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Late Imperial Russia's revolution in literacy touched nearly every aspect of daily life and culture, from social mobility and national identity to the sensibilities and projects of the country's greatest writers. Within a few decades, a ragtag assembly of semi-educated authors, publishers and distributors supplanted an oral tradition of songs and folktales with a language of popular imagination suitable for millions of new readers of common origins eager for entertainment and information. This title tells the story of this profound transformation of culture, custom and belief. With an introduction that underscores its relevance to post-Soviet Russia, the book addresses the question of Russia's common heritage with the liberal democratic market societies of Western Europe and the United States. It also exposes the unsuspected complexities of mass culture little known and less understood in the West. Jeffrey Brooks brings out the characteristically Russia aspect of the nation's popular writing as he ranges through chapbooks, detective stories, newspaper serials and women's fiction, tracing the emergence of secular, rational and cosmopolitan values along with notions of individual initiative and talent. He shows how crude popular tales and serials of the era find their echoes in the literary themes of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and other great Russian writers, as well as in the current renaissance of Russian detective stories and thrillers.
Northwestern University Press
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