Visions of Empire in Russian Gothic Literature, 1790–185

Hammershus Castle

Hammershus Castle on the Danish island of Bornholm, which is the setting of the first Russian Gothic tale by Nikolai Karamzin, "The Island of Bornholm" (1793)

Principal Investigator: Valeria Sobol, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures

Grant Programs: Summer Stipends; Fellowships for University Teachers

Years: 2014; 20152016

"In my book I am exploring how Russian Gothic literature—a literature of haunted castles or houses, ghosts, and dark gloomy landscapes—expressed some of the fundamental anxieties of this large land empire. Why do Russian authors often choose imperial borderlands as settings for the uncanny encounters of their literary works? Unlike, for example, the British empire that had overseas colonies, the Russian empire expanded contiguously, annexing neighboring territories, which posed some difficulties in differentiating between the colonizer and the colonized, center and peripheries. Russian imperial identity, thus, was not perfectly stable, which I believe is reflected in the literary portrayal of borderlands as treacherous and dangerous places.            

"Much has been written about Russia’s precarious position 'between East and West,'  but my book focuses on a different axis of imaginary geography—the Gothic 'North/South.' I focus specifically on the works set in the Baltic region of the Russian empire and on Ukraine as the Russian 'Southern' Gothic double and attempt to unravel some mechanisms underlying the portrayal of these regions as ghostly spaces. The current Ukrainian crisis has demonstrated that, alas, these deep-set imperial anxieties about its 'approximate others' continue to haunt the Russian historical and political imagination."

Valeria Sobol

An Interview with NEH Grant-Recipient Valeria Sobol

The Past Five Years