Russia is a country that straddles both the East and West, and is culturally very diverse.

Why and how did so much of Russian literature become part of the Western Canon?

To put it another way, why are Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky considered part of Western literary culture or part of the Western canon?

Is it because of the themes of Russian literature or because of some historical event or just because of geography or something else?

For context the following definitions apply:

Russian Literature = refers to the literature of Russia and its émigrés and to Russian-language literature.
Western Culture / Canon = refers to the book by Harold Bloom entitled "The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages". Please review that book if further clarification is needed.
culture = the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
West / East = refers to west of the Ural Mountains / east of the Ural Mountains until you hit the International Date Line.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Tsundoku
    Jun 17, 2021 at 14:48

2 Answers 2


The reason may be that all famous Russian writers I can think of (Tolstoi, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Pasternak, Gogol) came from or lived in the European part of Russia, e.g. in or near Moscow or St. Petersburg, which have always been considered as European cities, and of course were strongly influenced by European culture.

All writers that live in the Asian part of Russia are certainly a part of Asian literature. I cannot think of any famous name, though.

  • 6
    Do you have sources which support your guess? I.e. scholarly discussions that take location into account for canon, or others who use the same reasoning?
    – bobble
    Jun 17, 2021 at 7:25
  • Very good. So this is one answer - that is, Russian literature as part of Western literature based on geography.
    – tale852150
    Jun 17, 2021 at 11:29
  • 1
    The are a lot of Russian authors who lived to the Eastern side of Ural mountains. For example these are just writers from Irkutsk city - ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Категория:Писатели_Иркутска Do you consider them all a part of Asian literature?
    – DrTyrsa
    Jun 17, 2021 at 12:17
  • @DrTyrsa With all due respect, if you cannot find an acceptable definition for the terms “Western Canon”, “Russian Literature”, etc then please define these yourself as you see fit and provide an answer in the context of your own definition of these terms. Otherwise, if you cannot or do not believe the terms are definable then please say so as answer and move on to the next question. Once again thank you for your input.
    – tale852150
    Jun 17, 2021 at 15:17
  • @tale852150 There would be no sense if my definitions of the terms were different for ones in the questions. That's why I try to understand what do you mean by your question. With all due respect of course.
    – DrTyrsa
    Jun 17, 2021 at 15:33

I don't see how the Ural boundary may be seriously considered. It is not about geography, but rather about the continuity of tradition.

The Western culture is built around three axes: Hellenism, Christianity, and Renaissance. One may accept them, or rebel against them, but all of them are central to the very way of Western thinking.

All educated Russians were educated this way. That makes Russia a part of the Western tradition, and Russian literature the part of the Western Canon. They were thinking on same problems French and German did, and approached them within the same discourse. I don't know any Russian writer who'd take, say, Islamic (or Buddhist, Confucian, Shinto, Bharat...) point of view.

  • 1
    Do you have references/examples for any of the claims here? E.g that "The Western culture is built around three axes: Hellenism, Christianity, and Renaissance.", or "All educated Russians were educated this way.", or "They were thinking on same problems French and German did, and approached them within the same discourse."?
    – bobble
    Jul 9, 2021 at 2:58
  • This is an excellent answer and you understand the question better than most. Thanks.
    – tale852150
    Jul 9, 2021 at 4:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.