The Woman in the Window
Commerce, Consensual Fantasy, and the Quest for Masculine Virtue in the Russian Novel
Russell Scott Valentino
Literary Criticism/Russian and Former Soviet Union
170 pp. 6x9
$54.95 cloth 978-0-8142-1267-7
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$21.95 paper 978-0-8142-5287-1
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“The Woman in the Window manages to cross numerous boundaries with enviable ease. The result is not just intellectually stimulating, but eminently readable.” —Eliot Borenstein, Russian and Slavic studies, New York University
“Provocative and wide-reaching, The Woman in the Window: Commerce, Consensual Fantasy, and the Quest for Masculine Virtue in the Russian Novel seeks out sometimes distant and unexpected contexts in which to reread Russian classics. This point of view is refreshingly original, and these juxtapositions, often not obvious at first, are explained pithily and convincingly.” —David Herman, Slavic languages and literatures, University of Virginia
In The Woman in the Window: Commerce, Consensual Fantasy, and the Quest for Masculine Virtue in the Russian Novel, Russell Scott Valentino offers pioneering new insights into the historical construction of virtue and its relation to the rapidly shifting economic context in modern Russia. This study illustrates how the traditional virtue ethic, grounded in property-based conceptions of masculine heroism, was eventually displaced by a new commercial ethic that rested upon consensual fantasy. The new economic world destabilized traditional Russian notions of virtue and posed a central question that Russian authors have struggled to answer since the early nineteenth century: How could a self-interested commercial man be incorporated into the Russian context as a socially valuable masculine character?
With chapters on Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky as well as Pasternak and Nabokov, The Woman in the Window argues that Russian authors worked through this question via their depictions of “mixed-up men.” Such characters, according to Valentino, reveal that in a world where social reality and personal identity depend on consensual fantasies, the old masculine figure loses its grounding and can easily drift away. Valentino charts a range of masculine character types thrown off stride by the new commercially inflected world: those who embrace blind confidence, those who are split with doubt or guilt, and those who look for an ideal of steadfastness and purity to keep afloat—a woman in a window.
Russell Scott Valentino is professor and chair in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Indiana University, Bloomington.