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Gloomy Finland and the Russian Imperial Gothic

Event Type
Organized by the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center (REEEC), co-sponsored by the European Union Center
126 iSchool, 501 E Daniel St
Sep 26, 2017   12:00 pm  
Valeria Sobol, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Illinois
Originating Calendar
European Union Center Events

This talk is based on one of the chapters from Professor Valeria Sobol’s book in progress, Haunted Empire: The Gothic and the Russian Imperial Uncanny, 1790-1850. The book explores the connection between the Gothic and empire in Russian literature, focusing on the portrayal of Northern and Southern imperial borderlands as uncanny spaces. In this lecture, Professor Sobol will discuss the image of “gloomy” and Gothic Finland constructed in Russian literary and ethnographic publications of the 1840s. While being intimately linked to Russian foundational narratives, such the “invitation of the Varangians” and the construction of St. Petersburg, Finland emerged as an exotic and mysterious land after its incorporation into the Russian empire in the early nineteenth century. Finland’s ambivalent status in the Russian cultural imagination, along with the Gothic connotations of its majestic sublime landscape and its reputation as a “land of wizards,” made it a particularly apt setting for the Russian imperial uncanny. The lecture will offer a brief analysis of Vladimir Odoevsky’s novella “The Salamander” (1844) meant to demonstrate this function of Finland in Russian Gothic literature. While most ethnographic and literary texts depict the Finns as a magic-prone, semi-mythological people destined by both history and geography to be ruled by others and enthusiastically embracing the Russian civilizational mission, Odoevsky offers a far more complex and darker picture, using the narrative of the conquest of Finland to critique both Russia’s historical path and Western modernity more generally.

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