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Len’ka Panteleev and the traditions of Van’ka Kain: Criminal Biography in XXth Century Russia


The vast corpus about the 1920s Petrograd bandit Len’ka Panteleev, comprised of different texts – such as newspaper articles, fiction, film and song, with a complex and often ambiguous interplay between factual accounts and fictional adaptation – seems untypical for the era. A useful term of comparison is the similar corpus concerning the 18th century Moscow rogue Van’ka Kain. The latter shows all the typical features of 18th century criminal biographies, which at the time were popular throughout Europe. According to Michel Foucault, this genre paves the way to the detective novel, where the punitive mechanisms are substituted by the disciplinary ones.