LIT 402(S) Issues in Literary Theory: Literary Gamblers (Same as Russian 402)

Dostoevsky argued that Russians were uniquely drawn to the risks of games like roulette, but writers ranging from Balzac to George Eliot, from E.T.A. Hoffmann to Stendhal, also explored gambling in their literary works. In this seminar, we will situate gambling among the risky behaviors which underpinned male gentry identity in nineteenth-century Russia and Western Europe. We will focus upon literary representations of gambling and related social institutions like dueling, but we will also drawn upon non-literary sources including memoirs, philosophical treatises, and journalistic discussions of gambling, chance and probability to inform our readings. Women's criticism of high-stakes gambling will provide an especially illuminating angle upon this predominantly male institution. Theoretical approaches, including gender studies, cultural semiotics, and modern risk-theory, will also aid our exploration. We will attempt to answer such questions as the following: what role did gambling and taking risks in other spheres of life (love, war, professional advancement) play in the social and literary construction of identity? How did attitudes toward chance vary between countries and over time during the nineteenth century? Requirements: active class participation, one 5-page paper, two short structured presentations and a final 10- to 15-page paper. All works will be read in translation. NOTE: Students who take the seminar as Russian 402 will have one extra session each week to discuss the works in Russian.