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Reading Backwards

Muireann Maguire
Timothy Langen

Introduction: Countersense and Interpretation

Muireann Maguire et Timothy Langen

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  • 1 Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky, ‘Oberiu Manifesto’ (1928), in The Man with the Black Coat: R (...)

… . [W] ho said that the logic of life is compulsory in art?
 — Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedenskii, ‘The Oberiu Manifesto’1

  • 2 The OBERIU were a Leningrad-based group of futurist artists and writers, founded in 1927, whose aes (...)
  • 3 Raymond Queneau, ‘A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems’, in Oulipo Compendium, ed. by Harry Mathews and (...)
  • 4 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground, trans. by Natasha Randall (London: Canongate, 2012), pp (...)

1In the 1960s, the ‘Oulipo’ group of French writers and philosophers developed, as part of their playful pseudoscience of ‘pataphysics’, a concept they called ‘le plagiat par anticipation’ (plagiarism by anticipation). And while we will have much more to say about anticipatory plagiarism, a few words about this brilliantly inventive and peculiarly disciplined group are necessary to distinguish them from other, notably Russian, twentieth-century literary innovators. The Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle) movement proved productive and long-lived, publishing manifestos well into the 1980s, surviving the deaths of its founders (Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais) and of its most famous member, Georges Perec. Like the Russian avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century, the Oulipo writers proposed a radical reconstruction of literary technique in the pursuit of creative freedom, and an equally sweeping re-evaluation of what constitutes a literary text. But the Oulipo was no second OBERIU; Queneau and Le Lionnais were not plagiarizing Kharms and Vvedensky.2 Like their Russian predecessors, Oulipo favoured artistic experimentation; unlike them, they privileged process over product. The Oulipo writers were not primarily interested in creating literature or performances; instead, they were preoccupied by the development of new contraintes—constraints, or systems of rules—which would force writers to compose within strict limitations. While their results might appear absurd—for example, Le Lionnais wrote poems consisting of a single letter, or of a sequence of numbers and punctuation marks; Perec designed rhyming acrostics—the constraints underpinning these creations were tightly plotted and internally coherent. Their approach to literary production is epitomized by Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems (Cent mille milliards de poèmes, 1961). This set of ten sonnets where each of the lines could be physically cut out and re-inserted in place of any other lines, giving a potential maximum of 1014 unique fourteen-line poems, was in fact structured according to the mathematical operation of permutation.3 We might add that the use of mathematics as a literary trope had been plagiarized well in advance of the Oulipians’ efforts by Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, with his nonconformist insistence that ‘two-times-two-is-five is also sometimes a very lovely little thing’.4

  • 5 Henry Benjamin Wheatley, Of Anagrams: A Monograph Treating of Their History from the Earliest Ages (...)
  • 6 Cited by Wheatley in Of Anagrams, p. 44.

2Also unlike the Russian avant-garde and absurdist tradition, the Oulipians did not reject their antecedents. On the contrary, they celebrated their own immersion in literary tradition, especially where Greek classics and French medieval poetry and prose were concerned; and they revelled in identifying past examples of contrainte in literature, particularly if it happened to foreshadow an Oulipian technique or if it had been exercised unwittingly. Hence connection, rather than rupture, was a core tenet of the group’s philosophy. A favourite contrainte was the lipogram, a text missing at least one letter of the alphabet. The most famous example of this is Perec’s 1969 novel The Disappearance (La Disparition), which omits the letter ‘e’; three years later he published Les Revenentes [sic], which omits every vowel except ‘e’. The lipogram is in fact an ancient form; the sixth-century AD Greek poet Tryphiodorus wrote a twenty-four-volume version of the Odyssey, in each successive volume of which he contrived to leave out one letter, following the order of the Greek alphabet.5 Tryphiodorus and other ancient lipogrammatists were much admired by the Oulipians, although the casual reader might be more inclined to sympathize with De Quincey’s opinion that the ancient poets who ‘gloried in dispensing with some one separate consonant, some vowel, or some diphthong’ resembled ‘that pedestrian athlete who wins a race by hopping on one leg, or wins it under the condition of confining both legs in a sack’.6 Extended ad absurdum, as the Oulipo writers often did extend their conceptions, any sentence can be qualified as lipogrammatic: the one you are reading is a lipogram on the letters j, k, v, and z.

  • 7 Pierre Bayard, Le Plagiat par anticipation (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2009), pp. 25–26.
  • 8 As cited in Bayard, Le plagiat, p. 26. Note: all translations are our own unless otherwise acknowle (...)

3Lipograms also open up the Oulipians’ concept of anticipatory plagiarism. Our use of contrainte in the final sentence of the last paragraph was unintentional: we had no plan to embargo those four consonants. But should a future author deliberately compose a sonnet or a novel excluding j, k, v, and z, our essay could be hailed (at least by Oulipian critics) as an example of anticipatory plagiarism of that precise contrainte. Both Perec and Le Lionnais mischievously alleged that writers commonly plagiarize, not their antecedents, but their posterity, by anticipating—and, from a certain perspective, stealing— the subjects, styles, and even the precise words of writers not yet born. This idea turns Harold Bloom’s concept of the ‘anxiety of influence’ on its head: instead of worrying about the originality of their creative ideas, writers should evidently be anxious to ring-fence their copyright from predatory predecessors. A latter-day Oulipian, the writer Jacques Jouet, claimed to have exposed the Romantic poet Alfred de Musset as a proto-Oulipian—in effect, a plagiarist of the group—because Musset allegedly practices an Oulipian contrainte in his 1832 poem, ‘A mon ami Édouard B’. Here the poet enjoins his aspiring poet friend to discover genuine inspiration in his own heart (‘frappe-toi le coeur’) rather than by reading others’ verse (here, Lamartine—the hint of plagiarism may have drawn Jouet to this particular poem by Musset). But, as Jouet points out, Musset’s instructions to his friend are composed in alexandrines, which function as a hidden contrainte.7 Musset explicitly instructs his friend to find poetry in his heart; yet, by delivering this advice in a specific metre, he implicitly suggests that metre, not chest-beating, is the key to creativity. Or further still, that the heart itself—manifestly governed as it is by its own metre—demonstrates the inextricability of expression from constraint. The use of concealed constraint like this appealed to the paradox-loving Oulipian mind. Whether or not Musset had plagiarized one of their methods, Jouet and his fellow Oulipians elaborated that any literary or stylistic technique, whether unintentionally deployed (like our lipogram above), or used without formal acknowledgement (like Musset’s alexandrines), can be classified as anticipatory plagiarism if it is later more fully and explicitly expressed in the work of a different author. Instead of suggesting that the successor writer had committed conventional plagiarism of the first, the Oulipo authors read this connection backwards as evidence that the earlier writer had plagiarized his or her descendant—by anticipating them. Like the lipogram, anticipatory plagiarism is of potentially universal application: La Bibliothèque oulipienne reminds us, ‘Tout texte est un plagiat par anticipation d’une contrainte inconnue’ (‘Every text is an anticipatory plagiarism of an unknown constraint’).8

  • 9 Georges Perec, ‘The Winter Journey’, trans. by David Bellos, Conjunctions, 12 (1988), 81–86 (p. 85)

4The notion that every text may have multiple, recognized literary offspring suited the provocative Oulipo aesthetic. In a 1979 short story, Perec traded the paradoxical notion of anticipatory plagiarism for the even more radically unbelievable suggestion that the entire cohort of French Symbolist authors had collectively suppressed all traces of a precursor whom they had plagiarized in the conventional manner, by stealing from his published work. The crime comes to light when a young literary historian chances upon an obscure 1864 novel by the unknown Hugo Vernier. After originally accepting the novel’s evocations of Verlaine, Rimbaud, Lautréamont, Huysmans and others, even reading a direct quote from Mallarmé as contemporary pastiche, he suddenly realizes that the novel’s publication pre-dates all of these writers and that they must, therefore, have plagiarized Vernier. But all attempts to research Vernier’s life or even to preserve the last remaining copy of his book fail, forcing the scholar to conclude that most of the print run ‘had been intentionally destroyed by the very people who had been directly inspired by it’.9 Unlikely as it is that France’s leading writers would club together to suppress evidence of a shared crime of plagiarism, even this audaciously paranoid idea may just be more rational than the basic paradox defining anticipatory plagiarism. After all, the notion that every text is a plagiarism of another not yet written (where both employ the same contrainte, implicitly or explicitly) threatens to shift the entire concept of plagiarism towards something like existential guilt. How, then, is it possible to argue meaningfully that specific writers plagiarize their posterity, and how can any such argument hold academic or methodological value?


  • 10 See Eric Naiman, ‘What If Nabokov Had Written “Dvoinik”? Reading Literature Preposterously’, The Ru (...)
  • 11 Naiman, ‘What If Nabokov Had Written “Dvoinik”?’, p. 577.

5It is our contention in this collection, as our contributors elegantly prove, that anticipatory plagiarism has in fact many insights to offer to scholars, and to readers, and not only in the fields of French—or indeed Russian—literature. We propose that the apparently nonsensical ‘advance retrospective’ approach provides a new way of understanding reception studies, cultural translation, and even our most hallowed classics. It is what we might call countersensical, in that it runs against the patterns of normal experience but reveals new patterns of surprising coherence and scope. It crosses languages, cultures, and genres as readily as it does time. While we do not seriously suggest (nor did the Oulipians) that past authors plagiarized their descendants, the task of thinking about our cultural heritage in this upside-down way forces us to realize that patterns of inspiration are cyclical; that no idea is ever completely original; and that influence flows in many directions (even if not, actually, backwards). In his monograph Anticipatory Plagiarism (Le Plagiat par anticipation, 2009), the contemporary French philosopher Pierre Bayard has modified the radical Oulipo notion to filter out some of its most marked absurdities, and to leave us with arresting new insights into the continuity of technical and aesthetic constraints between generations and literary epochs. He tames the chronological paradox by setting textual parameters for anticipatory plagiarism and thus eliminating the problem of ubiquity. Anticipatory plagiarism is not, according to Bayard, a process; it is a question of perspective, a way of re-evaluating the influences between writers. By assuming that influence is one-directional, we can fail to see the more subtle connections linking the same idea in different generations. When we reverse the direction of influence, we learn more about the overlap between past and present— which is often a valuable lesson for the future. It is just such an inventive, even Borgesian, and intellectually rewarding interplay of ideas that readers of this volume will find in such essays as Shankman’s study of proto-Levinasian ideas in Tolstoy, Langen’s suggestion that Gogol borrowed ideas from both Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky and the Irish satirist Flann O’Brien, Vinitsky’s deliberately absurdist investigation of the artist Raphael’s plagiarism of Gogol, or Bowden’s re-reading of Dostoevsky through the lens of Coetzee. Beyond this volume, our analyses find an echo (unsurprisingly, in the field of Nabokov studies), in the work of Eric Naiman, a champion of ‘reading preposterously’; in previous articles, he argues for reading Nabokov’s Lolita ‘as if it were as intricate as a Shakespeare sonnet’ and even more counter-intuitively, for Dostoevsky as a pupil or epigone of Nabokov.10 Naiman argues forcefully for a rejection of linearity in our approach to literary criticism: ‘Every understanding of a particular work of fiction is somewhat preposterous, coloured by works written after it but which its readers have already read. Why not make aggressive, productive use of our inescapably contaminated sense of temporality? Can’t we read and write history from our own, disciplinary position of strength?’.11 In his afterword to the present volume, Naiman explores just what such a position might offer, and look like, from a Bayardian perspective.

  • 12 From the cover blurb of Bayard’s Le Plagiat.
  • 13 Bayard, Le Plagiat, pp. 30–35.
  • 14 Ibid., pp. 40–48.

6The Oulipian approach extends to authors the holiday from linear temporality which Naiman recommends for scholars. ‘On ne cesse d’évoquer l’influence des écrivains et des artistes sur leurs successeurs, sans jamais envisager que l’inverse soit possible et que Sophocle ait plagié Freud, Voltaire Conan Doyle, ou Fra Angelico Jackson Pollock, ’writes Bayard (‘We never stop invoking the influence of writers and artists upon their successors, without ever imagining that the reverse might be possible and that Sophocles might have plagiarized Freud, Voltaire Conan Doyle, or Fra Angelico Jackson Pollock’).12 While one might object that Voltaire did not literally plagiarize Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes, Bayard demonstrates through close reading that the eponymous hero of Voltaire’s Zadig undeniably anticipated (in 1747) the deductive techniques of Doyle’s detective in the short stories ‘The Adventure of Silver Blaze’ (1892) and ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (1901).13 Bayard is not alone in connecting Holmes and Zadig; but he may be the first scholar to plot this genealogy in reverse. He makes a similar, textually supported argument that Maupassant plagiarized Proust’s celebrated reminiscent, multi-clause style before Proust had even commenced writing the Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu, 1913–1927) heptalogy.14 In an effort to make anticipatory plagiarism less arbitrary, Bayard’s book isolates four criteria that must be fulfilled: similarity (the original and the plagiarism must resemble each other), dissimulation (the plagiarist must not acknowledge the theft—a condition presumably easily fulfilled if the plagiarist predeceases the birth of his victim), temporal inversion (the plagiarism must pre-date the original, sometimes by decades or centuries), and dissonance (the plagiarism must appear distinct, in style or content, from the context of the work in which it appears—as, for example, the eponymous Zadig’s deductive episodes clash stylistically with the remainder of Voltaire’s novella).

7An Oulipian, countersensical reading can be understood more generally as a kind of play—specifically, the playing of a game with explicitly formalized rules. Apart from whatever pleasurable (or annoying) properties they may have, such games are a valuable and perhaps in some sense unavoidable component of interpretation. A New Critical reading, at least in its archetypical or stereotypical form, proceeds as if the text itself could have an intelligible existence outside its context. A Russian Formalist reading, again in its most extreme form, operates on the manifestly unsustainable assumption that a text’s literary elements could be separated from its non-literary ones. A psychoanalytic reading may adopt the premise that a text or story could itself experience something like desire. While in polemical contexts these games may appear or claim to be self-justifying (structuralism therefore structuralism), they justify themselves to outsiders by the insight—close enough to the intellectual equivalent of ‘fun’—that they yield.

8Insight and understanding are of course the aim of the humanistic tradition of interpretation represented by Mikhail Bakhtin and Hans-Georg Gadamer, both of whom argued for a conception of understanding based in some essential way on dialogue. And in this way the hyperformalism of the Oulipo-game, seemingly so alien in spirit, proves itself to be perfectly suited to the humanistic project. Here the game involves supposing there could be a fully dialogic relation between texts from different eras, such that the earlier and later ones could both read each other. This interpretive game, then, is not only (or even mainly) an exercise in paradox; it is also a game designed to exercise, perhaps to exhaustion, a foundational assumption of dialogical hermeneutics itself, unconstrained by any preemptive commonsensical timekeeper. There is no thought without constraint, any more than there can be vision without perspective: this is the common ground of our thinkers, and it means that interpretation must remain open to the possibility of new perspectives, new constraints, new thought experiments.

  • 15 Justin Martyr, ‘The First Apology’, in Justin Martyr, The First Apology, The Second Apology, Dialog (...)

9Before and after the French theoreticians, there exist alternative and relatively pragmatic ways of conceptualizing anticipatory plagiarism, which this volume will also explore. Perhaps the foundation-stone of anticipatory plagiarism was its use as a defence of true religion by the early Christian philosopher, Justin Martyr. Early Christian thinkers thus attempted to anchor their faith in God to reality by insisting on its miraculous proofs, while struggling to retain the intellectual achievements of their pagan predecessors. When Justin admits in his First Apology (AD 155–57) that the miracles associated with Christ offer ‘nothing new or different’ from Roman mythology, he could do so because he had found an ‘out’ that excused the New Testament’s apparent lack of originality while definitively humbling all previous faiths.15 Elsewhere in the First Apology, Justin appeared to concede:

  • 16 Ibid.

If we state that He [Christ] was born of a Virgin, this may be comparable to what you admit of Perseus. When we say that He cured the lame, the paralytics, and those blind from birth, and raised the dead to life, we seem to attribute to Him actions similar to those said to have been performed by Aesculapius.16

  • 17 Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Pres (...)
  • 18 See Muireann Maguire, ‘Tolstoy and the Greek Teachers: The Pre-Socratics and Socrates in Tolstoy’s (...)

10Some writers ventured on logistically improbable terrain to resist this charge, proposing that Platonic thought might have developed along proto-Christian lines because Plato visited Egypt, where he read (and plagiarized) the Mosaic Pentateuch.17 Almost two millennia later Lev Tolstoy would, in his letters and in the 1885 biography of Socrates which he co-wrote with Aleksandra Kalmykova, deliberately depict the Greek thinker as a lesser forerunner, although not a plagiarist, of Christ.18

11Justin’s solution, in his Dialogue with Trypho (AD 160), is bolder still:

  • 19 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, trans. by Thomas B. Falls (Washington, DC: Catholic University (...)

... [W]hen they say that Dionysus was born of Zeus’s union with Semele, and narrate that he was the discoverer of the vine, and that after he was torn to pieces and died, he arose again and ascended into heaven, and when they use wine in his mysteries, is it not evident that the Devil has imitated the previously quoted prophecy of the patriarch Jacob, as recorded by Moses?19

  • 20 Justin Martyr, ‘The First Apology’.

12Here Justin defends the primacy of Christian miracle through a theodicy strangely akin to album or video piracy. According to this view, the Devil exploited his pre-lapsarian VIP access to divine revelation to prerelease a sort of mix-tape of God’s teachings: slightly distorted, pagan copies of Christian figures. Thus Aesculapius pre-empted Christ’s miracles of healing, Hercules his strength, Perseus his virgin birth, because ‘some, namely those previously mentioned demons, foretold through the poets as if already accomplished those things which they invented’.20 By extension, all the pagan sages’ writings were effectively pirate copies of the apologia of future Church fathers; their insights, while not intrinsically sinful, were incomplete or deluded because they were founded on revelations leaked by Satan. Genuine revelation could only come through Christ. This was anticipatory plagiarism by demonic intervention, and it allowed Justin Martyr to argue that the legends of the Christian Church were not, as they might appear to the unenlightened, merely the latest accretion on an intellectual stalagmite of mortal accomplishment: in fact, they were the first correct expression of God’s divine insight; effectively, the director’s cut.

13Justin’s method would be followed by a succession of later writers keen to identify their work as the only true expression of an underlying truth or the core aesthetic of a genre; while they acknowledge the existence of predecessors, these are redefined as mere advance plagiarists who try to pre-empt the true word, but get it slightly wrong. In this way, Soviet-era socialist realism might be read (and to a certain degree scripted itself) as the authentic fulfilment of the critical tenets of the radical naturalism first expounded by Belinskii in the early-nineteenth century. Dostoevsky, Belinskii’s first and most significant protegé, was simply a false prophet along this path, misled by bourgeois ambition and naïve psychology. Perhaps even the superfluous man, that archetype so beloved of Russian literature courses on Pushkin’s Evgenii Onegin (1833) and Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time (Geroi nashego vremeni, 1840), is superfluous because he is an incomplete and therefore aberrant forerunner of the human ideal fully expressed by Pavel Korchagin in Ostrovskii’s How the Steel Was Tempered (Kak zakalialas’ stal’, 1934). Analogously, in this volume, Inna Tigountsova suggests that Liudmila Petrushevskaia’s female protagonists may be a fuller expression of the Underground Man trope than Dostoevsky’s original disenchanted narrator; the latter is merely an advance plagiarism of the Underground Woman. David Gillespie and Marina Korneeva question whether it is possible to plagiarize an entire genre, examining whether Dostoevsky’s Notes from the House of the Dead (Zapiski iz mertvogo doma, 1862) is merely a foreshadowing of Guzel’ Yakhina’s immensely popular 2015 novel of the Soviet criminal justice system, Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes (Zuleikha otkryvaet glaza). In all these cases, the early Christian philosophers’ argument for the originality of their own faith makes a useful analogy for how contemporary writers have chosen to deny or qualify the influence of certain predecessors. In different ways, they each present their work as the only true fulfilment of their chosen aesthetic, or genre, thus relegating their forerunners to the status of proleptic copycats.

  • 21 David Lodge, Small World (London: Random House, 2012), p. 52.

14 After the Oulipian and Justinian systems, there exists a third kind of anticipatory plagiarism, perhaps the one most readily adaptable for the literature classroom. This system is outlined in David Lodge’s instructive satire about academic ambition, Small World (1984). The naïve protagonist, annoyed that his thesis on Shakespeare’s influence on T.S. Eliot is considered too pedestrian, ad-libs that his real topic is T.S. Eliot’s influence on Shakespeare. ‘ “... [W] e can’t avoid reading Shakespeare through the lens of T. S. Eliot’s poetry. I mean, who can read Hamlet today without thinking of Prufrock?”’.21 His reward for ‘thinking in reverse’ is a publisher’s instant invitation to submit his manuscript for review. Lodge may have crafted this anecdote as a satire on the cynicism of publishers, but it confirms the fact that modern writers ineluctably influence our perception of their predecessors; or, to misquote a favourite phrase of Lodge’s, every reading is another re-writing. Hence, when we read Voltaire’s Zadig, we recognize its foreshadowing of nineteenth-century detective fiction; yet instead of reading the Voltairean text by its own standards, we now judge it by our aesthetic reaction to a chronologically later genre. We read Zadig post-Sherlock, as a variant of Doyle, rather than the other way round. Must we accept that Shklovsky wrote War and Peace, or that Nabokov penned The Double (pace Naiman), because we inevitably read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky today through a hermeneutic filter of later critical impositions?

15Considered more generally, our reception of the classics is clouded and complicated by the layers of derived texts and subtexts, critical commentaries, and even translations which interpose between their original publication and our reading and reception of them. By ‘reading backwards’, ‘reading upside-down’, or by positing anticipatory plagiarism, we re-start the hermeneutic timer; we consciously strip the original text of its interpretative accretions. This kind of reading may teach us that great minds think alike and that particular ideas (and aesthetic notions) recur cyclically; but even these simple lessons are important today, when the news headlines remind us constantly of the recurrence of dangerous historical trends. If writers can independently develop the same idea at widely separated points in time, so can politicians. The value of a critique based on anticipatory plagiarism is that it teaches us to read these ideas contextually: why did Doyle’s Sherlock become a global cult figure (not least as interpreted on-screen in Soviet Russia), while the detective capabilities of Voltaire’s Zadig remain known to relatively few French literature specialists? In this volume, several essays engage with the cultural hermeneutics of influential texts. Maguire’s chapter re-reads novels by the forgotten Victorian novelist Hall Caine as aspirational Tolstoyan philosophy, while re-evaluating Tolstoy’s Resurrection (Voskresenie, 1899) as a melodrama in the spirit of one of Caine’s bestsellers. Caine’s unrequited admiration for Tolstoy justifies these overlapping values. Yefimenko uses analytic techniques from contemporary critical readings of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Voina i mir, 1869) to study the moral inadequacy of molodechestvo, or male heroism, in Homer’s Iliad (8th Century BC), and to reveal what Achilles can learn from Tolstoy’s warrior-prince Andrei Bolkonskii.

16This anthology focusses on Gogol, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, three great Russian writers interpreted here—in three discrete sections—as both victims and perpetrators of anticipatory plagiarism. We open with Gogol, who is both sinner (as Timothy Langen’s chapter argues, he steals from the Irish writer Flann O’Brien and the little-known Russian experimentalist Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky) and sinned against (the distorted physiognomy of Gogol’s nose was illegally scanned by Raphael and other portraitists, as Ilya Vinitsky alleges).

17Three chapters are devoted to Dostoevsky, whose well-known moral weakness has evolved from gambling to copyright infringement. Inna Tigountsova argues that Dostoevsky’s notion of the Underground Man was filched from Liudmila Petrushevskaia’s contemporary female embodiment of this narrative archetype in her novel The Time: Night (Vremia: Noch’, 1992). Michael Bowden explores Dostoevsky’s debt to Coetzee and also to Kurt Vonnegut Jr; while David Gillespie and Marina Korneeva return to Dostoevsky’s supposedly least-read book, The House of the Dead, in order to evaluate its thefts from a contemporary novel recently released in English translation and also set in a Siberian prison, Yakhina’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes.

18The book’s next-to-final section looks at thefts from and by Tolstoy. Muireann Maguire’s chapter studies the paradox of how Tolstoy stole the plot of Resurrection from the bestselling British romance novelist Hall Caine (remembered today, when recalled at all, primarily as the dedicatee of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)). Her essay analyses the critical interactions between Tolstoy and the popular Western writer he famously despised, exploring both Tolstoy’s reception in late nineteenth-century Britain and the reception of socially tendentious bestsellers at the time. Svetlana Yefimenko examines Homer’s debt to Tolstoy—the overlap in style, plot, and characterization between War and Peace and the Iliad—in the context of a detailed study of Tolstoy’s knowledge of the Greek classics. Steven Shankman performs a Levinasian reading of the last sentence of Anna Karenina (1878), interpreting the latter as an anticipation of the radical philosophical speculations of the French Jewish philosopher and also as a means of connecting Anna Karenina conceptually with Resurrection. In his witty and discursive ‘Afterword’ to the present volume, Eric Naiman ranges from Bayard to Bakhtin, Gogol to Freud, Proust to Tolstoy, and, of course, back again, to contend that anticipatory plagiarism not only illuminates past literature for presentday readers, but may amount to an art form in itself.

  • 22 We thank the University of Exeter, particularly the Open Research Fund, and the British Association (...)

19Our focus on Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy provides a muchneeded contrainte on the wide-ranging, speculative critical operations with which we are experimenting. An even wider-ranging experiment, from which most of the essays in this volume emerged, occurred in 2018 at the University of Exeter during a conference called ‘Plagiarizing Posterity: Reading the 19th Century Backwards’, organized by Muireann Maguire, one of the present co-editors.22 We therefore want to take this opportunity to renew our thanks to all participants and in particular to acknowledge the stimulating papers read by Roger Cockrell, Anna Ponamareva, Olga Soboleva, Elena Tchougounova-Paulson, and Margarita Vaysman—papers which, though their topics lie outside the constraints of the present volume, helped to shape our understanding of its underlying conception.

20This anthology is aimed at scholars and students of literature and culture alike. Our dynamic and challenging system of re-readings and cross-readings of canonical and other texts constitutes a fresh assessment of Russian literary influences, but could be applied to any other national (or indeed global) literature with equally stimulating results. And of course, ‘anticipatory plagiarism’ is entirely our own original notion— albeit, unfortunately for us, already plagiarized by David Lodge, Pierre Bayard, Georges Perec and other ‘ancestors’.


1 Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky, ‘Oberiu Manifesto’ (1928), in The Man with the Black Coat: Russia’s Literature of the Absurd, ed. and trans. by George Gibian (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1987), pp. 245–54 (p. 248).

2 The OBERIU were a Leningrad-based group of futurist artists and writers, founded in 1927, whose aesthetic allegiances spanned surrealism, futurism, the Russian notion of zaum (or trans-sense) and other kinds of avant-gardism. Their group name is formed from the initials of the phrase ‘Ob’edinenie real’nogo iskusstva’ (the Association for Real Art). They were known for practising radical artistic experiments in alogism, public pranks, and experimental theatre performances. The OBERIU ceased to exist as a collective in 1930.

3 Raymond Queneau, ‘A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems’, in Oulipo Compendium, ed. by Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie (London: Atlas Press, 2005), pp. 14–15.

4 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground, trans. by Natasha Randall (London: Canongate, 2012), pp. 42–43.

5 Henry Benjamin Wheatley, Of Anagrams: A Monograph Treating of Their History from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time; with an Introduction, Containing Numerous Specimens of Macaronic Poetry, Punning Mottoes, Rhopalic, Shaped, Equivocal, Lyon, and Echo Verses, Alliteration, Acrostics, Lipograms, Chronograms, Logograms, Palindromes, Bouts Rimés (Hertford: Stephen Austin, 1862), p. 21.

6 Cited by Wheatley in Of Anagrams, p. 44.

7 Pierre Bayard, Le Plagiat par anticipation (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2009), pp. 25–26.

8 As cited in Bayard, Le plagiat, p. 26. Note: all translations are our own unless otherwise acknowledged.

9 Georges Perec, ‘The Winter Journey’, trans. by David Bellos, Conjunctions, 12 (1988), 81–86 (p. 85).

10 See Eric Naiman, ‘What If Nabokov Had Written “Dvoinik”? Reading Literature Preposterously’, The Russian Review, 64: 4 (2005), 575–89,; and even more counter-intuitively, for Dostoevsky as a pupil or epigone of Nabokov, see Naiman, ‘A Filthy Look at Shakespeare’s “Lolita”’, Comparative Literature, 58: 1 (2006), 1–23,

11 Naiman, ‘What If Nabokov Had Written “Dvoinik”?’, p. 577.

12 From the cover blurb of Bayard’s Le Plagiat.

13 Bayard, Le Plagiat, pp. 30–35.

14 Ibid., pp. 40–48.

15 Justin Martyr, ‘The First Apology’, in Justin Martyr, The First Apology, The Second Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, Exhortation to the Greeks, Discourse to the Greeks, The Monarchy or The Rule of God (Catholic University of America Press, 1948),

16 Ibid.

17 Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 14–15.

18 See Muireann Maguire, ‘Tolstoy and the Greek Teachers: The Pre-Socratics and Socrates in Tolstoy’s Prose and Educational Writings’, Tolstoy Studies Journal, XXVII (2015), 17–30, esp. p. 24.

19 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, trans. by Thomas B. Falls (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), p. 107.

20 Justin Martyr, ‘The First Apology’.

21 David Lodge, Small World (London: Random House, 2012), p. 52.

22 We thank the University of Exeter, particularly the Open Research Fund, and the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies for the funding which made this event and, later, this book, possible.


Lectures in Russian Literature at the University of Exeter, UK. She is the principal researcher on ‘RusTrans, The Dark Side of Translation: 20th and 21st Century Translation from Russian as a Political Phenomenon in the UK, Ireland, and the USA’ (2019–23), an academic project funded by the European Research Council. Her academic specializations include Gothic-fantastic literature, the fictional representation of pregnancy and childbirth, and the nineteenth-century Russian novel. Her book Stalin’s Ghosts: Gothic Themes in Early Soviet Literature was published by Peter Lang in 2012. She has published articles on Russian literature in Modern Language Review, Slavic Review, the Slavonic and East European Review, and other journals.

Teaches Russian language, literature, and cultural history at the University of Missouri. His research interests include the writings of Nikolai Gogol, Andrey Bely, and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, and the intellectual history of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russia. He is author of The Stony Dance: Unity and Gesture in Andrey Bely’s “Petersburg” (2005) and co-editor and co-translator, with Justin Weir, of Eight Twentieth-Century Russian Plays (2000).


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