Northern Illinois University Press

Russian Imperialism and Gothic Literature

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Haunted Empire: Gothic and the Russian Imperial Uncanny shows that Gothic elements in Russian literature frequently expressed deep-set anxieties about the Russian imperial and national identity. Valeria Sobol argues that the persistent Gothic tropes in the literature of the Russian empire enact deep historical and cultural tensions arising from Russia’s idiosyncratic imperial experience. In this Q&A, author Valeria Sobol talks about the process of her research into Russian imperialism.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

I was conducting research at a library in Moscow in the summer of 2014, during the peak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. A Russian woman struck a conversation with me and, when she learned I was originally from Ukraine, asked if I’d seen all the “horrible things” going on there (referring to the Ukrainian Maidan revolution). I changed the topic and, after asking about my project, she gave me her book and explained that her research focus was on “primordial Russian” territories, such as Finland and the Baltics. She literally embodied the imperial approach I was critiquing in my book.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Let me rephrase this question a little bit. What I didn’t know when I started writing my book was how relevant those nineteenth-century imperial anxieties I was exploring would be for our contemporary moment (I’m referring, again, to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and, in general, its renewed imperial ambitions). I wish it wasn’t so.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Russian and Eurasian Studies?

I would have liked to see more of a dialogue between North American scholars of Russia and Eurasia and the scholars from the region. I know that there are steps being undertaken in this direction, and more international conferences are being organized, but I still feel there is a divide in terms of methodology, academic culture, and approaches to the study of the region. I think both sides would benefit from closer interactions and collaborations.

*Featured photo by Malcolm Lightbody.

Valeria Sobol is Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Febris Erotica and a co-editor of Interpreting Emotions in Russia and Eastern Europe.

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