On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
Edited By Gerry Canavan
11. Russian SF and Its Utopian Tradition
1. The tradition of SF is a time-honored one in Russia. Its strength is based on blending the rationalist Western European strain of utopianism and satire with the native folk longings for abundance and justice. These were embodied, first, in the ubiquitous dream of a land of Cockayne-like abundance, often the goal of extraordinary voyages (in the case of landlocked Russia, overland ones) toward India, Persia, or China: Marco Polo’s Cathay was not more fabulous than the luxurious Kitezhgorod of folk imagination. Justice to man regardless of the traps and trappings of his social station is the central interest of a second large segment of oral and folk literature. Perhaps it might be enough to mention here only the strong theme of the humble person who is finally exalted. From the wishful and magical folktales about Ivanushka the Fool, the youngest or third son who is poorer and apparently more stupid than his brothers but ends up more successful than the norms of class society would allow for, through a fusion with plebeian (especially heretical and sectarian) Christianity, such a theme flowed into the mainstream of modern Russian literature. From Pushkin’s and Mussorgsky’s mad folk prophet in Boris Godunov, through the memorable humble arrogants in Dostoevsky (say, Prince Myshkin in The Idiot), all the way to many Tolstoian and Chekhovian characters, these figures bear utopian values into a world not yet ready for them.
In the middle of the nineteenth century this tradition fused with earlier...
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