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K.F. Ryleev

K.F. Ryleev: A Political Biography of the Decembrist Poet

PATRICK O’MEARA
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvnf3
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  • Book Info
    K.F. Ryleev
    Book Description:

    This book focuses particular attention on the six-month interrogation of the doomed poet, and it provides a critical evaluation of Soviet interpretations and an assessment of Ryleev's historical significance.

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5632-9
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    P. J. O’MEARA
  4. Note on Translation and Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    Kondraty Fedorovich Ryleev was an outstanding figure both in the Decembrist movement from 1823 and in the uprising in Petersburg of 1825; he was also a poet with no small claim to originality, who was generally active in Petersburg’s literary circles from 1821 to 1825. Hitherto, these two major sides to Ryleev’s life have most typically been studied in isolation from each other. Generally, such monographic approaches have more or less exclusively concerned themselves with aspects of Ryleev’s literary activity and, certainly, there is much to be said for an approach to his life and work which treats of only...

  7. 1 The Decembrist Challenge
    (pp. 11-24)

    December the fourteenth, 1825, was the date set by the Russian government for the oath of allegiance to Tsar Nicholas I, to be sworn by the Senate and Guards regiments in Petersburg, thus ending over two weeks of uncertainty as to the identity of Alexander I’s successor. In the event, it was a day marked also by violence and disorder on a scale Petersburg had never before witnessed. At first sight the armed uprising of several Guards regiments on Senate Square appeared to be a new variation on the eighteenth-century theme of palace coup d’état, but as the six-month investigation...

  8. 2 Ryleev: The Formative Years
    (pp. 25-74)

    The relative wealth of material covering Ryleev’s last years of literary and political activity is countered by a lack of available and reliable sources relating to his early biography. Little is known with any certainty of his childhood and youth; even such fundamental dates as those of his birth and marriage were long subject to dispute and intelligent guesswork.

    He kept no diary that has come to light, but he has figured in several memoirs, as mentioned above.¹ In addition we are reliant on those of Ryleev’s letters which have come down to us—and there are all too few...

  9. 3 Political Perspectives of the Decembrist
    (pp. 75-116)

    Ryleev was recruited to the Decembrists’ Northern Society by I. I. Pushchin, as both men testified in their depositions to the Investigating Commission.¹ Like Ryleev, Pushchin resigned his commission (in January 1823) and at first worked alongside him in the Petersburg courts, having “exchanged the uniform of the Horse Artillery for modest civil service.” Obolensky recalled that Pushchin, again like Ryleev, hoped to be of genuine usefulness in his new career and to encourage other members of the nobility to discard their “illustrious epaulettes” in favor of a lower status but real responsibility. Ryleev and Pushchin became close friends, and...

  10. 4 In the Northern Society
    (pp. 117-154)

    As established in the previous chapter, Ryleev joined the Northern Society in the first few months of 1823. In order to gauge the effect of his membership on the Society’s subsequent development it is necessary to have some impression of its state hitherto.

    The Northern Society had been formed as a result of the decision of the Moscow Congress in 1821, which pronounced the Union of Welfare defunct. This move was largely tactical, being designed to rid the secret society of passive and unreliable elements, but it was also a recognition of increasingly divergent viewpoints within the Union of Welfare...

  11. 5 Poet of the Decembrists’ Cause
    (pp. 155-199)

    Before we examine the dénouement of Ryleev’s political career on Senate Square and subsequently at the hands of the Investigating Commission in the Peter-Paul Fortress, some consideration must be given to aspects of his literary activity which may be said to have reflected his social and political aspirations. Thus the political commitment in Ryleev’s poetry, its social tendencies, and its didactic emphasis on “civic” themes will here be discussed, since, as others have rightly observed, Ryleev’s poetry is inextricably bound up with his activity as a revolutionary and, to cite the highly colored phrase of one Soviet commentator, “as a...

  12. 6 Propagandist of the Northern Society
    (pp. 200-222)

    In addition to the political inferences underlying a considerable portion of Ryleev’s work, more overt commitment is evidenced by a number of highly illicit poems, loosely based on contemporary songs and designed to fit their tunes, written by Ryleev and Alexander Bestuzhev.

    The extent to which the Decembrists actually planned to conduct mass propaganda is one of the thorniest questions in the historiography of the Decembrist movement. Predictably, conservative pre-Revolutionary historians tended to minimize it. The normally benign Sirotinin, for instance, dismissed Ryleev’s “agitatory” verse in the most mordant terms: “Today it is comic yet sad to read these songs...

  13. 7 The Uprising of 14 December 1825
    (pp. 223-243)

    In March 1824 it had been agreed that the union of the Northern and Southern societies would be postponed for two years and that thereafter the death of the tsar would be the signal for action. The possibility of Alexander I’s upsetting these plans by a premature demise seems to have occurred to no one. Alexander was an apparently healthy 47-year-old at the time these plans were made and there was no reason to suppose that he would die before the conspirators had had time to organize themselves.

    However, on 27 November 1825, St. Petersburg heard the news that the...

  14. 8 Before the Investigating Commission
    (pp. 244-288)

    Alekseevsky ravelin, where Ryleev was to spend the last seven months of his life, was the most secure and secret inner sanctum of the formidable Peter-Paul Fortress. It was described by D. I. Zavalishin as “a fortress within a fortress.” Everything possible was done to ensure that those incarcerated within its walls felt completely cut off from the world outside. By way of increasing their sense of isolation and disorientation, prisoners were allowed to get up when they liked and so lost all sense of time.² Ryleev’s small cell typically contained only a bed, a table, and a chair; daylight...

  15. 9 Verdict and Sentence
    (pp. 289-311)

    Early in June, a specially appointed Supreme Criminal Court under the chairmanship of Prince P. V. Lopukhin started to meet to consider the evidence which had been so painstakingly collected by the Investigating Commission. One of its members, Senator P. G. Divov, recorded in a diary entry of 3 June the first meeting of the court, which, he wrote, consisted of sixty-six members drawn from the government (the State Council and the entire Senate), the church (two metropolitans and one archbishop), and the army. The court heard the names and ranks of all the conspirators, and the testimony of Trubetskoi,...

  16. 10 The Political and Literary Legacy
    (pp. 312-332)

    Yazykov’s tribute to Ryleev and the continued surveillance by Nicholas I’s secret police (the Third Department) of his literary legacy attest to the fact that the Decembrist poet’s execution did not mean, as the tsar had confidently hoped, that “the matter was over.” The shadow cast over subsequent Russian history by the Decembrists’ gibbets was a lengthy one: the tsarist secret police file on Ryleev was not closed until the demise of the tsarist establishment itself. In spite of their efforts, the authorities were powerless to prevent Ryleev, through his quintessentially romantic self-sacrifice and its attendant nationalist and patriotic overtones,...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 333-356)
  18. Index
    (pp. 357-366)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 367-367)