Debating Detectives: The Influence of Publitsistika on Nineteenth-Century Russian Crime Fiction.

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Detective or crime fiction was a relatively late arrival on the Russian literary scene, lagging behind its British, French and American counterparts. Several factors might explain this: the lack of a truly professional police force and independent judiciary, the pre-Emancipation organisation of social institutions, and publishing trends. Nevertheless, from the early 1860s onwards, conditions such as the consequences of the 1864 judicial reforms, the relaxation in censorship and a growth in literacy rates converged favourably to ensure that the genre gained considerable popularity. The birth of detective fiction in Russia is inextricably linked to the debates surrounding the nature of crime, the role of the new 'examining magistrate' and the role of the people in the administration of justice which were being conducted in the various journals of the time. Formidable figures such as Dostoevskii, were key players in the polemical discussions (publitsistika) which not only informed public opinion but also influenced a generation of fictional writers. Their voices were echoed by the journalists reporting and reflecting upon the criminal cases being heard by Russia’s fledgling juridical system. This paper will examine how the first generation of crime writers in Russia were influenced in their literary works by these non-fictional discussions. It will outline the main thematic threads in the publisistika debates and consider the extent to which these are reflected in the fictional plot lines of writers such as P.I. Stepanov, N.P. Timofeev, F.M. Dostoevskii, S.A. Panov and A.A. Shkliarevskii. Evidence of such borrowings will lead to the conclusion that cross-fertilisation between publisistika and literature was an essential informing factor from the very earliest days of crime fiction’s existence in Russia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-258
Number of pages29
JournalModern Language Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


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