Lieber, Emma K. On the Distinctiveness of the Russian Novel: The Brothers Karamazov and the English Tradition. Columbia University, 2011.
This dissertation takes as its starting point Leo Tolstoy's famous contention that the works of the Russian literary canon represent "deviation[s]" from European forms. It is envisioned as a response to (or an elaboration upon) critical works that address the unique rise, formation, and poetics of the Russian novel, many of which are themselves responses (or Russian corollaries) to Ian Watt's study of the rise of the novel in England; and it functions similarly under the assumption that the singularity of the Russian novel is a product of various idiosyncrasies in the Russian cultural milieu. The project is structured as a comparative examination of two pairs of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels from Russia and England, and as such it approaches the question of the Russian novel's distinctiveness in the form of a literary experiment. By engaging in close readings of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722) alongside Mikhail Chulkov's The Comely Cook (Prigozhaia povarikha, 1770), and Charles Dickens's Bleak House (1853) alongside Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1880), concentrating particularly on matters of formal design, corporeal integrity and vulnerability, and communal harmony and discord, and by understanding the English texts as a -- control group for an examination of the Russian deviation, it attempts to identify some of the distinctive features of the Russian realist novel. The largest portion of the dissertation is dedicated to The Brothers Karamazov, which I take as an emblematic work in a literary canon that is distinguished by intimations that healing and recovery, as well as the coexistence of both personal freedom and communal rapport, are possible in the real world and in realist narrative.