Fiona Bell, Class of 2018


1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I read a lot of translated Russian novels in high school (Turgenev was my “first love”!). I started learning the language as a first-year in college and then spent the summer doing Princeton in Petersburg. I loved being in Russia, and I knew I wanted to spend my college years learning as much as possible about it.  
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
Once, in a seminar on the history of emotions, a mouse ran into the room. One student caught the mouse in a yogurt container and released it outside. Since we were studying Russian sentimentalism and court poetry, Professor Vinitsky asked us to write a sentimentalist tale about the poor mouse and, in addition, a Pindaric ode to student who saved us from it. 
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as a key to Russian culture?
I would recommend the short prose of Andrei Platonov. It’s beautiful and spare and, if not a key to Russian culture, at least an elliptical look into the Stalinist period. 
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?I’m pursuing a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale, where I study Russian theater and performance. I wanted to spend more time thinking about Russian culture and art, and this was the best way for me. I’m also a literary translator from Russian to English. 
5.What are you currently working on?
I’m working on an article in which I read Dostoevsky’s intellectually preoccupied protagonists (like Raskolnikov) within the tradition of slapstick comedy. Like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, these characters fall, hit one another, groan, and overreact—so why don’t we laugh at them? In tandem with the article, I’m leading workshops with Yale undergraduates where we use Lecoq clown exercises to physically explore the vaudevillian aspect of Dostoevsky’s work, bringing to life as performers what we so often pass over as readers.
6. Are there any thoughts that you'd like to add?
There’s a lot to be said for being in a small department with intellectually generous faculty and graduate students. The concentration is less about specializing in a particular field and more about learning how to think, and learning how to think with others. In my experience, the Slavic Department community is excited to think with you.