Selling the Story: Balzac, Dostoevsky and Economic Criticism

Literature and Culture Seminar
Event Format

How does writing for money affect what is written? Dr. Jonathan Paine’s talk draws on the main themes of his book, Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola, published by Harvard University Press in 2019. Combining close readings of works by Balzac and Dostoevsky with detailed analyses of the nineteenth-century publishing contexts in which prose fiction first became a product, his paper will discuss how the business of literature affects even literary devices such as genre, plot, and repetition. He argues that no book can be properly understood without reference to its point of sale: the author’s knowledge of the market, of reader expectations, and of his or her own efforts to define and achieve literary value. The proposition redefines economic criticism as an undervalued tool of literary criticism.

Remote video URL


Co-sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies; the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures, Harvard University; and the North American Dostoevsky Society.


The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact us at 617-495-4037 or in advance of your participation or visit.

Requests for Sign Language interpreters and/or CART providers should be made at least two weeks in advance if possible. Please note that the Davis Center will make every effort to secure services but that services are subject to availability.