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Catalog Archive / Fall 2020

How Russia Learned to Write
Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks

Publications of the Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies
David M. Bethea, Series Editor

“Reyfman’s prose is clear and readable throughout, and How Russia Learned to Write adds an intriguing new reading on canonical texts of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is one of those rare books you never knew you needed, but answers questions you have always had.” Slavic Review

The Table of Ranks, introduced by Russian emperor Peter the Great in 1722, mandated strictly enforced obligations to imperial service. 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. From Sumarokov and Derzhavin in the eighteenth century through Pushkin and Dostoevsky in the nineteenth, state service influenced writers’ self-images and the themes of their creative output. Irina Reyfman illuminates these surprising and diverse outcomes, noting Russia’s atypical course in the professionalization and social status of literary work.


Author. Photo credit, Name Irina Reyfman is a professor of Russian literature at Columbia University. She is the author and editor of several books, including Rank and Style: Russians in State Service, Life, and Literature and Ritualized Violence Russian Style.





“Compelling, clever, and persuasive. Examining many Russian writers’ self-fashioning as members of the nobility and their careers in public service, Reyfman admirably shows that the understanding of rank should inflect all our arguments and histories of the writing profession in Russia.”
—Luba Golburt, University of California, Berkeley

“Indispensable reading for all who study Russian literature of the Imperial period. Reyfman adds nuance and necessary reevaluation to our understanding of how literary careers and literary biography evolved in Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
—Andrew Kahn, University of Oxford

“Can be read profitably by a range of readers, from undergraduates to specialists. . . . Reyfman’s informed analysis forces us to rethink received ideas.”
Slavic and East European Journal

“Reyfman’s ability to interweave sensitive biography with historical understanding and literary insights makes this book essential reading for anyone seriously interested in Russian literature of the imperial period.”
Russian Review

“Focuses on the neglected topic of how expectations about state service influenced the lives and works of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers. . . . Well worth reading for its numerous valuable insights and its fresh perspective on the creative process in Russia.”
Australian Slavonic and East European Studies




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How Russia Learned to Write: Cover art of an old, discolored piece of paper with handwritten Russian scrawled across it. The title text is written in bold, dark red text. Larger images

New in Paperback!
January 2021
LC: 2015039995 PG
256 pp. 6 x 9

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Casebound $65.00 S
ISBN 978-0-299-30830-8
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Paper $21.95 S
ISBN 978-0-299-30834-6
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Ebook E-book $75.00 S
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