Version classiqueVersion mobile

Reading Russia, vol. 1

Damiano Rebecchini
Raffaella Vassena

Part I. The Long Eighteenth Century

The Depiction of Readers and Publics in Russian Periodicals, 1769-1839

Bella Grigoryan

Texte intégral

1What can the interdisciplinary field of Russian imperial cultural studies learn from the periodicals produced roughly between 1769 and 1839? To be sure, the answers to this question are many. This chapter takes as its point of departure the rather straightforward notion that these periodicals can tell us something about the meanings that accrued to reading as a cultural practice in imperial Russia. The pages that follow are devoted mainly to an interpretive survey of the depiction of readers and reading publics on the pages of periodicals. Predictably, reading—as represented in the press—had a broad range of meanings that could be political, social, cultural, literary, aesthetic, etc. Since we are dealing with a lengthy time span of some seventy years, the specific political, aesthetic or socio-cultural meanings that adhered to reading at various historical moments are liable to shift and to change. However, certain tendencies remain stable enough to observe in a systematic fashion.

  • 1   My understanding of cultural registers and the cultural middle comes, first of all, from various (...)

2It is this chapter’s chief contention that the periodicals under study—each in its own way and each to a different degree—tell a story about the gradual articulation of the Russian cultural middle understood in multiple keys, as a demographic category, a potential political experience or designation, and an aesthetic or cultural register. In addition to this, in depicting their audiences the periodicals here under study tend to showcase (and, implicitly, to invite) various forms of sociability and participation in the empire’s cultural and political life. Reading and the participatory culture that attends it appear to become increasingly democratic. Here it warrants underscoring that all of the constituent elements of my argument about the representation of reading in the Russian press—e.g., the sense of a lively middling public, the sense of political communities—are to be understood as rhetorical simulations or constructs that developed in the journalistic segment of the period’s public discourse, a full exploration of whose no doubt complex, polyvalent and multi-directional relation to a historical or documentary context falls outside the confines of this paper.1

  • 2   Lest the impression form that the estates allowed for no social mobility, I should point the read (...)
  • 3   As Julie Buckler points out, “the literary middle has been an object of abuse, reviled as the ref (...)

3Throughout this chapter I have chosen to foreground such concepts as the ‘middle’ and the ‘middling’ for these terms’ potential to adumbrate, without overlapping, two categories that have been important in discussions of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century print culture in the European polities to the west of Russia: the middlebrow and the middleclass. Some disclaimers are necessary before going forward. No Russian middle class existed as a legal category. Russian subjects were inscribed into social estates (in Russian, soslovie): the nobility, the merchantry, the townspeople (meshchanstvo), the clergy, and the peasantry.2 For this reason the very category of class, indeed the very word class, has been avoided in much Russian literary and historical scholarship. And I am not unsympathetic to eschewing the word “class” itself. Nonetheless, especially in such eminently middlebrow spheres of discourse as conduct books and domestic advice literature, children’s books as well as periodicals of various stripes, many major Russian cultural figures described their audiences as middling. Russian studies has done relatively little to acknowledge and to interpret the middling people discussed in Russian public discourse.3 What might we learn from the Russian middle? With more extensive study than can be accomplished in one essay, whose objective is to provide a survey of a rather long period, the appearance of a Russian middling culture and public—even solely as a discursive simulation—has the potential to make the Russian imperial social and political imaginary appear less like a special case in the European context. As will be discussed in greater detail towards the end of this chapter, the simulation of an active middling readership on the pages of Russian imperial periodicals should prompt us to re-think the contours and parameters of the Russian pre-political public sphere and, to a limited extent, also to re-examine scholarly assumptions about the linkage between print capitalism and liberal-democratic political culture. For a range of reasons (censorship, chief among them) Russian public discourse tended to imagine communities of loyal subjects and to cultivate virtual social spaces that had a largely monarchist, not oppositional, orientation towards the state. Despite the limits placed upon public discourse, this quasi- or pre-political public sphere was imagined as a robustly social space. The chief consequence of this process was the rhetorical articulation of a middling cultural sphere. This evolving discursive space also had an impact on the development of various cultural forms. Thus, this chapter may be read in relation to the main milestones of Russian literary history, moving from the breakdown of the neoclassical generic system in the second half of the eighteenth century towards the early glimmers of realism in the late 1830s. In this narrative, too, the middling as a conceptual category—now understood as an aesthetic and cultural register, rather than a demographic designation—will prove helpful.

  • 4   Previously, the journal was edited by Pavel Svin’in.
  • 5   G. Marker, “The creation of journals and the profession of letters in the eighteenth century,” in (...)

4The chronological boundaries of this essay are determined by two epochal events in the history of Russian periodical publishing: the launch of a generous handful of satirical weeklies in 1769 at Catherine II’s prompting at one end and the re-launch of the journal Otechestvennye zapiski (Fatherland Notes) under Andrei Kraevskii’s editorship in 1839 at the other.4 The first event has been viewed as a watershed moment that inaugurated the first major period in the history of Russian journalism.5 The re-launch of Otechestvennye zapiski is likewise important. The periodical that would come to employ the era’s most important critic, Vissarion Belinskii, in a venture characterized by a high level of professionalism and a good deal of commercial success, announced the dawn of the thick journals (tolstye zhurnaly), which would reconfigure Russian cultural production for the period between the 1840s and 1880s.

5Rather than to provide a detailed, encyclopedic and truly exhaustive study of every journal and newspaper produced between 1769 and 1839, I have opted for a summarizing and somewhat episodic treatment that gives an overview of the main trends that are to be noted during this lengthy period. Following some observations about general trends, the discussion in the pages below commences with the satirical weeklies of 1769 to consider more closely the publics described by Nikolai Novikov and, later, Nikolai Karamzin, before moving on to the transformation of the Russian public both during and immediately following the Napoleonic campaigns and the War of 1812. The concluding portion of the essay turns to the audiences cultivated by Russia’s first fully professional journalists: e.g., Faddei Bulgarin, Nikolai Grech, Nikolai Polevoi, Osip Senkovskii. I begin with an overview of some of the methodological problems in studying the history of reading during this period, then move on to a summary of some of the available data about periodical readers, then trace the rise of middling culture and middling readers in the Russian press. I conclude with a few words about the significance of these findings for the history of Russian literature and the mutually imbricated rise of the press and the novel as constituents of a discursive sphere that approximated an early iteration of middlebrow culture.

  • 6   For essays that offer perceptive interpretive surveys of the place of the almanac in Russian book (...)

6First, a few words about methodology. To speak about the Russian reading public during the vast and dynamic period between 1769 and 1839 would be inadvisable for multiple reasons. To begin with, even before one gets to the question of publics, there is the impossibility of defining a representative or average reader across a broad range of reading abilities and practices during this time. It seems reasonable to propose that the person who read a calendar once ought not be grouped together with someone who subscribed to multiple periodicals, bought books, and both lent and borrowed reading materials. But even if we limit the discussion to relatively regular, even something like systematic readers (keeping in mind the limited extent to which such habits can be glimpsed and reconstructed for this period on a large scale), the publics may well remain multiple, if not without areas of overlap among them, since different segments of Russian cultural production served different audiences. For example, were we to take a synchronic view of the Russian book market, say, during the year 1827, we may well wonder whether the readership of lowbrow and popular fare (e.g., chivalric romances, anecdotes, songbooks) should be treated in the same breath with the public nearer the opposite end of the spectrum, the readers of almanacs, the handsome costly booklets purchased by society people of reasonably high erudition and means during the 1820s and early 1830s.6 Rather than to suggest an ossified division between high and low cultures and their consumers (I lack both the inclination and the data set for such an assertion), I would point out from the start that given the diversity of meanings that could accrue to reading as a cultural practice, in my own discussion of reading and publics, I mean to refer not to some specific, representative or historically verifiable and cohesive social formation, but rather, largely, to a series of rhetorical constructs, whose very relationship to a documentary context is complex, not least for the reasons outlined above.

7That all texts have the capacity to shape their audiences has long been a critical commonplace. Periodicals go about the business of forging their readerships in a markedly explicit fashion. The public, or the Russian publika, is a frequent topic of discussion. Especially during periods of large-scale transformations in the field of cultural production, journals and newspapers register and address the shifting contours of their audiences directly and sometimes quite systematically. The pages that follow treat the gradual and largely discursive constitution of a middling Russian public to which the main journals of the later years under study explicitly addressed their contents. Although my interest lies with the representation of readers, in the pages that follow I provide an aggregate picture of a data-based history of reading in Russia, using various sources—e.g., circulation figures, subscription lists, paper trails left by readers—to supply a necessarily incomplete and imperfect context for my observations.

8The source base for studying reading and readers during this period is rather uneven, especially if one wishes to give a systematic overview. The available data include circulation figures for a good number of journals, fairly detailed lists of subscribers for some of the eighteenth-century publications, the periodicals’ own often copious statements about their readerships, and such personal documents as epistolary correspondence, diaries, and reminiscences. None of these source sets provides an unproblematic and complete account of the period’s readers. Diaries, correspondence, and reminiscences tend to be heavily inflected by the cultural and generic imperatives of each epoch. Periodicals are liable to describe a hoped-for, rather than an actual state of affairs. Subscription lists, while useful, grant access to what may well be just a small (or, not representative) fraction of a given periodical’s readership and an unquestioning reliance on them has the potential to mislead and give a skewed picture. Circulation figures, both when impressive and poor, often have a good deal to do with such institutional circumstances of publishing as the vagaries of censorship, imperial patronage, and the editorial staff’s relationship with the authorities. In other words, circulation figures give a sense of the fare that was available (and this in itself is important), but these numerical data may or may not correspond with what readers wished to read or read with interest and gusto or, for that matter, read at all.

  • 7   Marker, “The creation of journals,” 18-19.

9How much do we know about numbers? On the whole, it is clear (and wholly unsurprising) that the number of people who read periodicals grew during the years covered by this chapter. In the second half of the eighteenth century the subscriber base of a given periodical was likely to be counted in the few hundreds, and sometimes even numbers in the high teens, approaching one hundred, were deemed something like respectable. Having some degree of unofficial imperial patronage and state support helped matters, but only to a certain extent. At its inception in 1769 the Catherinean Vsiakaia vsiachina (All Sorts of Everything) came out in a print run of about 1500 for the first several issues; this number declined to 500 copies for the last six issues. Its contemporary, Nikolai Novikov’s Truten’ (The Drone), maintained similar numbers, although its readership appears not to have declined as sharply. The rest of the satirical journals that were founded circa 1769 tended to have smaller subscriber bases, measured in the few hundreds.7 Most of them were very quick to cease publication. Judging by the available numbers, it seems likely that only a few hundred people could be counted among those who read satirical journals regularly and were willing to pay for the pastime. In fact, something akin to this situation—more reading fare than the period’s public was able to purchase and thereby support—will persist, albeit on a shifting scale, throughout the period under consideration.

  • 8   While at work on his novel-memoir Aksakov is known to have borrowed a full set of the periodical (...)
  • 9   A. Butkovskaia, “Rasskazy babushki,” Istoricheskii vestnik, 18 (1884), 594-631.

10But the contemporary readers ought not, perhaps, be the only ones to be counted. Periodicals were read by members of subsequent generations. Nikolai Karamzin began his journalistic career under Novikov’s guidance, as a member of the editorial staff (along with A. Petrov) of Detskoe chtenie dlia serdtsa i razuma (Children’s Reading for the Heart and Mind), Russia’s first children’s periodical, which was appended to the Moskovskie vedomosti (Moscow News), then under Novikov’s editorship. In his novel-memoir The Childhood Years of Bagrov-the-Grandson (Detskie gody Bagrova-vnuka) Sergei Aksakov recalls reading Detskoe chtenie with an almost obsessive enthusiasm.8 Like his alter ego the young boy Bagrov, Aksakov would have first read Detskoe chtenie, which was published in the 1780s, sometime in the early 1800s, in other words about ten to fifteen years after the initial publication of the issues. Such was the popularity of Russia’s first children’s journal that it saw multiple re-printings. Moreover, re-printings aside, to keep periodicals as part of one’s library and to bind them into sturdy and handsome books was a common practice not limited to literary journals. Another contemporary recalled the practice of keeping issues of Andrei Bolotov’s agricultural journal Ekonomicheskii magazin (Economic Magazine) bound into books as a useful reference source for the enterprising landowner.9 Like Detskoe chtenie, Ekonomicheskii magazin was also appended to Novikov’s Moskovskie vedomosti. It seems reasonable to suppose that these publications—target as they did specific sorts of audiences, children and parents in one case, active landowners interested in agricultural improvements in the other—probably garnered additional readers for many years after their initial publication. The longevity of these periodicals as library items should complicate our understanding of a given journal’s readership, since once read, what we might call old issues were likely to go not to the dustbin, but to the bookshelf.

  • 10   A. G. Cross, N. M. Karamzin: A Study of His Literary Career, 1783-1803 (Carbondale, 1971), 64.
  • 11   Cross, N. M. Karamzin, 216.

11When it comes, again, to contemporary numerical data, it appears as though the situation did not improve much in the 1790s. Anthony Glenn Cross reports that according to the lists published in Moskovskii zhurnal (The Moscow Journal), Karamzin had some 258 subscribers in the first year and 274 in 1792. Cross goes on to point out that “[o]f journals contemporary with Karamzin’s, Krylov’s Pochta dukhov (Spirits’ Postbag) (1789) had some 80 subscribers and his Zritel’ (Spectator, 1792) had 169.”10 Karamzin’s next major venture, Vestnik Evropy (The Messenger of Europe), was first published in 600 copies “but was so successful that the first number was republished and the monthly printing doubled to twelve hundred copies.”11 Just a few years later, Sergei Glinka’s Ruskoi vestnik (Russian Messenger) had some 750 known subscribers in 1811 and just over 500 in 1813, when its popularity began to wane precipitously. The Nikolaevan era witnessed a decisive broadening of the subscriber base. By the 1830s a very small number of privately owned periodicals were able to amass a subscriber base of a few thousand readers.

  • 12   The practice of subscription was not limited to periodicals. Potential readers were invited to pu (...)
  • 13   G. Marker, “Novikov’s Readers,” The Modern Language Review, 77, 4 (October 1982), 894-905.
  • 14   Marker, “The Creation of journals,” 24.

12Who were these readers? When it comes to a data-based reconstruction of this audience, for the eighteenth-century periodicals, published subscriber lists have provided a significant source.12 Both numerical and qualitative analyses of the available evidence about the reading of journals during the second half of the eighteenth century suggest that the majority of the audience was comprised of the gentry. (Here, again, it would be good to bear in mind that subscriber lists give an incomplete picture).13 As Gary Marker has put it, judging by the subscriber lists the regular readers of eighteenth-century journals “came from the very ranks of the relatively well-educated, affluent and socially privileged elite that had produced the journalists themselves.”14

13The composition of the reading public likely diversified some in the coming decades, to move beyond the socially privileged elite and to comprise the lower echelons of the gentry, including state servitors and provincial landowners, possibly the upper echelons of the merchantry and even townspeople. The likely make-up of the journals’ public expanded both numerically and demographically, which is to say (cautiously) that the narrative below about the rise of the Russian middle may have had a documentary basis that would be better treated by more pointedly historical scholarship.

  • 15   Quoted in O. E. Glagoleva, “A. T. Bolotov kak chitatel’,” Rukopisnaia i pechatnaia kniga v Rossii (...)

14Nevertheless, the growth and diversification of the reading public should not be overstated. Throughout the years covered by this essay, periodicals remained costly, even prohibitively so, for many if not for most potential readers. The personal correspondence of the educated segment of the population at the turn of the century is peppered with references to subscribing to various kinds of periodicals, as well as to books. The highly prolific writer and agronomist Andrei Bolotov is known to have been frugal in general, but such an avid reader that on books his household spent almost lavishly, especially so for the time period. Bolotov subscribed to a broad range of available periodicals, both Russian and foreign, with a particular preference for German fare. In 1804 he reported to his son that he had finally managed to do something the two of them had long hoped to accomplish. The Bolotovs were about to join two neighboring families with whom they would pool funds, eighteen rubles per household, in order to subscribe collectively to “1) newspapers, 2) a political journal, 3) vestnik Evropy [sic, messenger of Europe], 4) Moskovskii kur’er Merkuriia [the Moscow courier of Mercury], 5) vestnik Severnyi [the northern Messenger].” He also hoped to subscribe to “a Petersburg journal and the new news journal,” although about the latter he quipped that “God knows what sort of journal it will be.”15 Bolotov wished to engage a fourth person to take part in the venture, but averred, in the meantime, that even their current set would give the three households plenty to read. Bolotov’s example demonstrates that even to one of the century’s most avid readers, who was willing to spend a good deal of money, periodicals remained very expensive. Therefore, the practice of subscribing collectively and sharing newspapers and journals was appealing and, judging by the available evidence, quite common.

15A roughly analogous case may be observed decades later in the household of a lesser-known but no less interesting nobleman, Andrei Ivanovich Chikhachev of Vladimir province (see Golovina, Belles-Lettres and the Literary Interests of Middling Landowners, vol. 2). In a highly engaging micro-historical account of the Chikhachevs’ daily life in the first half of the nineteenth century, Katherine Antonova demonstrates that reading occupied a central position in the family’s habits. The pater familias and his wife Natalia Ivanovna were avid readers who frequently—indeed, routinely—shared their books and periodicals with their social circle and above all with Natalia’s brother, Iakov Chernavin. The two households lived both near and far enough from each other to warrant the keeping of what they called a notebook correspondence. More generally, in the extensive paper trail they left behind the family members recorded reading everything that came into their hands, as well as matters pertaining to sharing, and sometimes quarreling over, the main periodical publications of their time, including Severnaia pchela (The Northern Bee), the pater familias’s favorite, and Biblioteka dlia chteniia (The Library for Reading), the mater familias’s favorite. Antonova documents family disputes over such questions as who gets to read the latest issue of a given periodical first and who gets it second and for how long each party should be permitted to hold onto the item in question. A year’s subscription to Severnaia pchela cost fifty rubles. One could subscribe to Biblioteka dlia chteniia for the same price. Both periodicals were deemed rather costly. In 1834 Chikhachev and Chernavin considered splitting the subscription cost of Biblioteka dlia chteniia. As Antonova explains, there is little reason to think that the Chikhachevs and their circle were extraordinary. If anything, she presents thoroughly convincing evidence to propose that the Vladimir middling nobles (and my own choice of middling is prompted, in part, by Antonova’s preference for the term to describe her landowners) were quite unremarkable, even something like average.

  • 16   I should mention that I am not including institutional (sometimes charitable) subscriptions in th (...)

16All of this suggests that given the common practice of sharing periodicals, both circulation figures and subscriber data may only indicate partly and in an incomplete manner the contours of the actual and likely readers of Russian journals and newspapers. For this reason it is sometimes suggested that the subscription or circulation rates be multiplied by a factor of x (and it should probably be up to historians to set the value of x) in order to arrive at something closer to the size of an actual readership.16 This means that the circulation figures given throughout this essay should be taken as estimates that, at least in some cases, are quite a bit smaller than a given publication’s actual readership.

17In addition to the available contextual and numerical information about reading practices at this time, the periodicals themselves provide a good deal in the way of statements if not about their actual, historical readership then about the hoped-for audience that the literati cultivated, simulated or modeled on the pages of their publications. Here we begin to move from data to representations.

  • 17   Although nominally edited by Grigorii Kozitskii, Catherine’s secretary, the journal was widely kn (...)
  • 18   The journal’s epigraph, “They work while you consume their labor,” was taken from a fable by Suma (...)

18What did reading mean in the context of Catherine II’s encouragement of the Russian satirical weeklies in 1769? Prompted by royal support and example, a number of journals followed the lead of the empress’s Vsiakaia vsiachina;17 several of them imitated its title—e.g., Smes’ (Medley), I To, i sio (This and That), Ni To, ni sio (Neither This Nor That), pointing, at least implicitly, to hodgepodge, varied contents that begin to approximate the middle cultural register. Among these satirical weeklies Novikov’s Truten’ may be singled out for the fact that its title did not allude to Vsiakaia vsiachina in the manner of its contemporaries. Instead, Novikov preferred to highlight continuity in the Russian periodical tradition by referencing the title of Alexander Sumarokov’s Trudoliubivaia pchela (Busy Bee) and relying on the erudition of his readership.18

  • 19   W. G. Jones, Nikolay Novikov. Enlightener of Russia (Cambridge, 1984), 19.

19The empress’s own Vsiakaia vsiachina has been read as a “a surprisingly light-hearted but quite legitimate sequel to the Nakaz,” Catherine’s instruction to the Legislative Commission of 1767 and the chief legislative document of the early years of her reign.19 To a limited degree, both on the pages of Vsiakaia vsiachina and elsewhere in the satirical journalistic milieu (notably, in Novikov’s periodicals) certain kinds of political preoccupations—processed through the Enlightenment’s didactic tools and in the context of polite sociability—loom rather large. By far the best-known content of the satirical weeklies are the discussions of the cultivation of virtue and the eradication of vice that gave rise to the polemics, much discussed in Soviet criticism, between Vsiakaia vsiachina and Truten’. Above all, however, these journals depicted communication, exchanges, sociability and communities that had various political meanings.

  • 20   C. H. Whittaker, Russian Monarchy: Eighteenth-century Rulers and Writers in Political Dialogue (D (...)
  • 21   E. Kimerling Wirtschafter, The Play of Ideas in Russian Enlightenment Theater (DeKalb, IL, 2003). (...)

20The weekly journal’s format may have been well-suited to Catherine’s aims of encouraging cooperation between the state and its subjects. This seems particularly significant if we do take the journals of 1769 as, in some sense, a continuation of the Nakaz and hence a venture that may be viewed as an attribute or an artifact of state policy, a way to encourage public discourse, to a limited extent. That Catherine’s reign (especially in its early years) was characterized by the simulation of scenarios of cooperation and dialog between the ruler and the cultural elite has been shown compellingly by Cynthia Whittaker.20 The satirical journals then may be viewed as one among many other avenues or sites for state-and-subject cooperation and exchange. (Other such avenues would include, for example, the theater).21

  • 22   In Origins of the Russian Intelligentsia Marc Raeff argued that state service remained the nobili (...)
  • 23   See in this volume, Baudin, “Reading in the Times of Catherine II”.

21More specifically, the journals may be viewed as a way to engage the upper classes in edifying dialog. Russian male nobles had been freed from obligatory state service by Peter III’s manifesto of 1762. Service would remain a cultural and social necessity (if no longer a legal obligation) both until and well after Catherine II’s 1785 Charter to the Nobility, which confirmed the privileges granted in 1762.22 In the long aftermath of the nobility’s so-called emancipation from service, there arose a degree of anxiety about gentry freedom and about free time as such. The journals of the period, inasmuch as they were to serve an instructive function (recall the neo-classical formulation: dolce et utile), may have been responding to a set of fears about potentially unproductive male nobles, by promoting an ethos of usefulness among the elite and by offering what Rodolphe Baudin calls “proper forms of leisure (see baudin, “Reading in the age of Catherine II”, in the present volume.”)23

  • 24   Jones, Nikolay Novikov, 20.

22The journals could serve as an introduction to reading regularly. Because they were short and flimsy, the weeklies were relatively easy to produce and to procure. Their brevity and quite motley contents may have appeared inviting to readers unused to serious fare, a possible target audience.24 The journals expended considerable textual resources to depict their own (hoped-for) readers. In this, the satirical weeklies followed their predecessors, the most influential among these being Richard Steele and Joseph Addison’s The Spectator. Additionally, such English periodicals as The Tatler and The Guardian were widely read by the Russian literati of the mid- and late-eighteenth century and re-workings of articles published in these and other journals abound in the Russian press of the time. Like the English satirical journals the Russian periodicals likewise contained depictions of a simulated, quite lively audience, since the inclusion of an active public as an object of representation was a very common generic feature of the English moral weekly.

23Novikov’s Truten’ showcased a purportedly rather diverse readership that included serious, educated men, intelligent as well as frivolous women, provincials, and excitable fops, among others. The editor Mr. Drone [Gospodin Truten’] was depicted as an emphatically middling, as opposed to an upper crust, nobleman both in cultural formation and fortune. That Mr. Drone is said to have begun his venture, because, as a non-serving nobleman, he hoped to be of service to the fatherland amplifies the earlier point about the Catherine-era periodicals as a means to foster an ethos of civic usefulness among the nobility and, perhaps, well beyond it.

24The main vehicle for simulating a readership figured as a community came in the satirical weeklies’ most productive generic forms: letters addressed to friends, family, other associates, or to the editor. In such journals as Truten’ and Vsiakaia vsiachina a good deal of the contents were epistolary in form. The journals were organized in such a way that the central editorial personae in charge—e.g., Mr. Drone for Truten’, the Editor or “messieurs the authors” (gospoda sochiniteli) for Vsiakaia vsiachina—acted as a charismatic center around whom the fictitious contributors to the journal gathered, forming a kind of social club (again, as in the case of their English predecessors). As various fictitious contributors were shown to be writing missives to the editorial offices, these journals simulated and modeled forms of polite and enlightened sociability. Novikov’s periodicals also contained brief verbal portraits, as if drawn from life. This practice of portraiture yielded a gallery of social types and simulated another sort of community, if not of readers, then more broadly the social world of the period, which was comprised of at least potential readers.

  • 25   N. I. Novikov, Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Moscow, Leningrad, 1951), 96.

25Despite the documentary evidence that these eighteenth-century journals were largely consumed by the upper echelons of the gentry, some journalists tended sometimes to depict their publics as both larger and more diverse than available data suggest. Of Novikov’s ventures the journal Zhivopisets (The Painter) was among the most successful: it went through five printings, a very high number for the period. Novikov explained the success of Zhivopisets by claiming, in the foreword to the third edition, that townspeople—members of the meshchanstvo estate—liked it; he went on to align his journal with the so-called lowbrow literature or nizovaia literatura of the period, which, he noted, boasted many titles that had gone through multiple printings.25 (And indeed, repeated publication was seen—as it continues to be seen by many scholars today with good reason—as fairly convincing evidence of popularity). Novikov’s assertion should not be taken as a statement of fact; again, the available evidence suggests that the readership would have been highly unlikely to include meshchane in any significant way. But the gesture itself is interesting for the extent to which it registers the uniqueness of the Russian case in a European context: the reading public for analogous publications in Western Europe was beginning to be predominantly middleclass or bourgeois. (The appearance, much earlier in the century, of such periodicals as The Tatler and The Spectator responded to the upwardly mobile middleclass readers’ need for various sorts of edification, not least an introduction to high or aristocratic culture). Might Novikov have been hoping to transplant a similar sort of middling public and culture to the Russian journalistic market by simulating its existence? And, relatedly, might Novikov have been prompted more by his awareness of the situation in Europe, than by a Russian documentary reality? Perhaps. Ultimately, both in the aggregate view of the public as a near-encyclopedic community of social types and in the insistence on the presence of meshchane among the readership, Novikov’s ventures come very close to depicting various iterations of the cultural middle.

26The subsequent generation of journalists would continue, occasionally, to imagine a markedly democratic readership. Some decades later Nikolai Karamzin would write about readers even more democratic than Novikov’s meshchane. In the much-consulted “About the Sale of Books and the Love for Reading in Russia,” a programmatic essay published in his Vestnik Evropy, Karamzin reported that merchants and townspeople (meshchane) had a particular taste for newspapers. He also described still commoner people, illiterate bakers, who pool their money to purchase a paper and hear news of Austrian and French battles read aloud to them. In inviting commoners to participate in the empire’s public and political life Karamzin’s rhetoric reaches far beyond the nobility in a way that, again, approximates the demographic middle (merchants, townspeople). Ultimately, it would be prudent to view the rhetorical simulation of both the middling and common readers as a reflection of Karamzin’s and Novikov’s awareness of the West European preponderance of middleclass readers and their cautious interest in the cultivation of a more democratic enlightenment at home. Lastly, since letters and missives of various sorts figured quite prominently among the contents of Vestnik Evropy, including articles that were authored by Karamzin but appeared under various noms de plume as purported contributions addressed to the journal or the editor from a relatively ordinary reader, this journal, too, actively produced a discursive simulation of its public.

27The tendency to foreground the readership as a rhetorical construct intensified in the coming years, especially with the rise of patriotically minded journals during the Napoleonic Wars. Two journals deserve particular mention here: Sergei Glinka’s Ruskoi vestnik, which was founded in 1808, and Grech’s Syn otechestva (Son of the Fatherland), which was launched in 1812. In Ruskoi vestnik Glinka devoted a good deal of space to letters to the editor and rousing accounts of war-time patriotic acts performed by people from all walks of life, including landowners, merchants, and peasants from various regions of Russia. Again, this multi-estate (in the sense of soslovie) aggregate picture of the nation veered (if only implicitly) towards the notion that in sharing the discursive space of the journal these diverse contributors may have co-inhabited middling culture.

  • 26   My numbers above come from Martin. The numbers for 1813 are as follows: 451 nobles, 52 merchants, (...)

28It would be difficult to determine whether it was Glinka’s insistence on discussing and depicting the Russian provinces that yielded the impressive geographic spread of his readership. Among the roughly 750 subscribers in 1811 fewer than three hundred lived in Moscow, while the remaining five hundred or so resided all over the empire. It will not be surprising that the conservatism of Glinka’s Ruskoi vestnik was not popular in Petersburg. In 1813, a year during which Glinka printed the ranks of subscribers, the overwhelming majority were nobles, with some merchants, very few clergy and one Siberian townsperson. Alexander Martin, my source for the numbers I have given above, calls Glinka’s audience “broadly representative of the literate public, with the exception of clergymen, who (perhaps because the Vestnik usually ignored religious topics) ordered only nine subscriptions.”26 Martin also points out that the main ideas propagated by Glinka’s journal likely resounded with the provincial conservative nobility especially strongly. Glinka’s journal is frequently juxtaposed with his occasional collaborator Fedor Rostopchin’s rousing war-time pamphlets that featured crude Gallophobic sentiments and sought to incite the populace against Napoleon’s troops and, ultimately, all things French. It is true that there is some overlap in tone as well as in content. And perhaps it is fitting that both were ventures of the moment. After the War of 1812 Glinka’s journal began to lose popularity; even by 1813 it is difficult to make a case for Ruskoi vestnik as a major force in the year’s journalistic milieu.

29Whereas Glinka’s journalistic career more or less ended with the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars (that is, he continued to work on various projects, but would never regain the prominence of 1808-1813), Grech went on to become one of the most successful journalists of the second quarter of the nineteenth century. And yet their periodicals were, at least initially, quite similar. Ruskoi vestnik and Syn otechestva shared the task of providing patriotically minded fare in 1812. The journals used quite similar tactics in depicting their audiences. Both Ruskoi vestnik and Syn otechestva published stories about persons experiencing hardship and announced various charitable causes and listed the names (and sometimes ranks and locations) of contributors towards these causes. Both Ruskoi vestnik and Syn otechestva printed a good deal in the way of purportedly personal correspondence that dealt in one way or in another with the trials of war. Both asked for epistolary contributions from the reading public. Both journals cultivated an ethos of nation-wide participation in the empire’s wartime effort. In this way both Ruskoi vestnik and Syn otechestva provided on their pages a systematic representation of a reading public avidly engaged in wartime patriotic sociability that took place in the discursive space of the Russian cultural middle register.

  • 27   “Smes’,” Syn Otechestva, 5 (1812), 212.

30Like their predecessors, these periodicals, too, tended to depict a heterogeneous and even a democratic public. Occasionally, Syn otechestva liked to imagine even peasants who read a great deal. In an early issue in 1812, there is an anecdote about an officer asking peasants whether they are afraid of the French. The peasants reply guilelessly: they do not fear anyone, because “our kirilovtsy” are fighting the French all over the provinces. The editorial voice explains that “the kind peasants, having read in the papers (nachitavshis’ v gazetakh) a great deal about Spanish guerillas” call the locally formed troop brigades “kirillovtsy,” in a peasants’ colloquial perversion of the foreign-sounding (to the Russian ear) word “guerilla.”27 The very fact that they have come up with this linguistic perversion, the very fact that the newspaper’s report has entered and altered their peasant vocabulary, means that, however improbably from an historical perspective, these peasant-soldiers are newspaper readers. This gesture may be viewed in the context of Karamzin’s note about common, illiterate bakers who gather to hear the paper read. In both cases, the periodicals invite a degree of (thoroughly loyalist) democratic participation in the empire’s political life. While it is hard to say just how varied the actual audience of Syn otechestva would have been, the fact that the journal is known to have included print reproductions of woodcuts (mainly on the theme of the 1812 war) suggests at least a desire to attract a diverse (and maybe not an entirely literate) public to whom these illustrations might have appealed.

31There is memoiristic evidence that the cultural elite read it. Fillip Vigel’ writes about Syn otechestva with characteristic wit and dismissiveness. He begins by pointing out that the period’s extant periodicals did not know how to report, or perhaps did not dare write, about the politics of the moment. To a certain extent, Syn otechestva was established in order to fill this gap. Vigel writes:

  • 28   Vigel’s “posle uzhina gorchitsa” is the Russian translation of “C’est de la moutarde après dîner, (...)

In the beginning of December I was already reading greedily [Grech’s] weak little booklets (zhiden’kie knizhki), which were filled with expressive, even rabid articles. There were some people who found that this was after meat, mustard (posle uzhina gorchitsa), but not so for those who burned with selfless love for the fatherland, valued its honor and hoped to see its absolute glory. For their righteous ire this journal provided great sustenance.28

32Vigel speaks as a literary aristocrat of the Pushkin circle and so cannot help but betray a somewhat condescending attitude towards Grech and, later in the account, also towards his eventual collaborator Bulgarin. However, whatever his reservations (and no doubt his condescension has to do partly with both Grech’s and Bulgarin’s reputations as writers of a commercial and thoroughly middling orientation, at least one of whom [Bulgarin] was known widely to be an informant for the Third Section), Vigel’ admits that Syn otechestva filled an important lacuna in the reporting of political content.

33Grech’s journal had been founded as a political publication: its stated purpose was to report military and, to a limited degree, political news, and thereby shape public opinion. But its contents veered decisively away from politics after the Napoleonic Wars, once the patriotic (and, to a degree, also the political) function of the journal had been exhausted. It became a literary and historical journal. Its evolution issued another invitation to a middling readership. In 1815 Grech introduced an important journalistic genre: the “obozrenie or survey of Russian literature for a given year. Vissarion Belinskii is probably the most famous practitioner of this genre; he produced such surveys in the 1830s and 1840s. It is difficult to imagine Belinskii’s career (or, for that matter, the Russian literary culture of his period) without these sweeping reviews. In the 1815 context, the very idea of reviewing the year’s literary developments amounts to a gesture that serves a broader, potentially less refined readership, since new readers would stand to benefit a great deal from a systematic overview that may help them navigate a largely unfamiliar book market and cultural milieu.

  • 29   A. I. Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin. Pis’ma i agenturnye zapiski F.V. Bulgarina v III otdelenie (Mosc (...)

34In the years to come, Grech’s long-time collaborator Faddei Bulgarin would underscore his preference for an audience comprised of people of the middling condition, using the phrase srednee sostoianie to refer to this segment of the population. In 1826 Bulgarin submitted a note to the Third Section describing the Russian public. He split it into four categories: grandees and wealthy people, middling people (srednee sostoianie), the poor (nizhnee sostoianie), and lastly academics and writers (uchenye i literatory). Bulgarin went on to suggest that when it came to a capacity to purchase and read books, the most important and most numerous among these groups were the middling estate, whom Bulgarin split further into the following categories: (a) well-to-do nobles who either serve the state or live in the country as landowners, (b) poor nobles educated in state institutions, (c) bureaucrats and petty officials, (d) wealthy merchants, industrialists and even townspeople.29 Bulgarin reported that these people—the middling ones—effectively were the Russian public. They tended to do the vast majority of their reading in Russian (unlike the elite who continued to read in European languages) and they read a great deal in the way of periodicals, both newspapers and journals. Bulgarin opined that the authorities might make a more concerted effort to shape the opinions of precisely this segment of the population, which he saw as something like a coherent, corporate entity, the people of srednee sostoianie or middling condition. His own works—both journalistic and literary—served this population.

  • 30  N. Schleifman, “A Russian Daily Newspaper and Its New Readership: ‘Severnaia pchela,’ 1825-1840”, (...)
  • 31   In the early 1830s Pushkin attempted to found what could have been a rival newspaper. Although he (...)
  • 32   Reitblat, Kak Pushkin, 128-156.

35No discussion of Grech and Bulgarin would be complete without some treatment of Severnaia pchela, the newspaper, which was, for a host of different reasons, among the period’s most popular privately owned periodicals. Its circulation is believed to have reached four thousand in the course of the 1830s, a rather high number for a private venture at this time.30 Its success rested in part with the fact that Grech and Bulgarin were permitted to print political news and that they—in part thanks to Bulgarin’s collaboration with the Third Section—were deemed sufficiently reliable to handle such content.31 Again, this shows the degree to which the Nikolaevan censorship apparatus played a major role in shaping the period’s public discourse. That Bulgarin’s coziness with the state was far from unusual should be noted. As Abram Reitblat has shown, some form of collaboration with the Third Section was all but unavoidable for any major journalist wishing to report political content throughout the Pushkin period.32 Additionally, it seems reasonable to propose that the newspaper’s success had as much to do with the editors’ ties to the Third Section as it did with their professionalism.

36Much like the periodicals that preceded it, Severnaia pchela depicted its public on its pages. Both the readership and the contents of the paper were described as variously middling. Here is how Severnaia pchela wrote about its readership and the business of reading the paper in an article published in December of 1833:

  • 33   “Zhurnalizm,” Severnaia pchela, December 28, 1833.

Who, nowadays, does not read newspapers and journals? From the grandee to the servant, from the director of a department to the lowest scribe, from the first-guild (pervostateinyi) merchant to the minor huckster, not to mention old Germans who, since the very creation of the world, or, pardon, since the very invention of newspapers and beer, have been great lovers of both! And then how can one not read newspapers! They have everything you want: here is a perfect omnibus et de omnibus. Here you will learn about all of the goings on: which English Minister had breakfast and which one gave a dinner; who has lost a dog; where Don Pedro’s troops are headed; who has lost a wallet; who wishes to thank someone and who annuls a letter of authority and urges the public not to trust someone else; here you will hear discussions about Belleville-Oury and announcements about new shoe polish; arguments about the Spanish affairs, and quarrels regarding the Author so-and-so who does not put commas where they are needed; descriptions of virtuous people and estimates for the number of thieves, swindlers, and children of love and Nature in various parts of the world; here, as the Ancients used to say, is a real microcosm.33

37It will surprise no one that Severnaia pchela claims that everyone is reading it. The contrast between high and low, between grandee and servant, suggests both a great demographic sweep and also, implicitly, a middling audience. As the newspaper admitted in the same article, the periodical’s most typical reader was the office clerk who studies the paper before showing up at work at some departament in Nicholas I’s famously bloated bureaucracy. Certainly Severnaia pchela’s reputation was that its public was, on the one hand, very much middling (the people of srednee sostoianie that Bulgarin had described in 1826, more or less) and also of a rather broad sweep, stretching, as it were, from the tsar himself to the lowest scribe.

38This public was imagined to be what I would call pre-political. The same issue of Severnaia pchela included the following description of readers at a Petersburg pastry shop:

Now have a look inside any pastry shop, in the morning, at midday, in the afternoon, in the evening; in particular, go to Wolff’s by the Police Bridge one of these days. This is the gathering place of all our news aficionados; in every corner, at every table, by every window, people are sitting, eating, drinking, and reading the Journal de St. Pétersbourg, Journal des Débats, Allgemeine Zeitung, [Severnaia] Pchela, Syn otechestva, [Moskovskii] Telegraf, Teleskop, and every other journal in the world, excepting, of course, those that, due to the vastness and bombast of their ideas, cannot pass the great gates of customs control at the border and must remain at our winter-quarters along with Dutch lace. Admittedly, in our pastry shops it is not customary to discuss, to argue, or even to speak much; people tend to look at each other in a sullen fashion, and for this reason it is rare to find anything engaging among the readers, other than their appearance, which may be thoughtful, angry, self-important, or egotistical.

  • 34   J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category of Bo (...)
  • 35   The term “reading revolution” comes from Rolf Engelsing, “Die Perioden der Lesergeschichte in Der (...)

39To a reader of Habermas34 and the public sphere scholarship that has followed his work, the over-populated pastry shop where people read without discussing looks almost too perfect in its suggestion of a reading revolution35 come late and the rise of a resultant pre- or quasi-political peculiarly Nikolaevan iteration of the public sphere. It is a German coffeeshop minus the conversations. Do we take this to be a moment of tacit acknowledgement that the Russian public sphere is less lively, less given to discourse than those of the polities to the west of Nicholas’ empire, whence issue the bombastic ideas that “cannot pass the great gates of customs control”? The Russian press at this time betrays a double orientation, on the one hand, for the endorsement of lively public discourse and political participation and, on the other hand, for semi-cautionary statements that seek to rein in the transformation of Russian public culture.

40This double orientation is palpable in the article’s next scene that describes how the newspaper is read at chancelleries and departamenty. The clerks read the paper together. One clerk reads while the others sharpen quills and so forth. We are told that,

  • 36   “Zhurnalizm,” Severnaia pchela, December 28, 1833.

Once the newspapers have been read the debates commence: one [clerk] is willing to stake his own head that the Duchesse de Berry must be on the steamship Carlo Alberto, another keeps saying that Don Carlos will take the Spanish throne, a third is willing to bet that the party of the Carlists in France will be triumphant, everyone supports one side or another, presents his own evidence, and the debate, which sometimes goes too far, is left until the next issue of the newspaper, which will finally undo this Gordian knot.36

41Thus, albeit rather cautiously, Severnaia pchela also simulated a lively culture of public debate about foreign news items. It thus represented a quasi-political public sphere characterized by a great deal of talk and the clerks’ peculiar, heated workplace sociability that is both inspired and paced by each subsequent issue of the newspaper. In other words, the proliferation of autocratic print capitalism here is imagined both to enable heated political discourse and to set its pace, to delimit it and to contain it, as the clerks sheepishly await the next issue. Nikolaevan print capitalism, then, would seem both to enable the rise of public culture and discourse and to curb or control it.

  • 37   I am grateful to Yelizaveta Raykhlina for the observation that many of Severnaia pchela’s contrib (...)
  • 38   N. V. Gogol’, Polnoe sobraniie sochinenii v 14-i tomakh (Moscow, Leningrad, 1937-1952), vol. 3, 1 (...)

42In addition to explicitly staging the circumstances of its own reading, Severnaia pchela depicted its publics in multiple ways. Like other periodicals before it, the paper printed a good deal in the way of texts – reports, observations, letters to the editor – that were, purportedly, sent in by average people. (And in the case of Severnaia pchela, it seems likely that a good number of these contributions were authentic).37 In this way, Severnaia pchela represented on its pages a public comprised of active ordinary contributors. Bulgarin himself is known to have written from the position of an average person. His most famous such persona—the Finnish landowner (Chukhonskii pomeshchik)—was immortalized in Gogol’s Poprishchin’s exclamation that “Kursk landowners write well.” It will be recalled that Gogol’s madman office clerk is an inveterate reader of Severnaia pchela, which he calls affectionately “the little bee,” as in his pithy report: “Chital Pchelku.”38Although the affectionate diminutive may appear a Gogolian exaggeration, it turns out, in this case, to have at least one historical analog, though certainly not a source.

  • 39  Antonova, An Ordinary Marriage, 214.

43Like Gogol’s Poprishchin, Andrei Ivanovich Chikhachev, the landowner of Vladimir Province to whose family Katherine Antonova devoted the micro-historical account discussed above, likewise called Bulgarin and Grech’s newspaper by various nicknames—e.g., little beetle, little bee (zhuchka, pchelka)—and went so far as to call Bulgarin himself a “little berry” (iagodka).39 Chikhachev’s preference and even something like affection for all things Bulgarin and especially his oft-expressed familiarity with the litterateur (familiarity here, in the sense of foregoing ceremony) is symptomatic of perhaps the most important aspect of how Bulgarin built his relationship with the public: writer and reader were to be equals. In fact, as Antonova explains, Chikhachev was ultimately inspired by Bulgarin’s example to take up the pen and become a quite prolific contributor to various periodicals. And the Chikhachevs were exactly the sort of family that could be described as people of the middling rank or condition, as Antonova shows with great verve. They were middling nobles who had little in the way of connections to the empire’s elite and who spent the majority of their time at their estate in Vladimir province. They were middling readers with a taste for middling fare, served well by Severnaia pchela’s middling contents: middling in the sense of middlebrow. In the lengthy description of the newspaper’s contents quoted earlier, the rather irreverent juxtaposition of what should be incongruous subjects—an English minister and a lost dog, the French-German pianist and composer Anna Caroline Belleville-Oury and new shoe polish—announces the newspaper’s pervasive embrace of the middle register. By the mid-1820s and 1830s these sorts of middling or middlebrow contents were understood to help garner a sizable subscriber base. Take, for example, Nikolai Polevoi’s Moskovskii telegraf (Moscow Telegraph), which was launched in 1825 and was perceived by contemporaries to have more startlingly varied contents than any major journal to date: notoriously, everything from a portrait of Byron to fashion plates.

  • 40   Frazier, Romantic Encounters, especially 15-46.

44The period’s paradigmatic journal for middling contents was Biblioteka dlia chteniia, which startled the literary establishment when it amassed a large and growing subscriber base of four, then five thousand in 1834. Biblioteka dlia chteniia described its public as well. Once again, letters to the editor and letters exchanged among various fictitious personages loomed rather large; these fictitious persons could be average or anything but, as in the case of the recurrent and rather exotic, clearly foreign-sounding personae of the Baron and Baroness Brambeus, and Tutundzhi-oglu and Kritikzada, for example. The journal’s editor created a cast of characters that included both lay readers and critics. The first scholar to read Senkovskii’s journal as an expression of a serious aesthetic program, Melissa Frazier, considers Biblioteka’s sophisticated play with the dynamic exchanges between writers, readers, and critics as an attribute of Romanticism. When it comes to the documentary circumstances surrounding Senkovskii’s career, particularly pertaining to the traffic in books, Frazier rightly points out that a literary market is always at least partly a fiction, inasmuch as the marketplace is constituted in part through rhetoric.40

  • 41   S. Shevyrev, “Slovesnost’ i torgovlia,” Moskovskii nabliudatel’, 1 (March 1835), 5-29.

45That seems a useful point to bear in mind as one considers the highly anxious responses that Biblioteka dlia chteniia elicited from a range of contemporaries, including, for example, Nikolai Gogol, whom the journal prompted to question the very constitution of the Russian reading public. Responses from the period’s literati took the form of laments regarding the commercialization of culture; notably, Stepan Shevyrev called Senkovskii’s journal a bundle of banknotes, turned into articles or, puk assignatsii, prevrashchennyi v stat’i.41 Perhaps the most influential (or the most oft-cited) among the responses to Biblioteka dlia chteniia came from Belinskii who judged that the journal’s readership must have been provincial in multiple keys: both in the sense of rural location and in the sense of distance from the cultural values espoused by the highbrow elite. Belinskii wrote (and here I quote his oft-reproduced reaction at length):

  • 42   V. G. Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 13 tomakh (Moscow, 1953-1959), vol. 2, 20.

Imagine the family of a steppe landowner, a family that reads everything that falls into its hands, cover to cover; they haven’t yet had a chance to finish one issue, to re-read where subscriptions are taken and to have a look at the table of contents, but another book is already on its way to them, and [this book] is just as fat, just as beefy, just as chatty, loquacious, just as liable to speak in one tongue and also in many. And indeed, what variety! The daughter reads the poetry of messieurs Ershov, Gogniev, Strugovshchikov and the stories of messieurs Zagoskin, Ushakov, Panaev, Kalashnikov, and Masal’skii; the son, as a member of the new generation, reads the poetry of monsieur Timofeev and the stories of Baron Brambeus; the father reads articles about the two- and three-field crop rotation system and various methods for fertilizing the soil, while the mother reads about a new way to cure consumption and dye thread; and then for those interested there remain the criticism, the literary chronicle, from which it is possible to dig up great handfuls upon handfuls of (often clever and sharp, although seldom fair and scrupulous) judgments about contemporary literature; and [in addition to this] you still have the variegated, motley miscellany; you still have the scientific articles and the news about foreign literatures. Isn’t it true that such a journal is a real treasure-trove (klad) for the provinces?42

46“Provinces” here is code for the middle both as a demographic designation and a cultural register. The very speed with which Biblioteka is produced, the fact that a new issue arrives before the family has had a chance to properly enjoy the first suggests the disposable, easily reproducible character of modern middlebrow print culture. What Belinskii underscores above all else is the motley nature of Biblioteka’s contents, its encyclopedic embrace of the middle register, which attracted the purchasing public.

47However, it should be pointed out that despite Biblioteka’s success, the readership remained too small to support the cultural producers. The second quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a number of rather nasty quarrels between rival groups and periodical publications. These quarrels were, to a considerable extent, about a purchasing public too small to subscribe to more than a handful of periodicals. Thus, for example, the re-launch of Otechestvennye zapiski under Kraevskii’s editorship triggered Bulgarin to write notes to the Third Section, denouncing what he claimed was a politically subversive journal. In retrospect, it is very likely that he feared losing readers. In fact, Bulgarin and Grech ultimately did lose their readership both to Kraevskii and, later, to Sovremennik (The Contemporary) once it was under Nikolai Nekrasov’s editorship. By the late 1840s both Bulgarin’s and Senkovskii’s popularity with the public waned, as their readers were replaced by a younger generation with different tastes and interests. Ultimately, one could suggest that what began in the 1760s as a largely rhetorical gesture that delineated an increasingly demographically diverse reading public, by the middle decades of the nineteenth century, became actualized in the audiences served by Kraevskii and Nekrasov, audiences for which the raznochintsy (people of various ranks) would, in another decade or so, become a key constituent.

  • 43   D. Gasperetti, The Rise of the Russian Novel: Carnival, Stylization, and Mockery of the West (DeK (...)

48Beginning with Otechestvennye zapiski and extending well into the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the so-called thick journals came to dominate Russian cultural production and inaugurated the age of the realist novel, whose very poetics would be determined, in part, by its media context. It is among this essay’s implicit contentions that throughout the period under study, the press’s cultivation of a middling cultural register aided in the development of novelistic prose and sensibility. The 1769 inception of the Catherinean satirical journals coincided with the early stages in the disintegration of the neoclassical generic system, a phenomenon that had a good deal to do with the development of a middle style or a middling cultural idiom. (This period had an understudied, but lively and popular [and, in some ways, markedly middling] novelistic tradition—e.g., Mikhail Chulkov’s The Comely Cook [Prigozhaia povarikha], Fedor Emin’s Letters of Ernest and Doravra [Pis’ma Ernesta i Doravry]).43 In the coming decades, a range of periodicals championed the novel as a cultural form. This is apparent on the pages of Karamzin’s Vestnik Evropy, where the editor all but trains future readers of novels. In a somewhat different, but related vein, Bulgarin and company likewise endorsed the novel as an edifying and a commercial product: witness the veritable advertising campaign they undertook to yield the rather high sales of Bulgarin’s own Ivan Vyzhigin. Although some contemporaries found Bulgarin and Grech’s PR campaign outrageous, in the later decades the reciprocally profitable relationship between periodicals and the novel would become more or less normalized, as serialization in the thick journals took hold. The earlier period treated in this essay paved the way for the familiar mid- and late-nineteenth-century complicity between periodicals and the novel, a complicity expressed in poetics, thematic sensibilities, cultural register, and not least, in readers, publics, and purchasing audiences.


Antonova Pickering K., An Ordinary Marriage: The World of a Gentry Family in Provincial Russia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Cross A. G., N. M. Karamzin: A Study of His Literary Career, 1783-1803 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971).

Darnton R., The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York: Basic Books, 1984).

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

Glagoleva O. E., “A. T. Bolotov kak chitatel’,” in A. A. Zaitseva, M. V. Kukushkina, V. A. Somov (eds.), Rukopisnaia i pechatnaia kniga v Rossii. Problemy sozdaniia i rasprostraneniia. Sbornik nauchnykh trudov (Leningrad: BAN, 1988).

Grits T., Trenin V., Nikitin M., Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia: knizhnaia lavka A. F. Smirdina, edited by V. B. Shklovskii and B. M. Eikhenbaum (Moscow: AGRAF, 2001; First published 1929).

Jones W. G., Nikolay Novikov. Enlightener of Russia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

Marker G., “The Creation of Journals and the Profession of Letters in the Eighteenth Century”, in D. Martinsen (ed.), Literary Journals in Imperial Russia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 11-37.

Marker G., “Novikov’s Readers”, The Modern Language Review, 77, 4 (Oct. 1982), 894-905.

Marker G., Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of the Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700-1800 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

Martinsen D. (ed.), Literary Journals in Imperial Russia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Remnek M. (ed.), The Space of the Book: Print Culture in the Russian Social Imagination (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011).

Reitblat A. I., Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii: istoriko-sotsiologicheskie ocherki o knizhnoi kul’ture Pushkinskoi epokhi (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2001).

Samarin, A. Iu., Tipografshchiki i knigochety: Ocherki po istorii knigi v Rossii vtoroi poloviny XVIII veka (Moscow: Pashkov dom, 2013).

Smith-Peter S., “The Russian Provincial Newspaper and Its Public, 1788-1864,” The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 1908 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2008).

Todd W. M. III, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin: Ideology, Institutions, and Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).

Vatsuro V. E., Gillel’son M. I., Skvoz’ umstvennye plotiny: iz istorii knigi i pressy pushkinskoi pory (Moscow: Kniga, 1972).


1   My understanding of cultural registers and the cultural middle comes, first of all, from various works by Pierre Bourdieu, including Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. R. Nice (London, 1984) and The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. S. Emanuel (Stanford, 1996). My thinking about the rhetorical constitution of the Russian reading public is shaped, in part, by M. Frazier, Romantic Encounters: Writers, Readers and the Library for Reading (Stanford, 2007).

2   Lest the impression form that the estates allowed for no social mobility, I should point the reader to Alison K. Smith, whose research shows both the flexibility and the lasting significance of the estates system in Russian imperial life. See A. K. Smith, For the Common Good and Their Own Well-Being: Social Estates in Imperial Russia (Oxford, 2014).

3   As Julie Buckler points out, “the literary middle has been an object of abuse, reviled as the refuge of vulgar epigones, where ‘pure’ aristocratic and folk cultures are contaminated by market influences.” She continues to note that more generally in Russian studies “the ‘middle’ represents a kind of conceptual outpost, so vexed is this notion for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian literature, social life, and urban geography.” J. A. Buckler, Mapping St. Petersburg: Imperial Text and Cityshape (Princeton, 2005), 5. My preference for the term “middling” is prompted, in part, by Katherine Pickering Antonova, An Ordinary Marriage: The World of a Gentry Family in Provincial Russia (Oxford, 2013). All segments of Russian middling culture of the imperial period remain understudied. On advice literature see C. Kelly, Refining Russia: Advice Literature, Polite Conduct and Gender from Catherine to Yeltsin (Oxford, 2001).

4   Previously, the journal was edited by Pavel Svin’in.

5   G. Marker, “The creation of journals and the profession of letters in the eighteenth century,” in D. Martinsen (ed.), Literary Journals in Imperial Russia (Cambridge, 1997), 11-33.

6   For essays that offer perceptive interpretive surveys of the place of the almanac in Russian book culture and of lowbrow literature (nizovaia literatura) and its public, see A. I. Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii: istoriko-sotsiologicheskie ocherki o knizhnoi kul’ture Pushkinskoi epokhi (Moscow, 2001), 70-81, 157-181. As Reitblat points out, by the 1830s almanacs became less a rarified and more a fashionable item and thus approached the middle register of culture. This was part of a broader phenomenon that enabled the rise of the middle.

7   Marker, “The creation of journals,” 18-19.

8   While at work on his novel-memoir Aksakov is known to have borrowed a full set of the periodical and claimed to be disappointed with it. S. T. Aksakov, Sobranie sochinenii, 4 vols. (Moscow, 1955-1956), vol. 1, 627.

9   A. Butkovskaia, “Rasskazy babushki,” Istoricheskii vestnik, 18 (1884), 594-631.

10   A. G. Cross, N. M. Karamzin: A Study of His Literary Career, 1783-1803 (Carbondale, 1971), 64.

11   Cross, N. M. Karamzin, 216.

12   The practice of subscription was not limited to periodicals. Potential readers were invited to purchase by subscription and thus, in a sense, to sponsor, forthcoming books as well as periodicals. For an incisive study of subscription as a cultural practice during the second half of the eighteenth century, see A. Iu. Samarin, Tipografshchiki i knigochety: Ocherki po istorii knigi v Rossii vtoroi poloviny XVIII veka (Moscow, 2013), 52-80.

13   G. Marker, “Novikov’s Readers,” The Modern Language Review, 77, 4 (October 1982), 894-905.

14   Marker, “The Creation of journals,” 24.

15   Quoted in O. E. Glagoleva, “A. T. Bolotov kak chitatel’,” Rukopisnaia i pechatnaia kniga v Rossii. Problemy sozdaniia i rasprostraneniia. Sbornik nauchnykh trudov (Leningrad, 1988), 157.

16   I should mention that I am not including institutional (sometimes charitable) subscriptions in this account. Doing so would complicate things even farther.

17   Although nominally edited by Grigorii Kozitskii, Catherine’s secretary, the journal was widely known to belong to the empress.

18   The journal’s epigraph, “They work while you consume their labor,” was taken from a fable by Sumarokov and likewise paid homage to Novikov’s predecessor.

19   W. G. Jones, Nikolay Novikov. Enlightener of Russia (Cambridge, 1984), 19.

20   C. H. Whittaker, Russian Monarchy: Eighteenth-century Rulers and Writers in Political Dialogue (DeKalb, IL, 2003).

21   E. Kimerling Wirtschafter, The Play of Ideas in Russian Enlightenment Theater (DeKalb, IL, 2003). My preference for the modifier “pre-political” to describe the Russian public sphere during the period under study is prompted, in part, by Wirtschafter.

22   In Origins of the Russian Intelligentsia Marc Raeff argued that state service remained the nobility’s “normal path to status, greater prosperity and full participation in the cultural life of Russia.” M. Raeff, Origins of the Russian Intelligentsia: The Eighteenth-Century Nobility (New York, 1966), 113. Michael Confino, in his critical response to this book, took issue with Raeff’s methodology and pointed out that a great deal remains understudied when it comes to the diversity of gentry life and sensibilities in the second half of the eighteenth century. M. Confino, “Histoire et psychologie: A propos de la noblesse russe au xviiie siècle,” in Annales. Economies. Sociétés. Civilisations, 6 (1967), 1163-1205. See especially pages 1193-1199 for Confino’s discussion of the diversity among the noble estate understood in financial terms, and the implication that Raeff’s findings would apply to a rather small elite (Confino puts it at 3%, or the “high nobility,” or haute noblesse). Debates regarding the effects of the 1762 manifesto persist. Carol Leonard provides a detailed numerical account of nobles residing in specific provinces in order to show that both immediately after Peter III’s measure and in the aftermath of Catherine II’s provincial reforms during the 1770s “more and more [nobles] lived on their estates after a brief period in service.” C. Leonard, Reform and Regicide. The Reign of Peter III in Russia (Bloomington, Indianapolis, 1993), 65.

23   See in this volume, Baudin, “Reading in the Times of Catherine II”.

24   Jones, Nikolay Novikov, 20.

25   N. I. Novikov, Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Moscow, Leningrad, 1951), 96.

26   My numbers above come from Martin. The numbers for 1813 are as follows: 451 nobles, 52 merchants, and 1 townsperson. A. Martin, Romantics, Reformers, Reactionaries: Russian Conservative Thought and Politics in the Reign of Alexander I (DeKalb, IL, 1997), 80-81.

27   “Smes’,” Syn Otechestva, 5 (1812), 212.

28   Vigel’s “posle uzhina gorchitsa” is the Russian translation of “C’est de la moutarde après dîner,” meaning, in this context, heated talk when the occasion prompting strong feelings has long passed. F. F. Vigel’, Zapiski (Munchen, 2005), 183.

29   A. I. Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin. Pis’ma i agenturnye zapiski F.V. Bulgarina v III otdelenie (Moscow, 1998), 45-46.

30  N. Schleifman, “A Russian Daily Newspaper and Its New Readership: ‘Severnaia pchela,’ 1825-1840”, Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, vol. 28, 2 (Apr.-Jun., 1987), 134. Charles A. Ruud puts the newspaper’s circulation at 7,000 in the thirties, observes a drop in the forties, and a new rise up to 10,000 during the Crimean War in the mid-fifties. Ch. A. Ruud, Fighting Words: Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 1804-1906 (Toronto, 1982), 65.

31   In the early 1830s Pushkin attempted to found what could have been a rival newspaper. Although he obtained official permit to publish, the project came to naught. His correspondence from the period shows the degree to which Bulgarin and Grech were understood to have a kind of monopoly on the publication of political news. See, B. Grigoryan, “The Poet Turned Journalist: Alexander Pushkin and the Reading Public,” Pushkin Review, vol. 18 (2015-16), 61-84.

32   Reitblat, Kak Pushkin, 128-156.

33   “Zhurnalizm,” Severnaia pchela, December 28, 1833.

34   J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Th. Burger and F. Lawrence (Cambridge, MA, 1989).

35   The term “reading revolution” comes from Rolf Engelsing, “Die Perioden der Lesergeschichte in Der Neuzeit. Das statische Ausmass und die Soziokulturelle Bedeutung der Lektüre,” Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens, 10 (1969), cols. 944-1002. It has since been recalibrated and revised considerably.

36   “Zhurnalizm,” Severnaia pchela, December 28, 1833.

37   I am grateful to Yelizaveta Raykhlina for the observation that many of Severnaia pchela’s contributors are verifiably authentic.

38   N. V. Gogol’, Polnoe sobraniie sochinenii v 14-i tomakh (Moscow, Leningrad, 1937-1952), vol. 3, 196.

39  Antonova, An Ordinary Marriage, 214.

40   Frazier, Romantic Encounters, especially 15-46.

41   S. Shevyrev, “Slovesnost’ i torgovlia,” Moskovskii nabliudatel’, 1 (March 1835), 5-29.

42   V. G. Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 13 tomakh (Moscow, 1953-1959), vol. 2, 20.

43   D. Gasperetti, The Rise of the Russian Novel: Carnival, Stylization, and Mockery of the West (DeKalb, IL, 1998).


Bella Grigoryan is an Assistant Professor of Russian at Bryn Mawr College. Her first book, The Russian Novel and the Gentry, 1762-1861 was published by Northern Illinois University Press in 2018.


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-SA 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.


Volume papier
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search