Both wild and familiar, alien and self, the Russian Cossacks came to represent in nineteenth-century literature their nation’s seemingly endless frontier, strongly influencing the self-image of the Russian people. The Cossack Hero in Russian Literature is the first book to study the development of the Cossack hero and to identify him as part of Russian cultural mythology. Judith Kornblatt explores the power of the myth as a literary image, providing new and challenging readings of nineteenth- and twentieth-century works by Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoi, Khlebnikov, Babel, Tsvetaeva, Sholokhov, and a host of lesser-known writers, all of whom were attracted to the Cossack. By comparing the Cossack with the American cowboy, she reveals what is both unique and universal about the Russian self-image.
Grappling with the phenomenon of myth-formation, Kornblatt places the Cossack hero in historical and sociopolitical context, chronicling the growth of the Cossack myth of unbounded wholeness and life, its gradually increasing influence on the Russian national consciousness during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and its eventual demise under the strictures of Stalinist socialist realism. Kornblatt’s eclectic methodology draws upon Barthes, White, Turner, and other Western theorists as well as such leading Russian critics and philosophers of language as Bakhtin, Lotman, and Uspensky.