A 2023 Choice Reviews Outstanding Academic Title
Reading Darwin in Imperial Russia: Literature and Ideas expands upon the cataloging efforts of earlier scholarship on Darwin’s reception in Russia to analyze the rich cultural context and vital historical background of writings inspired by the arrival of Darwin’s ideas in Russia. Starting with the first Russian translation of The Origin of Species in 1864, educated Russians eagerly read Darwin’s works and reacted in a variety of ways. From enthusiasm to skepticism to hostility, these reactions manifested in a variety of published works, starting with the translations themselves, as well as critical reviews, opinion journalism, literary fiction, and polemical prose. The reception of Darwin spanned reverent, didactic, ironic, and sarcastic modes of interpretation. This book examines some of the best-known authors of the second half of the nineteenth century (Dostoevsky, Chernyshevsky, Chekhov) and others less well-known or nearly forgotten (Danilevsky, Timiriazev, Markevich, Strakhov) to explore the multi-faceted impact of Darwin’s ideas on Russian educated society. While elements of Darwin’s Russian reception were comparable to other countries, each author reveals distinctly Russian concerns tied to the meaning and consequences of the challenge posed by Darwinism. The scholars in this volume demonstrate not only what the authors wrote, but why they took their unique perspectives.
Andrew M. Drozd is associate professor of Russian at the University of Alabama.
Brendan G. Mooney is fellow at the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies and visiting assistant professor of Russian at Miami University of Ohio.
Stephen M. Woodburn is professor of history at Southwestern College in Kansas.
What’s in a Word?: A History of the Words “Evolution” and “Natural Selection” in Russian and of Kliment Timiriazev’s Legacy as a Translator and Popularizer of Darwinism
An Upheaval in Thinking Minds: Darwin’s Russian Reception as a Contextual Source in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment
Nikolai Strakhovon Darwinism: Humans, Progress, and Organicism
Anti-Darwinism as Anti-Nihilism: The Conservative Response to Darwinism in Mikhail Katkov’s Russian Messenger and The Moscow News and Boleslav Markevich’s Pedagogical Romance Marina from Alyrog (1873)
Nationality, Philosophy, and Science in Nikolai Danilevsky’s Critique of Darwinism
Darwinism “Dressed in Russian State Uniform”: Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin's “The Predators” and Other Works
An Attack from the Left: Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s Critique of Darwin
Learned Neighbors and Hypnotic Seances: On Anton Chekhov’s Darwinist Parodies
About the Contributors
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species had a profound impact when published 1859, and it continues to influence scientific and cultural matters today. This thoughtful collection of essays explores the cultural effect of Darwin’s ideas in imperial Russia. Essays address the challenges of translating Darwin’s terminology into Russian and the varying interpretations of his concepts of “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest.” …. There are considerations of the reactions of conservatives and traditionalists who blamed Darwin for the social disruption of the 1860s and 1870s, which saw emancipation of the serfs, the expansion of women’s education, and the nihilist movements. For these writers, the European modernity associated with Darwin’s concepts threatened to undermine Russian nationalist identity and traditional values and needed to be challenged. Insightful and deeply informative, this collection sheds light on important intellectual developments in 19th-century Russia. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
Over the past few years there has been a veritable renaissance of interest in the history of science in imperial Russia. Reading Darwin in Imperial Russia: Literature and Ideas is an invaluable contribution to this project. The articles it contains are original, erudite, and lucid, both broad in scope and detailed in analysis. They provide a new perspective on familiar authors like Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Chernyshevsky, but also on lesser studied (but extremely important) intellectuals, like Strakhov and Danilevsky. Taken as a whole, this book greatly expands our understanding of Darwin’s reception in Russia and, alongside the classic studies by Todes and Vucinich, will serve as one of the reference guides on the topic for years to come. Every scholar of nineteenth-century Russian literature and culture should have a copy in their library.
Reading Darwin in Imperial Russia does much more than its title would suggest: it introduces readers to the whole ecosystem of Russian thinkers around Darwin. These chapters explore how Darwin’s influence was filtered and inflected by his popularizers and detractors in Russia, engaging a wide range of thinkers: from scientists like Timiriazev and Rachinsky; to literary figures like Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Saltykov-Shchedrin; to philosophers and social critics like Chernyshevsky, Strakhov, and Danilevsky. Meticulously researched, this book will become essential reading for anyone interested in nineteenth-century Darwinian thought in Russia.
The editors and contributors in this engaging and informative volume make a forceful argument that reaches beyond Russian literature, posing bold challenges to those interested in the history of science and the history of Imperial Russia. By foregrounding the complicated appropriation of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection by the whole gamut of publicists, literary authors, philosophers, conservatives, reactionaries, liberals, and radicals, these scholars document how central the struggle with the 'struggle for existence' was to an astonishing sweep of pressing issues in Russian culture. After reading these pages, not only can literary scholars no longer ignore Darwin’s biology, but scholars of science and Russia will newly appreciate the value of literary texts as crucial sources for cultural history.
This volume represents a new stage in scholarship on Darwin in Imperial Russian culture, with illuminating, well-contextualized, deeply-researched, and nuanced essays on Russian translations of Darwin’s central terms, responses and resonances in Russian literature, and the reactions of key figures across the political spectrum. Darwin and various culturally interpreted 'Darwins' emerge as important participants in Imperial Russian cultural and intellectual life.