Dr. O.F. (Otto) Boele

  • Lecturer
  • Slavonic languages and cultures
  • Russian Literature

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2085
E-Mail: o.f.boele@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Centre for the Arts in Society, Interdisciplinair
Office Address: Witte Singel-complex
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
2311 BV Leiden
Room number 2.01a

Fields of interest

Literary Reception and Reception History
Contemporary Russian Literature
Russian Cinema


One of my most persistent fascinations with Russian literature is its ability to function as an interpretative framework for “explaining” events in reality. Realist literature in particular is capable of creating the illusion that it depicts life “as it really is,” while laying bare its very “quintessence.” As the famous anarchist Piotr Kropotkin once put it: “In order to understand Russia, one shouldn’t read its newspapers, but its novels.” From a twenty-first century perspective, Kropotkin’s statement may strike us as naïve, but this position has shaped the reception and global reputation of Russian literature for over 150 years; from the publication of Gogol’s St. Petersburg stories in the 1830s to well into the twentieth century when socialist-realism was the only artistic method allowed.
     As a scholar, I take this “old-fashioned” belief in literature very seriously as it allows us to appreciate how reality was perceived and interpreted through the plots and larger-than-life characters provided by contemporary novels. My fascination with the nexus between literature and reality resulted in a monograph entitled Erotic Nihilism in Late Imperial Russia. The Case of Mikhail Artsybashev's "Sanin" (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), in which I focus on what is arguably the greatest scandal in pre-revolutionary literature. Currently, I am working on the reception of Thaw literature (1953-64), more specifically on the early cult novels of Vasily Aksionov and the popular plays of Viktor Rozov. Here, too, we observe a tendency among readers and critics to interpret fictional works of literature as meticulous chronicles of contemporary life and its protagonists as “typical” representatives of their generation.
     My second research interest goes back to my time as a graduate student at Groningen University where, under the guidance of Professor Joost van Baak, I studied the ideological and symbolic functions of the “North” in Russian romantic literature (1802-1841). The issue of national identity and its expression through spatial images and metaphors have fascinated me ever since. I still consider Yurii Lotman’s semiotics of space to be a highly useful approach, but one that can benefit from the “new spatial history” that has emerged in the 2000s. Since the late 1990s, I have published and presented papers on such topics as the depiction and conceptualization of the Russian provinces, the travel columns of contemporary author Dmitrii Danilov and the local Brezhnev cult in the city of Novorossiisk.
     Finally, I have become increasingly interested in Russian cinema, particularly pre-revolutionary cinema and the genre of the historical film.

Key publications

2011    “Remembering Brezhnev in the New Millennium: Post-Soviet Nostalgia and Local Identity in the City of Novorossiisk,” The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review 38 (2011) 3-29.
2009    Erotic Nihilism in Late Imperial Russia. The Case of Mikhail Artsybashev's "Sanin"  (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press), 255 pp.
2008    “Muskuly v obmen na den’gi: studenty i bortsy mezhu dvumia revoliutsiiami (1907-1917)” [Muscles for Money: Students and Wrestlers between Two Revolutions (1907-1917)], Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie no. 90 (pp. 17-30).
2007    De zwijgende kastelen op jouw heuvels. Nederland door Russische ogen (ed. Otto Boele en Sjeng Scheijen) (Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek), 175 pp.
1996    The North in Russian Romantic Literature, SSLP 26 (Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi), 310 pp.

Curriculum vitae

After receiving my M.A. (University of Amsterdam, 1989) and Ph.D. in Russian literature (University of Groningen, 1996), I held a number of positions inside and outside of Academe. In 1997-1998, I spent a year as a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley, and from 1999 until 2002, I was a postdoctoral fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). My relationship with Leiden began in 2003 when I was hired as project manager by IDC Publishers, an academic publisher of rare books and primary sources. Two years later, I rebooted my career as a literary scholar when I joined the Slavic Department of the University of Leiden, first as an assistant professor and, since 2009, as an associate professor of Russian literature.

Courses taught (MA and BA)

The Historical Film of the Soviet and the Post-Soviet Period
Early Russian Cinema
Russian Romanticism
The Russian Realist Novel (1840-1880)
Russian Modernism (1890-1932)
Russian Grammar
Russian Reading Skills

Last Modified: 10-12-2015