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Reading Russia, vol. 1

 | 
Damiano Rebecchini
, 
Raffaella Vassena

Part I. The Long Eighteenth Century

A Reading Revolution? The Concept of the Reader in the Russian Literature of Sensibility

Andrei Zorin

Texte intégral

  • 1 R. Darton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York, 2009), (...)

1Thirty years ago in his deservedly famous The Great Cat Massacre, Robert Darnton challenged the traditional idea that eighteenth-century reading practices constitute the turning point from the so- called “intensive reading” characteristic of the Early Modern period to the “extensive reading” typical of modern book consumption. According to the traditional point of view, readers of the earlier period concentrated on rereading the same specially chosen, authoritative, and usually holy texts, meditating upon them and sharing them with others, while from 1750 onward, they gradually proceeded to skim over a “great deal of printed matter,” including novels and journals, which they used mostly as entertainment. Darnton believes that “no such revolution took place.” The real emergence of the new public and new reading patterns did not lead to the abandonment of the process of “intensive reading,” but rather to its further intensification through the creation of the emotional bond between the world of the book and the everyday life of the reader. “The Rousseauistic readers fell in love, married and raised up children by steeping themselves in print.”1

  • 2   N. Frye, “Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility,” English Literary History, 23, 2 (Jun. 1956), 1 (...)

2Darnton’s conclusions based on archival sources are corroborated by Northrop Frye’s analysis of literary production in the age of Rousseau, which he made thirty years earlier in his stimulating essay “Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility.” He juxtaposed literary works from the second half of the eighteenth century to those of earlier and later periods, describing them, respectively, as “literature as process” and “literature as product.” Frye wrote that the works from the ‘Age of Sensibility’ demonstrated an intent to “give the impression of literature as process, as created on the spot of the events it describes.”2 Works as distinct as Fingal, Clarissa, Night Thoughts, and Tristram Shandy exhibit just such an intent. More importantly, Frye traced the special connection that existed between this feature of literary works and the special relations it was meant to establish between the work and the audience:

  • 3   Ibid., 149.

Where there is a strong sense of literature as an aesthetic product, there is also a sense of its detachment from the spectator. Aristotle’s theory of catharsis describes the beholder as being directed towards objects. Where there is a sense of literature as process, pity and fear become states of mind without objects, moods which are common to the work of art and the reader and which bind them together psychologically instead of separating them aesthetically.3

3This type of literary production regards the author and the reader as joined together by an emotional union established by and through the text that, in its turn, plays only this auxiliary mediating role. The reasons for this discursive strategy can be found in the pragmatics of the literary text itself. The didactic (in the purely pedagogical sense of the word) goals of the literature from the ‘Age of Sensibility’ cannot be confined only to the sphere of moral instruction. The classical authors of the period set the norms and patterns of ‘correct sensibility’ and sought to promote these norms in ‘real life.’ Used in this fashion, literature became a school of sensibility in which readers were taught the art of adequate emotional responses to the most important and affecting events in their lives: falling in love, losing their relatives, retiring to solitude, admiring beauties of nature and art, etc. Events are very rarely described in such literature “as they happened”; rather, they are usually shown through the eyes of an observer who produces a normative emotional reaction to them. The narrator here is the witness of or the participant in the events.

  • 4   G. Wharton, “An Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope,” in Eighteenth-Century Critical Essays (...)

4This type of didacticism explains one essential quality of the literature of Sensibility—its specific non-fictionality or quasi non-fictionality. If the reader desires to emulate the described patterns of feeling and behavior, he has to be convinced that all these examples are taken from real life. The reception of the novels of Richardson, of Sterne, La Nouvelle Eloise, The Sufferings of Young Werther, etc., testifies to the willing naive realism of the popular audience supported and encouraged by the authors. “It is certainly an indisputable maxim that nature is more powerful than fancy, that we can always feel more than we can imagine and that the most artful fiction must give way to truth [...] Events that have actually happened are after all the properest subjects for the poetry,”4 wrote George Wharton.

5The relationship between the inner structure of the literature of Sensibility and its reader is even more evident in Russia during the second half of the eighteenth century. At that time, the role of literature as a manual for life was greatly enhanced by ongoing efforts to appropriate new facets of western civilization. Having Europeanized their appearance, manners, and practices of everyday life, members of the Russian upper class began attending to the europeanization of their inner selves.

6The 1762 Manifesto on the freedom of the nobility (which had been issued by Peter III but saw full implementation only under Catherine) made government service optional for nobles. The legislator suggested that the nobles should serve out of love for their monarch and the zeal for their duty. Thus the state became responsible for their values, attitudes, and passions. Catherine’s main didactic enterprise became the micromanaging of the court practices in order to provide the most elite portion of Russian society with imitable emotional patterns and symbolic models.

  • 5   A. Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia. Iz istorii russkoi emotsional’noi kul’tury kontsa XVIII – nachala XI (...)

7A pivotal role in these efforts was predictably played by the theater both as an artistic artifact and social ritual. Theatrical performances produce representations of socially approved symbolic models of feeling—which are, at the same time, visible and expressed by means of the body, pure and free from the empirical reality of everyday life. Thus, the audience constitutes a sort of ‘emotional community,’ one in which everyone is able to compare his own perception with the reaction of the audience and check the ‘correctness’ and ‘adequacy’ of his personal feeling as he is experiencing them. All these functions could be fully realized in the court theater. The ritualized character of court life undermined the barriers between the stage and the audience, especially as the candles were not put out during the performance, facilitating the possibility for actors and spectators to exchange roles (at least in the amateur theaters of the aristocratic set). The significance of the theatrical performance was enhanced by the presence of the empress, who at once played the part of the spectator, producer, and participant in the performance, and confidently used the opportunities afforded to her by each role.5

  • 6 Russkii Arkhiv (Moscow, 1870), vyp. 11, 1219.

8This approach was completely reversed in the masonic lodges, where an alternative and no less ambitious project to completely renovate humankind was being developed. While the ‘courtly’ strategy of moral improvement was directed from outside in, the lodges trained their members to find the truth inside themselves. The regeneration of humankind had to start from within the microcosm and only then would the macrocosm be transformed accordingly. Thus, reading rather than attending the theater became the main vehicle for refining the self. “Books are such a tincture that they cause, by their invisible drops, transformations that bring salvation to thousands for years to come. But if just one soul would convert and begin living in God!”6, wrote an old freemason Ivan Lopukhin to Dmitrii Runich in 1814. Moral improvement was to be achieved also through the practice of letter-writing and keeping diaries; these were supposed to be available to the entire masonic community, and were often actually read during lodge meetings. This type of writing kept a member attached to the whole while he was away and even perpetuated the existence of the lodge during the so called “Sillanum” periods when the actual meetings were canceled. Thus, the solitary practices of reading and writing were simultaneously performed for the “invisible” presence of the entire lodge.

  • 7 Detskoe chtenie (Moscow, 1788), vol. 18, 161-162, 167, 175.
  • 8 Moskovskii zhurnal (Moscow, 1792), vol. 7, 52.

9This practice of self-contemplation and self-improvement with the help of books was described in 1786 by a young free mason Nikolai Karamzin in an essay called “The Promenade” (“Progulka”), which published in the masonic educational review Detskoe chtenie dlia serdtsa i razuma (Children’s Readings for the Heart and Mind) three years before the author’s European travels. Karamzin tells how he “went for a walk in the countryside taking his Thomson with him.” In the evening he sees the moon and the stars and thinks of his own inevitable death, which immediately makes him remember “the name of Young that will be forever holy for those who, having tender hearts, feel the beauty of nature and the dignity of man.” After that, “full of love for the Creator and of various sweet feelings, he goes back to the city reading the Hymn with which Thomson concluded his immortal poem.”7 Several years later, already a famous author, Karamzin describes the technique of contemplating Nature with a book in hands: “I find Thomson, take him to the grove and read, then put a book under the raspberry bush and plunge into reveries and then again take the book in my hands.”8

10Thomson’s descriptive poem reveals to the Russian lover of Nature the beauties of the landscape that he sees around him, shows him how to react to those beauties, and demonstrates what emotional state would be appropriate for this sort of meditation. The idealized landscape depicted in Thomson’s The Seasons is the one Karamzin sees in the grove in the Moscow countryside because, to a sensible heart, all impressions can be traced back to models disclosed in full by the great authors. Therefore, the reader is encouraged to study carefully these patterns and try to emulate them.

11From the freemasons’ point of view, Karamzin’s choice of authors for imitation was uncontroversial. Young was revered as one of the main teachers of morality and Thomson’s hymn was revered as religious poetry. Still, in retrospect, we see that Karamzin subtly shifts the focus from moral improvement to emotional reactions. He uses famous poets to attune himself to proper feelings and demonstrate normative emotional practices to his readers.

12With the declining importance of institutionalized religion and its attendant rituals in the lives of the eighteenth-century educated public, literature gradually became responsible for providing infinite varieties of ‘public images of sentiment.’ Readers were taught to react correctly to standard life events: falling in love, losing their relatives, retiring to solitude, admiring the beauty of nature and art, etc. The classical authors of the period played the role of ‘tuning forks,’ through which the readers could attune their hearts and find out whether they can feel correctly and like others. The printed text, of course, could not compete with the theatrical performance vis-a-vis the visibility of the public images of sentiment, or the possibility of absorbing these images collectively hic et nunc, or simultaneously elaborating socially approved reactions to them. At the same time, the book allowed you to return to your emotional experience, to refine and perfect your emotions by repeatedly verifying them against a larger pattern. The shared reading of the same texts guaranteed the spread of unified emotional patterns across social and national borders.

  • 9   P. L’vov, Rossiiskaia Pamela, 2 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1789), vol. I, preface.

13Education in the Russian school of sensibility took place on two levels. Russian authors acted as pupils learning from their European predecessors and at the same time became masters at teaching their readers. The classical Western authors were the chief instructors, while their Russian colleagues assumed a secondary role, one in which they would interpret these lessons and convey them to the audience. Russian writers had to instill in their readers the desire to feel and behave in the way that readers of Richardson, Rousseau, and Goethe did in the rest of Europe. The sentimental novelist Pavel L’vov wrote in the preface to his novel The Russian Pamela (Rossiiskaia Pamela): “We also have tender hearts and noble souls in low estates like other countries, where they are so famous because they occur much more rarely than in Russia.”9 The following year, in the sentimental story “Rosa and Liubim” (“Rosa i Liubim”), he again combined national pride with the humble desire to emulate foreign examples:

  • 10   P. L’vov, Roza i Liubim, in Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’ (Moscow, 1979), 34-35.

I wonder how many sons of divine Russia can think that we do not have elevated souls, enlightened minds, tender feelings in people of low estates! If you allow them to exist in foreign countries, why not allow it in your own. [...] O, my most dear fatherland! With tears of rapture, I pronounce your sacred name. Thou art the kingdom of gods, the country populated with their sons. […] Some readers censuring my Russian Pamela [...] say that at some places I wrote what belonged not to me, but to other creative minds —I rejoice, rejoice heartily that my humble abilities can be similar to their gifts. I would be happy if I could be called not only their imitator, but even their translator.10

  • 11   M. Sushkov, “Rossiiskii Verter,” in Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’ (Moscow, 1979), 199.

14In 1792 the sixteen-year-old writer Mikhail Sushkov wrote his story “A Russian Werther” (“Rossiiskii Verter”) in which the hero, as is appropriate for a Werther, commits suicide. That same year the author followed suit, showing how seriously he took his model. In the preface to the book he wrote: “I read A Russian Pamela and the idea of ‘A Russian Werther’ occurred to me. Here is a Werther that is undoubtedly poorer than the original.”11 The original here was, of course, Goethe’s novel, but L’vov’s experiment also served as a guide for the young author. Sushkov believed that the heroes of great writers should be imitated both in literature and life, and that Russia was no less capable of producing such heroes than England or Germany, so he followed L’vov in giving a Russian version of a classical example—first in literature, and then in reality. The goals of Richardson and L’vov were moralistic, while those of Goethe and Sushkov were not (to say the least), but the general pattern of Russification and imitation remained the same.

15Significantly, Russian authors did not attempt to disguise their imitative strategies. On the contrary, they made all their borrowings explicit and declarative. The authority of the famous foreign writers justified their own legitimacy as instructors in sensibility. Their ambition was to present themselves as the most competent readers of the books that they followed. The traditional narrative technique in Russian sentimental stories, novels, and travelogues includes the creation of a reading hero. Russian literature of sensibility is populated with active readers and filled with scenes of reading that establish the norms of this activity and show to the actual audience how the book itself was meant to be consumed.

16The wholesale import of contemporary European emotional patterns was performed by Karamzin in his famous Letters of the Russian Traveler (Pis’ma russkogo puteshestvennika), a guidebook through a Europe of Sensibility, a sort of a literary map of Europe. It is worth noting that the Letters were a product of extended scholarly research in which, apart from his own impressions, Karamzin used a good deal of reference and travel literature and did not hesitate to describe places and events he personally did not see when he thought it necessary. However, he presented his book to the public as an artless chain of notes made right on the spot and immediately sent as letters to intimate friends.

17Karamzin’s explicit goal was to bring Europe’s cultural treasures home to Russian readers. In his travelogue, he told about his personal meetings with C. M. Wieland, C. Bonnet, J. G. Herder, J. K. Lavater, and other leading figures of European culture, as well as his visits to the most important holy literary places, including the Rhine waterfall, Leman, Ferney, and Hermenonville, where Rousseau was buried. However, the author was interested not so much in European landscapes and monuments themselves, but in ways to experience them. Thus, he presented himself as their curious but competent observer, constructing his narrator as a vehicle for conveying emotional patterns—one might even say as a container to import those emotional patterns into Russia. He absorbed models of feeling characteristic of contemporary European culture and was ready to present them to the Russian reader. Unsurprisingly, every time his traveler wandered around these monuments of Sensibility, he portrayed himself with a book in hand.

18In Zurich Karamzin visited the tomb of S. Gessner, who died less than a year and a half earlier. Naturally, he did not forget to acquire a volume of Gessner’s idylls for this journey:

  • 12   N. M. Karamzin, Pis’ma russkogo puteshestvennika (Leningrad, 1984), 124-125.

A volume of his writings was in my pocket: how pleasant to read here all his incomparable idylls and poems, to read in the very places where he wrote them. I took it out and opened it, and the following lines caught my attention: ‘Posterity will rightly revere the urn and the ashes of the bard whom the Muses consecrated as the teacher of virtue and innocence to mortals.’ […] Imagine, my friends, my feeling at two paces from the spot where Nature and Poetry will pour forth tears on the urn of the unforgettable Gessner in eternal silence. 12

19Karamzin brings to his readers the whole set of concepts key to European sentimental culture, but he brings them as his own immediate feelings inspired by the spontaneous reading of the Alp Theocritus, as Gessner was known in the late eighteenth century. He presents other holy places of European culture, like Rousseau’s grave in Hermenonville, in a similar fashion:

  • 13   Ibid, 311.

Any tomb is a shrine to me, each voiceless peck of dust tells me: ‘And I was alive like you, and you will die like me.’ How eloquent, then, are the ashes of such an Author who strongly influenced your heart, to whom you owe your most pleasant ideas, whose soul has partly poured into yours.13

  • 14   Ibid., 323-324.

20In Calais, he visited the hotel where Sterne’s Yorick has met the monk Lorenzo: “I immediately went to Dessein (whose house is the best in town) [...] ‘What do you need, Mister?’ a young Officer in a blue military jacket asked me. ‘The room where Laurence Sterne lived,’ I answered. ‘And where for the first time he ate French soup?’ the Officer said. ‘With fricasseed chicken,’ I replied. ‘Where he praised the blood of the Bourbons?’ ‘Where he felt a suffusion of a finer kind on his cheek.’” This duel of Sterne quotations prolongs itself for some time, and at last the Officer points out to the Russian traveler a window of the room now occupied by an old English woman and her daughter. The latter holds a book in her hands—“probably A Sentimental Journey,”14 suggests Karamzin.

21The author thus portrays the meeting of kindred spirits, of people who share the same values and the same modes of feeling. According to Benedict Anderson’s definition, the imagined community of Europeans emerges here, and it emerges around a book. A Sentimental Journey unites two Englishwomen, a French officer, and an aspiring Russian writer. As the professed goal of Karamzin’s travelogue was to integrate Russia into Europe, he portrayed himself, a young and educated Russian nobleman, as an accepted member of the European public. Shared feelings provide a sort of emotional continuity across borders and constitute strong bonds of sensibility that prove to be no less important and relevant than the bonds of “homeland, kinship, and friendship.”

22Just before going to Calais, Karamzin parts with his companion in Paris, a German writer and a scholar named Baron Wolzogen:

  • 15 Ibid., 321-322.

Farewell, dear V*! You and I were not born in the same country, but have an identical heart. […] How many pleasant evenings I spent in your hôtel in Saint-Germain, reading the attractive fantasies of your compatriot and fellow student, Schiller, or taking up our own fantasies, or philosophizing about the world, or judging a new comedy that we have seen together! […] And you, my fellow countrymen, do not call me faithless because I found in a foreign land a person with whom my heart was at ease.15

  • 16   Iu. M. Lotman, B. A. Uspenskii, “‘Pis’ma russkogo puteshestvennika’ Karamzina i ikh mesto v razvi (...)

23Common patterns of feeling unite “identical hearts,” and these patterns are based on shared habits of consuming literature and art. Similarly to the Russian writer, the French Officer, and the English girl who were united by their common admiration of Sterne, Karamzin and Wolzogen are brought together by reading the same works of Schiller and watching the same comedies in Parisian theaters. They share a cultural background and type of sensibility developed on the basis of the same literary patterns. Russia, in short, was culturally integrated into Europe by unifying its own reading patterns with theirs.16 Performing this mission of integration meant not only acquainting Russian readers with European sanctuaries of sensibility, but also creating them at home. Karamzin brilliantly succeeded in this part of his task as well. In 1792 he published his sentimental story Poor Liza (Bednaia Liza), in which he describes the regular visits of an autobiographical narrator to the forgotten grave of the victim of an unfortunate romance.

  • 17 Ukrainskii vestnik (Khar’kov, 1818), book 5, part 10, 142.

24The success of Karamzin’s touching story was immense. “Near Simonov there is a pond overgrown and surrounded by trees,” Karamzin remembered in 1817 in his “Memoir on the Sights of Moscow” (“Zapiska o dostopamiatnostiakh Moskvy”): “Twenty-five years ago I there wrote Poor Liza, a simple tale that was so fortunate for the young author that thousands of curious visitors rode and went there to seek Liza’s traces.”17 There was no exaggeration in these words. The Russian public was eager to discover that they also had a monument of sensibility worthy of sentimental pilgrimage. “Liza’s pond, the place enchanted by Karamzin’s pen, became very familiar to me and you don’t know it,” a young Moscow artist Ivan Ivanov wrote to Alexander Vostokov, his friend in Petersburg and later a famous philologist:

  • 18   I. Ivanov, Letter to A. Vostokov., in SPb ARAN, f. 108, op. 2, d. 29, 6. Quoted in A. Zorin, Poia (...)

O! I am guilty, a hundred times guilty, why did not I write immediately at least those three words, which would make you happy: I saw the pond. [...] I went there and did not forget to take with me the excerpts which you gave to me [...]. On my way there, I was trembling with joy, the nearer I came to the Simonov monastery, the more [...] it looked to me like I was separating myself from the ordinary world and moving to a literary one, a delightful world of imagination. Trees, little hillocks, bushes in some inexplicable way reminded me of Liza.18

  • 19   Ibid., f. 108, op. 2, d. 29, 6.

25Ivanov, like his mentor, wants to read Liza’s story on the spot where the story’s events happened and thus had to take excerpts from the text with him. Six editions of Poor Liza in seven years failed to satisfy demand. Ivanov was sure he had seen the hut where Liza really lived and said he was so impressed by the accuracy of Karamzin’s description that he “nearly dropped his excerpts in the pond.”19 Count Shalikov, Karamzin’s epigone, was even more exalting in his praise. In his essay “To the Ashes of Poor Liza” (“K prakhu Bednoi Lizy”), he described his visit to the pond and said: “Never before had I experienced such pleasure.” It seems to him that “every leaf, every flower, every blade of grass breathed sensibility and knew of the destiny of poor Liza.” Shalikov explained to his readers the ways in which sensibility should spread throughout humankind and the role of great writers in this exaltation:

  • 20   P. Shalikov, “K prakhu bednoi Lizy,” Priiatnoe i poleznoe preprovozhdenie vremeni (Moscow, 1797), (...)

Possibly before, when poor Liza was not yet known to the world, I would look at the same landscape, at the same things indifferently. One tender, sentimental heart moves thousands hearts, thousands that needed only an excitation, without which they would stay in an eternal gloom. How many people come here, like me, to feed their sensibility and to shed a tear on the ashes that would otherwise would rot unknown. What a service to tenderness!20

26Several years later, Shalikov tried to apply to Karamzin the pattern he borrowed from the Calais episode of the Letters. Traveling to Kronstadt in 1805, he rushed to the hotel where Karamzin stayed during his European travel:

  • 21   P. Shalikov, “Puteshestvie v Kronshtadt 1805 goda,” in Landshaft moikh voobrazhenii. Stranitsy pr (...)

“Where is the room occupied by the Russian traveler?” I asked. I did not get any answer and went to seek it, by feeling and found in one of the rooms... a beautiful Englishwoman who laughed when knew what I cared about.21

27This episode evidently echoed the one in Calais, but with an important caveat. Shalikov is interested in Karamzin in the same way that Karamzin was interested in Sterne—but the European reading public was not ready to share this fascination. Russia has found a writer who, for domestic purposes, can stand aside his famous European colleagues; however, the West—embodied by an Englishwoman in a hotel—does not yet accept a Russian man of genius and the Russian literature of sensibility as a shared authority.

28Like many other visitors to the pond, Shalikov also expressed his feelings in an inscription he carved with a knife on a nearby birch. The birches surrounding the pond were covered with such inscriptions and visitors spent a lot of time reading them. The first separate edition of Poor Liza appeared in 1796 with an engraving showing wandering admirers leaving their inscriptions on the birches around the pond. The most touching ones were published on the same page. One of them, stating “Non la conobbe il mondo mentre l’ebbe,” was used as an epigraph to the edition. This line from Petrarch’s sonnet (No. 338) on Laura’s death (“The world did not know her when it had her”) together with the next one (“I knew her and now it is left unto me to lament her”) was carved by poet Vasilii Pushkin, an ardent disciple of Karamzin’s and an uncle of the greatest Russian poet. A quarter of a century later, he found this inscription; generally, they still existed—and in a readable state—up until the 1870s.

  • 22   N. M. Karamzin, Pis‘ma russkogo puteshestvennika (Leningrad, 1984), 506.
  • 23   P. Shalikov, “K prakhu bednoi Lizy,” 234.

29Karamzin himself wanted to direct his readers’ attention to the direct connection between the content of his story and the reading practices of the narrator. In June 1788, four years before Poor Liza was written, his friend A. Petrov in a letter asked him whether he “still goes to Simonov monastery and performs all other sorts of activities usual for him.” Many years later, when preparing Petrov’s letters for publication, Karamzin inserted into this sentence the words “with a bag of books.”22 Karamzin wanted his readers to know that before writing Poor Liza he spent his days near Simonov monastery reading. European literary tradition merged with the particular Russian locality in a story similar to those told by the great foreign authors—a story that got a brilliant pen to immortalize it. As is often the case with “intensive reading,” the radical textualization of one’s emotional practices was accompanied by a nearly compete loss of contact with the text itself. Poor Liza, canonized by Russian sentimental culture, lost all whatever scarce features of her own personality. Shalikov was sure that the heroine of the story is now in heaven, “in the crown of innocence, in the glory of the chaste.”23

  • 24   See Iu. M. Lotman, “Ob odnom chitatel’skom vospriiatii ‘Bednoi Lizy’ Karamzina (k strukture masso (...)

30Taking into consideration the plot of Karamzin’s story, these epithets sound somewhat ambiguous and positively irreligious. The quasi-religious character of this canonization becomes even more evident if we remember that the story takes place near an ancient Russian monastery where Peresvet and Osliabia, two heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo, one of the greatest military victories in Russian history, were buried. Moreover, the pond where Liza drowned herself was—according to ancient legend—dug out by Sergii Radonezhskii, one of the greatest Russian saints who blessed Prince Dmitri Donskoi in battle. Water from the pond was believed to have a healing effect. In 1799, the young poet Aleksei Merzliakov overheard a conversation between a peasant and an artisan who were discussing whether bringing one’s sick wife to a miraculous place would have any effect. The artisan, better read in literature, said that the pond did not help girls and even was dangerous for them, because some time ago beautiful Liza had drowned in it.24 The traditional idea of the pond’s healing force gave way here to reinterpreted impressions from Karamzin’s story. Even more characteristic is a scandalous episode seen by Ivanov, whose letter we have already quoted.

  • 25   SPb ARAN, f. 108, op. 2, d. 29, l. 15.
  • 26   N. I. Grech, Vospominaniia moei zhizni (Moscow, Leningrad, 1930), 495.

31Wandering on the banks of the pond, Ivanov saw several Moscow merchants who had brought several wenches with them and, having undressed them, pushed them into the water. One of the girls ran around the pond, crying that she was like Poor Liza. “In Moscow everybody knows Poor Liza,” Ivanov concluded, “from honorable elderly people to an ignorant whore.” The monks from Simonov monastery interrupted the orgy. “’How dare you!’ they shouted, ‘To defile water in the pond, when a maid is buried on the bank.’”25 The real shrine for them was not the pond connected with the name of the legendary founder of their monastery, but instead the grave of a fictional sinner and a suicide. The myth about Poor Liza was able to replace the church tradition because, from the very beginning, it had clear religious connotations. One of the memoirists of the nineteenth century recollects that a high ranking official and literary man, Dmitrii Bludov, believed in poor Liza “like in Barbara the martyr.”26

32Naturally, this practice provoked negative reactions as well. Ivanov saw on the birches near Simonov inscriptions satirizing Karamzin. Especially popular was a short anonymous epigram: “The bride of Erast died in these waters, / Drown yourselves, maidens, there is enough room in the pond.” These two rhymed lines reproduced the purpose of the literature of Sensibility to create universal patterns of sentimental behavior that permitted it to claim a status of a secular religion. While Karamzin’s admirers urged readers to follow their example and indulge in tender feelings over Liza’s grave, the anonymous epigrammatist shifted the focus and suggested emulating the behavior of the heroine herself. Literary suicides, of course, could also produce imitations.

  • 27 Landshaft moikh voobrazhenii, 49.

33The narrator of the other famous text of Russian Wertheriana, A. Klushin’s Unfortunate M-v (Neschastnyi M-v) depicted the state of mind of a character torn by love and despair: “Young and Pope are thrown out. La Nouvelle Eloise and Werther lie on his languishing bosom.”27 Both the protagonist of the story as well as his prototype imitate Werther to the end. The initials in the title obviously meant that the story was based on real events. The actual name of unfortunate M-v was Maslov. Similarly, Sushkov’s Russian Werther read Addison’s Cato with its apologia of suicide before killing himself.

  • 28   A. I. Turgenev, Dnevnik, in RO IRLI, f. 309, d. 272, ll. 12-13. Quoted in A. Zorin, Poiavlenie ge (...)

34Moving from fictionalized stories to ego-documents, we again find the same practices. In 1801 the young Germanophile Andrei Turgenev wrote in his diary, “Today I bought Werther [...] and ordered them to bind it with sheets of white paper between the pages without knowing myself why I need it. Now a sudden idea has occurred to me. ‘So eine wahre warme Freude ist nicht in der Welt, als eine grosse Seele zu sehen, die sich gegen einen öffnet,’ once said Werther. [...] I made note of this place in [my old] Werther, and now in my new Werther I shall compare my feelings and his, and mark what I felt in the same way as he did. I said this to myself, jumped up, ran to my room, and immediately wrote these lines.”28 His own diary merged for him with Goethe’s novel to such an extent that he desired to unite those two works physically and continue the diary right inside the favorite book.

  • 29   See V. M. Zhirmunskii, Gete v russkoi literature (Leningrad, 1982), 60-64.
  • 30 A. I. Turgenev, “Pis’ma Zhukovskomu,” in Zhukovskii i russkaia kul’tura (Leningrad, 1987), 392.
  • 31 Ibid., 368.

35A. Turgenev gathered around himself a small circle of young writers. This group later transformed itself into the Friendly Literary Society—one of the first self-declared literary groups in Russian history. He convinced several of his friends in this circle to start a collective translation of Werther.29 The translation was not planned for publication: the aim of the project was to attune the hearts of the translators such that they were in unison. “The state of my spirit is very much like the one described in Werther in the letter you translated,”30 he wrote to Zhukovskii. A. Turgenev also presented to his friend a copy of Werther with the inscription “I can think of nothing better than that I would like to be your friend forever, that our friendship should be strengthened by time, that I would deserve the name of a friend, and of your friend.”31 Taking into consideration the attitude of young people towards Goethe’s novel, one can hardly believe Zhukovskii did not possess his own copy. The gift was mostly symbolic; a union of congenial souls was secured by means of this classical text, which served as an emotional standard for all of them.

36Reading the same book with the same sort of emotions definitely could symbolize not only friendship, but even more frequently—love. Turgenev himself tried to seduce his beloved by sending her a letter between the pages of La Nouvelle Heloise—a novel that describes the fall of a girl from a noble family. In the story “The Rostov Lake” (“Rostovskoe ozero”) by Vladimir Izmailov, one of Karamzin’s followers, the narrator describes the landscape in the following manner:

  • 32   V. Izmailov, “Rostovskoe ozero,” in Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’, 144.

Everywhere I encountered wonderful places, romantic havens of pleasure, blossoming banks that may be nothing compared with those of Leman, glorified by Jean-Jacque Rousseau and the young Vernes, but where I dared to seat new Julia, imagining myself a second Saint-Preux living there in the quiet of solitude.32

37He comes across a young man weeping over the tomb with the sentence from La Nouvelle Eloise engraved upon it. Understanding that he has met a kindred spirit, the narrator convinces the hero to reveal the story of his troubles, and finds out that the poor creature had likewise dreamed of a new Julia and had fallen in love with his now-deceased wife when he saw her reading Rousseau’s novel. The author of “The Rostov Lake” himself was an ardent admirer of Rousseau and later started a boarding school for children where he tried to realize the pedagogical ideas of Emile.

  • 33 Modest i Sofiia, Ibid., 292. In the volume this story is not attributed. The author is V. Perevoz (...)
  • 34   N. Emin, Roza. Poluspravedlivaia. Original’naia povest’ (St. Petersburg, 1789), 15.

38In Modest and Sofia (Modest i Sofiia) by Vasilii Perevoshchikov, the hero, disillusioned in love, is living in solitude when he suddenly meets a beautiful girl. After that, “he returned to his solitary abode and began reading. He opened Young, but his eyes wandered around the pages; he took Zimmerman and after several minutes closed the book.”33 New love manifests itself in his loss of interest toward the books that give consolation to the desperate and lonely. The next stage of his infatuation begins when he finds out that the girl he loves is reading La Nouvelle Eloise. In another sentimental story, love begins when the hero suddenly extends through the bushes to a passerby—an as yet unknown girl—a copy of Young’s Night Thoughts.34

39Karamzin’s example unleashed a whole revolution in reading practices. The Russian traveler packaged the emotional models he brought from Europe and distributed them to the readers across the Russian empire. In many ways, the Russian example proves Darnton right: this was the same ‘intensive reading’ that transferred from religious texts to secular ones. However, the new use of intensive reading suggested many additional situations in which it might be applied, and thus required a significant increase in the number of models that could match the growing complexity and unpredictability of a reality that demanded its spontaneous but well-rehearsed emotional reactions. Karamzin’s books produced fertile ground for a paradigm shift in the approach of the general readership that could be still called a revolution—albeit in a sense different than that implied by the concept that Darnton successfully refuted.

Bibliographie

Darnton R., The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York, 2009).

Frye N., “Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility,” English Literary History, 23, 2 (Jun. 1956), 144-152.

Lotman Iu. M., “Ob odnom chitatel’skom vospriiatii ‘Bednoi Lizy’ Karamzina (k strukture massovogo soznaniia XVIII v.),” in D. S. Likhachev (ed.), XVIII vek. Sbornik 7. Rol’ i znachenie literatury XVIII veka v istorii russkoi kul’tury (Moscow, Leningrad, 1966), 280-285.

Zorin A., Poiavlenie geroia. Iz istorii russkoi emotsional’noi kul’tury kontsa XVIII – nachala XIX veka (Moscow, 2016).

Notes

1 R. Darton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York, 2009), 249-252.

2   N. Frye, “Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility,” English Literary History, 23, 2 (Jun. 1956), 145.

3   Ibid., 149.

4   G. Wharton, “An Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope,” in Eighteenth-Century Critical Essays (New York, 1960), vol. 2, 741.

5   A. Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia. Iz istorii russkoi emotsional’noi kul’tury kontsa XVIII – nachala XIX veka (Moscow, 2016), 41, 68-69.

6 Russkii Arkhiv (Moscow, 1870), vyp. 11, 1219.

7 Detskoe chtenie (Moscow, 1788), vol. 18, 161-162, 167, 175.

8 Moskovskii zhurnal (Moscow, 1792), vol. 7, 52.

9   P. L’vov, Rossiiskaia Pamela, 2 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1789), vol. I, preface.

10   P. L’vov, Roza i Liubim, in Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’ (Moscow, 1979), 34-35.

11   M. Sushkov, “Rossiiskii Verter,” in Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’ (Moscow, 1979), 199.

12   N. M. Karamzin, Pis’ma russkogo puteshestvennika (Leningrad, 1984), 124-125.

13   Ibid, 311.

14   Ibid., 323-324.

15 Ibid., 321-322.

16   Iu. M. Lotman, B. A. Uspenskii, “‘Pis’ma russkogo puteshestvennika’ Karamzina i ikh mesto v razvitii russkoi kul’tury,” in Ibid., 564.

17 Ukrainskii vestnik (Khar’kov, 1818), book 5, part 10, 142.

18   I. Ivanov, Letter to A. Vostokov., in SPb ARAN, f. 108, op. 2, d. 29, 6. Quoted in A. Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 172.

19   Ibid., f. 108, op. 2, d. 29, 6.

20   P. Shalikov, “K prakhu bednoi Lizy,” Priiatnoe i poleznoe preprovozhdenie vremeni (Moscow, 1797), vol. 15, 236.

21   P. Shalikov, “Puteshestvie v Kronshtadt 1805 goda,” in Landshaft moikh voobrazhenii. Stranitsy prozy russkogo sentimentalizma (Moscow, 1990), 576.

22   N. M. Karamzin, Pis‘ma russkogo puteshestvennika (Leningrad, 1984), 506.

23   P. Shalikov, “K prakhu bednoi Lizy,” 234.

24   See Iu. M. Lotman, “Ob odnom chitatel’skom vospriiatii ‘Bednoi Lizy’ Karamzina (k strukture massovogo soznaniia XVIII v.,” in XVIII vek. Sbornik 7. Rol’ i znachenie literatury XVIII veka v istorii russkoi kul’tury (Moscow, Leningrad, 1966), 283-284.

25   SPb ARAN, f. 108, op. 2, d. 29, l. 15.

26   N. I. Grech, Vospominaniia moei zhizni (Moscow, Leningrad, 1930), 495.

27 Landshaft moikh voobrazhenii, 49.

28   A. I. Turgenev, Dnevnik, in RO IRLI, f. 309, d. 272, ll. 12-13. Quoted in A. Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 338.

29   See V. M. Zhirmunskii, Gete v russkoi literature (Leningrad, 1982), 60-64.

30 A. I. Turgenev, “Pis’ma Zhukovskomu,” in Zhukovskii i russkaia kul’tura (Leningrad, 1987), 392.

31 Ibid., 368.

32   V. Izmailov, “Rostovskoe ozero,” in Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’, 144.

33 Modest i Sofiia, Ibid., 292. In the volume this story is not attributed. The author is V. Perevozchikov.

34   N. Emin, Roza. Poluspravedlivaia. Original’naia povest’ (St. Petersburg, 1789), 15.

Auteur

Professor, Chair of Russian University of Oxford. Graduated from Moscow State University. Taught in Russian State University for Humanities, Harvard, Stanford, NYU, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor amongst others. He works on the history of Russian literature and culture of XVIII-XIX centuries. Published Kormia Dvuglavogo Orla. Russkaia literatura i gosudarstvennaia ideologiia posledneii treti XVIII – pervoi treti XIX veka (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2001) (English translation: By Fables Alone. Literature and State Ideology in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Russia. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2014), Poiavlenie geroia. Iz istorii russkoi emotsional’noi kul’tury kontsa XVIII – nachala XIX veka (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2016), On the Periphery of Europe 1762-1825: The Self-invention of the Russian Elite (with Andreas Schonle. DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2018), Leo Tolstoy (London: Reaktion books, 2020) (Russian version: Zhizn’ L’va Tolstogo. Opyt prochteniia. Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2020), editions of I. Barkov, I. Batiushkov, L. Ginzburg amongst others, and more than 200 articles in Russian, English, French, German, Italian and Finnish.

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