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Regular version of the site

Article

Bolkonskii Won't Die: Fan Fiction Based on Russian Classical Literature

Russian Literature. 2020. Vol. 118. P. 25-44.

This article is devoted to the phenomenon of fan fiction in its interaction with Russian classical literature. Traditionally, fan fiction is associated with products of mass culture – fantasy novels, TV-series, anime or comic books. The transformation of canonical literary texts by their creative fans is hardly a widespread practice. In Russia and the Russian-speaking world, where “great Russian literature” has sacred status and the classics are obligatory reading at secondary school, fan fiction based on classical texts is an especially exotic and shocking phenomenon. In this work I list the key characteristics of Russian-classics fan fiction, outline fan fiction writers’ most popular Russian classical texts – Eugene Onegin, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Woe from Wit – and describe recurring narratives of fanfics: “crossovers”, “slash” stories, and alternative endings. I also reveal a unique subgenre of fan fiction specific to Russian classical literature, which puts the original work’s author and his characters together into the same literary space. Further, I problematize the reverence given to literary classics in the Russian-speaking world, the secondary school experience, and their influence on the creative processes of fan fiction. From a series of in-depth interviews with fan fiction writers, I identify the emotional modes of “guilt”, “responsibility” and “challenge” that are typical of the Russian-classics fan fiction experience.