Sweeping look at Russia's literary art
Handbook of Russian Literature, edited by Victor Terras. New Haven: Yale University Press. 558 pp. $35. Victor Terras has been extremely modest in naming this work, which is a handbook the way the Mississippi is a stream. With 106 contributors from the United States, Norway, Scotland, and Canada, more than 300 entries in a generalized bibliography, reference to over 200 Russian journals and almanacs, and specific bibliographies at the end of most entries, the book indicates the immensity of Russian and Soviet literary art, and provides scholars, amateurs, students, and all others interested with useful ca tegories for understanding the permanence of that art's intellectual and aesthetic values.
Names predominate: the great names Tolstoy, Lermontov, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky, Akhmatova; the names famous now to scholars and academics, Jokobson, Bakhtin, Tatlin; and obscure names nonetheless central to Russian culture, such as Nil Sorsky, a 15th-century mystic whose reformist spirituality was an early challenge to the autocratic impulse in the Russian Orthodox Church.
After names, topics pertinent to the thought of literary art -- linguistics, anthropology, philosophy, theology -- and to the craft of words (there are entries as technical as the one called ``syllabatonic versification'') receive most attention. And finally the book offers dozens of entries that are succinct presentations of the largest contexts in which all literature develops. There are accounts of symbolism and realism, comedy and revolution, that focus European and American culture as keenly
as Russian culture. The achievement here is grand, the knowledge collected invaluable.