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St Petersburg

St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

Catriona Kelly
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    St Petersburg
    Book Description:

    Fragile, gritty, and vital to an extraordinary degree, St. Petersburg is one of the world's most alluring cities-a place in which the past is at once ubiquitous and inescapably controversial. Yet outsiders are far more familiar with the city's pre-1917 and Second World War history than with its recent past.

    In this beautifully illustrated and highly original book, Catriona Kelly shows how creative engagement with the past has always been fundamental to St. Petersburg's residents. Weaving together oral history, personal observation, literary and artistic texts, journalism, and archival materials, she traces the at times paradoxical feelings of anxiety and pride that were inspired by living in the city, both when it was socialist Leningrad, and now. Ranging from rubbish dumps to promenades, from the city's glamorous center to its grimy outskirts, this ambitious book offers a compelling and always unexpected panorama of an extraordinary and elusive place.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19859-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Plates
    (pp. None)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Introduction: City Panorama
    (pp. 1-22)

    If one mentions the words ‘memory’ and ‘modern Russia’ in the same breath, certain expectations surface. Often, these will relate to the suppression of the past. There are the doctored photographs where a crowd is airbrushed to leave only Stalin.² There is print censorship of the kind that required librarians to efface an article in theGreat Soviet Encyclopediahonouring the former police chief Lavrenty Beria, denounced in 1953 as an ‘enemy of the people’, by pasting over it a conscientiously long article on the ‘Bering Sea’.³ More recently, there are the efforts to encourage patriotic history in the schoolroom,...

  8. 1 Moscow Station and Palace Bridge
    (pp. 23-62)

    In terms of metaphor, Petersburg is a ship-haunted city. The municipal crest, introduced in 1730 and used again from 1991, is decorated with sea and river anchors. A miniature ship – marine life seen through the other end of the telescope – tops the Admiralty building, and anchors decorate its entrances. The building inhabited by many Leningrad writers in the 1920s was known as ‘the crazy ship’.²

    By legend, a salvo from another famous nautical symbol, the cruiserAurora, began the Revolution. The ship became a museum in 1948. Lovingly preserved (indeed, according to a widespread rumour, completely rebuilt to mark the...

  9. 2 Making a Home on the Neva
    (pp. 63-92)

    Among Westerners, the words ‘Petersburg style’ conjure up an existence of supreme refinement, perhaps in some neo-classical palace overlooking the Fontanka. A long line of spacious, elegant rooms connected by double doors, hand-painted wallpaper, etchings with panoramas of eighteenth-century firework displays . . . ‘Petersburg style’ is sometimes evoked like this by post-Soviet Russian glossy magazines as well.² Yet even in the eighteenth century, the city was, by contemporary standards, already a high-density environment. A decree of 1763 ordained the construction of ‘multi-storeyed stone buildings with no gaps between them’,³ so that no precious land was wasted. Palatialenfiladesmade...

  10. 3 ‘The Hermitage and My Own Front Door’: City Spaces
    (pp. 93-128)

    In 1958 a book for Leningraders,The City We Live In, began its armchair excursion round the city with a chapter on ‘Where We Live’. Looking back to the late Tsarist era, it recalled the ‘dreadful conditions’ in which workers had been housed, perching on narrow beds in damp cellar accommodation. The Soviet era, however, had changed everything. In place of wooden houses, shining new quarters were rising. As for the Nevsky Gate, formerly a notoriously deprived spot, this was now ‘one of the most beautiful areas of Leningrad’. At what had once been the city limits, on Shchemilovka, ‘Quarter...

  11. 4 Initiation into the Working Class
    (pp. 129-169)

    In his memoirs, completed and revised in the 1960s though started two decades earlier, Aleksei Gonchukov (born in 1904) recalled his years of service to the pre-eminent industrial enterprise in Leningrad, the Kirov Factory (founded in 1801 as the Putilov Works and renamed Red Putilov Worker after its nationalisation in 1922).² His intricate and sometimes annoying chronicle, supported with household bills reproduced verbatim and photographs of personal documents, records the clash between Gonchukov’s lasting loyalty to the ideals of Soviet Communism and the petty disappointments and frustrations with which his working life presented him.

    Gonchukov, originally from Yaroslavl’, had moved...

  12. 5 Eliseev and Aprashka
    (pp. 170-208)

    The austerity of intellectual Leningraders had a particular impact on attitudes to shopping. During the mid-1960s discussions about the future of Nevsky prospekt, there were even suggestions that shops should be completely removed so the street could be turned into a cultural reserve.² Nina Katerli’s 1977 novellaSennaya ploshchad’drew on the classic traditions of Petersburg prose not just because it emphasised the deceptive character of the city, with its ‘Barsukov triangle’ of inexplicable vanishings centred on Raskol’nikov’s home patch, but because it represented shopping as a plunge into degradation:

    Mar’ya Sidorovna Tyutina got up at eight, as was her...

  13. 6 Theatre Street
    (pp. 209-250)

    Intellectual Leningraders defined themselves not just by repudiating the interests of commerce and politics (customarily identified with Moscow), but by championing their city as a shrine of alternative values. While the ‘Petersburg text’ of literature and painting was crucial to this process, the city’s status as ‘cultural capital’ had other foundations too. When the literary and artistic establishment retreated into provincialism in the 1930s, with the departure of most major figures to Moscow, the performing arts became the main area where Leningrad could still pretend to ‘all-Soviet’ status.² Some local stars were lured away – cases in point being Galina Ulanova,...

  14. 7 From Nord to Saigon
    (pp. 251-278)

    In his essay ‘Vanishing Petersburg’, the writer Valery Popov paid lyrical tribute to the cafés of past days. The milk bar ‘Leningrad’, with its ice-creams and milkshakes; thesosiska(wurst) outlet, ‘where at lunchtime the mirrors on the wall were moist with steam rising from the tastychanakhi, solyanka, kharcho’;² the café Sever ‘with its shaded lamps on each table – so intimate and cosy, with its elegant public, the celebrities of the day: lawyers, artists, artistes. And if you had something to celebrate, whether personal or a group event, then there was the Astoria or the Evropeiskaya.’ In the post-Soviet...

  15. 8 The Twenty-Seventh Kilometre
    (pp. 279-311)

    By no means all Leningraders were keen to range outside their city. The world over the country’s borders was inaccessible for most, and travel within the Soviet Union – to what Leningraders thought of as ‘the provinces’ – lacked appeal.² Many had spent immense efforts to escape a small town or distant city and reach Leningrad.³ In any case, it was sometimes difficult to get leave: Aleksei Gonchukov, despite holding a position as a political activist at the Kirov Factory, was able to take his first holiday only in May 1940, at the age of 35.⁴ Often, travel was the prerogative of...

  16. 9 The Last Journey
    (pp. 312-331)

    Sooner or later, every inhabitant of Piter had to trace a city-wide trajectory over which he or she had no control: to one of the city’s cemeteries. If he or she died at home, traditional Orthodox practice was to call a priest to minister both before and after the final moments, and to lead the procession carrying the body when it was taken from its final dwelling-place (the so-calledvynos, or removal). With or without a priest, the removal was invariably a solemn ritual: it was customary for neighbours to emerge from their homes to pay their last respects, though...

  17. 10 Afterword
    (pp. 332-337)

    After 1956, the integrated and homogeneous narrative of national development propounded in the Stalin years was replaced by a whole variety of different memory practices and ‘memory communities’. In Leningrad, workers and engineers at the Kirov Factory, regulars at the Saigon, the frequenters of wine-bars, the regular public at the BDT and the Philharmonia (to name only a few of the different city circles) all had their own sense of what was ‘essential’ about city life, their own pantheons of local heroes (dead or alive), and their own familiar spots. Individual lives might cross all these different zones and more....

  18. Abbreviations and Conventions
    (pp. 338-340)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 341-427)
  20. Glossary and List of Major Place Names
    (pp. 428-430)
  21. Sources and their Uses
    (pp. 431-434)

    In the Soviet period, official commemorative practices were documented obsessively. Museums and bodies such as GIOP kept records of meetings, produced reports and statistical surveys, and in the case of museums, compiled lists of acquisitions [spiski priobretenii]. According to standard procedures, materials of this kind were also forwarded to the Party and local and central administrations (Lensovet, the Ministry of Culture), and, in due course, sent to the state archives. In total, many thousands of pages deal with ‘monuments’ of various kinds over the different decades of the post-Stalin era.

    At the same time, this material is not easy to...

  22. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 435-452)
  23. Index
    (pp. 453-464)