Places: Sanine

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Sanin, 1907 (English translation, 1915)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical

Time of work: 1906

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedProvincial town

Provincial Saninetown. Unnamed Russian community in which almost the entire novel takes place. The town is characterized as being unremarkable and thoroughly typical, an example of Russian society in microcosm. Nothing within the town either deserves or receives extensive depiction, and even characters who are new to the town traverse its streets without seeing anything that captures their attention. Against this backdrop of the mundane and the conventional, the violent disruption of the community’s social life by Vladimir Petrovitch Sanine seems particularly shocking. Sanine is a cynic, anarchist, and apostle of complete sexual freedom who exhorts his young and impressionable followers to act on impulse rather than with regard to moral conventions. What follows is an epidemic of seductions and suicides, as his ideas prove to be much more difficult to act on in reality than they appear to be in theory.

Sanine house

Sanine house. Residence of the novel’s principal character, Sanine, and his mother, Maria, and sister Lidia. A once-proud edifice on the main street of the unnamed town, this ancient mansion is in poor repair and much too large for its few inhabitants. Sanine’s lack of interest in maintaining the family home or fulfilling the traditional responsibilities of a prominent citizen is one of many ways that the narrative conveys his disaffection from conventional society.

Svarogitsch house

Svarogitsch house. Residence of Sanine’s most effective opponent among the townsfolk, Yourii Svarogitsch, and his father and his sister, Lialia. Ranking among the town’s leading families, the Svarogitsches support their son’s liberal political views and artistic aspirations. Initially portrayed as a place of beauty and enlightenment, their household is shattered by Yourii’s suicide when he fails to reconcile his idealistic beliefs with the realities of sexual passion. The consequent paralysis of Yourii’s father, Colonel Svarogitsch, is an apt symbol of the failure of the community’s traditional leaders to adjust to contemporary conditions.

Sarudine’s rooms

Sarudine’s rooms. Home of Vladimir Sarudine, an army officer and the seducer of Sanine’s sister, Lidia. A center of masculine camaraderie in a military establishment, Sarudine’s smoke-filled rooms are a place in which the town’s wilder young men plot the seduction of their intended female victims.

Convent and monastery

Convent and monastery. Communities of religious orders in the town that are centers of social, rather than religious, activity. Although spatially separated, both the convent and the monastery are depicted as picturesque and quaintly old-fashioned excursion destinations for the town’s middle-and upper-class youths. Several impassioned love scenes are played out against these congenial but spiritually irrelevant institutions, which appear to offer nothing more than convenient trysting places for the younger generation and thus further represent the decay of traditional values that is a major theme of the novel.

Steam mill

Steam mill. Part of a factory outside the town where occasional political meetings are held by progressive political activists. The gray, gloomy atmosphere of the mill is echoed by the dull, pointless political discussions conducted there, where sectarian bickering and class differences sabotage any possibility of useful action.

*St. Petersburg

*St. Petersburg. Russia’s capital city at the time in which the novel is set and the center of national cultural life. St. Petersburg is frequently mentioned as the city in which a meaningful life can be lived, but it is also feared as a place that may reject provincials who do not measure up to its standards.

Train

Train. Conveyance on which Sanine travels in the novel’s concluding scene. Unable to tolerate the coarse behavior of his fellow travelers, Sanine leaps off in a deserted stretch of countryside, and then sets out to discover a more hopeful future. The physical context of his action, in which he severs all ties with organized society, implies that he must travel this road by himself, with no assurance of success.

BibliographyEngelstein, Laura. The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992. Surveys popular culture in early twentieth century Russia. Elaborates Artsybashev’s role as literary innovator.Luker, Nicholas. In Defense of a Reputation: Essays on the Early Prose of Mikhail Artsybashev. Nottingham, England: Astra Press, 1990. A balanced consideration of Artsybashev’s major novels and a thorough summary of earlier criticism of Artsybashev’s works, most of which are available only in Russian. Emphasizing the careful structure of Sanine, Luker makes a convincing case for considering Artsybashev a serious author.Phelps, William. Essays on Russian Novelists. New York: Macmillan, 1911. A contemporary account of the sensation Sanine made abroad as an affront to morality and as a pagan appreciation of nature.Rosenthal, Bernice G., ed. Nietzsche in Russia. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. Collection of essays about the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on Russian authors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several essays discuss Artsybashev, including one that considers Sanine as a Nietzschean superman.Todd, William Mills, ed. Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1978. Examines the relations between Russian literature and mass readership. Sanine’s success is considered in the broader context of works read by the middle classes.
Categories: Places