Febris Erotica

Lovesickness in the Russian Literary Imagination

Valeria Sobol

  • Published: 2009
  • Subject Listing: Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 320 pp., 1 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Literary Conjugations
  • Contents

The destructive power of obsessive love was a defining subject of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian literature. In Febris Erotica, Sobol argues that Russian writers were deeply preoccupied with the nature of romantic relationships and were persistent in their use of lovesickness not simply as a traditional theme but as a way to address pressing philosophical, ethical, and ideological concerns through a recognizable literary trope. Sobol examines stereotypes about the damaging effects of romantic love and offers a short history of the topos of lovesickness in Western literature and medicine.

Read an interview with the author:
Valeria Sobol is associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Illinois.

"Febris Erotica is a fine, well-researched, and lucidly written examination of representations of lovesickness in eighteenth- and nineteenth century Russian literature, with a brief excursion into the seventeenth century."
-Ilya Vinitsky, University of Pennsylvania

"Deftly weaving together literary, intellectual, cultural, and medical history, Sobol makes a convincing case that the 'lovesickness' topos is an important and exceptionally productive prism for exploring a whole constellation of thorny issues and debates that were played out in fascinating detail in Russian literature and culture from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century."
-Thomas Newlin, Oberlin College

Note on Translation, Transliteration, and Abbreviations
Introduction: Cases in History

1. The Anatomy of Feeling and the Mind-Body Problem in Russian Sentimentalism

2. Diagnosing Love: Tradition
3. "Febris Erotica" in Herzen's Who Is to Blame?
4. An Ordinary Story: Goncharov's Romantic Patients

5. The "Question of the Soul" in the Age of Positivism
6. What Is to Be Done about a Lovesick Woman? Chernyshevsky's Treatment
7. From Lovesickness to Shamesickness: Tolstoy's Solution

Works Cited

"One of the great contributions Sobol makes is her attention to the mutual influence of the languages of science and literature."
-Lonny Harrison, Canadian Slavonic Papers, Summer 2011

"One of the book's key strengths, its full-blooded engagement with the scientific contexts that inform the (mostly) novels at hand, shows Sobol to be of the best sort of humanities scholar, not fighting shy of the 'extraneous' intellectual matter that underpins creative praxis."
-B.D. Morgan, Slavonic and East European Review, October 2011

"In this excellent study, Valeria Sobol explains its [lovesickness] central importance first in the west (starting with ancient Greek culture), and then in different Russian literary movements from its entrance into Russia in the Petrine period....The book alternates between close textual analysis and literary history so as to situate each text and author within a mostly vanished past."
-Slavic Review

"In this book, Valeria Sobol takes a well known fact-that 'lovesickness' plays a significant role in the Russian literary imagination- and makes it the nexus of a fertile study with stunning depth and breadth. . . . The book is so rich and full of information, and written in such clear and masterful prose. . . come away with understanding Russian literary culture in new and profound ways."
-The Russian Review

"Throughout the book is well grounded in both Greek and early modern philosophy and in relevant psychological and medical theories of the 19th century."