Melissa Frazier

on leave spring 2024

AB, Harvard University. PhD, University of California–Berkeley. Special interests include the 19th-century novel and literature and the literary marketplace. Author of articles and books on topics including Pushkin, Senkovskii, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Russian Formalism. Awarded the 2007 Jean-Pierre Barricelli Prize for “Best Work in Romanticism Studies,” by the International Conference of Romanticism, for Romantic Encounters: Writers, Readers, and the “Library for Reading” (Stanford University Press, 2007). SLC, 1995–

Undergraduate Courses 2023-2024


Beginning Russian

Open, Seminar—Year

At a time of great crisis in Russia and in Ukraine, the study of Russian remains essential to the understanding of Russian politics, history, and culture. It is also an easy move from Russian to the study of other Slavic languages, including not just Ukrainian but also Belarusian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, etc. To learn a new language is to open yourself to another worldview, both as you gain entry into another culture and as your own sense of self is transformed. In another language, you are still you, but the tools that you use to create and express that identity change. As English speakers find themselves in Russian, they first need to come to terms with an often complicated grammar. We will tackle that aspect of our work through a degree of analytical thought, a great deal of memorization, and the timely completion of our often lengthy biweekly homework assignments. Even as I encourage students to reflect on the very different means of expression that Russian offers, I also ask that they engage in basic but fully functional conversational Russian at every point along the way. Our four hours of class each week will be devoted to actively using what we know in both pair and group activities, role play, dialogues, skits, songs, etc. As a final project at the end of each semester, students will create their own video skits. Note that students are required to meet with the Russian assistant weekly in addition to class; attendance at our weekly Russian table is strongly encouraged.


Intermediate Russian

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: one year of college-level Russian or the equivalent

At the end of this course, students should feel that they have a fairly sophisticated grasp of Russian and the ability to communicate in Russian in any situation. After the first year of studying the language, students will have learned the bulk of Russian grammar; this course will emphasize grammar review, vocabulary accumulation, and regular oral practice. Class time will center on the spoken language, and students will be expected to participate actively in discussions based on new vocabulary. Regular written homework will be required, along with weekly conversation classes with the Russian assistant; attendance at Russian Table is strongly encouraged. While students are welcome to include films and/or music in their conference work, my hope is that we will use that time to focus on the written language. Whatever their individual focus, students will be asked to read short texts, including song lyrics and/or screen plays as well as short stories, with the aim of appreciating a very different culture and/or literature while also learning to read independently, accurately, and with as little recourse to the dictionary as possible.



Double Thoughts and Double Consciousness: Russian and African American Literature

Open, Large seminar—Fall

The Russian and African American literary traditions are marked by intersections as well as by affinities. As the African American press was already well aware in the 19th century, the great Russian poet and founder of the Russian literary tradition, Alexander Pushkin, was of partly African descent—a fact that he celebrated in his own writing. As, again, both Russians and African Americans recognized, the parallel institutions of serfdom and slavery ended at almost the same time: Serfs in Russia were emancipated in 1861; slaves in the United States, in 1863. In the 20th century, the Soviet experiment proved enormously appealing for African Americans seeking to escape the limitations of American racism; and, while Soviet writers explored issues of blackness, Black Americans traveled to the USSR. As significant as these points of intersection are, the two traditions are most strikingly marked by a similarly complicated approach to literary identity—what Fyodor Dostoevsky called “double thoughts” and W. E. B. Du Bois called “double consciousness.” Just as African American writers in the 20th century wrote from a position on the margins of American culture, so Russians in the 19th century wrote from the edge of a European tradition that didn’t—and, in many respects, still doesn’t—include them. Besides Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Du Bois, writers/cultural figures considered in this class will include Nikolai Gogol, Edward P. Jones, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Paul Robeson. Note: As part of this “large seminar,” students will meet for biweekly conference in groups of three-to-five to pursue a course of reading intended to extend and deepen our class work. While students will be invited to offer their own suggestions, topics for small-group conferences might include: Serfdom and Slavery (Peter Kochin, Orlando Patterson, serf and slave narratives); Folk Authenticity (Gogol, I. S. Turgenev, Charles Chesnutt, Hurston); Black Americans and Red Russia (Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, the 1936 Soviet film Circus, M. I. Tsvetaeva, M. A. Bulgakov); Russian Revolution and Utopian Dreams (N. G. Chernyshevsky, Dostoevsky, A. Platonov); More Dostoevsky and/or Dostoevsky in other comparative contexts, including Richard Wright and French Existentialism; War and Peace and Russian identity; Ukraine/Eastern Europe Writes Back (A. Kurkov, S. Zhadan, E. Belorusets, O. Tokarczuk, S. Alexeivich, V. Martinowich)....


Previous Courses


Beginning Russian

Open, Seminar—Year

At the end of this course, students will know the fundamentals of Russian grammar and will be able to use those fundamentals to read, write, and, above all, speak Russian on an elementary level. Successful language learning involves both creativity and a certain amount of rote learning—memorization gives the student the basis to then extrapolate, improvise, and have fun with the language—and this course will lay equal emphasis on both. Our four hours of class each week will be spent actively using what we know in pair and group activities, dialogues, discussions, etc. Twice-weekly written homework, serving both to reinforce old and introduce new material, will be required. At the end of each semester, we will formalize the principle of rigorous but creative communication that underlies all of our work through small-group video projects. Students are also required to attend weekly meetings with the Russian assistant; attendance at Russian Table is strongly encouraged.



Signs of the Material World: Dostoevsky and 19th-Century Science

Open, Seminar—Spring

“Once it's proved to you, for example, that you are descended from an ape, there’s no use making a wry face; just take it for what it is,” the Underground Man says; Lebeziatnikov, in Crime and Punishment, attempts to educate the prostitute Sonia by lending her a copy of G. H. Lewes’s pioneering work in physiological psychology, The Physiology of Common Life. Ivan Karamazov rejects non-Euclidean geometry, while his brother Dmitrii worries that chemistry will displace God: “Move over a little, Your Reference, there’s no help for it, chemistry’s coming!” This one-semester course will frame a rich and multifaceted reading of Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov with an exploration of Dostoevsky’s complicated view of the interrelationships of mind and body and mind and material world. We will consider Dostoevsky’s response in the context of the very many of his contemporaries engaged in a new discourse of science, including his main ideological opponent, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, as well as writers whose more sophisticated approach helped shape Dostoevsky’s own: Balzac, Poe, Wilkie Collins, Dickens, George Eliot. We will also read some of the scientists and science writers whose works both influenced and were influenced by 19th-century European literature, including Darwin; French philosopher Auguste Comte and physiologist Claude Bernard; American philosopher, scientist, and mathematician Charles Sanders Peirce; and the English George Henry Lewes—the last-named not just a favorite of the fictional Lebeziatnikov but the common-law husband of the real George Eliot. As part of the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course collaborative, we will also finally put our own bodies and minds to work in the material world. While students are welcome to devote conference time to further work in literature and/or the intersections of literature and science, fieldwork addressing current issues in the environment is also encouraged. Over the course of the semester, we will also bring Dostoevsky and the insights of 19th-century science and politics to a wider audience as we participate in two two-week interludes devoted to climate justice and involving collaborative projects and research together with students and faculty from across the College and at Bronx Community College.


Additional Information

Selected Publications

Преподавание Бахтина американским студентам

Forthcoming: Диалог. Карнавал. Хронотоп. (2013).

Sun-bathed Steppes in French Prisons: Bresson Reading Dostoevsky

Forthcoming: Ulbandus XV (2012).

Balzacorama: Panoramic Vision in Nabokov’s Lolita

Comparative Literature Studies. 48: 4 (2011) 486-511.

Turgenev and a Proliferating French Press: the Feuilleton and Feuilletonistic in A Nest of the Gentry

Slavic Review. 69: 4 (Winter 2010) 925-943.

Попытка сравнения русского и американского подходов к преподаванию литературы” (“An attempt at a comparison of the Russian and American approaches to the teaching of literature”)

Зарубежная литература в вузе, ред. Л. А. Назарова (Екатеринбург: изд. Ажур, 2010) 60-69.

Personae and Personality in O. I. Senkovskij

Russian Literature. LVI-IV (2004) 343-362.

Romantic Relationships: Senkovskii and Romantic Literary Criticism

Romantic Russia, 3-5 (1999-2001) 25-44.

Erasing the Borders of Criticism: Senkovskij, Readers and Writers

Russian Literature. XLVII-I (2000) 15-32.

Space and Genre in Gogol’‘s Arabeski

Slavic and East European Journal, 43: 3 (1999).

De-familiarizing the Tolstoj of Formalism

Russian Literature. XLIV (1998) 143-158.

Arabeski, Architecture and Printing,” in The Subject’s Space: Empire, Nation, and the Culture of Russia’s Golden Age

eds. Monika Greenleaf and Stephen Moeller-Sally (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1998) 277-295.

Kapitanskaja dočka and the Creativity of Borrowing

Slavic and East European Journal, 37:4 (1993) 472-489.