Dr Rebecca Beasley, University of Oxford

 

This research provides a comprehensive account of the breadth and depth of the British fascination with Russian and Soviet culture, tracing its transformative effect on literary and intellectual life in Britain from the 1880s to the 1940s. Consideration of a ‘long modernist’ period makes it possible to track the place of Russian culture in, on the one hand, late Victorian debates about the future of English literature, and on the other, British responses to Soviet realism and anti-modernism-as well as to consider the impact of the political changes of those years.

 

Although there has been surprisingly little attention to this subject in the last fifty years, in the early phase of what we would now call modernist studies, research into British writers’ engagement with Russian literature made an important contribution to the understanding of early twentieth-century literary developments: Helen Muchnic’s Dostoevsky’s English Reputation, 1881-1936 (1939), Gilbert Phelps’s The Russian Novel in English Fiction (1956), and Donald Davie’s collection, Russian Literature and Modern English Fiction (1965) all argued for the centrality of Russian literature to British modernism, especially to the modernist novel. But these accounts were limited by their commitment to an exclusively literary model of authorial influence. This study argues that the most significant impact of Russian culture is not to be found in stylistic borrowings, but in shaping the defining questions of the modernist literary experiment: the relation between language and action (abstraction vs. the concrete), the relation between writer and audience (individual vs. mass), and the relation between the literary work and lived experience (the nature of realism).

 

These questions cannot be understood in a narrowly literary frame, nor by using the binary and passive model of authorial influence. Instead, this project derives its methodology from studies of translation, understood as a ‘cultural political practice’ that inscribes social and political affiliations and effects in the translated text (Venuti,1993). This definition of translation as a nexus of power relations provides a tool with which to analyse not only the literary translations with which this study is concerned, but also the broader cultural exchange. Thus, the translation of Russian culture from its variety of source texts into the target language of British culture is conceived as a dynamic event, from which a narrative of early twentieth-century cultural politics can be read. Although the emphasis of the project is on the process of translation, dissemination and reception in Britain, comparison with Russian sources and their Russian reception is integral to the argument.

 

In providing a history of the dynamics of cultural exchange between Russia and Britain, this project contributes to the current increased interest in the relationship between the two countries.

 

Dr Rebecca Beasley

RCUK Gateway to Research

Anglo-Russian Research Network

 

Outcomes and publications:

Rebecca Beasley and Philip Ross Bullock, eds, Russia in Britain: From Melodrama to Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Rebecca Beasley, ‘Vortorussophilia‘, in Vorticism: New Perspectives, ed. by Mark Antliff and Scott Klein (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 33-50

Rebecca Beasley, ‘On Not Knowing Russian: The Translations of Virginia Woolf and S.S. Kotelianskii‘, Modern Language Review, 108 (2013), 1-29

Rebecca Beasley and Philip Ross Bullock, eds, Translating Russia, 1890-1935 (special issue of Translation and Literature), 20 (2011)