Madness, mental institutions, and transcendence in the work of Garshin, Chekhov, Bulgakov, and Pelevin

Stuart, Madelyn, Slavic Languages and Literatures - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Connolly, Julian, AS-Slavic Languages & Lit, University of Virginia

This dissertation analyzes the physical characteristics of the mental institution and its function in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature. To analyze this subject, this dissertation examines four prose works from Russian authors—two short stories and two novels—including Vsevolod Garshin’s “The Red Flower,” Anton Chekhov’s “Ward No. 6,” Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and Viktor Pelevin’s Chapaev and Void. This study provides a novel approach to the interpretation of these works by shifting the focus from the diagnoses of the patients, or the relationship between the institutions and broader society, and analyzing the physical characteristics of the mental institutions depicted in these works, and the effects of these physical spaces upon those within. By privileging the depiction of the physical space of the institutions, especially the colors, glass, light, cleanliness, and technology, as well as the medical practices that occur in these spaces, this dissertation argues that the authors use these spaces as medium of enlightenment and transformation. In these four works, the mental institutions become for their inhabitants a means of reaching beyond their mortal limits and accessing the eternal. As a result, I offer new perspective and interpretive approach to these works, and demonstrate how the mental institution enables, and at times forces, enlightenment upon its inhabitants, and becomes the means for these individuals to access their versions of the eternal, should they choose to accept it.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
madness, mental institution, psychiatry, Russian literature, Vsevolod Garshin, Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Viktor Pelevin, Red Flower, Ward No. 6, Master and Margarita, Buddha's Little Finger, Krasnyi tsvetok, Palata no. 6, Master i Margarita , Chapaev i Pustota, physical space
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