Ritualized Violence Russian Style: The Duel in Russian Culture and Literature
In the Russian cultural imagination, duelling crossed the boundaries of purely aristocratic experience and acquired the status of heroic behavior representative of national character, as is shown in many works of literature, popular fiction, and history. This book argues that the Russian duel acquired its enduring prestige because it served to define and to defend personal autonomy in a hierarchical state that lacked legal guarantees against corporal punishment. Once made reciprocal, a punishing gesture lost its capacity to impose a hierarchy of authority and became a means of promoting equality between the duelling parties. Russian literature (from Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy to Pushkin, Lermontov, and Chekhov) carried the duel's high prestige into the 20th century and made it available to writers working under the Soviet regime as a means both to register and to tacitly protest at the totalitarian state's disregard for individual rights, personal integrity, and physical inviolability.
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