The bygone capital of mother Russia, St Petersburg, is the star of Russian literature as we know it. The city founded by Peter the Great on the Neva River has been the cultural hub of the Russian empire until the Soviet rule. So, while visiting the muse of the great Russian writers, why not let yourself be guided by the city’s rich history and colorful descriptions, by reading their masterpieces? Here is a list to get you started.
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Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is an obvious choice. If you haven’t read it before, this is a must pre-departure read. Starting ahead will get you fully integrated in the story. The description of St. Petersburg is extremely present in the story. The book was published in 1866, after the great reforms of Alexander II and the emancipation of the serfs. The main character’s frantic pace in the city will come to life when you walk along the banks of Nevsky Prospekt. Dostoyevsky is also arguably recognized as the voice of Russia, so it is probably a good intro for a first visit to the old empire.
The Bronze Horseman by Aleksandr Pushkin is a narrative poem published in 1833. The homage to Peter the Great, founder of the city will give you great insight into the city’s history and the presence of the statue of Peter, now known as “The Bronze Horseman” due to the popularity of Pushkin’s poem among other points of interest in the city will be a nice background read during a visit to the city. The Bronze Horseman is considered one of Russian literature’s greatest works.
Petersburg by Andrei Bely is a novel published in 1913. Inspired by Pushkin, Bely uses and further develops the imagery of the Bronze Horseman as a pivotal character in his story. This concise novel is fun to read as a prologue to the city as Bely makes St. Petersburg come to life and participate in the story. Though the Bronze Horseman won’t actually talk to you, the passages of the book will flash back to your mind as you pass by the various landmarks of Petersburg.
The Nose by Nikolai Gogol is a short story written in 1835. A concise but extraordinarily amusing story, it can be read on location during a short weekend stay in the city. The absurd story focuses on a Petersburg bureaucrat who loses his nose, which develops a life of its own. The iconic Neva River, the Kazan Cathedral and many more Petersburg locations are explored in this comic story.
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