Molly Brunson

Molly Brunson's picture
Associate Professor, Slavic Languages and Literatures; History of Art (secondary appointment)
HQ 541

Spring 2024 office hours: Mondays, 10:00-11:00 a.m.

CV:Molly Brunson CV.pdf

Ph.D. Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of California, Berkeley, 2009

B.A. Art History and Russian, Columbia University, 2000

Personal website

I am an Associate Professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures, with a secondary appointment in History of Art at Yale University.

As a scholar of modern Russian culture, I specialize in the literature and visual art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with an emphasis on the recurrent realisms that emerged in imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Spanning a broad historical scope, my research encompasses topics as diverse as the socially conscious genre painting of the early nineteenth century and the sweeping novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to the avant-garde’s claims to the “real” and the rise of Soviet socialist realism. I am particularly interested in aesthetics and interart studies; theories of the realism and the novel; vision, optics, and visual cultural studies; material culture and the decorative arts; ecology, industry, and the representation of urban and rural space; and the transnational and transhistorical networks of modern culture.

In my book, Russian Realisms: Literature and Painting, 1840–1890, I articulated a theory of Russian realism based on the encounters between word and image in canonical works of literature and painting (by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, and Ilya Repin, as well as the important but lesser known painters Pavel Fedotov and Vasily Perov). Russian Realisms was awarded the Best Book in Cultural Studies by the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages in 2017, as well as the College Art Association’s Meiss/Mellon Author’s Book Award and the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies First Book Subvention Award. I am currently working on a book—The Russian Point of View: Perspective and the Birth of Modern Russian Culture—that tells the story of how linear perspective came to Russia, engaged with native aesthetic systems, and ultimately shaped the emergence of a national culture in the nineteenth century and the radical avant-garde experimentation of the twentieth.  My next project - The Underground: Mining and Matter in Russian Culture - will consider the literary, material, and visual culture of the industrial underground in the Russian empire.

Like my scholarship, my teaching is defined by its interdisciplinary and comparative range, for which I was awarded the Poorvu Family Prize for Interdisciplinary Teaching in Yale College in 2013. I seek to bring fresh perspectives to the Russian literary and painterly canons by integrating the traditions of Slavic studies, comparative literature, and art history.  I offer undergraduate and graduate courses on Russian realism in literature and the visual arts; the history of Russian art from the eighteenth century to the present; Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and theories of the novel; and Russian artistic culture during the long nineteenth century. I have also organized a number of events and working groups, including an international conference in fall 2016, The Russian Century: The Literary, Visual, and Performing Arts, 1801–1917.

I have lectured widely on my research, including at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the University of Cambridge, the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice, Indiana University, Princeton University, Stanford University, New York University, University of Toronto, and the University of California, Berkeley. During summer 2016, I was named a fellow at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.



Russkie realizmy: literatura i zhivopis’, 1840–1890 [Russian translation: Russian Realisms: Literature and Painting, 1840–1890]. Contemporary Western Rusistika. Academic Studies Press, 2022.

Russian Realisms: Literature and Painting, 1840–1890. Northern Illinois University Press, 2016.


“Painting Coal in the Donbass: Nikolai Kasatkin and the Energy of Late Realism.” In Russian Energy Culture: Work, Power, and Waste since 1850, edited by Jillian Porter and Maya Vinokour. Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming.

“‘The Most Theatrical Entertainment in New York’: Vereshchagin and the Exhibition of Russian Art in America.” The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine, 2018.

 “Aleksei Venetsianov and the Theatricality of Russian Painting.” In Russian Performances: Word, Object, Action, edited by Julie Buckler, Julie Cassiday, and Boris Wolfson. University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.

“Vasily Surikov and the Russian Point of View.” Art History, 2018.

 “Gogol Country: Russia and Russian Literature in Perspective.” Comparative Literature, 2017.

“Dostoevsky’s Realist Paragone: Word, Image, and Fantastic Ekphrasis in The Idiot.” Slavic and East European Journal, 2016.

“A Light on the Road: Oleg Vassiliev and Painterly Space.” In Oleg Vassiliev: Space and Light. Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, 2014.

“Painting History, Realistically.” In From Realism to the Silver Age: New Studies in Russian Artistic Culture, edited by Rosalind P. Blakesley and Margaret Samu. Northern Illinois University Press, 2014.

“Wandering Greeks: How Repin Discovers the People.” Ab Imperio: Studies of New Imperial History and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space, 2012.

“Panorama P’era: Opticheskaia illiuziia i illiuziia romana v Voine i mire” [Pierre’s Panorama: Optical and Novelistic Illusion in War and Peace]. In Lev Tolstoi i mirovaia literatura: materialy V mezhdunarodnoi nauchnoi konferentsii, edited by Galina Alekseeva, 2008.

“Polet nad Moskvoi: Vid s vozdukha i reprezentatsiia prostranstva v Mastere i Margarite Bulgakova” [Flying over Moscow: Aerial Perspectives and Spatial Representation in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita]. Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2005.

The Russian Point of View: Perspective and the Birth of Modern Russian Culture (under contract with University of California Press) 

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky; Russian and Soviet Art, 1757–Present; Masterpieces of Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature; Literature and Painting in the Age of Tolstoy; The Fantastic in Russian Culture; City and Country in the Nineteenth-Century Novel; The Living Dead in Literature; Ecology in Russian Culture; Politics and the Russian Novel

Proseminar in Slavic Literature and Theory; Russian Realist Literature and Painting; Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and the Novel; Russian and Soviet Art, 1757­–Present; The Arts in Russia from Reform to Revolution; The Russian Style: Material Culture and the Decorative Arts in Imperial Russia