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Pushkin's Historical Imagination

Pushkin's Historical Imagination

Svetlana Evdokimova
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Pushkin's Historical Imagination
    Book Description:

    This book explores the historical insights of Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), Russia's most celebrated poet and arguably its greatest thinker. Svetlana Evdokimova examines for the first time the full range of Pushkin's fictional and nonfictional writings on the subject of history-writings that have strongly influenced Russians' views of themselves and their past. Through new readings of his drama,Boris Godunov; such narrative poems asPoltava, The Bronze Horseman,andCount Nulin; prose fiction, includingThe Captain's DaughterandBlackamoor of Peter the Great; lyrical poems; and a variety of nonfictional texts, the author presents Pushkin not only as a progenitor of Russian national mythology but also as an original historical and political thinker.Evdokimova considers Pushkin within the context of Romantic historiography and addresses the tension between Pushkin the historian and Pushkin the fiction writer . She also discusses Pushkin's ideas on the complex relations between chance and necessity in historical processes, on the particular significance of great individuals in Russian history, and on historical truth.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14414-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. preface
    (pp. ix-xv)
  4. acknowledgments
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  5. introduction History, Fiction, and the Complementarity of Narrative Representations
    (pp. 1-28)

    The analysis of the relationship between history and fiction—a problem that has stimulated European thought since the time of Aristotle, was developed by Vico, and then elaborated in structural and post-structural theory—has special relevance in the Russian context in general and for the study of Pushkin in particular. The beginning of the nineteenth century was a turning point in the development of both Russian literary and historical imagination. This was the time of artistic experimentation, when old genres were rethought and new ones proliferated. The Romanticist interest in history generated an intense growth in historical fiction and history...

  6. part I history and national identity

    • one The Impediments of Russian History
      (pp. 31-48)

      Ivan Kireevskii, a contemporary of Alexander Pushkin and one of Russia’s most brilliant literary critics, wrote in 1830: “History in our time is at the center of all intellectual quests and is the most important of all sciences; it is the indispensable condition for all development; historicism embraceseverything” (44). Indeed, the whole pleiad of Russian intellectuals in the first half of the nineteenth century exhibited a near obsession with history. They delved not only into the history of Russia but also into the nature of historyper se.Yet they were not engaged in a purely scholarly endeavor; their...

    • two Chance and Historical Necessity
      (pp. 49-84)

      In different social structures chance plays different roles. If a society has a pyramidal structure, much is determined by what occurs at the top. The balance and stability of the pyramid completely depend on the stability of its summit. According to scientific observations, in a pyramid made of sand, one piece of sand may change the entire configuration with unpredictable results. The structure of democracies, by contrast, is not pyramidal, but corresponds to flat and even surfaces. But if we consider flat surfaces, we will see that the role of the accidental configurations of tiny grains of sand is almost...

  7. part II history and narrative

    • three The Historian as Contextualist: Pushkin’s Polemic with Radishchev
      (pp. 87-106)

      In his attempt to apply different criteria to analysis of Russian historical reality and to stress that “Russia never had anything in common with the rest of Europe,” as expressed in his essay on Polevoi (discussed in chapter 2), Pushkin developed a mode of argument that could be conveniently called “contextualist,” to borrow Hayden White’s terminology for the possible paradigms of historical explanation.¹

      Contextualism asserts, according to White, the idea that “events can be explained by being set within the ‘context’ of their occurrence. Why they occurred as they did is to be explained by the revelation of the specific...

    • four History in the Service and Disservice of Life: “The Hero”
      (pp. 107-136)

      As brief as it may be, Pushkin’s lyric poem “The Hero” (“Geroi”), written in 1830, constitutes one of his poetical manifestos.¹ This short poem encapsulates Pushkin’s response to the cultural and historical polemics of his day. Moreover, it is both a metapoetical and metahistorical poem, constituting one of Pushkin’s most controversial statements on the relationship between art and history, the nature of truth, and the status of historical fact. The poem needs to be quoted in full....

  8. part III petra scandali:: pushkin confronts peter the great

    • five Forging Russian History: The Blackamoor of Peter the Great
      (pp. 139-172)

      Pushkin’s fascination with the figure of Peter the Great and his epoch coincides with the increase of his interest in the historical fate of Russia and the nature of the historical process per se. According to Vladimir Dal’, Pushkin was so preoccupied with the image of Peter the Great that he sought to portray him both in fictional and non-fictional genres and considered this one of the main tasks of his life. Dal’ describes his conversation with Pushkin in 1832:

      Pushkin then truly got fired up while speaking about Peter the Great and said that in addition to the history...

    • six Poltava: The Myth of Holy War
      (pp. 173-208)

      Like most of his historical fictions,Poltava(1828), Pushkin’s longest dramatic poem, not only represents Pushkin’s interpretation of the specific historical event but also is a statement on the nature of historical process. Written in a few days, this majestic tour de force of three cantos stands between the two other major Petrine narratives—The Blackamoor of Peter the GreatandThe Bronze Horseman—as a glaring and assertive hymn to Russian nationalism. Indeed, some critics interpret the poem as an unambiguous and almost blatant defense of Russian imperial power and as a categorical condemnation of any revolt that could...

    • seven History as Myth: The Bronze Horseman
      (pp. 209-231)

      The subtitle of Pushkin’s poemThe Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale (Mednyi vsadnik: Peterburgskaia povest’,1833) is explicitly ambiguous: a tale, a genre that is primarily prosaic, turns out to be a poem. The tension between poetry and prose is further increased because the poem itself is enclosed in the prosaic frame of the Introduction and the Notes. The Introduction and the Notes are intended to create the illusion of trustworthiness and documentary precision—a common device of the Romantic historical fiction used for the most part in prose genres. The ambiguity of the subtitle, however, is not limited to...

  9. afterword
    (pp. 232-240)

    In his eleventh essay on Pushkin, Vissarion Belinsky enthusiastically claimed thatThe Bronze Horsemantogether withPoltavaand such poems as “Stanzas” (1826) and “The Feast of Peter the Great” form “the greatest Petriad” that a national genius could create (Belinsky VI, 464). Indeed, it is tempting to consider Pushkin’s Peter the Great narratives as a cycle. What prompted Pushkin to start with a historical novel, to abandon prose for poetry inPoltavaandThe Bronze Horseman,only to return to prose again, this time in the form of a purely historical project,History of Peter I?In short, how...

  10. notes
    (pp. 241-264)
  11. selected bibliography
    (pp. 265-277)
  12. index
    (pp. 278-300)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-301)