January 2018

Jonathan Brooks Platt, “Child of the Age or Little Napoleon? Two Russian Responses to The Red and the Black

This essay examines the reception of Stendhal’s The Red and the Black in Pushkin’s “Queen of Spades” (1833) and Lermontov’s unfinished novel, Princess Ligovskaya (1836), particularly with regard to Stendhal's hero, Julien Sorel--the social aspirant, who is at once passionately driven and cunningly disciplined. It focuses on how the reception of Sorel in these two Russian works is contaminated in different ways with a second figure, the romantic archetype of the “child of the age.” If Sorel can be understood as developing in dialectical opposition to the child of the age, Pushkin’s Germann appears to reject and undermine this literary historical development. By contrast, Lermontov’s attempt to incorporate aspects of the little Napoleon into his novel proves a failure, so he retreats to a more traditional portrait of the child of the age in A Hero of Our Time. In conclusion, the article argues that Lermontov’s failure is a more productive moment in the history of the Russian novel than Pushkin’s successful, but utterly destructive reply to Stendhal.

Lynn Ellen Patyk, “On Disappointment in Terrorism, War, and Revolution: Boris Savinkov’s What Didn’t Happen and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace

As a particularly high-risk political strategy, terrorism is fraught with failure and disappointment for its adherents. Few scholars have concerned themselves with the disappointment of terrorists, for the simple reason that their failure is our success. But what do disappointed terrorists do? I approach V. Ropshin’s (Boris Savinkov’s) novel of the failure of the 1905 Revolution, What Didn’t Happen (1912), a tour de force of disappointment. After directing some of the Socialist Revolutionaries’ most sensational terrorist acts in 1904-5, Savinkov took a hiatus from terrorist activity to channel his despondency into literary work. Savinkov made recourse to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a model that provided abundant resources for the expression of disappointment on multiple levels: the formal, the thematic, and the historiosophical. Through a close reading of the novel with reference to the distinction between disappointment and regret, I argue that commentators have misread Savinkov’s novel as an expression of contrition and the repudiation of terrorism as an immoral means to achieve political goals. On the contrary, Savinkov’s use of the Tolstoyan strategies to evoke disappointment enable him to reaffirm the terrorist “honor code” and provide a refurbished moral basis for the violence.

Edward Tyerman, “Sino-Soviet Confessions: Authority, Agency, and Autobiography in Sergei Tret’iakov’s Den Shi-khua

This article investigates Soviet factography’s relationship to its historical context through a reading of Sergei s Den Shi-khua: A Bio-interview. Tret’iakov composed this biographical narrative on the basis of a series of interviews he conducted in 1926-27 with a student at Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow. Critical readers tend to juxtapose Den Shi-khua to the realist novel, the object of Tret’iakov’s explicit polemics in the late 1920s. However, the framing of the text calls to mind another parallel in contemporary life writing: the autobiographical accounts of the self demanded for participation in Soviet institutions, from Party membership to university application. Under the influence of Michel Foucault, recent studies on the formation of Soviet subjectivity have interpreted these autobiographical practices as a “hermeneutics of the self” that sought to read the inner disposition of individuals towards the Revolution. Tret’iakov invokes these hermeneutic practices in his introduction, framing the interview process as a form of confession that compels Den to produce his life story in accordance with authoritative Soviet norms. This confessional hierarchy of power resounds with the political context that brought Tret’iakov and his interlocutor together: the attempts by Soviet Russia to shape and control the revolutionary trajectory of Nationalist China in the 1920s. Ultimately, however, this hierarchical relationship collapses when the book’s conclusion suggests that Den may have concealed the truth about himself. The power of Soviet narrative norms is undermined, but the bio-interview emerges as a mode of truth production that remains contingent and refrains from final judgement.

Efraim Sicher, “Isaak Babel’s ‘Odessa Tales’: Inventing Lost Time and the Search for Cultural Identity”

Babel’s "Odessa Tales" have not been previously analyzed as a cycle of all nine stories (rather than the four included in Soviet collections of the writer’s work). This essay examines the entire cycle in their historical context, disentangling the stories from the Odessa myth, of which they have become an integral part. I argue that the "Odessa Tales" should be seen as contributions to an already existing “Odessa text,” and that Babel manipulates cultural memory to form a postrevolutionary cultural identity. I follow the writer’s development from nostalgia for a vanished past in the early stories to accommodation with Soviet reality in the final stories, showing how the concept of Time changes over the years from 1921 to 1937.

Pavel Uspenskij, “Vladislav Khodasevich in the Emigration: Literature and the Search for Identity”

Vladislav Khodasevich’s literary activity in emigration (1922-39) may be described as a search for a new identity. Khodasevich’s departure abroad induced a powerful self-image crisis and resulted in the trauma of emigration, which silenced him as a poet. In his attempt to move past this creative crisis, he turned to the biographies of Gavrila Derzhavin and Aleksandr Pushkin. In writing the biographical narratives of the two great poets, Khodasevich projected episodes of his own biography onto the two classic writers and identified with them in his attempt to conquer his own creative crisis. Nevertheless, the trauma of emigration turned out to be the stronger element, and neither of his attempts to identify with the two classical authors was successful: having completed Derzhavin’s biography, Khodasevich began to identify instead with the tragi-comic poet Lebiadkin, a character from Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, about whose verses Khodasevich wrote an article. Then, having finished several chapters of Pushkin’s biography, he conceived of a literary mystification, which he completed several years later--“The Life of Vasilii Travnikov.” This mystification reflected Khodasevich’s traumatic identity: Khodasevich attributed his own world view and several episodes from his own life to its main character. This article examines in detail the mechanisms Khodasevich used to search for a new identity in the emigration, a search that in Khodasevich’s case was not crowned with success.

Andreas Schonle, “Political Economy, Civic Virtue, and the Subjective World of the Elite, 1780-1825”

It is well know that political economy became a fashionable discipline at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Russia, both in academic and government circles. Yet little has been written about the broader impact of political economy on the nobility, especially the upper nobility, which after all assumed important economic functions through the management of its vast estates. To explore this impact and shed light in particular on its subjective, identity-forming dimensions, this article proposes a close analysis of three case studies, two members of the elite, Princess Natal’ia Petrovna Golitsyna and Prince Ivan Ivanovich Bariatinskii, and a member of the middling nobility, Aleksandr Mikhailovich Bakunin. The choice of these figures was dictated by the availability of archival records illustrating their subjective world. The study documents not only the engagement of these three protagonists with political economy, but also the internal contradictions that emerged as a result of it. While none of them lived up to the promise of progressive reform inherent in their interest in political economy, they experienced both objective and subjective tensions as exposure to political economy exacerbated contradictions between social norms, the pursuit of economic rationality, psychological aspirations for autonomy, and moral concern for serfs. None managed to reconcile their patriarchal identity as serf owners with the emerging notion that only self-interest and the security of property can truly incentivize industriousness and productivity, yet political economy encouraged unconventional behavior and unsettled their subjective identity, putting into motion a process that eventually led to a fundamental questioning of the moral aspects of property (and serf) ownership.