Ilya Vinitsky

Professor and Chair
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Office Phone
241 East Pyne


My main fields of expertise are Russian Romanticism and Realism, the history of emotions, nineteenth- century intellectual and spiritual history, translation theory, and the cultural interpretation of mystifications and forgeries (“physallidology,” from “soap bubble” in Greek). As the list of my works shows I am interested in a range of different authors, periods, and approaches to the text. I also try out different scholarly forms, from the positivistic academic commentary to the scholarly essay and parody. However, my overarching principle is a focus on a literary text or a group of texts as the intersection and interplay of various cultural and historical forces – ideology, politics, psychology, law, etc.

My most recent book focuses on liminal and provocative aspects of literary translation and discusses works of Russian, Serbian, French, and American writers from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. My previous book reconstructs the “emotional biography” of Vasily Zhukovsky (1783-1852)—the father of Russian Romanticism, who influenced several generations of Russian authors from Pushkin to Vladimir Solov'ev and Aleksandr Blok. My most personal book, The Count of Sardinia: Dmitry Khvostov and Russian Culture investigates the phenomenon of anti-poetry in Russian literary tradition from the eighteenth through the twenty first century and focuses on the extraordinary literary biography and cultural function of the king of Russian bad poets, Count Dmitry Ivanovich Khvostov (1757-1835). In this book, I argue that Khvostov’s phenomenon (the worst of all Russian writers, Russia’s anti-Pushkin) reveals the uniqueness of Russian poetry-centric culture.

Current Project: 

I am currently working on a comprehensive study of political and literary activities of Ivan Narodny (Jaan Siboul), a Russian-Estonian expat writer, art critic, and con-man, who lived in America from 1906 until his death in 1953 and was labeled by FBI as “the worst fraud that ever came out of Russia.” I consider Narodny’s trans-cultural personality as a parodic embodiment of a universal Russianness in the eyes of the American public of the first half of the 20th century. In 2019 I received a Guggenheim Fellowship for this project.

My second project deals with "the history of tears" in Russian literature.

Courses Taught: 

Prior to coming to Princeton, I taught a variety of classes at the University of Pennsylvania, including honor students’ courses on Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Russian thinkers, and criminals and justice in literature. I also taught undergraduate courses on Russia and the West, madness in Russian cultural history, as well as graduate seminars on Russian realism in European context, western mysticism and Russian culture, Russian realism, and Russian emotional history. I regard my UPenn School of Arts and Sciences Ira Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching (2010) as the most precious prize in my academic career.

  • SLA 534 - Russian Lies: Forgeries and Mystifications in Russian Culture
  • SLA 219 - The Great Russian Novel
  • SLA 415 - Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace: Writing as Fighting
  • SLA 510 - History of Emotions: Russia and the West
  • SLA 531 - Haunted House: Russian Literature in the Age of Realism

Authored Books: 

Book cover with bird in suit riding old fashioned bike with is top hat in the air
What The Nightingale Is Silent About: Scholarly Tales On Russian Culture From Peter The First To Budyonnyi’s Mare

(Moscow: Ivan Limbakh, 2022)

The book is based on a series of "detective" articles and notes about iconic and undeservedly forgotten authors, characters, and texts of Russian literature from Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Osip Mandelstam, Daniil Kharms and Velimir Khlebnikov to the Estonian visionary Ivan Narodny and the nameless creator of the tragic Ukrainian folk song; from the disappointed officer Pechorin, nihilist Bazarov, envious Kavalerov, the dreary clerk Epikhodov and the unlucky goose thief Panikovsky to the happy kitten named Pushkin, and the playful mare of commander Budyonny. Most of the "half-funny" and "half-sad" scholarly novellas included in the book are united by the author's natural desire to disperse, at least in his thoughts and imagination, the dark melancholy of our historical epoch.


Vinitsky book
Transfers: Literary Translation As Interpretation And Provocation

(Moscow: Ruthenia, 2022)

In this book, I propose a third mode of translation strategy, after Venuti’s “domestication” and “foreignization,” canonized in the 1990s. This other interpretation technique is the “personalization” of the original, in which the translator consciously or unconsciously perceives a “foreign” text as his or her own’s one. Through this text, the translator then expresses his or her “personal” content: individual allusions, conflicts, ideas, emotions, and situations that are relevant to the translator and his or her circle of readers. This personalized translation, usually addressed to a select circle of readers who are devoted to the translator’s “legend,” features many modifications. However, despite these internal differences, the “personalization” of the original is a completely independent practice that borders on individual creativity.


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Vasily Zhukovsky's Romanticism and the Emotional History of Russia

Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2015

The first major study in English of Vasily Zhukovsky (1783–1852)—poet, transla­tor of German romantic verse, and mentor of Pushkin—this book brings overdue attention to an important figure in Russian literary and cultural history. Vinitsky’s “emotional biography” argues that Zhukovsky very consciously set out to create for himself an emotional life reflecting his unique brand of romanticism, different from what we associate with Pushkin or poets such as Byron or Wordsworth. For Zhukovsky, ideal love was harmonious, built on a mystical foundation of spiritual kinship. Vinitsky shows how Zhukovksy played a pivotal role in the evolution of ideas central to Russia’s literary and cultural identity from the end of the eighteenth century into the decades following the Napoleonic Wars.


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Count Of Sardinia: Dmitrii Khvostov And Russian Culture

Winner of 2018
Marc Raeff Book Prize

"In this study we endeavor to understand and master the works and days of the endlessly clever, yet notorious Russian poetaster, Dmitry Ivanovich Khvostoff (a Count of Sardinia and very well off). We examine his biography and delusions of authorial grandiosity and find the features of a stable genius, as well as his artistry and compulsive verbosity (which was both pathological and devious). All aspects of his parodic personality are explained by the theory of poetic vitality (Patient 2014; Chooshkin; McGonagall and Schitoff). The book argues that only the nation that gave us Pushkin could give us a poet as bad as Khvostoff."



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Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism

“On the whole, as I suppose, it makes sense to speak of two polar types of artistic spiritualism in literature (that is, two attempts at the ontology of the “spirit of literature”): the idea of literature as a cunning and pernicious force (“the party of the devil,” in William Blake’s words) and a relationship to it as to a live and free manifestation of spiritual life that transcends and scoffs at material reality. One may call the proponents of this idea the “party of the spirit.”

University of Toronto Press, 2009; Choice Magazine’s list of Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010


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A Cultural History of Russian Literature

“We began this introduction to eighteenth-century Russian culture with Bishop Feofan’s eulogy to Peter the Great. We conclude with a historical anecdote which illuminates some cultural consequences of the Reform. Sometime in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the gifted satirical poet and aristocrat Petr Viazemsky (1792-1878) was visiting one of his remote estates. After a Sunday Mass, an educated (yet old-fashioned in his neoclassical literary tastes) local priest enthusiastically addressed the villagers: “You do not comprehend what kind of Master Our Lord gave you, my Orthodox brothers! He is the Russian Horace, the Russian Catullus, the Russian Martialis!” After each of these lofty attestations, as Viazemsky ironically (and sadly) comments, his pious peasants bowed to earth and vigorously crossed themselves.”

Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2009; together with Andrew Wachtel


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Interpreter’s House: Poetic Semantics and Historical Imagination of Vasily Zhukovsky

NLO, 2006, in Russian

“Zhukovsky is the prophet not of Revolution (like the early romantics) but of Restoration (like the Biedermeier authors). His works are not products of free creativity, but of translation as an aesthetic and moral principle: “selfless obedience” and “arbitrary subjection” to the “sacred” in the original, the restoration of harmony via “struggle against the obstacle” (Viazemsky) of the chaotic word-for-word translation. It was precisely the venerable, eternal Odyssey (the mother of European poetry) that should have become the culmination of his poetic (i.e., translating) activities, the very epic (“the beginning of a new era”) that would foretell and bring about the victory of justice and order over chaos, and for that reason would prove so indispensable to the contemporary world.”

Selected Edited Volumes: 


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Unacknowledged Legislators: Studies in Russian Literary History and Poetics in Honor of Michael Wachtel

The 50th volume of Stanford Slavic Studies brings together prominent international specialists in the study of Russian literary history. 42 contributors are affiliated with leading academic centers in the United States, the European Union, United Kingdom, Russia, and Israel. Their essays propose new approaches and introduce hitherto unknown materials that address themes central to literary scholarship, such as theory of Russian verse, history of Russian Formalism, Russian-German and Russian-Italian cultural ties. The chapters of this book cover such towering figures of modern Russian letters as Pushkin, Gogol, Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, Nabokov, and Pasternak.

The volume is dedicated to the distinguished authority in Russian poetry and comparative literary studies, Professor of Princeton University Michael Wachtel.

Ed. By Lazar Fleishman, David M. Bethea, Ilya Vinitsky. Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, Sep 18, 2020. 996 pages


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Madness and the Mad in Russian Culture

“Following tradition, [Catherine the Great] considered melancholy a disease of sick imagination and a Western disorder, poisoning weak Russian souls. It is not an accident that among the patients of the first St. Petersburg mad asylum … were two freemasons V. Ya. Kolokol'nikov and M. I. Nevzorov. Both young scholars had just returned from abroad (commonplace melancholy travelers in the Western tradition) and both were diagnosed as hypochondriacs. Since the time of Catherine the Great this medical (psychiatric) diagnosis has been used by the Russian authorities as a simple and effective way to discredit and/or isolate their political and ideological opponents, including some of the Decembrists, Count Dmitriev-Mamonov, Pyotr Chaadaev, and Leo Tolstoy.”

Toronto University Press 2007; co-edited with Angela Brintlinger


Scholarly Philosophy (Podcasts, Interviews):


The Eurasian Knot: Fakes, Forgeries, and Frauds, November 3, 2023

“Beyond Boundaries,” February 1, 2023 (interview with Lev Oborin)


Selected Articles: 



“The Land of Gods: The Myth of Shambhala as a Dream of American Exceptionalism,” PMLA, January 2022, pp. 117-187.

“Strolls with Nabushkin: The Imaginary Adventures of a Slavicist in Leningrad," Nabokov Online Journal, Vol. XV. 2021. (In Russian)

“The First Serbian Female Writer: From the History of the Nineteenth-Century Women's Literature,” Slověne. International Journal of Slavic Studies, vol. 8, #1, 2019 (in Russian)

Zhukovsky and Gogol (From the History of a Certain Place), Unacknowledged Legislators: Studies in Russian Literary History and Poetics in Honor of Michael Wachtel, 2020. In Russian



"The Wicked Bullet": The Georgian Origins of Osip Mandelstam's Insult to Joseph Stalin (Ab Imperio 3/2021. Pp. 181-209)

“Maiakovsky Begins With… The Problem of the Poet’s First Rhyme” (Slavica Helsingiensia, Vol. 54. Helsinki, 2021. Pp. 162-187)

“Singers of Death: Velimir Khlebnikov’s “Voices from the Street,” the Ukrainian Song, and the Red Terror” (new Literary Review, no. 5, 2022)



“Lord of the Words: Vladimir Dahl's Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great-Russian Language as a National Epic,” in: The Whole World in a Book: Dictionaries in the 19th Century. Oxford UP, 2019

“The First Serbian Female Writer: From the History of the Nineteenth-Century Women's Literature,” Slověne. International Journal of Slavic Studies, vol. 8, #1 (Moscow, 2019)

"Tolstoy's Lessons: Pedagogy as Salvation," In Before They Were Titans: Early Works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy" (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2015, 299-316

"The Thinking Oyster: Ivan Turgenev's "Drama of Dying" and the Twilight of Russian Realism." In Russian Writers at the Fin de Siècle: the Twilight of Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 249-266

"The Worm of Doubt: Prince Andrei's Death and Russian Spiritual Awakening of the 1860s," Anniversary Essays on Tolstoy, ed. by Donna Tussing Orwin. New York, London: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 119-36.

"Krupushki zaumnoi poezii [Grains of Zaum' Poetry]", Russian Literature, 2009. Jan 1-Apr 1; 65 (1-3): 261-279.

“Amor Hereos: the Occult Sources of Russian Romanticism”, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring 2008). Pp. 291-316.



"Madness in Western Literature and the Arts,” In The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health, ed. by Greg Eghigian. London and New York: Routledge, 2017, 153-171

“The Queen of Lofty Thoughts." The Cult of Melancholy in Russian Sentimentalism,” Interpreting Emotions in Russia and Eastern Europe. Ed. by Mark Steinberg and Valeria Sobol. Northern Illinois University Press, 2011, 18-43.



The Song of Freedom: “United States of Russia” in the Political Imagination of a Russian- American Adventurist, The Journal of Russian American Studies (JRAS) 4.2 (November 2020; 1st publication in NLO #155). In Russian

Pickford tape. Historical script by Viktor Shklovsky, Kinovedcheskie zapiski. 112/113. 2019/2020. Pp. 375-387.

"A Dispersed Man: Alexis Eustaphieve (1779-1857) as a National Project,"(link is external) New Literary Review (2014), #6, pp. 94-111. In Russian



“Dostoevsky Misprisioned: The House of the Dead and American Prison Literature,” Los Angeles Book Review, December 23, 2019

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: A Dostoyevsky Quote Revisited


ESSAYS FOR ALL THE RUSSIANS (translated by Emily Wang)

The Last Will and Testament of Sergei Esenin: Cultural History of a Mystification (PARTS 1 – 3)

War and Pestilence: The Epidemiological Motif in L. N. Tolstoy’s Historical Epic

Bitter Taste: How Gorky Saved Pushkin’s Honor by Closing His Café

How Pushkin Became a Cat



«Ах, как люблю я птицу эту!»: непристойная поэзия в романе «Пушкин»": О чем молчит соловей Юрия Тынянова

«Почему Мандельштам, чтобы оскорбить Сталина, назвал его осетином: Грузинские источники образа вождя из стихотворения “Мы живем, под собою не чуя страны”»

«Что означает таинственная надпись на могиле Паниковского — “человек без паспорта”?»

«Епиходов кий сломал»: Антон Чехов и русская непристойная традиция: Илья Виницкий — об одном из истоков комизма в пьесе “Вишневый сад”»

"And Then Madame Blavatsky Received A Poem From Pushkin From The Hell!: Professor Ilya Vinitsky Interviewed by Gorky Media"

"'Breakfast at Dawn': Alexander Veselovsky and the Poetics of Psychological Biography," Historical Poetics: Past, Present, and Future, Verbal Art: Studies in Poetics Fordham UP, 2016, 314-339