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Ilya Vinitsky
Ilya Vinitsky
, Chair

Consultation Hours: W 10:30am - 12pm, 2 - 3pm, and by appt.


*** Ilya Vinitsky's book Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism (University of Toronto Press) has been placed on Choice Magazine's highly regarded list of Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010. ***


Summer 2016

RUSS197 Madness and Madmen in Russian Culture
RUSS220 Russia and the West: Focus on America


Ilya Vinitsky received his diploma with honor in teaching Russian Language and Literature at Moscow State Pedagogical University in 1991, took his Ph.D. (kandidat filologicheskikh nauk) in Russian Literature at Moscow State Pedagogical University in 1995, and received his PhD habilitation (doctor filologicheskikh nauk) in 2005.

Research interests

Dr. Vinitsky's main fields of expertise are eighteenth- and nineteenth- century Russian literature, the history of emotions, and nineteenth- century intellectual and spiritual history. He was a recipient of the Dashkov Scholarship of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a Fulbright Fellowship, and the Harriman Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship. He has recently published his new book on the “emotional biography” of Vasily Zhukovsky (1783-1852)—an outstanding poet and translator, the father of Russian Romanticism, who influenced several generations of Russian authors from Pushkin to Vladimir Solov'ev and Aleksandr Blok. Vinitsky has given guest lectures at numerous American and European universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, the University of Chicago, Brown University, Northwestern University, the University of Toronto, Dartmouth, Middlebury College, Oxford University, University of Bremen, and Leiden University.

Teaching history

Ilya Vinitsky has been a member of the University of Pennsylvania Faculty since Fall 2003, having joined the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the rank of Assistant Professor. Before coming to Penn, he taught at Columbia University (2000) and the University of Pittsburgh (2000-2003) as a Visiting Assistant Professor. Vinitsky teaches courses focusing on literary, ideological, religious, and political issues, including “Russia and America,” “Legal Imagination: Criminals and Justice across Literature,” “Madness and Madmen in Russian Culture,” “Russian Nights: Ghosts in Russian Culture,” “Napoleonic Era and Tolstoy” (team-taught with Peter Holquist), Russian Dead Poets’ Society, “Devil’s Pact Revisited: Goethe’s Faust and Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita” (with Simon Richter), and “The Haunted House: Russian Realism in European Context.” He also teaches Benjamin Franklin seminars on Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Russian intellectual history. In 2010, Vinitsky received SAS Ira Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Select Recent Publications:

Vasily Zhukovsky's Romanticism and the Emotional History of Russia (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2015)

The first major study in English of Vasily Zhukovsky (1783–1852)—poet, transla­tor of German romantic verse, and mentor of Pushkin—this book brings overdue attention to an important figure in Russian literary and cultural history. Vinitsky’s “emotional biography” argues that Zhukovsky very consciously set out to create for himself an emotional life reflecting his unique brand of romanticism, different from what we associate with Pushkin or poets such as Byron or Wordsworth. For Zhukovsky, ideal love was harmonious, built on a mystical foundation of spiritual kinship. Vinitsky shows how Zhukovksy played a pivotal role in the evolution of ideas central to Russia’s literary and cultural identity from the end of the eighteenth century into the decades following the Napoleonic Wars."


Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism (University of Toronto Press, 2009; Rated as "Essential" by Choice Reviews")

“On the whole, as I suppose, it makes sense to speak of two polar types of artistic spiritualism in literature (that is, two attempts at the ontology of the “spirit of literature”): the idea of literature as a cunning and pernicious force (“the party of the devil,” in William Blake’s words) and a relationship to it as to a live and free manifestation of spiritual life that transcends and scoffs at material reality. One may call the proponents of this idea the “party of the spirit.”

A Cultural History of Russian Literature (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2009; together with Andrew Wachtel)

“We began this introduction to eighteenth-century Russian culture with Bishop Feofan’s eulogy to Peter the Great. We conclude with a historical anecdote which illuminates some cultural consequences of the Reform. Sometime in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the gifted satirical poet and aristocrat Petr Viazemsky (1792-1878) was visiting one of his remote estates. After a Sunday Mass, an educated (yet old-fashioned in his neoclassical literary tastes) local priest enthusiastically addressed the villagers: “You do not comprehend what kind of Master Our Lord gave you, my Orthodox brothers! He is the Russian Horace, the Russian Catullus, the Russian Martialis!” After each of these lofty attestations, as Viazemsky ironically (and sadly) comments, his pious peasants bowed to earth and vigorously crossed themselves.”

Interpreter’s House: Poetic Semantics and Historical Imagination of Vasily Zhukovsky (NLO, 2006, in Russian)

“Zhukovsky is the prophet not of Revolution (like the early romantics) but of Restoration (like the Biedermeier authors). His works are not products of free creativity, but of translation as an aesthetic and moral principle: “selfless obedience” and “arbitrary subjection” to the “sacred” in the original, the restoration of harmony via “struggle against the obstacle” (Viazemsky) of the chaotic word-for-word translation. It was precisely the venerable, eternal Odyssey (the mother of European poetry) that should have become the culmination of his poetic (i.e., translating) activities, the very epic (“the beginning of a new era”) that would foretell and bring about the victory of justice and order over chaos, and for that reason would prove so indispensable to the contemporary world.”

Madness and the Mad in Russian Culture (Toronto University Press 2007; co-edited with Angela Brintlinger)

“Following tradition, [Catherine the Great] considered melancholy a disease of sick imagination and a Western disorder, poisoning weak Russian souls. It is not an accident that among the patients of the first St. Petersburg mad asylum … were two freemasons V. Ya. Kolokol'nikov and M. I. Nevzorov. Both young scholars had just returned from abroad (commonplace melancholy travelers in the Western tradition) and both were diagnosed as hypochondriacs. Since the time of Catherine the Great this medical (psychiatric) diagnosis has been used by the Russian authorities as a simple and effective way to discredit and/or isolate their political and ideological opponents, including some of the Decembrists, Count Dmitriev-Mamonov, Pyotr Chaadaev, and Leo Tolstoy.”

Vinitsky’s most representative publications include:

"Tolstoy's Lessons: Pedagogy as Salvation," In Before They Were Titans: Early Works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy" (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2015, 299-316

"The Thinking Oyster: Ivan Turgenev's "Drama of Dying" and the Twilight of Russian Realism." In Russian Writers at the Fin de Siècle: the Twilight of Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 249-266

"A Dispersed Man: Alexis Eustaphieve (1779-1857) as a National Project," New Literary Review (2014), #6, pp. 94-111. In Russian

“‘The Queen of Lofty Thoughts.’ The Cult of Melancholy in Russian Sentimentalism,” Interpreting Emotions in Russia and Eastern Europe. Ed. by Mark Steinberg and Valeria Sobol. Northern Illinois University Press, 2011, 18-43.

"The Worm of Doubt: Prince Andrei's Death and Russian Spiritual Awakening of the 1860s," Anniversary Essays on Tolstoy, ed. by Donna Tussing Orwin. New York, London: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 119-36.

"Krupushki zaumnoi poezii [Grains of Zaum' Poetry]", Russian Literature, 2009. Jan 1-Apr 1; 65 (1-3): 261-279.

“Amor Hereos: the Occult Sources of Russian Romanticism”, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring 2008). Pp. 291-316.

“Table Talks: The Spiritualist Controversy of the 1870s and Dostoevsky”, Russian Review. No. 1 (2008). Pp. 88-109.

“A Cheerful Empress and Her Gloomy Critics: Catherine the Great and Eighteenth Century Melancholy Controversy.” Madness and the Mad in Russian Culture. University of Toronto Press, 2007. Pp. 25-45.

“The Invisible Scaffold: Execution and Imagination in Vasilii Zhukovskii's Work,” Times of Trouble. Violence in Russian Literature and Culture. Ed. by Marcus C. Levitt and Tatyana Novikov. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007. Pp. 57-69.

“Where Bobok Is Buried: The Theosophical Roots of Dostoevskii's 'Fantastic Realism'”, Slavic Review. Vol. 65. No. 3 (2006). Pp. 523-43.

“Russian Dead Poets Society: Spiritualist Poetry as a CulturalPhenomenon.” In: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie (NLO) 2005, #2 (in Russian)

Research Projects

Professor Vinitsky is currently writing a book with a long provisional title Between a Rugged Bear and a Polished Gentleman: The Life and Opinions of Alexis Eustaphieve, a Don Cossack, British Political Pamphleteer, and the First Russian Consul at Boston.The scholarly flavor of this project for him is in the fact that its subject rests on the intersection of three disciplines, — literature, history, and politics, — and three national literary and political traditions, — Russian, English, and American. His other project is a book on the phenomenon of Russian “bad poetry” and the most prominent of Russian poetasters, Count Dmitry Ivanovich Khvostov.


Last updated on January 20, 2016