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On Psychological Prose

On Psychological Prose

Lydia Ginzburg
Translated and edited by Judson Rosengrant
Foreword by Edward J. Brown
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 426
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  • Book Info
    On Psychological Prose
    Book Description:

    Comparable in importance to Mikhail Bakhtin, Lydia Ginzburg distinguished herself among Soviet literary critics through her investigation of the social and historical elements that relate verbal art to life in a particular culture. Her work speaks directly to those Western critics who may find that deconstructionist and psychoanalytical strategies by themselves are incapable of addressing the full meaning of literature. Here, in her first book to be translated into English, Ginzburg examines the reciprocal relationship between literature and life by exploring the development of the image of personality as both an aesthetic and social phenomenon. Showing that the boundary between traditional literary genres and other kinds of writing is a historically variable one, Ginzburg discusses a wide range of Western texts from the eighteenth century onward--including familiar letters and other historical and social documents, autobiographies such as the Memoires of Saint-Simon, Rousseau's Confessions, and Herzen's My Past and Thoughts, and the novels of Stendhal, Flaubert, Turgenev, and Tolstoi. A major portion of the study is devoted to Tolstoi's contribution to the literary investigation of personality, especially in his epic panorama of Russian life, War and Peace, and in Anna Karenina.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2055-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD The Importance of On Psychological Prose
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Edward J. Brown

    Lydia Ginzburg is one of the most distinguished and original minds to have worked on the nature of verbal art, its processes, and its position within a particular culture. Such a statement will come as no surprise in the contemporary Russian intellectual world, where her contribution to modern literary theory is regarded, justly in my opinion, as quite comparable to that of Bakhtin and as a healthy complement and correction of poststructuralist tendencies in the West. The appearance of Judson Rosengrant’s English translation now guarantees that Ginzburg’s unique contribution will have its proper measure of recognition among us also.


    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-24)

    The problem from which this book takes its departure is the relationship between the conception of personality characteristic of a given era and social milieu and the artistic representation of that conception. It is in this sense that one should understand the book’s title, not confusing the broad view of psychological prose with that psychologism whose particular methods were worked out by nineteenth-century literature. The cognition of spiritual life is traced in this book on the basis of material taken not only from canonical artistic literature but also from memoiristic or documentary writing, which in our time has aroused the...

  6. The “Human Document” and the Construction of Personality

      (pp. 27-57)

      The liberation movement in nineteenth-century Russia was the work of a variety of social groups and it assumed a variety of forms, sometimes approaching revolution and sometimes weakening, but never ceasing to develop. All of Russia’s great writers in one way or another responded to the problems it raised, regardless of their attitude toward revolutionary methods of solving them. This is the source of the astonishingly intense development of Russian social thought, of the rapid and decisive way in which one generation was replaced by the next, imparting to each decade a particular ideological atmosphere. These conditions made possible the...

      (pp. 58-102)

      Psychological insights not yet possible at a certain stage in the established, canonical genres, or only beginning to come to light in them, are often possible in the more peripheral forms of literature—in letters, diaries, memoirs, and autobiographies. Numerous cultural monuments attest to this fact, including the letters of Belinskii.

      Belinskii invented a new kind of critical essay, but for a number of reasons he was unable to include in it the full range of his complex spiritual life. He was bound by the nature and functions of the genre, above all by the impossibility of talking about himself...

  7. Memoirs

      (pp. 107-152)

      There is an extensive literature devoted to the duc de Saint-Simon’sMémoires,and it has studied that astonishing book from a number of different vantages—as a historical resource, as a monument of its time, and as an artistic work. The present discussion, however, will look at theMémoiresonly in regard to their solution of the problem of understanding and depicting individual character [kharakter].¹

      Sainte-Beuve called Saint-Simon the “spy of his age.”² A unique work of world memoiristic literature, theMémoiresrun in their various editions from twenty to forty or more volumes, covering the period from the 1690s...

      (pp. 153-194)

      The chronological gap between Saint-Simon’sMémoiresand the writings of Rousseau is actually not very great. It has been established that Saint-Simon wrote theMémoiresfor the most part in the 1740s (finishing them at the end of the decade). Rousseau’s creative activity was already flourishing by the 1750s, and he began work on theConfessionsin 1765. The fundamental differences between the two figures are therefore that much more striking. Saint-Simon still rests on the culture of the eighteenth century; Rousseau anticipates the future. Saint-Simon is still mechanistic; he still operates on the basis of discrete human qualities (albeit...

      (pp. 195-218)

      My past and thoughts occupies a special place among the great works of world memoir literature. This memoir epic emerged from the same powerful ideological impulses as did the nineteenth-century Russian novel.¹

      Herzen passed through the Russian revolutionary romanticism of the 1830s and the natural school of the 1840s. His youthful autobiographical experiments are remarkable documents of post-Decembrist Russian romanticism, of the romantic mind’s gradual mastery of the ideas of utopian socialism. While constructing his new, realistic worldview in the 1840s, Herzen sought objective forms for the expression of his own and his contemporaries’ experience of life. Hence his interest...

  8. Problems of the Psychological Novel

      (pp. 221-270)

      The ideas about the psychological novel (mainly of the nineteenth century) set forth in this third part of the present book are not only not a history of the novel (which is obvious enough); they are not even a theory of the novel regarded as a particular form of verbal art. Instead, the subject here involves only certain problems of the novel, problems that are moreover viewed in terms of a single aspect—the artistic cognition of individual spiritual life and behavior. I shall therefore discuss here primarily those authors whose writings have evinced with particular clarity the changing principles...

      (pp. 271-317)

      Psychological analysis employs a variety of means. It may take the form of direct authorial reflection, it may be presented through the characters’ self-analysis, or it may be indirect—may be expressed, that is, through the depiction of their gestures and actions, which must then be analytically interpreted by the reader after he has been prepared for that task by the author. Among these different means, a special place must be given to the representation of the characters’ external and internal discourse. The writer translates the behavior and experiences of his characters into the language of words; in representing their...

      (pp. 318-366)

      Literature is concerned with characteristics, personalities, and actions—with every conceivable form of generalized human behavior. And whenever behavior is involved, all basic life values are at the same time ethical values. There is therefore an indissoluble bond between literature and ethics. The artistic creation of the image of an individual is inevitably a judgment of him, a judgment that shapes his image from within. No literature has ever succeeded in escaping its valuational functions—even when it has proclaimed the lofty impartiality of the author (the school of Flaubert, for example) or confounded the criteria of good and evil...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 367-386)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 387-398)