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Dean of Humanities, Arts & Sciences
  • Dean of Social Science, Arts & Sciences
  • Department of Slavic Languages
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated
Covers of How Russia Learned to Write by Irina Reyfman and Anna Karenina and Others by Liza Knapp

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

​In 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 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