Northern Illinois University Press

The Revolution of Moral Consciousness

Nietzsche in Russian Literature, 1890-1914

Edith W. Clowes

"Clowes gives an excellent account of the many ways in which Nietzsche's ideas were felt, acknowledged, assimilated, adapted, and distorted by Russian writers at the turn of the century."—George Gutsche

" intelligent and sensitive treatment of a key topic. The material surveyed is of great interest and is deftly handled."—George L. Kline

“[This book is] a must for any Silver Age scholar.” —Slavic and East European Journal

No other thinker so engaged the Russian cultural imagination of the early twentieth century as did Friedrich Nietzche. The Revolution of Moral Consciousness shows how Nietzschean thought influenced the resurgence of literary life that started in the 1890s and continued for four decades. Through an analysis of the Russian encounter with Nietzsche, Edith Clowes defines the shift in ethical and aesthetic vision that motivated Russia’s artistic renascence, while leading its followers to the brink of cultural despair.

Clowes shows how in the last years of the nineteenth century a diverse array of writers and critics discovered Nietzsche’s thought, embracing or repudiating it with equal vigor. The literary storm brewing around Nietzsche and the concurrent relaxation of censorship combined to attract a public eager to follow the new intellectual fashion. Young writers, such as Andreev and Kuprin, welcomed the idea of the “superman” as a path to personal fulfillment. The tragic fates of their protagonists and the alluring gospel of the vulgar Zarathustra-like characters of such bestselling authors as Boborykin and Verbitskaia found enthusiastic audiences ready to be “taught” how to “find themselves.”

From this ferment emerged the greatest Russian literary voices of the early twentieth century. The revolutionary romantics, Gorky and Lunacharsky, sought in Nietzsche’s writing a new vision of social and cultural change. Merezhkovsky led a generation of mystic symbolists in the search for a literary myth of resurrection. Ivanov, Blok, and Belyi appropriated the image of the “crucified Dionysus” as the central symbol of spiritual transfiguration. Their encounters with Nietzschean thought disclose a profound creative struggle with their cultural past and its established formulations of nation and individual, culture and history. Clowes uses the term future anxiety to speak of a creative mentality that strove to assert itself by diminishing the impact of literary precursors such as Dostoevsky and Solovyov, and opening to the imagination the vision of a future full of vast creative possibility.

ISBN: 978-0-87580-139-1
1988, Cloth, $33.00 s

ISBN 978-0-87580-797-3
December 2018 $25.00 s
Paper, 6x9, 290 pages

Edith W. Clowes is the Brown-Forman Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia and coeditor of Area Studies in the Global Age: Community, Place, Identity (NIU Press, 2016).

Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration
1 The Problem of Nietzsche's Influence on Russian Literature
2 The Precursors
3 Nietzsche's Early Reception
4 From Populist to Popular Art
5 The Mystical Symbolists
6 The Revolutionary Romantics
7 Conclusion
Key to Abbreviations
Selected Bibliography

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-139-1
cloth $33.00
ISBN: 978-0-87580-797-3
paper $25.00