Contemporary Russian Literature in Reading Anthologies (1843–1904) and the Literary Canon




history of education in 19th-century Russia; literary canon; history of Russian literature; literary education; reading books


This article studies the quantitative and qualitative status and cultural functions of modern literature in 46 Russian reading anthologies designed for two major types of high schools (“gymnasia” and “nonclassical secondary schools”) from 1843 to 1904. Such analysis is relevant due to an outdated understanding of the importance of Minister Dmitrii Tolstoy’s conservative reforms between the 1870s and 1880s. Using genealogical, institutional, and historical and functional methods to study the history of education, the author explores the function and consequences of both the exclusion of modern literature from the school curriculum and its presence in some readers. As a result, curriculum classicisation after the 1871 reform and the preservation of the literary curriculum were less unambiguous than was considered previously. The ban on the study of literature written after 1842 and the concurrent significant expansion of texts from Old Russian literature led to a paradoxical and unpredictable sacralisation of the “Russian classics” and discredited many important texts in the eyes of the younger generation. The article demonstrates that in such a situation, educational readers played an important role, being a buffer zone between a strictly limited curriculum and modern literature that was prohibited in class. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the content of the readers demonstrates that from 1860 to 1900, the share of texts by contemporary authors (i. e. those published 20–30 years before the publication of a reading book) increased from 4 to 35 %. Similarly, starting with 1861, the number of new readers on the educational market increased significantly. Qualitative analysis allows the author to identify the writers whose works were most frequently included in textbooks between the 1860s and 1890s. By the beginning of the 1900s, many fragments of frequently reproduced texts became canonical, were memorized, and, although they could not give a complete picture of the whole text, performed an important cultural function, attracting teenagers to modern texts and often still living authors. As a buffer zone between the official curriculum, the school historical and literary narrative, and the current literary process, readers thus made an important contribution to the canonisation of modern literature in Russian society in the 19th century, even in spite of the ministerial ban on its study.

Author Biography

Alexey Vdovin

PhD, Associate Professor, National Research University Higher School of Economics.

20, Myasnitskaya Str., 101000, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0003-0800-0577


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How to Cite

Vdovin, A. (2020). Contemporary Russian Literature in Reading Anthologies (1843–1904) and the Literary Canon. Quaestio Rossica, 8(1), 85–101.



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