Remaking Charles Dickens for 21st-century Russia

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Charles Dickens’s writing entered the Russian cultural sphere only a year after he published The Pickwick Papers in England. In 1838, extracts from The Pickwick Papers appeared concurrently in different translations in several Russian journals. Canonical 19th-century writers and thinkers (including Nikolai Gogol, Vissarion Belinsky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Lev Tolstoy) read the novels in Russian, French, German, or English, either serialized in journals or as books. The popularity of Dickens in Russian translation was such that by the centenary of his birth in 1912 the third complete works—with new translations of all the novels—had been published. His stories of childhood were by then commonly excerpted and rewritten in magazines for Russian children. During Soviet times, Dickens increased in importance and was embedded in both official and private cultural spheres. His realism, his interest in poverty, and his own childhood experience of deprivation in London all rendered him suitable for retranslation for the new mass reader and for Soviet children, all of whom were to be furnished with negative portrayals of life under capitalism. Despite these propagandistic intentions, children and adults often identified with the suffering of Dickens’s child characters and found comfort in his reliable happy endings. In the Soviet Union, novels by Dickens typically held positive associations of warmth, safety, and moral consistency. They also offered inspiration for imaginative travel to a foreign country they could not dream of visiting in person. This convergence of official and personal appreciations of Dickens resulted in the publication of the most complete of complete works: thirty volumes of completely new translations supported by detailed scholarly apparatus. This so-called dark green edition was published in time for the 150th anniversary of Dickens’s birth in 1962, and a five-kopek postage stamp with a portrait of Dickens was issued in the same year. By the 2000s, a reading public who read Dickens as children in the Soviet Union could now read Dickens in English, on and offline, and even visit London for themselves. Two hundred years after Dickens’s birth, in 2012, the glossy Russian magazine Snob dedicated a special issue to Dickens with new commissions from notable writers including Eduard Limonov, Evgenii Popov, and Marina Stepnova. For the special issue’s editors, Dickens was less a representative of English culture than a conduit of nostalgia for their childhoods in the Soviet Union. At the same time, they noted that Dickens’s reception in Russia had come full circle: from the hypercapitalist publishing environment of Victorian London to the wild capitalism of Putin’s Russia.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford research encyclopedia of literature
EditorsDeidre Shauna Lynch
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780190201098
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2022

Publication series

NameOxford research encyclopedias


  • Charles Dickens
  • Russia
  • Remake
  • Translation
  • Magazine
  • Advertisements
  • Reception
  • Nostalgia
  • Serialization
  • Soviet Union


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