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Petersburg Fin de Siècle

Petersburg Fin de Siècle: The Darkening Landscape of Modern Times, 1905-1917

Mark D. Steinberg
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm7nw
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  • Book Info
    Petersburg Fin de Siècle
    Book Description:

    The final decade of the old order in imperial Russia was a time of both crisis and possibility, an uncertain time that inspired an often desperate search for meaning. This book explores how journalists and other writers in St. Petersburg described and interpreted the troubled years between the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

    Mark Steinberg, distinguished historian of Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, examines the work of writers of all kinds, from anonymous journalists to well-known public intellectuals, from secular liberals to religious conservatives. Though diverse in their perspectives, these urban writers were remarkably consistent in the worries they expressed. They grappled with the impact of technological and material progress on the one hand, and with an ever-deepening anxiety and pessimism on the other. Steinberg reveals a new, darker perspective on the history of St. Petersburg on the eve of revolution and presents a fresh view of Russia's experience of modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16570-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Troubled Times
    (pp. 1-9)

    Imperial Russia’s final decade was an era of possibility and crisis, marked by an often desperate search for the meaning of the present and a sense of the future. In retrospect, we know that this era was a threshold: the unsettled wake of the 1905 revolution and the eve of a still greater revolutionary upheaval in the midst of a devastating war. This destination could not be known, of course. But a recognition that these were fateful years was widely evident in public discussion of “these times.” A vocabulary of sickness and crisis was used to define public life, especially...

  5. ONE City
    (pp. 10-46)

    St. Petersburg was never only a physical city. From the moment it was founded at the start of the eighteenth century as a new capital for a newly westernizing and expanding empire, this city was always also a “cultural phenomenon,” a “metaphysical” space, a “myth,” a “text.”¹ The extent and intensity of interpretive preoccupation with the meanings of St. Petersburg was enormous. While this textual history is an essential context for this book, this chapter begins with the physical history of the city. The material and imagined histories of the city were entwined. Even the most abstract and metaphoric representations...

  6. TWO Streets
    (pp. 47-83)

    The street may be the most characteristically urban space: an emphatically “public” place where “the stranger” and “the crowd” dwell. As such, the street is laden with significance. Theorists—architectural and urban historians, philosophers, poets, novelists, and painters—have interpreted the street as marked by crucial forms of public interaction: especially power, but also progress and disorder, pleasure and degeneration. The architectural historian Spiro Kostof defined streets as the most characteristic products of the “urban process,” spaces where technical possibility, deliberate design, the workings of power, social relationships, and individuals come together (and clash) to give cities their distinctive form...

  7. THREE Masks
    (pp. 84-118)

    Masks haunted St. Petersburg in the early twentieth century. Many were literal and visible: masks covering the faces of criminals, the black mask hiding the head and face of the mysterious wrestler at the Cinizelli Circus who captivated the public in 1909, alluring black masks and veils obscuring the faces of women at society masquerade balls, masks on stage, and an obsession with masks in a great deal of the symbolist literature of the day. More troubling, though, urban space was said to swarm with metaphoric masks: impersonation, imposture, illusion, and falsification. It seemed at times that “masks” veiled the...

  8. FOUR Death
    (pp. 119-156)

    Death in St. Petersburg was a critical social question that helped to constitute the experience of public life in the city. Newspapers were filled with daily stories of death by disease, accident, violence, or by one’s own hand. As Skitalets, the columnist forGazeta-kopeika, commented in 1913: “Newspapers are printed on white paper, but, really, in our times their pages seem covered with blood.”¹ “Abnormal” death seemed a normal part of everyday city life. Of course, the inevitability of death has produced, in many times and places, a cultural awareness, often a cultural anguish, that this world is a veil...

  9. FIVE Decadence
    (pp. 157-197)

    Excess, sickness, and decline were among the key images contemporaries used to describe the moral and spiritual condition of public life in Russia. Whether speaking of the disordered life of “the street” or of “epidemics” of violence and death, the press continually pointed to signs that the present age was characterized by illness and decay. Most alarming of all, it seemed that the modern myth of time as “progress”—the promise of continual change for the better—was itself falling into ruin. Indeed, “falling” and “ruin” were common terms in what was often a melodramatic account of modern sickness: melodramatic...

  10. SIX Happiness
    (pp. 198-233)

    Incessant talk about the maladies of the age was aimed partly at conjuring a cure, at finding salvation. Public writing was meant not just to hold a mirror to society but to be a critical activity, to invoke the power of words to produce change. Words appealed to practical reason (with knowledge and effort, they implied, this can all be fixed) but also acted as an incantation against the darkness spreading in society and in people’s moods (a hopeful or at least comforting appeal not to let the dark stories and feelings overwhelm). When the tabloidGazeta-kopeikafirst appeared in...

  11. SEVEN Melancholy
    (pp. 234-267)

    Anxious talk of emotion filled the urban public sphere in Russia during these years of disorder, drift, and uncertainty. Questions about mood, feeling, and affect—particularly what was called the “public mood” or “social mood” (obshchestvennoe nastroenie)—became literally the talk of the town, concerning not only particular problems like street life or death or debauchery, but the very nature of modern times. This emotion talk was intensely social: shared, circulated, and analyzed in the periodical press and other public spaces and interpreted as having social location, causes, and effects. And talk about public emotions was itself emotional: not simply...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 268-272)

    Metaphors helped contemporaries make sense of the disturbing experience of urban life in Russia in the early 1900s and help us think about what they saw, believed, and felt. Sickness was the most ubiquitous image. Notions of epidemic and debilitating illness, both physical and psychological, were applied promiscuously to street life, crime, violence, and morality. These images blended with metaphors of less scientific origin: masquerade, disenchantment, the abyss, death, hell. All of these representations were driven by real, material conditions, but also used material images to speak of philosophical things. With remarkable consistency across genres, ideologies, and audiences, urban writers...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 273-368)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 369-380)
  15. Index
    (pp. 381-399)