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Reading in Russia

 | 
Damiano Rebecchini
, 
Raffaella Vassena

How not to read: Belinsky on Literary Provincialism

Anne Lounsbery

Résumé

This essay analyzes how Vissarion Belinsky, along with other 19th-century Russian critics and writers, viewed what was taken to be the problem of “provinciality” (provintsial’nost’) in their literary tradition, and how Belinsky proposed to solve this problem by cultivating a certain kind of discernment. Belinsky believed that Rus­sian readers and writers urgently needed to overcome provinciality in order to ascend to “universality” (which was essentially equated with Europeanness). The way to do this, he argued, was through the careful and systematic practice of aesthetic comparison, a path that offered Russian literature its only hope of escaping the incoherence and distortion resulting from its own provincial origins.

Texte intégral

  • 1 The full title of the article is “Nichto o nichem, ili otchet g. izdateliu Teleskopa za poslednee p (...)
  • 2 Ibid.: 17-22.

1In a lengthy essay called “Nichto o nichem” (a title roughly translatable as “Nothing about Nothing,” first published in Teleskop in 1835), Vissarion Belinsky sets himself the task of surveying the current state of Russian literature.1 In this article as in some of Belinsky’s other writings, a certain puzzling descriptor recurs over and over: provintsial’nyi, “provincial.” In fact one passage describing the new journal Biblioteka dlia chteniia (Library for Reading) invokes this word and its cognates sixteen times over the course of a few pages, and over the course of the rest of the article, the same terms are repeated fifty-six more times.2 It is obvious from context that these words are not serving merely or consistently as geographic designations; the idea of provintsiia here points to something other than a place. What is not obvious, however, is exactly what provintsial’nyi is supposed to mean, or why the category figures so prominently in an article devoted to the longed-for development of literature and literary institutions in Russia.

  • 3 Gogol’1937-1952, 8: 165.

2Much of “Nichto o nichem” is about Biblioteka dlia chteniia, which had begun publication the previous year under the direction of Orientalist and literary entrepreneur Osip Senkovsky. This focus is not surprising, given that Biblioteka was seen by Russia’s literati as “an elephant among the petty quadrupeds,” to cite Gogol’s memorable line.3 Biblioteka’s success (for example, it subscription rate of over 5,000) and the various reasons for this success have been well analyzed and debated in scholarship, and the current paper will not revisit those issues. Instead I want to consider what Belinsky and others meant when they used the word provintsial’nyi as a term of abuse – as a way to write off, as it were, certain forms of cultural production, or certain readers or ways of reading.

3“Nichto o nichem” argues that Biblioteka dlia chteniia is best understood as a symptom of Russia’s acute provincialism. In fact, the label provintsial’nyi is repeatedly offered up – in italics! – as though it possessed explanatory power:

  • 4 “Прошу вас не забывать, что основная мысль моя о Библиотеке состоит в том, что этот журнал провинци (...)

I ask you not forget that my basic idea concerning Library for Reading is that this journal is provincial, that it is published for the provinces, and that it is strong thanks only to the provinces. Thus I will proceed to a more detailed explanation of the signs of [the Library’s] privileged provincialism.4

4In another passage claiming to have figured out why Biblioteka (repugnant as it is to literary elites) is proving so successful with readers, Belinsky’s long lead-up would seem to be preparing us for a major revelation – but again, the only explanation turns out to be that the journal is “provincial”:

  • 5 “Мне кажется, что я нашел причину этого успеха, столь противоречащего здравому смыслу и так прочног (...)

It seems to me that I have identified the reason for this success, [this success that is] so contrary to common sense and so unwavering, this strength that carries within itself the seed of death and is so constant, so unweakening. I will not pass my discovery off as something new, because it may be shared by many; I will not pass my discovery off as a weapon meant to prove lethal to the journal I am reviewing, because truth is not a strong enough weapon where there is not yet literary public opinion. The Library is a provincial journal: this is the reason for its success.5

  • 6 “Тайна постоянного успеха Библиотеки заключается в том, что этот журнал есть по преимуществу журнал (...)
  • 7 “Библиотека есть журнал провинциальный, и в этом заключается тайна ее могущества, ее силы, ее креди (...)

5A few pages later he makes the same point with the same vocabulary, and the same italics: “The secret of the Library’s constant success lies in the fact that this journal is chiefly a provincial journal.”6 And again, at the end of the article, by way of conclusion: “The Library is a provincial journal, and in this lies the secret of its power, its strength, its credit with the public.”7

  • 8 Pushkin 1937-1959, 7: 96; Viazemsky P. A., review of Revizor, Sovremennik, 1836, n. 2: 296.
  • 9 Teleskop 1834, n. 21: 330. This writer is adapting a quotable line from Griboedov’s Woe from Wit, i (...)
  • 10 Gogol’1937-1952, 8: 164.

6These are just a few of the many (approximately fifty-six!) examples I could adduce of how “Nichto o nichem” makes use of the label provintsial’nyi. But Belinsky is not the only writer of this period who deploys the word more or less in this way. Pushkin, as editor of Sovremennik, wrote and published an obtuse “letter to the editor” in the voice of a reader from Tver’, claiming to express the opinions of “humble provincials”; and Pyotr Vyazemsky in 1836 complained of provincial parvenus who were lowering standards of taste.8 An anonymous author in an 1834 issue of Teleskop notes that “in Russia [nowadays], a writer achieves glory in the hinterlands (v glushi), on the steppe, in Saratov.”9 And Gogol, in his 1835 article “O dvizhenii zhurnal’noi literatury v 1834 i 1835 godu” (“On the Development of Periodical Literature in 1834 and 1835”), explicitly relates provinciality to the rise of a new readership by insisting on the “provincial” nature of nearly all Russian journals: he writes that poor and elderly readers “in the provinces” need a little something to read, just as they need to shave twice a week.10

7Comments like these draw an explicit connection between ideas about “provinciality” and the literary elite’s uncomfortable awareness of Russia’s changing readership: to be provincial was to be a bad reader – in some undefined way – wherever you happened to live.

8However, I would argue that Belinsky took a different view of the “provinciality problem” than did someone like Vyazemsky. For Vyazemsky, a bad reader was simply the kind of reader who threatened the taste hegemony that was still exercised (if tenuously) by his own class through the first third of the nineteenth century. But Belinsky, like Gogol, was interested in training readers, and his works devote a great deal of thought to how one might go from being provincial to being not provincial – which is precisely why he was so worried about Biblioteka dlia chteniia.

  • 11 Fanger 1979: 73.
  • 12 “Какое разнобразие, пестрая, разнобразная смесь.” (Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 20, 22).
  • 13 Ibid.: 49.

9For better or worse, Biblioteka practiced what literary elites tended to see as a thoroughly unprincipled eclecticism, a willingness to serve as what Nikolai Nadezhdin called “a storage room for all the wares produced by writers.”11 In his assessment of Biblioteka, Belinsky emphasizes precisely this motleyness and inconsistency, the journal’s propensity for “speaking in several different languages at the same time”: “what a variety,” he writes, “a motley, varied blend.”12 Belinsky is equally dismayed when he finds such incoherence in other publications: he accuses Moskovskii nabliudatel’, too, of having “no fundamental basis, no center,” of “lacking all unity, order, [and] character.”13 For him these incongruities exemplify what it means to be provincial: to be provincial is to be incapable of making proper distinctions.

  • 14 Frazier 2007: 132.
  • 15 Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 20.

10Melissa Frazier’s book on Biblioteka dlia chteniia draws a parallel between the journal’s “motley […] blend” and German Romantic theorists’conscious embrace of heterogeneity and fragmentariness. But for Belinsky, such indiscriminate combinations were clear signs of aesthetic failure resulting from lack of judgment: as Frazier acknowledges, for him, “this eclecticism pointed straight to the provinces.”14 In fact one passage in “Nichto o nichem” refers explicitly to the geographic provinces, picturing the delight of a “a steppe landowner’s” household when a new issue of Biblioteka arrives: the journal’s strange mixture of texts ensures that there will be something to please everyone, and in any case, the steppe offers so little else to read that the pages will be consumed cover to cover. “Isn’t true that such a journal is a treasure for the provinces?” he asks.15

  • 16 Fanger 1979: 43, emphasis mine (A. L.).
  • 17 Frazier 2007: 71. And furthermore, as Frazier points out, Senkovsky claims to “base his critical au (...)

11Behind the unevenness of Biblioteka’s contents was what Belinsky deemed its editors’ rejection of the correct principles of literary criticism, and particularly Senkovsky’s explicit abdication of the right kind of judgment. The way Belinsky saw it, Biblioteka dlia chtenia was promulgating a definition of criticism that threatened to remove it altogether from the realm of shared standards. Senkovsky wrote, for example, “My idea of impartial criticism is when, with a clear conscience, I tell those who wish to hear me what personal impression a given book has made upon me […] Consequently, there can be no room for argument after one has read a critique.”16 Frazier points out the relationship between Senkovsky’s unsavory version of “personal criticism” and the much more reputable Romantic idea of criticism as a primary form of literary creativity. But from the point of view of critics like Belinsky and Stepan Shevyrev, Senkovskian “personal criticism” threatened to obviate the utility of criticism altogether.17

12For all “theories, systems, laws, and conditions” of aesthetic judgment, Belinsky writes, Biblioteka substitutes “personal impressions”:

  • 18 “Да и в самом деле, что бы он стал писать, он, для которого не существует никаких теорий, никаких с (...)

And in any case, what could he possibly write, he for whom there exist no theories, no systems, no laws or conditions of the fine arts? We will be told […] that there are still personal impressions, and that the critic can record these [impressions]. That is so, but the personal impressions made on an educated person by some work or another must nonetheless be in agreement with some theory or another, with some system or at least with some law of the fine arts, because even leaving aside theories and systems, there are now many well-known laws that have been established on the basis of the creative work’s very essence.18

  • 19 Bourdieu 1984: 1.

13Belinsky was convinced that publishing “personal impressions” was just a self-serving abdication on the part of Biblioteka’s editors, one that would be disastrous given the burgeoning numbers of unsophisticated readers in Russia. Because of his bleak assessment of his countrymen’s level of literary culture, Belinsky’s primary goal was to develop these readers’ capacity for discernment, their ability to distinguish good from bad, or bad from worse. And it is worth pointing out that to assume such an ability is acquirable is to make a whole list of other assumptions as well: as Pierre Bourdieu puts it in his charmless but precise way, “the ideology of charisma regards taste in legitimate culture as a gift of nature, [but] scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education.”19

  • 20 Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 21.

14Furthermore, Belinsky recognizes that the ability to judge is a longedfor marker of cultivation. In fact he sounds like he is practically channeling Bourdieu when he writes, “inhabitants of both the provinces and the capitals don’t just want to read, but also to judge what they’ve read; they want to distinguish themselves by way of their good taste, to shine with sophistication, to astonish others with their opinions [or judgments, suzhdeniiami].”20 (And as I will discuss below, for Belinsky this desire to demonstrate one’s ability to judge, along with the fear of getting it wrong, explains “provincial” readers’ eagerness to defer to authority, an eagerness that leaves them dangerously vulnerable to critical manipulation.)

15“Inhabitants of both the provinces and the capitals”: as this phrase suggests, here as elsewhere, Belinsky is not using “the provinces” merely or precisely as a geographic designation. For Belinsky what is most provincial about Biblioteka dlia chteniia is not the geographic location of its readership, but rather the journal’s failure to adopt consistent standards, standards that could at least in theory be defined, and thus shared and taught. To be provincial is to lack defensible standards. Interestingly, in “Nichto o nichem” and in his other writings, Belinsky does not lean heavily on the idea of “taste” (vkus), and when he does use this word, he tends not to be using it as “his own word” but rather to represent someone else’s thinking, or, sometimes, to mean something closer to “opinion.” It is likely that we would find a heavier emphasis on taste – given the word’s tendency to suggest a nonacquirable, probably “inborn,” and essentially aristocratic “je ne sais quoi” – in the thought of a writer like Vyazemsky, who adhered much more closely to the norms of elite salon culture than did an upstart proto-intelligent like Belinsky. Belinsky’s focus is on a set of acquirable tools and skills. Thus he insists over and over on the need to develop and disseminate aesthetic norms that will facilitate sound judgment – which is precisely what Biblioteka refuses to do.

  • 21 “Ибо достоинство вещей всего вернее познается и определяется сравнением. Да – сравнение есть самая (...)
  • 22 Ibid.

16And how does one develop the sort of standards that Belinsky wants to see established? By comparing. Thus in “Nichto o nichem” instead of talking about taste, Belinsky talks a great deal about assessment, and especially about comparison. Over and over he asks questions like, Was this latest issue of Moskovskii nabliudatel’better than the last issue, or was it worse? Is this play by Ushakov a little worse than this play by Zagoskin, or is it a little better? In a book review published the same year as “Nichto o nichem,” Belinsky makes this assumption explicit, declaring that aesthetic worth is judgeable chiefly by way of comparison: “For the worthiness of things is revealed and defined most accurately by way of comparison. Yes – comparison is the best system and the best mode of criticism of the fine arts.”21 Thus Belinsky calls for the wide dissemination of numerous examples of good literature, because more opportunities for comparison will lead to better judgment. As he puts it, “anyone who has read and understood even one novel by Walter Scott or Cooper will be in a position to truly assess the value” of mediocre efforts like Bulgarin’s Dmitry Samozvanets.22 (And here I think we catch of glimpse of what would later develop into the intelligentsia’s truly fantastic faith in the supposedly universal appeal of high culture, their conviction that the prostoi narod, once exposed to literary works of high quality, would certainly leave behind their various trashy entertainments).

  • 23 Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 32.
  • 24 Ibid.: 20.

17When Belinsky talks about the kind of discernment that can be acquired only by comparing, he also points out, more than once, that this experience is generally not available in the provinces. But again, “in the provinces” is not exactly a place, at least not always. Context often suggests that the formula refers not simply to the provinces of geography, but also to the provinces of meaning. For example, he notes that the “foreign literature” section of Biblioteka is as “entirely saturated with provincialism” as is the rest of the journal, notwithstanding the French provenance of the texts. The entire journal, even the foreign bits, is characterized by “provincial wit, provincial amusement.”23 Similarly, when Belinsky calls for the translation of more and better contemporary European literature for readers who do not know foreign languages, he explicitly includes readers in the capitals, thereby confirming that not all provincials live in the provinces. Twice he repeats the phrase “there are so many readers of this sort even in the capitals” (“как много и в столицах таких людей”) when referring to those who are loathe to exercise any sort of independent literary judgment for fear of exposing their own ignorance.24

  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 Ibid.: 21.
  • 27 Ibid.: 20.

18These readers, Belinsky says, would be “reduced to a state of extreme distress and confusion if you were to read them a poem and demand their opinion of it without telling them the author’s name.”25 They rely on a version of Foucault’s author function, trusting that “the names printed at the bottom of the poems and articles in Biblioteka will free them from any danger,” eliminating the possibility that their own “ignorance in matters of art” might be exposed.26 For provincial readers an author’s name serves to “vouch for [a work’s] worthiness, and in the provinces such a warrantee is more than sufficient.”27

  • 28 Ibid.: 19.
  • 29 “Провинция и подозревать не может, чтоб знаменитый г. Ушаков теперь был уволен из знаменитых вчисту (...)

19Thus provincial opinion is marked by its “respect for the authorities,” Belinsky says, a habitual and unquestioning deference that leaves it dogmatic and rigid, incapable of adapting to aesthetic change and slow to accept innovation.28 Referring to a series of markedly outdated or otherwise superceded literary texts, Belinsky writes, “the provinces cannot even imagine that the celebrated Mr. Ushakov has now been pensioned off from the ranks of the celebrated. Who would doubt the worthiness of the stories of Mssrs. Panaev, Kalashnikov, Masal’skii? Yes, in this sense the Library is a provincial journal!”29 (In fact statements like this suggest that for Belinsky, one way we can know that a standard is good – that it is legitimately authoritative – is that it can change, that it can evolve of its own accord in response to changing circumstances).

  • 30 Dostoevskii 1972-1990, 10: 28.

20He also notes that provincials’deference to authority makes them easy targets for manipulation – which explains why he sees such danger in journalism’s abdication of critical responsibility. In a sense Belinsky’s provincial readers are like the bumbling but dangerous revolutionaries in Dostoevsky’s Besy, isolated in their far-off gorod N. These provincials are vulnerable to manipulation precisely because they are always seeking validation from some distant authority; they are ever ready to change their minds “at the first hint from our progressive corners in the capital.”30 In the same way that Dostoevsky’s provincial terrorists cannot act unless they believe their actions to be line with some far-away “central” intelligence, so Belinsky’s provincial readers prefer their opinions pre-validated: one result of being provincial, it seems, is a constant readiness to take orders from someplace else.

  • 31 Balzac 1997: 195, emphasis mine (A. L
  • 32 Ibid.: 166-167.
  • 33 Ibid.: 162-163.
  • 34 Ibid.: 165.

21Belinsky was not alone in believing that opportunities for comparison on a large scale form the necessary basis for genuine discernment. His contemporary Balzac makes the same point explicitly in the 1837 novel Lost Illusions, the story of a provincial’s education in the capital. Balzac writes, “In the provinces there is no question of choice or comparison,” whereas in Paris, “one learns, one compares.”31 Lost Illusions devotes long passages to the myriad subtle distinctions that life in the capital will require its provincial hero to master. The account of Lucien Chardon’s introduction to fashionable society, for instance, is structured entirely around words like “compare,” “different,” “distinctions,” and “subtle perception.”32 In Paris, Balzac tells us, it is “the scale of everything” that forces Lucien to repudiate what Balzac calls his “provincial ideas of life”; Lucien’s perceptions are transformed once “the horizon widened, [and] society took on new proportions.”33 For Balzac as for Belinsky, with changes in scale come changes in judgment, a fact reflected in an old Parisian’s sage advice to a newcomer: “I do beg of you,” he says to Lucien, “wait, and compare!”34

  • 35 Eliot 1975: 129. For Eliot the “classical measure” is represented by Virgil’s poetry. Casanova, too (...)

22It is writers who are located on some sort of periphery (whether of geography, class, or “civilization”) who worry most about provincialism. Take T. S. Eliot, for example – that English writer and British subject from St. Louis, Missouri. In his 1944 essay “What is a classic?” Eliot’s understanding of provincialism has quite a bit in common with Belinsky’s. Eliot defines the phenomenon as follows: “By ‘provincial’ I mean here something more than I find in the dictionary definitions. … I mean also a distortion of values, the exclusion of some, the exaggeration of others, which springs, not from lack of wide geographical perambulation, but from applying standards acquired within a limited area, to the whole of human experience.” The result is a sensibility that “confounds the contingent with the essential, the ephemeral with the permanent.” For Eliot as for Belinsky, provincialism is not necessarily geographically conditioned; rather, it springs from an inability to weigh one idea against another. In the absence of comparison, Eliot emphasizes, there can be no standards, no correct proportion: “Without the constant application of the classical measure, we tend to become provincial.”35

  • 36 Eliot 1975: 129.
  • 37 By contrast, the provincial’s version of comparing – always asking, am I getting it right? – helps (...)
  • 38 Eliot 1975: 122-123.

23Much like “Nichto o nichem,” Eliot’s “What is a classic?” seems obsessed with assessment: over and over Eliot exhorts us to “preserve the classical standard, and to measure every individual work of literature by it.”36 Clearly, “measure” here means something very different from the provincial’s nervous sidelong glance toward a dominant culture that demands slavish emulation.37 Rather, Eliot is talking about a kind of measuring that is capable of saving a culture from provinciality, something I would characterize as a kind of ongoing under-the-radar practice of discernment, a practice implying the confident and virtually unconscious awareness that one has access to a wide but defined range of aesthetic and intellectual choices, along with an implicit understanding that these choices all signify differently. This is what Eliot calls the “maturity of mind” that “needs history, and the consciousness of history,” because only “with [such] maturity of mind [comes the] absence of provinciality.”38

  • 39 Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 47.
  • 40 Ibid.
  • 41 Ibid. Note, too, the subtly gendered nature (domashnii, domestic) of the banal and the provincial.

24For Belinsky as for Eliot, the ultimate aim is a kind of universality. Belinsky says he aims to cultivate readers’aesthetic sensibility (chuvstvo iziashchego, literally a “sense of the elegant”) not for its own sake, but because this sensibility is an essential “condition of human worthiness” (uslovie chelovecheskogo dostoinstva) that can help an individual transcend what one might call a provincialism of the soul (in Belinsky’s words, those “personal hopes and personal interests” that limit our capacity for clear judgment).39 Only those who develop such a sensibility (which one might also term, in deliberately prosaic language, a “skill set”) are capable of “rising to the level of universal (mirovykh) ideas, of understanding nature […] in its unity.”40 If we are unable to rise to the level of the universal, we are left with a conception of life (and an aesthetic) that is impoverished in its provinciality, provinciality in the sense of a sadly limited and blinkered “localness”: “what remains is only the banal ‘common sense’ that is necessary for the domestic side of life, for the trivial calculations of egoism.”41

  • 42 Eliot 1975: 124, 130, emphases mine (A. L.).
  • 43 Belinskii 1953-1959, 7: 46.

25For Belinsky as for Eliot, what universality really means is, not surprisingly, a version of Europeanness. For Eliot the ultimate non-provincial is Virgil, a poet who is never beholden to what Eliot calls “some purely local […] code of manners” but is rather “both Roman and European,” and thus “the classic of all Europe.”42 In an 1843 book review Belinsky makes explicit the same equivalence (universality = Europeanness), arguing that only “educated Europeans’” possess the ability to be simultaneously “national” and “universal.”43 (Of course, this equation of Europeanness with universality was what Dostoevsky would soon be contesting so bitterly, and it is what postcolonialists are still contesting today.)

  • 44 Mel’nikov 1976, 1: 56-57.
  • 45 Gogol’ 1937-1952, 6 : 95, 115.

26In conclusion I would like to reflect more generally on provincialism in order to consider why Belinsky was far from alone among Russian intellectuals in perceiving it as such a threat. From at least Belinsky’s own time onward, the culture of provincial Russia was thought to be characterized by a disorder so pervasive that it threatened to swallow up all meaning: in literary texts, everything v provintsii (in the provinces) is represented as jumbled, inappropriate, mongrelized. The classic example is Dead Souls, where “culture” is whatever detritus happens to have washed up on the provincial shore (as Gogol’s narrator says, “there was no way of knowing how or why it had all had gotten there”). The pattern repeats itself over and over in literature: provincialism is incongruous mixing, the sense that ideas and objects have been appropriated without any understanding of their meanings or relationships. Thus in a story by Mel’nikov-Pechersky, for instance, the décor of a provincial merchant’s house is typical in its motleyness: we are shown a parrot, some icons, a bust of Voltaire, and the letter “Ф” cut out of paper.44 And when Turgenev, in Fathers and Sons, has a tacky provintsialka refer to George Sand, German chemists, and Ralph Waldo Emerson in one breathless sentence, these incoherently combined ideas signal the same radical indiscriminateness as do the physical objects in Dead Souls.45 This is about as far as we can get from Eliot’s “history, and the consciousness of history.”

27All of this can help to explain why Biblioteka dlia chteniia’s seemingly shameless heterogeneity struck such a nerve with Russians who were worried about their tradition’s coherent development. In the end, as I have argued elsewhere, the discourse on provintsiia and provintsial’nost is not really about the provinces; nor is it really about literary elites’ attempts to maintain cultural hegemony. Rather, it is a way of thinking about the worrisome possibility that all of Russia might be provincial. And as a sort of provincial himself – since class outsiders are very much like provincials – Belinsky was well positioned to understand this persistent anxiety.

Bibliographie

Balzac, de H., 1997, Lost Illusions, New York, Modern Library.

Belinskii V. G., 1953–1959, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Moscow, Akademiia Nauk.

Bourdieu P., 1984, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Casanova P., 2004, The World Republic of Letters, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Dostoevskii F. M., 1972–1990, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Leningrad, Akademiia Nauk.

Eliot T. S., 1975, Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Fanger D., 1979, The Creation of Nikolai Gogol, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Frazier M., 2007, Romantic Encounters: Writers, Readers, and the Library for Reading, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press.

Gogol’N. V., 1937–1952, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Moscow, Akademiia Nauk.

Griboedov A. S., 1967, Sochineniia v stikhakh, Moscow, Sovetskii pisatel’.

Mel’nikov (A. Pecherskii) P. I., 1976, Sobranie sochinenii v vos’mi tomakh, Moscow, Pravda.

Pushkin A. S., 1937–1959, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Moscow, Akademiia Nauk.

Notes

1 The full title of the article is “Nichto o nichem, ili otchet g. izdateliu Teleskopa za poslednee polugodie (1835) russkoi literatury.” (Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 7-50).

2 Ibid.: 17-22.

3 Gogol’1937-1952, 8: 165.

4 “Прошу вас не забывать, что основная мысль моя о Библиотеке состоит в том, что этот журнал провинциальный, что он издается для провинции и силен одною провинциею. Итак, приступаю к подробнейшему объяснению признаков ее привилегированного провинциализма.” (Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 21).

5 “Мне кажется, что я нашел причину этого успеха, столь противоречащего здравому смыслу и так прочного, этой силы, так носящей в самой себе зародыш смерти и так постоянной, так не слабеющей. Не выдаю моего открытия за новость, потому что оно может принадлежать многим; не выдаю моего открытия и за орудие, долженствующее быть смертельным для рассматриваемого мною журнала, потому что истина не слишком сильное орудие там, где еще нет литературного общественного мнения. Библиотека есть журнал провинциальный: вот причина ее силы.” (Ibid.: 17).

6 “Тайна постоянного успеха Библиотеки заключается в том, что этот журнал есть по преимуществу журнал провинциальный.” (Ibid.: 19).

7 “Библиотека есть журнал провинциальный, и в этом заключается тайна ее могущества, ее силы, ее кредита у публики.” (Ibid.: 41).

8 Pushkin 1937-1959, 7: 96; Viazemsky P. A., review of Revizor, Sovremennik, 1836, n. 2: 296.

9 Teleskop 1834, n. 21: 330. This writer is adapting a quotable line from Griboedov’s Woe from Wit, in which Famusov threatens his maid Liza with exile to the glush’: “Не быть тебе в Москве, не жить тебе с людьми;/Подалее от этих хватов./В деревню, к тетке, в глушь, в Саратов,/Там будешь горе горевать./За пяльцами сидеть, за святцами жевать” (Act 4, Scene 14). (Griboedov 1967: 170).

10 Gogol’1937-1952, 8: 164.

11 Fanger 1979: 73.

12 “Какое разнобразие, пестрая, разнобразная смесь.” (Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 20, 22).

13 Ibid.: 49.

14 Frazier 2007: 132.

15 Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 20.

16 Fanger 1979: 43, emphasis mine (A. L.).

17 Frazier 2007: 71. And furthermore, as Frazier points out, Senkovsky claims to “base his critical authority on his own personality while at the same time undermining the notion of his own personality through the use of pseudonyms.” (Frazier 2007: 52).

18 “Да и в самом деле, что бы он стал писать, он, для которого не существует никаких теорий, никаких систем, никаких законов и условий изящного? Нам скажут […] что остаются еще личные впечатления и что критик может их излагать. Всё это так, да ведь личные впечатления, получаемые образованным человеком от какого-нибудь произведения, непременно должны быть согласны с тою или другою теориею, системою или, по крайней мере, с тем или другим законом изящного, потому что, даже оставляя в стороне теории и системы, теперь известны многие законы, выведенные из самой сущности творчества.” (Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 38).

19 Bourdieu 1984: 1.

20 Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 21.

21 “Ибо достоинство вещей всего вернее познается и определяется сравнением. Да – сравнение есть самая лучшая система и критика изящного.” (Belinskii 1953-1959, 1: 130).

22 Ibid.

23 Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 32.

24 Ibid.: 20.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.: 21.

27 Ibid.: 20.

28 Ibid.: 19.

29 “Провинция и подозревать не может, чтоб знаменитый г. Ушаков теперь был уволен из знаменитых вчистую. Кто усумнится в достоинстве повестей гг. Панаева, Калашникова, Масальского? – Да, в этом смысле, Библиотека – журнал провинциальный!” (Ibid.: 21).

30 Dostoevskii 1972-1990, 10: 28.

31 Balzac 1997: 195, emphasis mine (A. L

32 Ibid.: 166-167.

33 Ibid.: 162-163.

34 Ibid.: 165.

35 Eliot 1975: 129. For Eliot the “classical measure” is represented by Virgil’s poetry. Casanova, too, in The World Republic of Letters, notes that “the classic” functions above all as a standard, a “unit of measurement for everything that is or will be recognized as literary.” (Casanova 2004: 15), emphasis mine (A. L.).

36 Eliot 1975: 129.

37 By contrast, the provincial’s version of comparing – always asking, am I getting it right? – helps explain why artistic originality and innovation rarely reach full flower in provincial places (though they may originate there in some sense). If you are straining to conform to an external standard that seems to exist chiefly to pass judgment on you, you are unlikely to do much that is intentionally new or strange. Or rather, you are unlikely to be able to master newness and strangeness and turn them to your advantage. This is what is so remarkable about Gogol: he managed to make conscious and highly sophisticated use of the disproportions that attend provinciality (thereby, I think, making it easier for other Russian writers to do the same).

38 Eliot 1975: 122-123.

39 Belinskii 1953-1959, 2: 47.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid. Note, too, the subtly gendered nature (domashnii, domestic) of the banal and the provincial.

42 Eliot 1975: 124, 130, emphases mine (A. L.).

43 Belinskii 1953-1959, 7: 46.

44 Mel’nikov 1976, 1: 56-57.

45 Gogol’ 1937-1952, 6 : 95, 115.

Auteur

She is Associate Professor of Russian Literature and Chair of the Department of Russian & Slavic Studies at New York University. Her research interests include the nineteenth-century Russian novel in comparative context, symbolic geographies in literature, and theories of the novel. Her three favourite readings are: L.N. Tolstoy, War and Peace; John Donne’s sonnets; and Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall.

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