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10 Classic Russian Novels

1. October 2009 by Christy 0 Comments

Russia’s rich literary tradition spans many centuries, but it is the 19th century (1800-1900) that many scholars refer to as “The Golden Era.” The following ten novels are classic works that emerged during this prominent period.

1. Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin

Written entirely in verse, Eugene Onegin is the story of a disillusioned young aristocrat who moves to the country and rejects the love of a besotted maiden. With themes covering the relationship between fiction and real life and the shaping power of art, Pushkin’s work has been adapted for the stage and film.


2. A Hero of Our Time
by Mikhail Lermontov

A Hero of Our Time, written in five linked episodes, tells the shocking history of a cynical man who embarks upon a series of adventures to stave off the boredom of life. Lermontov’s novel, with its archetypical Byronic hero, was a source of inspiration for many later Russian authors, including Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy.


3. Dead Souls
by Nikolai Gogol

One of the most well-known works in 19th-century Russian literature, Dead Souls follows the adventures of a Chichiko, a middle class man eager to gain wealth and prestige by any means. This well-received novel has been made into a play, opera, television miniseries, and a two-part radio program.


4. Notes From Underground
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This short novel relays the struggles of an anonymous narrator, later known as the Underground Man, who is plagued by feelings of alienation and bitterness. Notes From Underground contains political, moral, social, and religious themes and has been adapted for the stage.


5. The Gambler
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Gambler follows the life of a young gambler and his difficult relationship with the woman he loves. Fyodor Dostoevsky, a gambler himself, was forced to write The Gambler under and an extremely tight deadline in order to pay off extensive gambling tests.


6. Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

In Crime and Punishment, a poverty stricken young man hatches a plan to murder a rich money-lender whom he loathes. The young man, a university drop out who views himself as a superior intellectual, goes through with the plan but is horrified by the results.


7. The Brothers Karamazov
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov, the story of three wildly different brothers and their roles in their father’s murder, has been hailed as one of the greatest novels in world literature. In this philosophical novel, Dostoevsky explores many ideas including the existence of God, the role of modern religion, and the deep rift among social classes.


8. Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina is the story of a proper, upper-middle-class woman who grows dissatisfied with her comfortable life after meeting and falling in love with a dashing Count. She eventually abandons her husband and child to be with her lover, a move that proves to be disastrous. In 2004, Anna Karenina became a best seller in the United States after Oprah Winfrey recommended the novel to her viewers.


9. War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy

Perhaps the most well-known work on this list, Tolstoy’s War and Peace is considered to be one of the world’s greatest works of fiction. This epic novel describes the events leading up to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and its effect on Russian society. At approximately 1,250 pages, War and Peace is a famously long novel that has been adapted for the stage, radio, television, and film.


10. Fathers and Sons
by Ivan Turgene

In Fathers and Sons, Turgene parallels the generation gap between fathers and sons with the controversial political debates between older reactionaries and young radicals/nihilists. This novel is the first Russian work to become prominent in the Western world, a testament to Turgene’s great literary skill.