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Study information

The Deceptive City: The Creation of St Petersburg in Russian Literature

Module titleThe Deceptive City: The Creation of St Petersburg in Russian Literature
Module codeMLR3026
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Katharine Hodgson (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module gives you the chance to explore the city of St Petersburg that was constructed by Russian authors through the nineteenth century. This city has been used by writers as a site for narratives both fantastic and disturbing, the home of characters driven mad by ambition or their inability to distinguish dreams from reality. You will be able to explore how the ‘Petersburg myth’ was created and adapted as the city evolved from a dazzling new imperial capital to a place where nothing is at it seems to be.

You do not need to be able to read Russian to take this module; texts selected for study are available in translation.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to:

  • Explore the changing significance of St Petersburg in Russian literary culture of the nineteenth century
  • Cover a variety of texts by major writers: Aleksandr Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol′, and Fedor Dostoevskii
  • Analyse these texts in relation to key concepts including the fantastic, the grotesque, tragedy and comedy
  • Explore critical concepts in selected short works of literary scholarship
  • Drawing on the historical context and the context of the city’s evolving image to produce your own interpretations of the literature

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain how literary representations of St Petersburg have developed and changed over time, in relation to the broader literary and historical context
  • 2. Demonstrate detailed knowledge of the set texts and an understanding of the ways in which these texts might be interrelated
  • 3. Engage with a range of broader literary-critical and theoretical concepts, and apply them to the texts selected for study

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Argue at length and in detail in writing about an aspect of the topic
  • 5. Support your argument with evidence from the text and with opinions from secondary literature, using all resources available
  • 6. Present a critical bibliography giving a balanced overview of an aspect of the subject
  • 7. Present an argument to a professional standard in both written and oral form
  • 8. Reference all material used accurately, consistently, and comprehensively

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Present a cogent and sustained argument on a designated or negotiated topic to a group of listeners, and respond to questions and responses from the group
  • 10. Use bibliographical material provided, and select, plan and carry out a programme of study leading to an essay or presentation on a chosen topic, to a specified length and deadline

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction: Peter the Great; celebration of the new Russian imperial capital
  • Pushkin's ambiguous city: tragedy in ‘Mednyi vsadnik’ (The Bronze Horseman) and the uncanny in ‘Pikovaia dama’ (The Queen of Spades)
  • City of illusion; comedy and the absurd in Gogol's Petersburg Stories
  • Petersburg in Dostoevskii's early stories; dreams and nightmares in  ‘Dvoinik’ (The Double) and ‘Belye nochi’ (White Nights)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching5Lecture
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Seminar
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Conclusion
Guided Independent Study124Reading in preparation for seminar
Guided Independent Study10Formative task

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation in class discussion10 minutes (accompanying handout of up to 150 words)1-10Written
Critical bibliography4-6 entries (up to 600 words)1-10Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1003000 words1-10Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay3000 wordsReferral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading: 

  • Dostoevskii, Fedor, Dvoinik (The Double), Belye nochi (White Nights).
  • Gogol', Nikolai, Peterburgskie povesti (inc. Portret (The Portrait); Nevskii Prospekt (Nevskii Prospect); Nos (The Nose); Shinel' (The Overcoat); Zapiski sumashedshchego (Diary of a Madman)
  • Pushkin, Aleksandr, Mednyi vsadnik  (The Bronze Horseman); Pikovaia dama (The Queen of Spades).

Secondary reading:

  • Antsiferov, N., Dusha Peterburga (1978).
  • Kaganov, G., Images of Space: St Petersburg in the Visual and Verbal Arts (1997).
  • Kelly, Catriona, St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).
  • Lilly, Ian K., (ed.), Moscow and Petersburg: the City in Russian Culture (Nottingham: Astra, 2002).
  • Lincoln, W. Bruce, Sunlight at Midnight: St Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia (New York: Basic Books, 2002).
  • Maguire, R. A, ‘The City’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Classic Russian Novel, edited by M.V. Jones and R.F. Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 21-40.
  • Volkov, S., St Petersburg: a Cultural History (1996).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

St Petersburg, Russian literature, nineteenth century

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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