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Ghostly Paradoxes

Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Ghostly Paradoxes
    Book Description:

    Ghostly Paradoxesis an innovative work of literary scholarship that traces the reactions of Russia's major realist authors to spiritualist events and doctrines and demonstrates that both movements can be understood only when examined together.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9795-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-2)
  6. Introduction: A New World – Modern Spiritualism in Russia, 1853–1870s
    (pp. 3-20)

    Spiritualism (Modern Spiritualism,spiritisme) is a religious movement founded on the observation and study of occurrences that, according to its devotees, testify to the existence of an afterlife and to the possibility of making contact with the dead through mediums. The movement is usually separated into two strands: the philosophical strand (spiritisme), which interprets spiritualist phenomena in mystical–religious terms; and the experimental strand (Modern Spiritualism, or mediumism, as some of the spiritualists preferred), which takes as its aim the scientific description and investigation of the physical manifestation of spiritual forces. Spiritualism arose in America in 1848 with the ‘Rochester...


    • 1 Seance as Test, or, Russian Writers at a Spiritualist Rendezvous
      (pp. 23-42)

      On 1 April 1875 a renowned zoologist at St Petersburg University, Professor Nikolai Petrovich Vagner, published a letter, ‘On the Subject of Modern Spiritualism,’ inVestnik Evropy(Herald of Europe) enthusiastically describing the mediumistic phenomena he had heard and seen at seances of the French medium Camille Brédif in 1874. These phenomena (rapping, sounds, partial materialization of spirits, and so on), Vagner asserted, not only bore witness to the fact that life beyond the grave was a reality but also opened new horizons for science, which, he argued, should begin to study manifestations from the spiritual world.¹

      Vagner’s letter drew...

    • 2 Russian Glubbdubdrib: The Shade of False Dimitry and Russian Historical Imagination in the Age of Realism
      (pp. 43-56)

      At the very peak of the ‘spiritualist season’ of 1875–6, the ultraconservative publicist Prince Vladimir Petrovich Meshchersky (1839–1914), grandson of the historian N.M. Karamzin, published a fresh chapter of his satirical novelTainy sovremennogo Peterburga(Secrets of Today’s St Petersburg) in his own journal,The Citizen. The chapter was titled ‘A Contemporary Historian’ and described a discovery of ‘historical Spiritualism.’ In it, the historian Lyubomirov, who lives on the St Petersburg Side, tells the narrator that he has established contact with the souls of various historical figures and, on the basis of their testimony, can now affirm the...

    • 3 Dead Poets’ Society: Pushkin’s Shade in Russian Cultural Mythology of the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 57-86)

      In this chapter I seek to ‘listen to’ and interpret another famous ghost of the realist period. In doing so, I will turn to a group of texts that it might seem hazardous and difficult to take too seriously. These are the ‘literary works’ received at spiritualist seances in the second half of the nineteenth century and attributed by mediums to the spirits of dead writers. Ridiculed in the humorous press, this mediumistic opus enjoyed considerable popularity among those who were well disposed to spiritualism. Spiritualist poetry may be viewed not just as a literary curiosity, but as a particular...


    • 4 Flickering Hands: The Spiritualist Realism of Nikolai Vagner
      (pp. 89-106)

      Let us take a few steps back. In a letter from Staraia Russa dated 27 June 1875, A.G. Dostoevskaya informed her husband of her acquaintance with Nikolai Petrovich Vagner, the initiator of the debate over Modern Spiritualism that overwhelmed educated Russian society in the spring of that year.¹ Dostoevskaya’s description of Vagner is ironic and vivid: ‘A funny small man with a shrill feminine voice, a huge straw hat and a huge rug in his arms.’ Dostoevskaya encountered him ‘on a park bench reading letters (probably from somebody in the other world), so thoroughly absorbed in his reading that he...

    • 5 The Middle World: The Realist Spiritualism of Saltykov-Shchedrin
      (pp. 107-118)

      An opposite, yet no less paradoxical, attempt to rid the world of ghosts can be found in the works of the radical realist writer and satirist Mikhail Evgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin (1826–89). An ardent materialist, Shchedrin wholeheartedly despised spiritualists and attacked their idealist ‘ravings’ in a number of his works. In the present chapter I discuss the inner logic and consequences of his literary struggle with spiritualism, which he perceived as the most radical expression of Romantic idealism. I argue that, while Vagner’s naive spiritualist realism rendered spiritual phenomena materialistic and scientific (rendering them devoid of any mystery and meaning), Shchedrin’s...

    • 6 The Underworld: Dostoevsky’s Ontological Realism
      (pp. 119-135)

      Vagner and Shchedrin introduced two radical approaches to the supernatural in the realist age: the positivist spiritualist (which ended up with the materialization of the supernatural and the annihilation of mystery) and the materialist (which led, in its turn, to the nightmarish spectralization of reality). In this context, Dostoevsky’s ‘fantastic’ realism,¹ with its emphasis on literary penetration into the deepest realities of the human soul (or realism ‘in a higher sense’ [XXVII:65]), represents an attempt to find a path between the Scylla of meaningless experimental spiritualism (parodied by Dostoevsky in hisDiary) and the Charybdis of self-destructive materialism. Though many...

    • 7 The (Dis)infection: Art and Hypnotism in Leo Tolstoy
      (pp. 136-155)

      In the first half of 1886 (no later than spring), Leo Tolstoy attended a spiritualist seance at the home of one of his Moscow acquaintances, Nikolai Alexandrovich Lvov (XXVII:467–8). According to the memoirs of Tolstoy’s friend N.V. Davydov, who had arranged the visit, the writer had wanted to attend a seance for some time, ‘in order to convince himself of the fabrication of all that goes on at such things.’ Unlike Dostoevsky, who, as we remember, had attended a seance to test himself and the strength of his belief (disbelief), Tolstoy visited the seance to see how educated people...

  9. Epilogue: The Spirit of Literature – Reflections on Leskov’s Artistic Spiritualism
    (pp. 156-164)

    I conclude this book with a discussion of Nikolai Leskov’s brilliant Christmas story ‘The Spirit of Mme Genlis: A Spiritualistic Event,’ which not only unites many of the topics introduced in this study, but also – in its own way – ‘plays out’ its central argument: the ontological kinship and rivalry between realist literature and spiritualism, writers and mediums, as two agencies that claim their knowledge of the objective truth about the soul. This hilarious tale relates a ‘strange incident’ from the life of the author himself, is told in the first person, and consists of sixteen short sections (some...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 165-218)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 219-240)
  12. Index
    (pp. 241-251)