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Reading Russia, vol. 2

Damiano Rebecchini
Raffaella Vassena

Part II. The Long Nineteenth Century

Reading and Readers of Poetry in the Golden Age, 1800-18301

Daria Khitrova

Texte intégral

  • 1   This chapter is a slightly reworked excerpt from Lyric Complicity: Poetry and Readers in the Gold (...)

1Let me start with a comment regarding the expression “Golden Age” as used in the text and the title of this chapter. Some epochs are remembered by dates; others, by names. As a name for an epoch, the phrase “the Golden Age” and the image harbored therein sounds almost too intuitive to call for a rigorous definition. This must be one of the reasons why literary scholars often seem hesitant to use such tags as “Golden Age” to define literary periods—and not of Russian literature alone. Another good reason to be wary of applying this term is the trace of value judgement present in the phrase—as if we agreed that a hierarchy existed in the succession of literary epochs. No such well-founded concern should ever be discounted; but the name “Golden Age” can be productive—provided we agree to understand the word “golden” as a classifying rather than qualitative adjective. It should become clear from what follows that the reason I stick to this name has to do precisely with the subject of this volume—the role of readership in the literary process.

2Historical epochs cannot technically be held “accountable” for their historiographic nicknames, but there is no harm in asking: when we look at people who used to produce and use poetry in early nineteenth-century Russia, what is it that casts our thoughts back to Hesiod’s and Ovid’s race of mythopoetic mortals said to have lived in harmony with nature and in agreement with each other, devoting their life to merrymaking and feasting? What do these two “golden” epochs—one metaphorical/real, the other literal/imagined—have in common? In neither of the worlds they describe would you find much in the way of solitude: a secluded retreat, a place to be alone. When we look at a painting entitled “The Golden Age”—for instance, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1530) or Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1862)—the first thing we notice is how crowded it is. Every figure is shown socializing with somebody or something—another human, a rabbit, a fish, or a deity. The prototypical Golden Age, much like its Russian namesake, was a busy place.

3Another motif common to many depictions of the Golden Age is dance. In Cranach, its naked inhabitants encircle an apple tree in a round dance—a visual equivalent of the idea of harmony. This is not to suggest that Russian Golden Age poetry was somehow harmonious or carefree. This was, after all, an epoch in which duels and exiles decided poets’ fates. But in the wisdom of hindsight, Cranach’s round dance now looks like the Urform of networking in art. Fortuitous and trans-historical as it may at first appear, this resemblance swayed me to stick to the term “Golden Age.”

4Our default idea of how literature operates—and, we tend to presume, always has—is akin to how one experiences the music performed at symphonic concerts. The orchestra and the audience are seated separately, the former playing, the latter listening; there is no trespassing the line between the two. The way in which poetry worked in the Golden Age was more like what takes place in a ballroom or on a dance floor. Here, everyone is, at least potentially, a dancer: you can try your luck and ask someone for a dance or (to jump sides) be asked for a dance and benevolently condescend. As in dance, so in poetry: here, you read, write, are written to, copy, show to others, discuss what you read, or gossip about whoever wrote it. Participation was essential. Russian literary culture of the time was, no doubt, a realm of books and journals; most poems were written in order to be printed—and many were. But a poem of note was seldom consigned to the solitude of being read alone. In the Golden Age, there was no such thing as a poem in itself. The real life of poetry began outside the book.

5Like any epoch or any given moment in literary history, the Golden Age was far from monolithic. As Russian formalists show, literary history is more about fights and clashes than peaceful growth and development. Still, any efficient system has clashes and contradictions, actions and counteractions, checks and balances, wired into it. Golden Age poetry, as a network, constituted just such a system of relationships between poets, poems, and readers.

6Chronologically, the Golden Age of Russian poetry falls within the space of roughly thirty years, from the 1800s to the 1830s; it would be counterproductive to tie it to more specific dates. The Golden Age did not start with a datable literary landmark; rather, it was first imagined by literary visionaries like Nikolai Karamzin, as Andrei Zorin shows in his chapter (See Zorin, A Reading Revolution?, vol. 1). A literary movement—to invoke a mantra of the formalists—can survive anything except its own triumph. The Golden Age of Russian poetry truly existed while it remained a project; the moment the project was realized, the age was over. As a utopia of ubiquity, the Golden Age was destined to become dystopian: the wished-for omnipresence of poetry proved to be a flood of versifying. By the mid-1820s, as many critics agreed, Russian as a poetic language had advanced to the point where writing good verses was no longer a problem—and this, in turn, turned the writing of good poems into a problem. When, for instance, the critic Petr Pletnev proposed calling his time a “Golden Age,” he added the following cautionary proviso:

  • 2   P. A. Pletnev, “Pis’mo k grafine S. I. S. o russkikh poetakh,” in V. Vatsuro, S. A. Fomichev, E. (...)

In a word: here is [Zhukovskii], the first poet of our literature’s Golden Age (if every literature must indeed have its own Golden Age). He turned poetry into the easiest and, at the same time, the most difficult of arts. For every genre, beautiful poetic forms are available; everyone nowadays can write a number of light, harmonious, even powerful lines. But whom are their works going to impress, next to the sample [of works] by all our newest poets?2

7Of the “golden ages” in European literatures, Russian was one of the youngest. It co-occurred with what can be called a poetry boom across Europe and North America. By “boom” I mean not a grand parade of names, from Pushkin to Hugo to Longfellow. Rather, a “boom” is when poetry expands—into streets, politics, and domestic life; a boom not only of poetry as writing but also of poetry’s readership or, to add here the oral and audial dimensions, of poetry’s audience. Russian poetic culture of the early to mid-nineteenth century shared a lot of poetry practices with European and American literatures: from a rich song culture, to album inscriptions, to occasional verses. The difference is that in Russia, the poetry boom became the Golden Age of national literature.

  • 3   M. Cohen, The Social Lives of Poems in Nineteenth-Century America (Philadelphia, 2015), 13–14, 17 (...)
  • 4   C. Legoy, “Le siècle de la ‘métromanie’: usages sociaux et politiques de la poésie dans la France (...)

8Scholars may give up using terms like “the Golden Age”; but the historical narratives of national literatures do not yield their foundational myths lightly. Every European literature we know of has its before and after, a pivotal figure like Goethe in Germany or a golden epoch—like the Elizabethan reign in England or the age of Louis XIV in France. How different scholars approach and explain the early nineteenth-century poetry boom in their national cultures depends on its place on the timeline of literary history. When Michael Cohen in the first chapter of his recent study The Social Lives of Poems in Nineteenth-Century America examines occasional verses written and printed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century by New England peddlers, he treats them as extra-literary phenomena.3 Peddlers’ verses, Cohen persistently insists, were too unrefined to be considered literature, let alone poetry. The “pure” reading of poetry (the practice that Virginia Jackson has termed “lyric reading”) must, according to Cohen, be kept apart from such trans-poetic activities as copying or singing (in our terms, performance). To rely on Perry Miller’s eponymous anthology, in the early nineteenth century, the Golden Age of American literature was still ahead; hence, the culture of broadsides and scrapbooks insightfully analyzed in Cohen’s book appertains to “pre-literary” times. On the other hand, Corinne Legoy, pointing to the ubiquity of poetry in the daily life of early nineteenth-century France, calls for studying the social uses of poetry, without isolating “pure” poetry from occasional verses, songs, and the like.4 In the French literary chronology, the poetry boom comes not before, as in America, but after the Golden Age, as a product of a mature poetic culture, not as a precursor to one.

  • 5   A. Bestuzhev, “Vzgliad na russkuiu slovesnost’ v techenie 1824 i nachale 1825 godov,” in Poliarna (...)

9Was it by mere chance that in Russia—unlike in France or the US—the boom of poetry and the Golden Age of literature coincided in time? It was and it was not. It was, because it is easy to see how, as times changed, the status of the Golden Age in Russia could have been assigned to the epoch of Tolstoi and Dostoevskii—as indeed, it frequently is by Western readers. (Why and how the title stayed with Pushkin and his age could be the subject of a separate study.) And it was not—because the Golden Age did not happen all by itself. It was handmade by people who saw in it the future. In 1825, surveying Russian literature of 1824—the year in which Pletnev deemed his current age a Golden one—Aleksandr Bestuzhev declared that Russia had no literature at all.5 It was yet to be built. What was to be built had to be twofold, as critics tirelessly repeated from the 1790s on: writing and reading; authorship and readership, the two inseparable halves of literary life. Pletnev’s essay was a desperate plea for Russian readers to take note of the Golden Age poetry that was happening right around them. The paradox inherent in idylls, and the myth of the Golden Age is the ultimate idyll, is that people who live in them do not know they do. As long as our Golden Age figures felt a lack, felt the need to build—to construct a future literature and its readership; to usher in, that is, the Golden Age—then the Golden Age was (invisibly) present. As soon as the Golden Age grew visible—and Pletnev’s claim was but a first sign of this coming—it slipped from the present to the past, where all Golden Ages belong by definition.

  • 6   “Vesna,” Novosti literatury, 17 (1822), 62 (signed “R,” dated 1821); emphasis in the original. Fo (...)

10In late October 1822, an elegy titled “Spring” (“Vesna”) appeared in the journal Novosti literatury with the following editorial footnote appended to its heading: “(*) Regretfully, this beautiful poem on spring has been received by us in the middle of autumn; but, better late than never. Ed.”6 There is nothing like a system malfunction to highlight how systems are supposed to work. This footnote is one such telltale breakdown of a literary system, or rather, a quick attempt to patch it up. To be fully functional, a Golden Age lyric poem needed to be situationally—in our example, seasonally—anchored. This rule applied to writing and reading alike. “On spring” (na vesnu)—the phrasing used in the footnote—means “written on the occasion of spring.” The editor who wrote it (Aleksandr Voeikov or Vasilii Kozlov) opted for this expression despite knowing that, in this particular poem, vernal images served to set off, by contrast, its hero’s disconsolate longing for a deceased beloved. Pictures of nature, it was assumed, had to be written from nature. Likewise, it was unnatural, or so the editors felt, to read about the joys of spring as the chill of fall settles in outside one’s window. For best results, the here and now of writing a lyric poem had to be synchronized with the here and now of reading it—forming, ideally, an illusory “here and now” shared, if only for a moment, by the writer and reader of the poem.

  • 7Arkhiv brat’iev Turgenevykh (St. Petersburg, 1911), vol. 2, 364.
  • 8   Ibid., 365.

11The magic of moments like this is well captured in a letter (dated 26 August 1808) Aleksandr Turgenev sent his brother Nikolai (at the time, studying in Göttingen). The missive is layered with poignant reminiscences. Earlier that summer, writes Aleksandr, he paid a visit to their ancestral village of Turgenevo where the Turgenev brothers (the eldest of whom, Andrei, died in 1803) had spent their childhood: “I could not look at any object [in the old house] without experiencing some secret sadness, something that disquieted my soul; even the sight of our old furniture stirred me; but the strongest source of memories of our long-gone life here was the window view from the hall in which we used to have our lessons.”7 It is through this window that Aleksandr Turgenev, now twenty-four, describes himself as gazing upon a sunset while reciting a poem recently inscribed in his album by Zhukovskii. Fittingly, Zhukovskii’s poem (twelve lines of which are cited in the letter) pays tribute to just such enchanting evenings: “Recall how often in the fields / did you and I see off the setting sun / … / O bygone time, o unforgotten time!” The synchronization was perfect, attests Turgenev, both visually and in terms of mood: “Almost every line made me pause, for what it was saying was happening that very moment in reality—both before my eyes and inside my soul.”8

  • 9   See A. I. Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii (Moscow, 2001); D. Rebecchini, R. Vassena (eds.), (...)

12Atmospheric convergence was but a visible part of a larger emotional ensemble. In the eyes of the Golden Age culture, poetry’s calling was to provoke a whole range of poet-cum-reader co-experiences—be they of nature, history, friendship, or love. It is such cases of emotional complicity between poems and readers that I am going to examine in this chapter. Traditionally, the privileged (if not the sole) object of literary history has been a figure holding a pen. It is relatively recently that students of literature have begun attending to the figure holding a book—a shadier and more elusive subject, not so much a picture of a reader as a silhouette. As often occurs in scholarship, the history of reading is rapidly growing into a discipline in its own right, with its own set of methodologies and compartments. This budding field has furnished literary historians with a wealth of valuable data. We have a better idea than we used to of what books were read in nineteenth-century Russia, and who it was that was reading those books.9 What interests me here is how: what reading devices were used, and how these devices, in turn, engaged with devices of writing. In other words, rather than study reading as such, the object I examine is reading-cum-writing and reading-as-writing.

13“Rock-solid knowledge”; “crystal-clear prose.” Such geological metaphors abound in our ways of describing human affairs, but few will have shaped our thinking more than the famous iceberg analogy, with its proverbial tip. It may seem tempting at first to imagine literary history as another iceberg. Indeed, literary histories do at times seem impressionistic, like a Marinist painting with majestic snow-white masterpieces gliding by. The moment we factor in what is unseen—the host of contemporary readers for whom those great books were written—the picture changes. Now, literature-as-writing, with all its shiny names and brilliant works, becomes just the tip of a murkier submerged mass that the explorer of reading must dive deep under the iceberg’s waterline to study. But despite its heuristic appeal, the iceberg analogy is of little help to literary studies: it conjures a polarized literary system, the divorce of writing from reading—much as, when applied to the human mind or human culture, the iceberg-imago overdramatizes the split between conscious and unconscious processes and drives. In actual fact, as glaciology tells us, the real iceberg is not a bipolar paradigm, but a solid lump of ice; its putative duality—the above and beneath the waterline—is the observer’s problem, not the iceberg’s. No glaciologist would ever study the structure and migration of an iceberg’s bottom in isolation from its tip; likewise, the history of reading—Golden Age reading in particular—cannot be separated from its counterpart, the history of writing.

14In this chapter, I explore a number of reading practices peculiar to Golden Age poetry (though not necessarily confined to poetry alone). I start with relatability, participation and performance—three notions that defined the experience of reading poetry. What should become clear in the course of this discussion is that, in the Golden Age, readers of poetry rarely stopped at mere reading; instead, they would appropriate poetic speech, make it their own in a variety of ways—such as copying, singing, or reciting. I then move on to explore two fields adjacent to poetry in the verbal landscape of the Golden Age: the theater stage and the church service. The second half of this chapter is devoted to what I call “productive reading”—the notion that takes us beyond the dichotomy “intensive vs extensive” reading. Productive reading problematizes the all too familiar division between reading and writing as two different, if complementary activities. In the epoch under discussion, the bulk of writing evolved directly from reading; this, as I show in this chapter, was true both for those whom we retrospectively categorize as “writers” (notably, Zhukovskii) and those—for instance, petty provincial landowners—in whom we see quintessential “readers.” If, as Andrei Zorin argues in the first volume of this work, the reading revolution of the late eighteenth century taught Russian readers how to feel, the reading practices of the Golden Age encouraged them to act.

1. “This Is My Life”: Reading as Relating, Participating, and Performing

15Open a collection of elegies—for instance, Baratynskii’s—to the table of contents, and you will notice how many titles in it constitute one-word nouns that tag, as if on a shelf of vials, this or that situation, predicament, or emotional state a potential reader might find themselves in. Assurance, Disillusionment, Restlessness, Hopelessness, Vindication, Confession, Separation—any reader, whether in love or out of it, was welcome to pick one and walk away reassured and duly equipped.

16This functionality was not confined to elegies, of course; nor was the repertoire of familiar situations limited to amatory mishaps. As his diary attests, Andrei Turgenev (Aleksandr’s elder brother), was in the habit, when attending church services, of muttering secular poems under his breath—works whose plea for universal tolerance was more in tune with his sense of piety than was the canonical liturgy:

  • 10Arkhiv brat’iev Turgenevykh, vol. 2, 72.

Today, standing closer to the choir elevation [krylos] in the church, I began reciting with great pleasure Karam[zin’s] “Chant to Divinity” (“Pesn’ Bozhestvu”). This chant always affects me, but here, when it came to “Love!.. and when, caught by meek surprise / At the peak of their glory and triumph” etc., particularly at the word “love,” I felt a quiet trepidation. I grew ecstatic, and all engulfed in this blissful state, began blessing the Bard and Poetry. Thereafter I recited silently [Karamzin’s] “To Mercy” (“K Milosti”) and [Schiller’s] “An die Freude.”10

17The art of writing a poem entails the ability to relate; the art of reading, the ability to take part. Thus does Aleksei Merzliakov explain the joint machinery of reading and writing lyric poetry, elegy in particular, in his 1822 Brief Outline of Literary Theory (Kratkoe nachertanie teorii iziashchnoi slovesnosti). Relatability and participation, the critic believed, were mutually dependent.

  • 11   A. Merzliakov, Kratkoe nachertanie teorii iziashchnoi slovesnosti (Moscow, 1822), 173-174.

The appeal [of an elegy] is stronger when its content relates to the reader, and it is this relatedness that defines the degree of the reader’s participation (souchastie). Participation is at its highest when the subject-matter of an elegy directly affects or concerns its reader, or when the situation in which the poem finds the reader is similar to the poet’s own or that of the character depicted in it.11

  • 12   -R-, “Pismo k izdateliu,” Moskovskii vestnik, pt. 1, 1 (1827), 79-80.

18The term souchastie used in Merzliakov’s perceptive definition is broader than any equivalent I have been able to find in English. Uchastie in Russian covers everything from the “participation” used above to “sympathy,” “involvement,” and partaking; the prefix so- transforms it into a sort of co-partaking, literally “complicity.” A more accurate translation of Merzliakov’s definition would be: the power of elegy (or, for that matter, of lyric poetry at large) is proportionate to readers’ involvement or complicity in it; and the degree of that complicity, in turn, depends on how close the reader’s circumstances are to those referred to in the poem. “When alone, [Emilia] should check the silent musings and moods of her innocent soul against the beautiful work of the Poet who will expertly tell her what her heart feels but is unable to express,” an observer of polite society types (of which “Emilia” is one) wrote in the journal Moskovskii vestnik in 1827.12 Poetry was where readers were supposed to look up names for emotions, as we do words in a dictionary. With time, those names settled down to form the common pool for future readers and future poets to draw from—precisely as Joseph Brodskii has it in his 1961 “In Memory of E. A. Baratynskii” (“Pamiati E. A. Baratynskogo”):

  • 13   I. Brodskii, Sochineniia (St. Petersburg, 1992), vol. 1, 61. Translation: “So, the years have now (...)

Ну, вот и кончились года,
затем и прожитые вами,
чтоб наши чувства иногда
мы звали вашими словами.13

  • 14   See J. Culler, “Why Lyric?” PMLA, 123, 1 (2008), 201–206; and V. Jackson, “Who Reads Poetry?” PML (...)

19True, Merzliakov’s account of what readers relate to in lyric texts includes the “character (litso) depicted” by the poet. This term, however, does not refer to he-or-she characters of the sort we encounter in fiction. Merzliakov has in mind the I-characters or “speakers” of verse: a mythological or historical mask to which a poem attributes what it says. Poems of this subgenre (sometimes dubbed heroides, after Ovid’s book of the same name) were in vogue in European lyric poetry of the eighteenth century, before reappearing in the form of “dramatic monologue” in the English poetry of the nineteenth. Whether under the impetus of this fact or not, a school emerged in the framework of American New Criticism by which lyric was to be analyzed primarily by positing a “lyric speaker” hidden “behind” a poem’s text, as if it were a matter of “Tell me who is speaking, and I’ll tell you what the poem is about.”14

20Unlike this quasi-thespian, Stanislavskii-like method of analysis, the pragmatic model I propose here does not posit the speaker behind the lyric text, but ahead of it. Far from being predefined by who is speaking, the lyric poem undertakes a search for a reader-speaker willing (and prepared) to make the poem their own. In this perspective, such properties as relatability and performability come to the fore: how many different situations may a given poem be related to, and on how many different occasions could it be performed, in the broad sense of this word, that is, both enacted and applied. In the framework of the guess-who-is-speaking method, our every surmise inevitably limits the range of possible meanings. Attempting to determine the putative speaker’s gender, for instance, curtails this field by half. The approach I propose takes this question off the table: even when grammatically marked, the speaker’s gender is up to the user—the performer—to decide. Poets make poems that make meaning—as evidence shows, this was not quite how lyric poetry worked in the Golden Age. Here, poets made templates for meaning; it took a reader to make the meaning work.

21Acts of speech imply an agency: a speaker. When it comes to poetry, questions as to the speaker inevitably arise; but crucial here is where we situate this speaker in mental space and time. It seems intuitive to conceive of a speaker as located behind the spoken, and the speech-act as having occurred before we read it. Axiomatic as such presumptions may appear in relation to everyday communication, they do not necessarily apply to the workings of lyric poetry. In lyric, the “speaker” is not reducible to a role, a speaker-in-the-text (whether a dramatic mask, the poet in person, or the poet’s abstracted proxy—the “lyric hero”), but is more helpfully envisioned as a function, a movable agency or speakership that lyric poets delegate to their future readers.

22In the Golden Age poems were not only read, but used—for the sake of pragmatic strategizing. The culture of album inscriptions is a case in point. Anonymous album suitors would tamper with a recently published poem, adapting it entirely, or certain of its verses and stanzas, to serve their hidden (and obvious) agenda. Here, variability was rampant. Vladimir Gorchakov, Pushkin’s Kishinev acquaintance, complained:

  • 15   Cited from V. Gorchakov, “Vyderzhki iz dnevnika ob A. S. Pushkine,” in V. Vatsuro et al. (eds.), (...)

More than once, in such albums, have I come across poems by Pushkin, often so monstrously deformed that it was hard to understand what they were about; but every such poem was invariably signed with his name. Thus, in 1821, in an album belonging to one poetry aficionada (liubitel’nitsa), I recognized [Pushkin’s] poem “To Dorida” (“Doride”) written in 1820, with the following modifications. First, [the title became] “To Her;” then: “I trust: I am loved, is it possible not to trust you; / You are kind, good-looking, thus how could you be beguiling?; / Everything is unfeigned about you: the vernal glow of your cheeks, / Charming shyness, priceless gift of the gods, / The lively snow-whiteness of your attire and shoulders / And the infantile tenderness of caressing names” (Я верю: я любим, возможно ль вам не верить; / Вы милы, хороши, так можно ль лицемерить; / Все непритворно в вас: ланит весенних жар, / Стыдливость милая, богов бесценный дар, / Уборов и плечей живая белоснежность / И ласковых имен младенческая нежность.) 15

23Indeed, only the final verse in the album version quoted by Gorchakov is faithful to Pushkin’s original. The changes in the other five are too consistent to attribute to a lapse in the inscriber’s memory. Take Dorida’s pleasantly casual manner of speaking—”речей небрежность”—transformed, in the album, into “плечей белоснежность,” the near-homophonous, but far more sensual “snow-whiteness of [your] shoulders.” Unlike Pushkin, his album alter-ego employs the poetic device known as “blason,” the listing of physical features comprising a woman’s beauty; even though neither bared shoulders nor glowing cheeks are ascribed to Pushkin’s original Dorida. Even more telling is the pronominal slippage. Though titled “To Dorida,” Pushkin’s poem speaks of the eponymous woman in the third person; the album version, for its part, uses the third-person pronoun in the title (“To Her”), while in the text proper, ona becomes the second-person vy. Form follows function: in an album, you talk to the album owner—in this case, one can surmise, a lady known to wear white, open-shouldered dresses.

24Delegating a work to a performer did not amount to relegating it. Appalled as Pushkin’s friend may have been by this appropriation, Pushkin himself would have seen it coming. His Mozart and Salieri (Motsart i Sal’ieri) includes a scene showing a blind old tavern fiddler perform an aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, presumably out of tune. Salieri is outraged; Mozart finds it funny. Much like in music, in lyric poetry the very fact of having composed a work was tantamount to signing what may be called a “speakership disclaimer.”

  • 16   See A. Peskov, “Vzgliad na zhizn’ i sochineniia Boratynskogo,” in Letopis’ zhizni i tvorchestva E (...)

25As speakership changed hands, so did the honor of being the speaker’s treasured addressee. Mythic creatures like “Doris” or “Charis” (used to allegorize generic beauty, or to obscure reference to an actual one) were easy to highjack and reassign to a standby album-holder. But even when the real name of a person known to many happened to appear in the title or first line of a love poem—“O, you self-willed Sofia!..” (“O svoenravnaia Sofiia!..”)—the verse could easily be repurposed. Poets, Pushkin included, had no qualms about resorting to this ruse. In 1821-22, Baratynskii, at the time in love with Sofia Ponomareva, wrote a number of poems to her; in 1823, his ardor cooled by Sofia’s apparent inattention, Baratynskii readdressed two of them—“You are adored by far too many” (“Vy slishkom mnogimi liubimy”) and “A blind devotee of beauty” (“Slepoi poklonnik krasoty”)—to Annette Lutkovskaia, a niece of his regimental commander.16 The second of these poems, now under the title “To L-ia” (“K L-i”) appeared in Baratynskii’s 1827 collection of poetry, only to lose this title, in turn, in the 1835 edition. This disappearance was due, more likely than not, to the appearance of still another flame, this one contained in wedlock. After marrying Anastasia Engel’gardt in 1826, that is, Baratynskii grew cagy about publishing his love poems, their dates and titles in particular. In the early nineteenth century, lyric poetry served as a form of relationship between people; as relationships thrived or soured, poems could textually change.

26A common method of relating to a lyric text was simply to rewrite it. Rewriting, like reciting, was a form of souchastie, of becoming an “accomplice” or surrogate author of a lyric work. Traces of reading as rewriting are frequent in deposits of album lore, as we see in the case of an 1821 Pushkin elegy inscribed, in 1827, in an album (owner unknown):

Я пережил свои желанья,
Я разлюбил свои мечты;
Остались мне одни страданья –
Плоды сердечной пустоты.

Безмолвно жребию послушный –
Влачу страдальческий венец –
Живу печальный, равнодушный,
И жду: придет ли мой конец?

  • 17   Translation: “I have outlasted my desires, / Have ceased to love my dreams; / What remains for me (...)

Так, поздним хладом пораженный,
Как ветров слышен зимний свист,
Один – на ветке обнаженной –
Трепещет запоздалый лист!17

  • 18   See N. A. Tabakova, “Pushkin v al’bomakh sovremennikov,” in Pamiati Anny Ivanovny Zhuravlevoi: Sb (...)

27Beneath the poem, in the same hand, is written “By Aleks[andr] Pushkin,” and then “Written by (pisala) 6:2.” To the left of the second stanza, behind a vertical stroke, is a note: “This is my life” (Vot moia zhizn’).18

  • 19   As Robert Darnton has shown, projecting the read upon one’s private life was a widespread mode of (...)

28As N.A. Tabakova who found and published this album inscription suggests, the “6:2” inscriber was a woman with the initials E. B. (E. Б., the sixth and second letters; signatures in such alphanumeric code were quite common). E. B.’s comment, in turn, lends room for speculation. As a remark, This is my life is unexceptional. That someone should find a doleful elegy (unylaia elegiia) well attuned to their melancholy mood—this fact in itself was nothing special.19 What was special was E. B.’s recording of her quasi-anonymous comment in an album—that is, making her reading experience quasi-public.

29In the mind of the early nineteenth-century reader, writing and reading constituted one continuous, mutually segueing process. Reading begets writing: E. B., a model reader who knows Pushkin’s elegy by heart (the few minor imprecisions would seem to rule out a printed source at hand), writes it out on the page of another person’s album. Writing begets reading: now, the album’s owner, and whoever else this person might show her album to, would become readers of Pushkin-plus: of Pushkin’s elegy plus this particular reader-annotator. Placed back-to-back with Pushkin’s line “I dwell, sorrowful and aloof,” E. B.’s This is my life claims a role on Pushkin’s stage. This is performing via writing.

  • 20   M. Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (Berkeley, 19 (...)

30We tend to picture reading as a passive activity, if one can say so. Asked to situate reading in Michael Fried’s famous absorption vs. theatricality dichotomy, we would likely opt for absorption.20 But the Golden Age culture was not as patient. Here, to read was to act—upon the thing you read, and upon its other readers. In this respect, not only writing a poem but also reading it was a performative act: doing things with verse. What can one do with verse? Sing it; cite; recite; rewrite; adjust it to your needs or apply it to your life.

31Most such usages entailed approaching a poem not as a text set in stone, but a template for further use. Like many well-known poems of the period, “I have outlasted my desires” went on to an impressive career as a song (specifically, an “art song,” romans). Beginning in 1831, no less than twenty composers are known to have set Pushkin’s elegy to music. Through the eye of a performer—for instance, fin-de-siècle contralto Varia Panina—both Pushkin’s poem and the musical score Mikhail Shishkin wrote for it in 1892 were but templates for Panina to vocalize on stage, much as, for the composer Shishkin, Pushkin’s lyric was, first and foremost, a template for future lyrics. Writing this is my life on Pushkin’s margin amounted to using his elegy as an expressive template.

32In the world of letters as we are used to it today, reading and writing are two contrary, if interrelated, operations. Writers write; readers read. In our mind’s eye, this is a diptych on which two profiled figures are shown facing each other: one with a pen, the other with a book. In Russia, this mental picture truly became incarnate in the 1830-40s—the epoch in which the developing book market progressively polarized writing and reading, casting writers as active producers and readers as passive consumers of literary works. But when thinking of the Golden Age, it would be more accurate to visualize the reader as a profile hunched over a book—but with a pen in her hand. In the case of E. B., this book is someone’s album. For her, reading Pushkin’s “I have outlasted my desires” entailed rewriting it for someone else to read, while at the same time using its textual margin as a proscenium on which to perform her own elegiac lament titled “This Is My Life.”

2. Children of the Lyre: Poetry for Singing

  • 21   S. Franklin, “Mapping the Graphosphere: Cultures of Writing in Early 19th-Century Russia (and Bef (...)

33Early nineteenth-century poetry did not, as is sometimes believed, consist of easily identifiable occupations: those who wrote and those who read, with the printer and bookseller in the middle. Books did come out, and poems did appear in periodicals; but we must be careful not to limit poetry’s habitat to printed matter. Much of it lived in regions that were less accessible—less convenient for observation. One of these, as we just saw, was what Simon Franklin calls nineteenth-century Russia’s “graphosphere:” the handwritten counterpart of print culture.21 Albums constituted a sizable part but not the whole of it. Hand-copied poems (spiski) filled many a reader’s notebooks and self-bound books for a variety of reasons, most famously to circulate while bypassing the censor. Another reason had to do with the cost and availability of printed books. Not every country noble could easily get hold of a book everyone was raving about, or afford to buy it when they encountered it. A culture of sharing developed, especially among the provincial nobility: two or more country estates would put up money to subscribe to a journal or buy a book that would then barnstorm through a number of villages. It was cheaper for you to write out the poem(s) you liked (occasionally, one would hand-copy a whole novel!) than keep the book itself. Doing so likewise added a certain charge of creativity. A modern-day teenager, instead of buying an album of songs, would rather go online to compile their own playlists to be stored on a handheld device. Similarly, a custom-made handwritten selection of poetry or say, favorite monologues from Woe from Wit, could be the pride of a reader’s shelf.

34In his memoir of his student days, the pedagogue and writer Nikolai Ivanitskii (1816-58) describes the (second-)hand reading habits of the typical provincial gymnasium pupil thus:

  • 22   N. Ivanitskii, “Avtobiografiia,” in Shchukinskii sbornik (Moscow, 1909), vol. 8, 228.

[M]any of us developed a passion for reading poems. But, lacking the means to acquire any worthy author in full (vpolne), we used to obtain handwritten notebooks with odes by Lomonosov and Derzhavin, some of Pushkin’s long poems, Dmitriev’s tales, Zhukovskii’s ballads and the like; all of this was diligently rewritten and most of it learned by heart. It still surprises me how, given the level of teaching at the time, such passion [for reading] could be born and developed!22

  • 23   O. E. Glagoleva, Tul’skaia knizhnaia starina (Tula, 1992), 78.

35Often, however, hand-copying what you had just read seems to have been motivated not so much by thriftiness or liberal ideas as by instinct or compulsion. We have witnessed this in the case of E. B., who no doubt felt strongly about the elegy she inscribed in the album. At times, having strong feelings against a poem would serve as just an effective impetus to copy it. The natural scientist and writer Andrei Bolotov, who spent most of his life on his parental estate in the Tula province, kept a reading notebook titled “Magazine of Memorable and Curious Texts Circulating among the People (“Magazin dostopamiatnykh i liubopytnykh bumag, nosivshikhsia v narode).” One such text that had come to Bolotov’s attention happened to be Denis Davydov’s political fable “The Female Eagle, Ruff, and Blackcock” (“Orlitsa, turukhtan i teterev,” 1804), which blatantly satirized the assassination of Paul I, the cruelty of his rule, and the miserliness of his successor Alexander I. Davydov’s fable outraged Bolotov as “insolent, dripping with malice and venom, fit to be burned.”23 To his credit, rather that commit the darn thing to flames, our Tula Savonarola hand-copied Davydov’s pasquinade into his “Magazine.”

36Poetry expanded, in particular, to three areas beyond the graphosphere itself. One was the art of conversation. The tenet here was that poetic skill and the skill of conversation were two equally important manifestations of one and the same talent: the dexterous command of language. As Vera Bukharina-Annenkova tells it, Pushkin (by all accounts himself an accomplished conversationalist) could even find it unsettling when the two skill-levels did not happen to match:

  • 24   Cited from I. Andronikov, Lermontov: Issledovaniia i nakhodki (Moscow, 1977), 186.

I remember Pushkin’s judgement regarding Countess Evdokiia Rostopchina. He paid tribute to her poetic talent, but also said that while she wrote very well, she spoke very poorly; grew intoxicated by her own discourse and gave the impression of a Pythia on her tripod discharging inconsistent thoughts, devoid of logic, solely for the pleasure of quarreling.24

  • 25   I. Dmitriev, Vzgliad na moiu zhizn’ (Moscow, 1866), 69.

37The other two areas were singing and reciting. The best thing that could happen to one’s lyric poem, claimed Ivan Dmitriev in his memoir A Look at My Life (Vzgliad na moiu zhizn’,1823-25), was to be set to music. As Dmitriev recalls, his own poetic success was owed to two factors. One was that his Fashionable Wife (Modnaia zhena, 1791)—a naughty narrative in verse involving a resourceful married woman, her cuckold husband, and her young lover—became popular among young men and poets in both capitals. The second factor—the one that interests us here—was that, turned into a song (romans), Dmitriev’s “The Little Gray Dove Is Moaning” (“Stonet sizyi golubochek,” 1792) “caught the fancy,” as he put it, “of the fair sex.”25

38In Dmitriev’s epoch, if you belonged to the fair sex and a song “caught your fancy,” you needed, to indulge your affinity, a musical instrument, a songbook, and a score. Unlike the handheld-and-headset commonly used by music fans today, these antiquated pieces of equipment were designed to make music rather than consume it on the run. The eponymous noble maiden in Karamzin’s sentimental tale “Evgenii and Iuliia” (“Evgenii i Iuliia”) spends her summers contemplating nature and winters reading philosophy and rereading letters from her beloved who had been sent to study abroad. When Evgenii returns, he brings his Iulia numerous books in French, Italian, and German, as well as volumes of printed music.

  • 26Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’, edited by P. A. Orlov (Moscow, 1979), 91.

She was most skilled at playing harpsichord and singing. Klopstock’s “Willkommen, [o] silberner Mond” set to music by Ritter von Gluck was a song she particularly favored. Not once could she, without her heart melting, sing the last stanza, in which Gluck so skillfully attuned the tone of music to the great poet’s feelings. You, mild and gentle souls! You and you alone are able to appreciate those virtuosos, and their immortal works are dedicated to you and you alone. A single tear you shed is their greatest reward.26

39From the standpoint of narratology, Iuliia’s song is a classic case of foreshadowing. As eighteenth-century readers would have remembered better than we might today, the title of Klopstock’s elegy (which is never mentioned; Karamzin’s subtle prose evades signposting) is “Early Graves”; and a few pages later in the book, young Evgenii indeed dies—on the eve of uniting his life with Iuliia’s. This explains, of course, why Iuliia’s heart melted precisely when she used to sing the last stanza—the one in which Klopstock’s lyric speaker addresses the mossy graves of the untimely departed: “O, wie war glücklich ich, als ich noch mit euch / Sähe sich röthen den Tag, schimmern die Nacht!” (O, how happy was I when, together with you, / I watched the day come and the night gleam!)

40Iuliia, as Karamzin would have us see her, is both a sensitive soul and a sensitive reader. Not only does she brood over early graves, anticipating, perhaps, that she may before long find herself mourning over Evgenii’s, but she cannot help but weep, experiencing the beautiful encounter of great music with great verse; and, as if taking a curtain call, Klopstock and Gluck, as Karamzin imagines them, seem to come out and bow to Iuliia’s tear. Singing was as highly valued a skill in a young woman as were conversing and dancing.

41Lyric poetry of the Golden Age would hardly have become as popular in Russia as it was throughout the nineteenth century and beyond had it not been in collusion with Russian singers. Some poems, like Merzliakov’s immensely popular “Amid the Level Vale” (“Sredi doliny rovnyia”), had been custom-written as songs; others, like Baratynskii’s “Dissuasion” (“Razuverenie”), were set to music, with the lyrics’ authors often forgotten in the process. The world of singing had its own hierarchy of hit titles independent of, but not unrelated to, their purely literary fame.27 To get to the bottom of these dynamics, we would need to consider vocal culture in conjunction with its commercial offshoots like songbooks or popular prints (lubok), which, riding the wave of songs’ popularity as songs, contributed to the popularity of their poetic prototypes. Along with novels and dream-dictionaries, songbooks were Golden Age bestsellers. A truly comprehensive survey of poetry in the mirror of nineteenth-century opinion would have to examine, not one reflection, but three: a poem’s renomé among its author’s peers (the small mirror, as it were); its rating among composers and singers; and its post-vocal success—the printed spinoff of its career as a song. When one of Pushkin’s 1814 juvenilia, entitled “Song (One Rainy Autumn Evening)” [“Romans (Pod vecher, osen’iu nenastnoi”)], appeared in print in 1827, it did not outshine any of Pushkin’s mature, peer-acknowledged masterpieces (nor did the publisher expect it to). But once in print, “One Rainy Autumn Evening” “took off” as a song (or more precisely, several songs, considering the number of composers it attracted); suddenly the market was awash in illustrated lubok editions, many not even crediting the famous author. As Oleg Proskurin maintains, in the course of the nineteenth century, “One Rainy Autumn Evening” grew to be Pushkin’s most popular poem—if we factor in readers from all social strata.28

  • 29   [I. Dmitriev], Karmannyi pesennik, ili Sobranie luchshikh svetskikh i prostonarodnykh pesen (Mosc (...)

42In 1796 Dmitriev published (anonymously) a songbook furnished with this epigraph from Antoine Houdar de La Motte: “Les vers sont enfants de la lyre, / Il faut les chanter, non les lire” (“Verses are the children of the lyre, / They are supposed to be sung, not read”). 29 Taken broadly, de La Motte’s motto applies to Golden Age poetry at large. Here, a lyric poem was both a performative act and a performable script. Performance, in other words, was prewired; whether euphonic or cacophonic, a poem’s phonic form dictated the manner in which it was to be pronounced.

  • 30   Yu. Tynianov, “Ode as an Oratorical Genre,” translated by Ann Shukman, New Literary History, 34, (...)

43As Yuri Tynianov showed in his study “The Ode as an Oratorical Genre” (“Oda kak oratorskii zhanr”), reliance on pronunciation took root in eighteenth-century poetics. The ode was thought of, in Tynianov’s phrasing, as an utterable genre (myslilas’ proiznosimoi), hence its literal and figurative loudness.30 For example, Derzhavin’s “The echo rattles across hills / Like thunder thundering upon thunders” (Grokhochet ekho po goram, / Kak grom gremiashchii po gromam), with its fivefold recurring gro-gor-gre’s, five m’s and two kho’s, is not only magnificently onomatopoeic, but also majestically hyperbolic, for here the sight and sound of a geographically specific natural site—the Kivach Waterfall on the Suna River—carry the extra load of allegorizing the exploits of two historically specific Russian military leaders —one recently deceased, the other still alive when Derzhavin’s “Waterfall” (“Vodopad”) was written. Thundering is as much in the nature of the ode as in that of waterfalls. It is hard to recite Derzhavin sotto voce.

44Tynianov is surely cogent in pointing to the importance of the oral factor in the poetics of the ode; but less so in downplaying this factor when it comes to the rest of lyric poetry. There is nothing restricting oral delivery to oration; many poems were not just read but sung, and more were also recited. When a poem like “One Rainy Autumn Evening” becomes an actual song (romans), we cannot, contrary to what Tynianov suggests, dismiss it as something that has gone over to music and is no longer poetry; we should instead incorporate music into the study of poetry’s pragmatics. Doing so, and adding various styles and schools of poetry recitation, we soon discover that, in the Golden Age, poetry was as acutely attuned to the perspective of being voiced and listened to as its eighteenth-century odic incarnation had been. Writing your poem so that it reads well aloud, that is, was never the sole prerogative of the age of odes.

  • 31   G. Derzhavin, Sochineniia Derzhavina s ob’iasnitel’nymi primechaniiami Ia. Grota (St. Petersburg, (...)

45Neither is reading aloud the same thing as reading loudly. The master of thunderous onomatopoeia, Derzhavin was no less mindful of the softer end of the scale. “[P]oetry and music,” he speculates in his “Discourse on Lyric Poetry” (“Rassuzhdenie o liricheskoi poezii,” 1811-15), “make our hearts resonate to their gentle strings.”31 According to Derzhavin’s treatise, a good judge of either of these two arts will always know

  • 32   Ibid.

whether, for instance, the articulation of a verse or a tone in music becomes whistle-like when it comes to depicting a whistling and hissing snake; whether a thunderclap thunders, a water-spring murmurs, a forest bellows, a grove smiles in the verse describing the crash of the first of these; the quietly prattling (tikho-bormochushchego) current of the second; the gloomily doleful (mrachno-unyloe) howling of the third; and cheerful aftersounds of the fourth—in other words, whether every thought, every feeling, every word is clad in a corresponding sound; whether these sounds reach our hearts; whether we recognize in each of these the action or image of nature (deistvie ili obraz estestva).32

  • 33   Ibid.
  • 34   Ibid.

46The notion that lyric poems—infants of the lyre—wanted and needed to be listened to, not read, was sometimes bolstered by the mythopoetic—and metapoetic—image of the foundational poet. Derzhavin’s “Discourse” conjures two of these: the Greek bard (with a lyre) whose cultivated and euphonious language made listeners think their soul was in their ears; and Northern skalds whose sense of hearing was said to be so refined that it could capture pictures made of living light—an ability never achieved by either ancient or modern Southern peoples. “As I understand it,” Derzhavin remarks somewhat self-servingly, “[these skalds] were past masters of onomatopoeic verse.”33 Poetry, like music, is the art of sound: “Therefore a poet must always be mindful that his style is clear and fluent, easily pronounceable and suitable to be set to music. The slightest roughness, the slightest murkiness burdens attention and dispels thoughts.”34

3. Poet, Player, Priest: Poetry in Recital

  • 35   Here and elsewhere I quote “Finland” as translated by Rawley Grau in Baratynsky, A Science Not Fo (...)

47In January 1820, Evgenii Baratynskii, along with his regiment, were transferred from St. Petersburg to Finland. Here he devoted the elegy “Finland” (“Finliandiia”) to what was then believed to be the glorious past of this imposing and desolate terrain: “So this is the homeland of Odin’s sons, who once / struck fear in the hearts of distant peoples.”35 Strolling among “the crevices of granite rocks eternal,” the poet contemplates the oblivion that would betide his poems as it once had the skaldic songs:

  • 36   Translation: “Soundless now is the shield of summons, the skaldic voice / unheard, the blazing oa (...)

Умолк призывный щит, не слышен скальда глас,
       Воспламененный дуб угас,
Развеял буйный ветр торжественные клики;
Сыны не ведают о подвигах отцов;
       И в дольном прахе их богов
       Лежат низверженные лики!36

48As luck would have it, Baratynskii’s commander in Finland, Staff Captain Nikolai Konshin, turned out to be a devotee of poetry, who would leave us his reminiscences on Baratynskii. It is here we learn of an early (if not the first) recital of Baratynskii’s “Finland” in front of company officers, which Konshin paints in glaring colors inspired, of course, by Baratynskii’s “Finland.”

  • 37   Quoted in A. Peskov, Boratynskii: Istinnaia povest’ (Moscow, 1990), 162-163; I made use, in part, (...)

I remember one winter evening. There was a storm outside. Attentive silence surrounded our Skald when he, enraptured, read to us in a solemn singsong voice, in a manner learned from Gnedich, taken from the Greeks, accepted by Pushkin and all the famous poets of that time—when he sang to us his hymn to Finland.… This was a memorable hour. One of us then remarked that the shades of Odin and his heroes had flown down to listen to this hymn and were blizzard-knocking (stuchali metel’iu) on our windows in greeting to the poet.37

49Its flamboyant atmospherics aside, Konshin’s account is a useful portrayal of a nineteenth-century recital. Despite misnaming Baratynskii’s elegy a “hymn,” and summoning Viking ghosts to cheer “our Skald,” he does perceptively link the poet’s manner of reciting to that of Pushkin, and through him, that of Nikolai Gnedich, a man of theater, translator of French tragedies, and someone who had devoted years to rendering The Iliad in Russian, inventing, in the process, a Russian counterpart of Homeric prosody and its supposed enunciation.

  • 38Vospominaniia Bestuzhevykh, edited by M. Azadovskii (Moscow, Leningrad, 1951), 157-158.

50Nowadays, we read poems more often than we hear them; in the Golden Age, this was not necessarily the case. Recitations took place anywhere: at dedicated venues like Moscow University’s Society of Lovers of Russian Literature and its multiple lookalikes in both capitals and other towns of Russia; in less formal gatherings like literary salons (for example, at the Olenins’, where Gnedich was a permanent star), friendly drinking bouts, and household parties; in improvised locations like that remote infantry garrison in Finland, or the fortress cell (kazemat) in which exiled Decembrists were housed when arriving at Petrovskii Zavod, Siberia. When the exiles’ wives came in their wake, “they settled with their husbands in our communal barrack, inspiriting with their presence our monotonous captivity,” reports Mikhail Bestuzhev. “It became our habit, when getting together in tight circles formed around this or that married couple, to read aloud literary works on less than serious subjects; this was the epoch in which poems, tales, short stories and memoirs flourished.”38 Recitals were thus heard in dungeons; at a dinner table or society event; on official academic and literary occasions; and, we must not forget, most public literary readings of this kind used to occur on a regular basis, weekly or monthly.

51The importance of audial delivery comes to the fore if we consider poetry—or for that matter, literature in general—not as a stand-alone formation, but as part of a larger verbal landscape. Within this landscape, poetry found itself flanked by two performative institutions fully dependent on oral delivery as a means to affect their respective attendees. One of these was dramatic theater, most of which in this period was in verse; the other, Russian Orthodox churches, with their extraordinary reliance on audial ambiance and vocal elocution.

52The theater was not simply a place for poets to frequent as spectators; sooner or later, a poet of note would try their hand at dramatic composition themselves. The same is true of theater as a performing art. Acting in the Golden Age was not confined to the imperial theaters. Noble amateurs would showcase their thespian skills on home stages. Good acting in this period was largely about poetic diction. Schools of expressive recitation competed: Fedor Kokoshkin was known for asserting the classicist manner on professional and amateur stages in Moscow; in Petersburg, Pavel Katenin and his pupil the actress Aleksandra Kolosova vied with tragedienne Ekaterina Semenova, a pupil of Nikolai Gnedich.

  • 39   S. Aksakov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (St. Petersburg, 1886), vol. 3, 78.

53Recalling the recital of “Finland” in Finland, Konshin traced Baratynskii’s style of reciting to Gnedich. Known to have coached poets and actors in declamation, Gnedich was an effusive chtets (elocutionist) himself. Skeptics characterized Gnedich’s “frenzied (neistovyi) recitals” as “chant-like, clamorous, screamy—but passionate and in accord with the meaning of the verse, which on the other hand was not something he was always able to bring out in his pupil [Semenova].”39 Others sensed a method in Gnedich’s reportedly vehement presentations. Thus, Petr Pletnev attributed their power to his volume control:

  • 40I. A. Krylov v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, edited by A. M. Gordin, M. A. Gordin (Moscow, 1982) (...)

Willing to make his recitals artistically expressive, Gnedich used to adjust the raising or lowering of his voice to suit the dimensions of the room he was reciting in. He also used to pre-rehearse his gestures so that they matched the meaning of a verse. Some verses were uttered in a slow singsong voice, others were barely audible. Credit where it is due: Gnedich usually attained the effect he was aiming for. Often, as you heard him recite, especially Homer’s hexameters, something began moving within you involuntarily, and your blood circulation changed.40

  • 41   S. Zhikharev, Zapiski sovremennika, edited by B. Eikhenbaum (Moscow, Leningrad, 1955), 259, 445-4 (...)

54The perceived importance of an effective recitation—or, for that matter, its sheer loudness—is well exemplified by the advice the clever but cynical professor of rhetoric Aleksei Merzliakov once gave his eager but talentless student Stepan Zhikharev, who had hoped to gain entrée into St. Petersburg’s literary circles with his tragedy Artaban. On 27 October 1806, Zhikharev’s diary records, he showed the manuscript of Artaban to Merzliakov, his mentor. “‘Galimatias, my dear man!’ [Merzliakov] said bluntly. ‘But then, so what? Go ahead and read it to Petersburg literati. Recite it yourself, loudly, split their ears, and you’ll be a success.’” At first, Zhikharev’s ego was wounded, but when, half a year later, he had occasion to hear Gnedich recite his translation of book 8 of The Iliad “with extraordinary ardor and in strident voice,” he made the following entry: “[Merzliakov] may have had a point there. Now I think a poem can benefit from being read loudly; it was not for nothing that Gnedich was overstraining his chest over The Iliad.”41

55The other performative institution in poetry’s vicinity was, as mentioned, the church, with its rigorous calendar of observances and wide repertoire of chants and liturgies conducted in Church Slavonic. While it was inconceivable for a churchgoer to critique these texts as texts (suggesting, say, improvements to the Lord’s Prayer), there was nothing untoward about discussing how well this or that text was sung or read at this or that church or mass. “Use feeling, logic, pauses as you read, / Do not read like a deacon at an ambo,” Famusov instructs a servant whose duties include reading aloud a to-do list for the week. Uttered on a theater stage, a line like this must have sounded like an in-joke, hinting at the Orthodox Church’s open hostility toward theatrical forms of entertainment. At the same time, as one reads Stepan Zhikharev’s diary of 1806-7, one is surprised to discover how often and readily this young theater buff attended religious services in order to experience what we would identify today—and Zhikharev himself comes close to identifying—as purely theatrical enjoyment. The diary records his frequent church visits, on weekdays, too.

  • 42   Ibid., 279.

Thursday, December 6 [1806]. Listened to a mass (obednia) in the St. Nicholas the Mariner Church, it’s their temple holyday today.… Court Archdeacon Aleksei Grigor’evich Vorzhskii, invited to serve on the occasion of the holyday, astounded me. What an unimaginable voice, and what mastery of elocution! Exact, lucid, clear; every word rolls out as a pearl, but what astonished me even more was the proper intonation he abided by as he read from the New Testament, emphasizing such words as would be better understood thereby; lowering and raising his voice in accord with the meaning of what was being said. He ranks number five at the court church, but in terms of quality he must be the first. Senior Archdeacon Ivan Aleksandrovich has a stronger but less cultivated voice; he is as tall as Vorzhskii and even portlier than he, but his deportment is less noble, and he lacks Vorzhskii’s extraordinary mastery of reading.42

56If we replace, in the above, the words “church” and “archdeacon” with “stage” and “bass,” Zhikharev’s diary entry could easily pass as an opera review.

  • 43   K. Aksakov, “Pis’ma k M. G. Kartashevskoi,” edited by E. Annenkova, in Ezhegodnik Rukopisnogo otd (...)

57However, poetic recitals differed decidedly from ecclesiastic ones in a key respect: the allocation of authority. Whether you were a gifted presenter like Vorzhskii or a second-rate one like the honorary Ivan Aleksandrovich, (divine) authority was vested not in you but the Holy Writ—the book. Conversely, poetic authority lay with a poem performed, not penned. “I do not know if you are going to like my poor verses, which shall reach you unnamed (I truly could not think of a fitting title), in so ugly a copy, and without its author present,” Konstantin Aksakov wrote from Moscow to his beloved cousin in Petersburg. “I wish this great distance that separates us were not so: I would have recited the poem for you using my face and voice to complement things unexpressed.”43

  • 44   “Pis’mo V. A. Zhukovskogo,” Russkii arkhiv, 7 (1866), 1070.

58Konstantin Aksakov, indeed, is better known as an essayist than a poet, but then, even a virtuoso versifier like Vasilii Zhukovskii used to trust his ear more than he would his eye. “I always liked him,” Zhukovskii wrote to Petr Viazemskii from Bad Ems where he happened to run into Aleksei Khomiakov. “But this time, I bit into him like a hungry spider into a fly. I threw my verses at him so that he’d read them out before me. Thus am I able to detect my poems’ covert flaws; when it comes to the overt ones, those I can notice and deal with on my own.”44 Performability is the name of the game: for Zhukovskii, any poem was presumed imperfect until proven perfect in performance.

59In a recital situation, poetry became a theater-in-miniature. Sometimes, as in the case of Gnedich’s recitals or Baratynskii’s reading of “Finland” to infantry officers in Finland, the theater was composed of a single poet reciting to a group. Sometimes, a group of poets took turns reading to each other. Sometimes, when poems were recited face to face or heart to heart, this was the theater of two; and sometimes recitals took the form of what twentieth-century playwright Nikolai Evreinov would call teatr dlia sebia (“theater for oneself”)—the kernel and ultimate form of theatricality. When in 1836 Sergei Aksakov decided to take his twenty-year-old son Konstantin from Petersburg to Moscow, the latter lost the best listener he had: his cousin Maria Kartashevskaia. For want of his only gentle reader, Konstantin was left with no better option than to recite his favorite poems to himself. As we learn from a letter he sent to Maria from the road, young Aksakov found in himself an appreciative listener:

  • 45   Aksakov, “Pis’ma k M. G. Kartashevskoi,” 75.

Any verse line that I uttered I experienced tenfold; any verse that was even slightly sad or melodious filled my eyes with tears. When we arrived in Novgorod this agitated state reached its apex. I attended the evening mass: the tolling bells, chanting, and simple magnificence of the cathedral made a greater impact on me than I had ever experienced in a church; never had my soul felt tenderer and more sympathetic. After dinner, alone in the hotel when my father decided for some reason to pay a visit to a pub, (otesinka vyshel zachem-to k traktirshchiku) I felt like reciting from Derzhavin, and this was when I really burst into tears.”45

4. Productive Reading

  • 46Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’, 296.

60In 1810, the sentimental tale “Modest and Sofia” (“Modest i Sofiia”) appeared in the St. Petersburg magazine Tsvetnik. Having lived through a series of romantic upsets, young Modest is restored to happiness at a mansion of the country squire Priamodushin and his daughter Sofia. Every night after their joyful rustic chores, Sofia, her father, and her future soulmate Modest “would gather round the fireplace and read the best among novels, laugh and cry over them, voice admiration and exchange feelings and thoughts.”46

  • 47   A. Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia: Iz istorii russkoi emotsional’noi kul’tury kontsa XVIIInachala XIX (...)

61This evening idyll was meant to tutor the reader of “Modest and Sofia” in how to read. First, to “laugh and cry” together over a novel was, as Andrei Zorin has shown, a form of emotive and cultural co-tuning. In the age of sensibility in Russia, reading was seen as a form of cross-cultural appropriation: “Reading together and co-experiencing the same works of literature secured the spread of unified emotional models across national barriers and state borders.”47 Secondly, the fact that only “the best among novels”—presumably, The Sorrows of Young Werther, The New Heloise, or Clarissa—would be admitted into homes like kindhearted Priamodushin’s sent an ethical signal. Reading solely for pleasure was considered suspicious: fiction (often disguised as non-fiction, see Zorin’s chapter in the first volume) was, indeed, only warranted by the lessons you could draw from it. Thirdly, the fact that Modest, Sofia, and her father “exchanged feelings and thoughts” about these novels tells us that proper reading was to be interventionist and dialogical.

  • 48   K. Batiushkov, Opyty v stikhakh i proze, edited by I. Semenko (Moscow, 1977), 55.
  • 49 Bernard de Fontenelle, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, translated by E. Gunning (London (...)

62The last of these requirements merits additional comment. Why would the author of a tale like “Modest and Sofia” encourage readers to distract themselves from the plot and engage in dialogue with each other? A plausible answer to this is found in the time-tested tradition of didactic discourse. Lessons, religious or moral, are commonly couched in dialogic terms. Questions and answers form the rhetorical backbone of any catechism—“You might ask” (Voprosish) and “I answer” (Otvechaiu). Explicitly or not, most didactic discourses engrain two agencies: the one who knows and the one who learns. Such dialogues were hardly native to religious treatises alone. The one-who-knows of Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle’s seventeenth-century bestseller Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds educates Marchioness de G —the book’s smart, fair-haired one-who-learns—about the celestial bodies above her nighttime garden in which these conversations take place. “Like Fontenelle, he builds little dramas in which a problem, political or moral, is resolved,” Konstantin Batiushkov wrote about Mikhail Murav’ev who, inspired by de Fontenelle’s 1683 Dialogues of the Dead—a series of transhistorical debates between ancients and moderns—came up with his own Conversations of the Dead (Razgovory mertvykh, 1790), adding a bunch of late discussants from Russia to the panel.48 In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, dialogical (proto-dramatic) form was seen as a perfect match for the doctrine of dulce et utile, according to which entertainment had to be edifying and edification entertaining. “Truth and fiction are in some measure blended,” writes de Fontenelle in his dedication of Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds; “the union of philosophy and amusement is the chief aim of this work.”49

  • 50   K. Batiushkov, Sochineniia v dvukh tomakh, edited by A. Zorin (Moscow, 1989), vol. 2, 177.

63As a literary convention, didactic dialogues à la Lucian and de Fontenelle did not survive the eighteenth century; but the practice of enlightened conversations—now staged about and between, rather than within literary texts—remained in vogue throughout the Golden Age. Works of literature were debated at sittings of literary societies of every sort, and also—importantly for rural areas—at after-dark family gatherings like Priamodushin’s. Reading a book you liked could feel like talking to its author; as Batiushkov said of the late French poet Saint-Lambert—“a kind man, fun to converse with.”50 Reading took readers beyond reading, beyond the graphosphere, as it were, into the semblance of live communication in absentia.

64The question J. L. Austin poses in his famous book on language and pragmatics is how to do things with words. No less pressing a question is what things can be done with what we read. Golden Age reading practices were active, performative, and productive. The quintessential product of what I propose to call “productive reading” was always a new text—more words to read. In some cases, these were mediated applications: thoughts about, with regards to, or in the wake of what you read; in others, productive reading resulted in a straight reproduction—a new copy (usually, a copy of a copy, etc.) of what has been read or of a fragment thereof. But what entitles us to speak of these instances as one group is that, even in the case of copying, there is always a reason, a goal, and an attitude behind the act, a pledge of readerly solidarity or even an emotional expropriation or claim (“This is my life”). Productive reading, if only by virtue of generating texts upon texts, included more and more readers in the network. Being alone with a book was a waste of time—and of the book.

  • 51   See T. N. Golovina, “Gazeta dlia odnogo chitatelia,” in Potaennaia literatura (Ivanovo, 2000), vo (...)
  • 52   See T. N. Golovina, “Eshche odin spisok ‘Goria ot uma’,” in Potaennaia literatura, (Ivanovo, 2004 (...)
  • 53   Cited ibid., 31.

65There is no better way of formulating the Golden Age philosophy of productive reading than citing a lifelong adherent and practitioner. One such exemplar would be Andrei Chikhachev, a country gentleman from Vladimir province who, together with his wife Natal’ia and her brother Iakov Chernavin (whose estate was in a neighboring village) formed a three-person reading circle, complete with a handwritten daily, which Tatiana Golovina appropriately terms “domashniaia gazeta” (domestic gazette)—part diary, part reading journal—to which each of the trio contributed in turn.51 An avid reader, Chikhachev’s rule was to keep a copy of anything that came his way. When a handwritten copy (of a copy of a copy…) of Woe from Wit landed on this village squire’s desk, his immediate instinct was to write out Griboedov’s masterwork in toto. He soon realized this would be impossible: the play was long, and the manuscript had to be returned to its lender in the morning. Chikhachev was up until the small hours, copying the monologues he liked best, and, as the deadline neared, the aphorisms one could scarcely let slip away.52 It was Chikhachev, that inveterate reader and compulsive copier, who in their “domestic gazette” proclaimed what can be seen, in retrospect, as the ethical and philosophical platform underpinning productive reading: “to have read a beautifully written passage, to have enjoyed it and failed to write it out is the same as having had pleasure once and then forgetting all about it. There is something perverse and unholy about such behavior.”53 Copying out the thing you loved was a form of espousing it, making it your own; at the same time, it was a way of making it everyone’s. It was this dual drive, I believe—appropriation and dissemination—that moved E. B. to inscribe “I have outlasted my desires” into an album, a medium accessible to others, while also rebranding Pushkin’s elegy as hers: “This is my life.”

5. Blue Notebooks

66In the first third of the nineteenth century, then, Russian readers did not content themselves with the role of passive recipient. Reading, as we have seen, was merely the first step in dealing with a written text. Readers’ main urge was to write. The written products of reading varied in subject and form. These could be underscorings and marginalia; notes to oneself, messages to others, or comments addressed to the author; or excerpts copied into a private notebook, a specialized album, or a handwritten tome intended for other readers. This last category, what we might call handicraft readership, was seen as the next best thing to creative writing. For instance, Aleksandr Turgenev replied thus to Viazemskii’s exhortation to write:

  • 54Ostaf’evskii arkhiv kniazei Viazemskikh, edited by V. I. Saitov, P. N. Sheffer (St. Petersburg, 1 (...)

Just before I received your letter advising me to take up the pen, Zhukovskii … suggested that I begin writing down [my] “Thoughts” followed by “Notes”…. I cannot commit myself to pen because to do so I need to have clarity of mind and peace in my heart.… I content myself with copying excerpts in a two-year album, which I am going to bring to you to read.54

  • 55   Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 44.

67Neither Zhukovskii nor Viazemskii would have been surprised to hear this. In this age long before it was possible for a book or poem to be a click away, a catalog (often, a catalogue raisonné) of excerpts from what one read (in Turgenev’s case, in the course of two years) made a welcome and useful digest to share with family and friends. Aside from its practical convenience, moreover, sharing readership was regarded as a spiritually uplifting activity. As Zorin observes of Europe at the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries: “The epoch’s most frequently read works functioned as tuning forks that readers used to listen to and check if their hearts felt in unison with others”;55 this felicitous metaphor is fully applicable to the social and cultural ensemble of the Russian Golden Age. The reading-in-forum performed in “Modest and Sofia,” the reading-in-network engaged in by Chikhachev and his kin in the rural province of Vladimir—these were nothing less than forms of self-perfection.

  • 56   I. Vinitsky, Vasily Zhukovsky’s Romanticism and the Emotional History of Russia (Evanston, 2015), (...)
  • 57Perepiska V. A. Zhukovskogo i A. P. Elaginoi. 1813-1852, edited by E.M. Zhiliakova (Moscow, 2009) (...)

68This creed is splendidly exemplified by a series of notes jotted down by Vasilii Zhukovskii in 1814. These have to do with an unusual undertaking that was at the time preoccupying Zhukovskii’s mind. A believer in moral education and self-perfection, he held that common happiness could be attained—indeed, engineered—by a concerted effort on the part of community members. For Zhukovskii, community meant, first and foremost, the people he lived among—for significant stretches of time at the country mansion of Muratovo and later, for several months in 1815, in the university town of Dorpat (Tartu)—and whom he called his closest family: his half-sister Ekaterina Protasova, her daughters Masha and Sasha, and the resident family friend (eventually, Sasha’s husband) Aleksandr Voeikov. “The masterplot of [Zhukovskii’s] biographical myth is the search for the ideal familial unity,” Ilya Vinitsky observes in his monograph on Zhukovskii and the emotional history of nineteenth-century Russia. “The members of such an ideal family would be bound together not only by the bonds of blood, but by a spiritual affection that enabled an almost wordless understanding among them.”56 It was with an eye to attaining such affection and unity that Zhukovskii devised a project for what a recent commentator has dubbed “a spiritual ensemble,” and which Zhukovskii himself used to call his “plan for happiness” (plan shchast’ia).57

69The aspect of Zhukovskii’s “plan for happiness” most significant for this discussion is the place it assigns to reading. Reading, like more or less everything in this ideal community, had to range from individual to public (to the extent “public” applies to a community of four), without ever remaining individual for long. Most evenings, Zhukovskii, Masha, Sasha, and Voeikov were to convene in the living room relating or reading out their daily reading to the group, in excerpts or in toto. This would inevitably generate an exchange of thoughts (otherwise, what was reading for?) Here is how Zhukovskii masterminds such an exchange in one of his diary entries:

  • 58   Ibid., 65; for clarity’s sake, I have restored the words and sentences written in shorthand in th (...)

To figure out how to keep us from getting bored. Subjects for conversations must be prepared beforehand. Who will read what. In a word, we will have to think each minute through, for this is when everyone wants to relax after a busy day, when everyone must rejoice. To pose questions to be resolved in conversation. To read aloud everyone’s favorite fragments. Games and anecdotes should emerge as if inadvertently. To have a plan for every evening. Voeikov and I [must take care of this].58

  • 59   Ibid., 63.
  • 60   Ibid., 65.
  • 61   Ibid., 63.

70As envisioned by Zhukovskii, these lively group discussions would be interposed with readings à part, each reader engaged in a silent conversation with what was read. Zhukovskii would be the one to suggest the books to read, at least insofar as Masha (aged twenty-one) and Sasha (nineteen) were concerned, as Zhukovskii served as tutor to both. Reading had to be productive, with a pen and pencil in hand. Zhukovskii specifies: “For Masha: Read. Use a special sign to mark in books the passages that are your friends. Copy out the best passages. Keep your own [reading] journal.”59 Along with a personal reading journal, everyone was expected to keep a circulating notebook with excerpts and comments of potential interest to others. “A journal for everyone and notes on others’ journals, so that everyone might know what the others think of them and suggest what the others should read.”60 Capping this veritable pagoda of paper was yet another, shared journal to which all would contribute their thoughts. “The journal of our life (zhurnal nashei zhizni); entrust Masha with [administering] it.”61

  • 62   Ibid., 92.

71In the small world of Zhukovskii’s domestic utopia, there is no such thing as a finite or isolated act. Thoughts beget thoughts; writing grows out of reading as naturally as reading follows writing. Zhukovskii even came up with a horticultural metaphor for this—grafting. You were to sprout your own thoughts by reading the thoughts of others—much like a scion belonging to one plant shoots from the rootstock of another. “Reading the moralists,” notes Zhukovskii in his diary of September 1814. “I am definitely going to make my engraftments (privivki) on them, that is, select a good thought that is not mine and engraft on it several thoughts that will be mine, and so every day. Will make a collection of these thoughts for you. Every day must be marked by its own thought.”62

  • 63   Ibid., 107.

72Making privivki (literally, “tie-ons”) was Zhukovskii’s way of maintaining literary and intellectual continuity over epochs and across languages and cultures—in this particular entry, with French encyclopedists and German moral philosophers like Christian Garve. In this respect, the peer-to-peer network of reading Zhukovskii envisaged for his happiness project can be seen as an attempt to, as it were, modernize domestic gardening via the grafting technique. The blue-bound notebooks Zhukovskii himself kept in 1814-15, known in the family as sinen’kie knizhki, appear custom-made for this. In the “reading the moralists” entry just cited, having set himself a reading agenda (read to think) and a timeline (a thought per day), Zhukovskii projects an outcome: a collection of thoughts, now all his own. Peculiar to these blue notebooks was that they purported to constitute a collection “for you.” Zhukovskii, the reader of moralists, wrote this note for Masha Protasova to read, copy and make her own engraftments on Zhukovskii’s. Blue-bound notebooks were an affair for two; in 1815, Zhukovskii instructed Masha: “I ask you to copy all this in the way the previous blue-bound notebook was copied: one page is yours, the next is mine.”63

  • 64   Ibid., 63; on the role of poetic “self-quotations” in Zhukovskii’s diaries and notebooks, see O. (...)

73This textual proximity meant more than an exchange of moral thoughts. For years, the two had been in love, weighing with hope and trepidation how her mother (his half-sister) would react to the possibility of their marriage. Time and again, motives of personal happiness steal into Zhukovskii’s plan for happiness for all. While the blue notebooks were, at least in principle, open to everyone in the family, cryptic signals could be exchanged between the two in the know. Thus, in notes for his own reading journal, Zhukovskii pledges that whatever he writes in verse from that moment on shall be (mentally, spiritually) devoted to Masha (stikhi slava ei).64

  • 65   See the description of the notebook, quoted from Pavel Simoni, ibid., 468.

74One hardly needs to compose “a plan for happiness” if one has happy plans. The reason why Zhukovskii made his was the elder Protasova’s decision not to give him Masha’s hand, taken in early 1814. Yet, at one point after that she did consent to having Zhukovskii live under the same roof with them, but strictly as a relative. It was for this new prospect (which proved to be short-lived and profoundly unhappy) that Zhukovskii resolved to think their life through in order to make it as happy as possible under the circumstances. The happiness plan was penned in late 1814; earlier that year, after the two lost the hope of being together (save for a miracle they dreamed of until the last moment), Masha received two blue notebooks. One is blank, apart from a few excerpts from the New Testament, five mirthless maxims, and a dry flower inserted between empty pages.65 The other, filled with text, begins with Zhukovskii’s comment on the first.

  • 66   Ibid., 68-69.

June 21. Monday. I return May to you; it is completely empty. What could I write in it? What need to express to my friend a state of mind (dushi) unworthy of her? Emptiness of heart, lack of attachment to life, a sense of fatigue—that’s all. Could I write about that? My hand refused to take a pen. In a word, a life like that was death alive.66

  • 67   Ibid., 69.
  • 68   Ibid.

75But then, Zhukovskii continues, a sudden thought illumed his heart: can a love like theirs perish from the mere fact of them living apart? “We cannot be together. But living under the same sky—is it not like living under the same roof! The main thing, our heart—who is able to change it?”67 The impossibility of their marrying could only empower their love, Zhukovskii fancies; it would refashion their relationship in medieval—chivalric, spiritual, disembodied—terms: “Away from you I am more with you.”68 For want of the same roof, the space of their new togetherness will be the graphosphere, the cosmos of reading and writing. Several pages into the June notebook, Zhukovskii remembers he has a blank space ready, and makes the following irrationally strange request:

  • 69   Ibid., 75.

I added the entire empty May. I ask you to copy all this onto its pages, word by word, and add your own reply. This notebook will be my law. And I will rewrite for you what you will have written to me. I promise to you that all my life will be devoted to the fulfilment of these good intentions, or (to draw a bottom line) of my love for you.69

76Zhukovskii’s proposal is not an easy one to figure out. A mentor by nature, and Masha’s former tutor, Zhukovskii may have believed in the didactic power of recopying, but there is clearly more than pedagogy to his plan. Here we might recall what Andrei Chikhachev—that avid and very productive reader from Vladimir province—claimed in his homespun “gazette.” To him, as to many in the Golden Age, there existed an ethical dimension to copying. Reading a book you liked without committing the passages you liked to paper was, Chikhachev believed, “perverse and unholy.” Zhukovskii’s strange proposal must have been driven by a kindred impulse. Asking Masha to rewrite by her hand his new plan for their future life and his new vision of their union was not, of course, a mere exercise in penmanship. It sounds more like Zhukovskii saw it as a ritual, a vow, almost a substitute for exchanging rings in church.

77Chaque texte n’est qu’un prétexte. Attributed to French actor Jean Mounet-Sully and deployed by stage director Vsevolod Meierkhol’d in his struggle against the dictate of written plays, this slogan remains apt for our study of pragmatics of reading and writing. Here, as on a stage, what a line says hinges on who says it and to whom. Whether two identical texts will sound identical is always contingent on a situation, its participants and performers. When Zhukovskii tells Masha to hand-copy—word by word—into the May notebook what he had written to her in the June one, or when he says he would rewrite for her what she will have written to him in the May notebook—we are faced with something more than just redundant reduplication. These were not identical documents: they were texts in two different handwritings and, behind identical words, two different voices. In Zhukovskii’s fancy, the May notebook—the space of conjoined reading and writing—was to become his and Masha’s shared refuge in the face of impending separation.

6. Reading-Cum-Writing Spaces

  • 70   A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow, Leningrad, 1937-59), vol. 16, 160.
  • 71   I. Dolgorukov, Povest’ o rozhdenii moem (St. Petersburg, 2005), vol. 2, 303.
  • 72   Ibid., 416.

78No outer pressures, be these domestic of the kind that befell Zhukovskii and his Masha, or even the pressures on the part of state censorship, however draconian, could do much in the way of affecting literature—other than change its configuration in the graphosphere. “[N]ever have [writers] been so repressed as now,” Pushkin wrote to Denis Davydov in 1836, “not even in the final five years of the late emperor’s reign, when thanks to Krasovskii and Birukov, literature became handwritten.”70 Being banned from print never meant being silenced. Rather, the opposite was true, as we know from the fate of Woe from Wit. Recopying a work by hand was part of an unofficial yet wide—countrywide—preservation and dissemination effort. Readers and writers alike took part in and took care of the constantly expanding network of spiski—handwritten copies of literary musts. “My [satirical] ‘In Luck’ (‘Vezet’) was never published,” recalls Ivan Dolgorukov, “but copies of it circulated in every town. Many knew some of its stanzas by heart. People would borrow [the original] from me to make spiski, and thus did my ‘In Luck’ fly to army quarters in Orenburg, to Odessa and Petersburg.”71 The fair copy of Dolgorukov’s comedy Durylom went round and round until it wore out; “I had to have a ‘second edition’ hand-copied (vtorym izdaniem perepisyvat’).”72

  • 73   See Von Zitzewitz, “Reading Samizdat,” volume 3.
  • 74   V. P. Stepanov, “Neizdannye teksty I. M. Dolgorukova,” in XVIII vek, edited by N. D. Kochetkova ( (...)
  • 75   N. Iazykov, “Pis’ma k rodnym,” edited by A. A. Karpov, in Ezhegodnik Rukopisnogo otdela Pushkinsk (...)

79Productive reading was thus a form of reproduction. While it is true that person-to-person handwritten circulation came to be widely used in Russia because it allowed literary works to fly under the radar of censorship, we should take care not to gauge the then relations between the forbidden and the unpublished by the standards established much later during the age of samizdat.73 Unlike the nameless, as-if-nonexistent Soviet censors, their fully credited Imperial predecessors would ordinarily train their sights on particular lines or stanzas, instead of banning the whole work; it was up to the author to decide whether to soften the objectionable passage, strike it entirely, or—as Pushkin used to do—replace it with a line (or whole stanza) of telltale dots. This was where rewriting and memorizing would come in. Dolgorukov’s memoir was not quite accurate in depicting the fate of his satirical verse: at one point, “In Luck” was published, but with the omission of one (anticlerical) stanza, which, to be sure, was precisely the stanza that many knew by heart and constituted the gem of every spisok.74 Compared to manuscripts, books were valued for their durability, but were not necessarily very reliable as a source, or convenient as a vehicle of circulation.By the time the handwritten copy of Woe from Wit reached Chikhachev’s countryside estate in 1836, a standalone edition of the play (1833) had already been published. However, the printed and leather-bound Woe from Wit was known to have been heavily censored, which made it likelier to sit on your bookshelf while handwritten versions of the play continued to circulate. What to choose—a nice gold-lettered but censored volume, or a plain but authentic hand script—must have been a dilemma familiar to many a Golden Age reader. Nikolai Iazykov, for one, devised an ingenious solution. Having learned that one of his brothers had just acquired Pushkin’s freshly published Boris Godunov, he proposed in a letter (11 February 1831): “You have already bought Godunov. Here is what I am going to do. I will hand-copy the passages omitted in the printed version and bind these together with the printed text, exactly where each of them belongs. This way our library shall be adorned with the complete Godunov.”75

  • 76   See M. Tsiavlovskii, Stat’i o Pushkine (Moscow, 1962), 218.

80Today, a complete, print-plus-handwritten hand edition of Pushkin’s Godunov may seem like a freak of a book, something in the nature of a centaur. But this polygraphic monstrosity was, in a sense, part and parcel of its age. We tend to paint readers and writers as two different animals, and printing and writing as two different ways of committing words to paper. Ink marks on the margins of library books make us wince. But in fact, margins were originally meant to be marked up. In the Iazykov-ian idea of the complete Godunov, as in the eyes of the Golden Age culture at large, reading and writing, the written and the printed, are inalienable parts of the same literary organism. When Iazykov the reader (himself an extraordinary poet) picks up a pen to restore the printed version of Pushkin’s tragedy to its original completeness, he is no longer acting as “mere” reader—in this period, anyway, the concept of such “mereness” is scarcely admitted—but rather as a co-producer of the book; and so did Pushkin when, having acquired a copy of The Lay of Igor’s Campaign (Slovo o polku Igoreve), he interleaved its printed pages with blanks for making notes.76 In each case, we witness productive reading at work.

81Together with typeset pages, blank sheets sewn thus in between can be subsumed under the category that might be called reading-cum-writing spaces, the material base for participatory reading. Uses of such spaces could range from practical and ceremonial to imaginative. When Pushkin interleaved his Igor with empty pages, it was to prepare a commentated edition. Alternatively, a hybrid between a book and a notebook could serve as a platform for an emotional and intellectual exchange between writers with their characters on the one hand, and readers with their sorrows on the other. Andrei Turgenev’s diary (recently reassessed by Zorin as an important source for emotion studies) gives a rare inside glimpse at such reading practices. In 1801, not long before his untimely death, Turgenev conceived of a plan, in collaboration with Zhukovskii and Merzliakov (two other members of the Friendly Literary Society), to produce a Russian translation of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. As we learn from his diary, he had two copies of Werther. While one of these may have served him as a source, the other, dissected and combined with spaces for writing, became a vehicle for imaginary communication between Turgenev, Goethe, and his Werther; add here Turgenev’s flame Anna Sokovnina, yearnings and pinings for whom, as Zorin observes, inevitably steered Turgenev’s thoughts toward Werther’s letters.

  • 77   Cited from Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 338.

82It is from Andrei Turgenev’s diary (and Zorin’s discussion of it in the first volume) that we learn how a reader of considerable talent could conflate their personal world with the intellectual and emotional diegesis of a book. To believe the diary, Turgenev’s first instinct was to expand the book he loved to make room in it for himself. “[W]ith no far-reaching aims, I had [Werther] rebound so that every other page was a blank insert. I was not sure what I might need it for,” the diary admits.77 This need, in fact, was prompted by Goethe’s novel:

  • 78   Cited from the R. D. Boylan translation in Goethe, Novels and Tales, (London, 1854), 297.
  • 79   Cited from Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 338. For a close reading of Turgenev’s entry (of which the f (...)

A quick thought crossed my mind. Werther says somewhere: So eine wahre, warme Freude ist nicht in der Welt, als eine große Seele zu sehen, die sich gegen einen öffnet. (It is the greatest and most genuine of pleasures to observe a great mind in sympathy with our own.78) … Recalling this passage from Werther, I said to myself: in my Werther book I will be checking my feelings against his, making notes each time I felt as he had felt. As I thought of this I jumped out of my chair, rushed to my room and instantly wrote down the present lines.79

83Andrei Turgenev’s project sounds similar to what his friend Zhukovskii would a few years later call “engrafting.” Indeed, Turgenev used his blank pages to harvest thoughts and emotions grown out of Werther’s—much like a garden for growing plants from other plants. That Werther’s remark about mutual empathy of minds (or souls, dush, as any Russian would have translated Goethe’s Seele) could have sent young Turgenev out of his reading chair to his writing desk is proof enough of the efficacy of productive reading. Underlying Zhukovskii’s grafting metaphor and Andrei Turgenev’s planned intervention into Goethe’s Werther was the sense of performative empathy, as it were. Good readers, like good performers, grow into the book they read and the thoughts they find therein. You not only enact what you read, you let it become you.

  • 80   B. Tomashevskii, Pushkin i Frantsiia (Leningrad, 1960), 78.

84The ideology of literary becoming also explains the Golden Age’s sweeping devotion to poetic translations. Unlike translations of prose—mostly novels and non-fiction published widely with an eye toward commercial success—translations of poetry were mainly intended for poetry lovers, which in practice meant that most, if not all, of those willing to read Gray, Parny, or Bürger in Russian translation were equally (if not better) equipped to read these authors in the original, or in already-existing translations into languages they knew (usually French). Nonetheless, poetic translations not only proliferated, but were also debated as seriously as were poems written in Russian. One reason for this was that poetic translations were vested with an ethos and mission uniquely theirs. As Boris Tomashevskii says in his Pushkin and France (Pushkin i Frantsiia): “Their aim was not to render the original precisely, but to enrich Russian poetry with the forms that existed in a foreign language.”80 And, one might add, to advance Russian as a language—its stylistic repertoire and expressive toolkit.

  • 81   Cited from Iu. Tynianov, “Arkhaisty i Pushkin, in Idem, Pushkin i ego sovremenniki (Moscow, 1969 (...)
  • 82   K. Batiushkov, Sochineniia v 3 tomakh, edited by L. Maikov, V. Saitov (St. Petersburg, 1885–1887) (...)

85Translating from European poetry was a way of making it one’s own. After Pavel Katenin’s translations from Tasso and Ariosto, his friend Nikolai Bakhtin could write: “As some of Katenin’s experiments have proven, Italian octaves can be taken possession of (prisvoeny) by Russian versifiers.”81 The connotations of prisvoeny may verge on the downright military (“seized,” “grabbed”); and the latter sense was occasionally made explicit by valiant translators. Batiushkov, much of whose time was spent on military campaigns, wrote in a letter to Gnedich: “Find enclosed, my dear friend, a little piece of poetry (p’ieska) that I have taken, that is, conquered (zavoeval) from Parny.”82

  • 83   O. B. Lebedeva, A. S. Ianushkevich (eds.), Zhukovskii v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov (Moscow, 19 (...)

86Normally, conquests of this kind would be printed on the same footing with the poet’s original works, sometimes marked as “translation” or “imitation,” sometimes not. Poetic translation was the ultimate form of productive reading, a way of conversing, across languages, with the author of the original work. A German, English, or French poem in Russian translation was seen as a reincarnation, not a replica. This attitude made poetic translations easy to transplant. When Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751) became well known, so did the eponymous English graveyard. By the same token, the hill in the Mishenskoe village on which Zhukovskii had reportedly been strolling while composing his first (1802) reincarnation of Gray’s elegy became locally known as “Greieva elegiia.”83 When, many years later, Zhukovskii visited England, he made certain to stop at the churchyard in Stoke Poges where Gray supposedly wrote his elegy and where Gray himself was definitely buried. The visit and, in all likelihood, the lines from the churchyard elegy chiseled on Gray’s tomb moved Zhukovskii to retranslate—this time in Homeric hexameters—Gray’s poem, which now, in Zhukovskii’s long memory, became associated with a whole cluster of literary facts, including the long-ago premature demise of his poet-friend Andrei Turgenev. So that readers would be aware of every text, event, and person looming behind the new translation, Zhukovskii furnished it with a moving footnote that deserves to be quoted in full:

  • 84   V. Zhukovskii, Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh (Moscow, 1960), vol. 1, 396; emphasis in or (...)

Gray’s elegy, which I translated in 1802, was printed in Vestnik Evropy when it was published by Karamzin in 1802 and 1803. That was my first published poem. That one was dedicated to Andrei Ivanovich Turgenev. Passing Windsor in May 1839, I paid a visit to the graveyard in Stoke Poges nearby, the one that gave Gray the idea for his elegy; there I reread Gray’s beautiful poem and decided to translate it again, as close to the original as possible. It is this second translation, made almost forty years after the first one, that I dedicate to Aleksandr Ivanovich Turgenev as a sign of our mutual friendship that has lasted since then, and to the memory of his brother.84

  • 85   See T. Fraiman, Tvorcheskaia strategiia i poetika V. A. Zhukovskogo (1800-pervaia polovina 1820-k (...)

87Note that Zhukovskii refers to the 1802 “Graveyard” as a translation and as his poem—both in the same breath. For him the difference hardly mattered. The possible titles Zhukovskii played with in a number of early manuscripts range from “Elegy” to “An Elegy Written at a Country Graveyard. From Gray (Iz Graia).” This iz —literally, “out of,” a habitual way of attributing a translation in those days—posits the parent poem as a source, a root rather than a prototype of Zhukovskii’s elegy.85

88The ideology of conquest renders the whose question irrelevant. As Zhukovskii explains in a remarkably perceptive introspection we find in an 1847 letter to Gogol:

  • 86   Zhukovskii, Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh, vol. 4, 544.

I often notice that most of my brightest thoughts are improvised when I have to express or supplement the thoughts of others. My mind, like a fire steel, must be stricken by a flint for a spark to jump off. This, in general, is characteristic of my authorial self: almost everything I create is someone else’s, or apropos of something said by someone else—and, at the same time, all this is fully mine.86

7. Chronotopes

89In the footnote appended to the second translation of Gray’s “Churchyard,” Zhukovskii informs his readers of several things they ought to know about his present effort. First, the footnote alludes to the translation made almost forty years before; secondly, it links two dedications: that of the 1839 version to Aleksandr Turgenev; and that of the 1802 version, which Zhukovskii had dedicated to Aleksandr’s elder brother Andrei. Thirdly, the footnote offers a testimonial regarding the poem’s genesis, namely, that the idea of writing it occurred to Zhukovskii during his visit to the very churchyard that, almost a century before, inspired Thomas Gray to write his poem.

  • 87   Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 44.

90A peculiar trait of such testimonials is the attention they pay to the chrono-topography of the lyric. The when and where of a poem—written one quiet evening in a cemetery; on a summer day in Revel’; or while treading the grounds trod of old by Pushkin’s cheerless Ovid or Baratynskii’s Nordic skalds; in other words, the moments when poetry interlocked with one’s existential situation—were seen as meaningful not only for a poem’s author, but also for its listeners and readers. Not that these poems had to be written or even composed en plein air—standing by the sea or walking amid graves; but it was important that a poem’s coming into being be associated with its author’s being there. Nor were its readers or listeners expected to travel to St. Giles’s Church in Stoke Poges in order to enjoy reading Zhukovskii’s “Second Translation out of Gray,” or climb “Gray Elegy” Hill in Mishenskoe to savor the first one—though we do recall how thrilling Staff-Captain Konshin found the Finnish blizzard raging outside the window as Baratynskii recited “Finland.” But on the other hand, it is easy to imagine someone transformed, by the mere fact of finding themselves in a graveyard or caught in a snowstorm, into a vocal performer of lines “out of” Pushkin or Zhukovskii. A tree is a tree and a grave is a grave: cultural landscapes are poetically isomorphic. In actual fact, outdoor or onsite reading/reciting of descriptive poetry was a consciously cultivated practice; and it easily spread to lyric poems. As Zorin summarizes the back-and-forth between reading and life-shaping: “The European public learned to love a la The New Heloise and The Sorrows of Young Werther, enjoy nature à la Rousseau, visit graveyards à la [Edward] Young and Gray, and seclude oneself from the world a la [Johann Georg von] Zimmerman.”87

  • 88   As discussed in her two conference papers “Effekt Archimbol’do v opisatel’noi lirike: ‘Osen’’ Bar (...)

91What was true of topography was also true of the four seasons, the three divisions of the day, and every type of weather. Thus, in the already-cited letter to his brother Nikolai from their parental estate, Aleksandr Turgenev nostalgically recounts how he spent the previous evening observing a sunset from that wide-windowed room in which the Turgenev brothers used to have classes as boys; here, Turgenev recited a doleful description of a sunset from a Zhukovskii poem that suited the beautiful view and the meditative mood that view induced. Or take that editorial footnote we recall from the beginning of this chapter, in which an editor of Novosti literatury apologized to subscribers for printing a poem entitled “Spring” in the October issue. We might think of seasonal dishes in a menu. Indeed, why publish “Spring” at all, when verses titled “Autumn” were proliferating like mushrooms in this period: at least fifty of them, in Natalia Mazur’s estimate (not counting those printed in newspapers), appeared in the first half of the nineteenth century alone.88

92Poetry takes nature personally, and so must its readers. A lyric description of a season (or tempest, sunset, waterfall) was seldom, if ever, an honest rendering of a natural phenomenon, but rather a seasonality matching or contrasting whatever human emotion a poet purported to impart to their readers; and so an out-of-season poem interfered with the cardinal tenet of the age: in order to succeed, a poem must be relatable, applicable, performance-friendly. In a word, complicit with the reader’s cast (and state) of mind.

  • 89   Zhukovskii, Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh, vol. 1, 264, 262.

93The when and where of the verse depended, in part, on its place in the system of lyric genres. This makes Bakhtin’s notion of literary chronotope, originally devised to handle novelistic plots, instrumental for poetry as well. Typically, the χρόνος of a lyric poem came in tandem with its τόπος. Thus, the choice of autumn (rural rather than urban, and arboreal rather than campestral) as your χρόνος situated your poem in the generic range somewhere between doleful elegy and philosophic ode. The action of such an autumnal poem was, as a rule, a solitary ramble set in a natural landscape (Zhukovskii: “I am alone on the shore… All around me is silent”) attended by musings suited to the occasion (“Everything here involuntarily steers us toward contemplation”).89

94Conversely, a lyric τόπος could prompt the choice of a fitting χρόνος. Take, for instance, Baratynskii’s elegy “Desolation” (“Zapustenie”), in which the nature and destination of a trip dictates—or so the poet claims—the one and only time to take it. “Desolation” was written in the wake of Baratynskii’s return to Mara, the paternal mansion whose once lovingly groomed garden had fallen into neglect after the death of his father, when he was only ten. Now in his thirties, the poet revisits Mara in search of lost time, but everywhere he looks, he finds but tokens of desolation: the lanes, now overgrown; the cascade, dry; the grotto and footbridge, dilapidated. Baratynskii’s elegy opens with an apostrophe addressed to the garden of his boyhood; here the poet explains why he chose this season to return:

  • 90   Translation: “I paid my visit to you, captivating bower, / not in the joyful days of life-restori (...)

Я посетил тебя, пленительная сень,
Не в дни весёлые живительного Мая,
Когда, зелёными ветвями помавая,
Манишь ты путника в свою густую тень […]90

95“Yet springtime garb was not what I was seeking here,” the poet postulates, “but memories from a time gone by.” This was why Baratynskii “delayed [his] return” (zamedlil vozvratom) till when “[t]he trees were standing in autumnal nakedness, / their aspect dark and uninviting.”

  • 91   V. Pecherin, “Zamogil’nye zapiski,” in Russkoe obshchestvo 30-kh godov XIX v. Liudi i idei: Memua (...)
  • 92   S. Glinka, Zapiski (Moscow, 2004), 146.

96Upon first encounter with Golden Age poetry as a whole, the tenacity of situational chronotopes may appear inexplicable. Here is a bunch of smart and creative poets, none of whom, however, appears to have had any qualms about writing, again and again, poems about autumns and waterfalls, loves and friendships, the vagaries of fortune, and sad or happy returns to ancestral homes. As to the possible strategy behind such recurrences and repetitions, two historical explanations present themselves. The customary explanation traces this propensity to repeat to pre-romantic rhetorical culture, which privileged imitation over innovation. Writing poetry, in this framework, was understood as learning from tradition; learning, in turn, equaled matching an established model. “Describe a tempest for me; compose a eulogy to modesty; retell the fight between the Horatii and Curiatii,” was how Vladimir Pecherin recalled a university exam he took (c. late 1820s-1831) in French.91 Or consider the more adventurous task Nikolai Ozeretskovskii, professor of Russian at the Cadets Corps, assigned his students in 1795: compose a letter a wounded son might send his father from the battlefield.92 This pedagogy might remind us more of exercises assigned in an acting studio than foreign language tests (to say nothing of a writing test in one’s mother tongue). Foreign or native, languages and literatures were not thinkable or teachable apart. Language proficiency was measured less by your ability to chat on daily topics than to write a literary text that would live up to ancient examples.

  • 93   See, among others, “The Decembrist in Daily Life: Everyday Behavior as a Historical-Psychological (...)
  • 94Noveishii polnyi pis’movnik, ili Vseobshchii sekretar’ (St. Petersburg, 1810), 55.

97This explanation may seem satisfactory, but it fails to account for precisely the aspects of Golden Age poetry I foreground in this chapter: its uncommon, one-off, or personalized poetic practices. How personal and familial semantics dovetailed with the commitment to the canon will be easier to fathom if, following Iurii Lotman, we factor in the unusual role of performance in this period’s everyday life and culture.93 Recall how quickly and readily people memorized and recited verses to each other. Society ladies sang and played music; ambitious young men made reputations declaiming monologues, in French or Russian, on domestic stages. This was a participatory culture, or, to deploy Merzliakov’s definition of the lyric, a culture of complicity, souchastie. Whether you act as a reader; write a letter; or embroider a tea-cloth, you reproduce a preexisting model—but you also appropriate this model, make it your own. When a lady, alone in her room or in a social situation, took up her needle and embroidery hoop, she normally followed a pre-traced design; still, the choice of hues, of stitches to use, and, of course, of the design itself were all hers. Choosing the right design for your needlework was as creative an act as a poetic translator like Zhukovskii’s choice of poem to translate. For a true translator, as for a true embroiderer, genuinely yours did not mean originally yours. When having received a postal reproof from his father for this or that act of debauchery, a young man reached for the Newest Complete Letter-Writing Manual, or Everyone’s Secretary for 1810 (Noveishii polnyi pis’movnik, ili Vseobshchii sekretar’ na 1810) to copy model letter #44, titled “A Reply to his Father by a Repentant Son” (“Otvet ot syna k otsu, prinosiashchago razskaianie”)94 the resulting letter—even if rewritten verbatim—was genuinely his. What made a letter or a piece of embroidery your own was not the design but the hand; not the pattern, but the performance.

98“Any text is but a pretext”—this may sound arrogant to those who would equate theater with the written drama; but from the standpoint of a performer, the French actor’s mot becomes a self-evident truth. In the eye of the player, performing means giving life to abstract signs, be it a string of notes on a piano score or a chain of words in a play script. Mutatis mutandis, Mounet-Sully’s maxim can be applied to literature as well—especially when literary texts are viewed from the standpoint of their readers. When Pushkin wrote his “I have outlasted my desires,” he initially planned to put these words into the mouth of the Russian prisoner of the Caucasus as this character tells the Circassian maiden about himself. When, on second thought, Pushkin decided to publish his verse as a standalone elegy, the text underwent a change of implied performer. Elegy readers tend to project the words they read onto the poet with whom, as Merzliakov had it, they willingly enter into complicity. “This is my life”—when the unknown woman going by “E. B.” wrote this on her self-made copy of Pushkin’s elegy, this was equivalent to signing a pact of complicity with the poem. Uses of poetry, like poetry itself, allow for multiple interpretations, none of which exclude any other. E. B.’s inscription next to Pushkin’s elegy can be understood as a public lament using Pushkin’s words, or as using his words as a secret confession; but we could also interpret the phrase “This is my life” as a performative act, the act of giving life to Pushkin’s verbal score—much as a piano player gives life to Mozart’s written music; an unskilled correspondent lends their handwriting (and perhaps even their voice) to a template found in a letter-writing manual; or a skilled embroiderer follows a preprinted imitation pattern to create an inimitable headdress.

99At the same time, we should not lose sight of the poetics of the commonplace. The Golden Age could only be the age of the performative because it was also the age of stable scripts and proven patterns. These were not, as we have just seen, set-pieces from which to construct an indifferently beautiful literary work. The lyric scripts and patterns that poets and readers used and recognized were grounded in very specific, carefully compartmented, reality-related situations. In this respect the poetics of commonplace was, quite literally, the poetics of common places and common times.

  • 95   J. Derrida, “Che cos’è la poesia?,” in A Derrida Reader, edited by P. Kamuf (New York, 1991), 230 (...)

100The act of reading a poem was, in the Golden Age, intimately connected with memorizing and reproducing it. It has been argued more than once—years ago by Jacques Derrida, more recently by Jonathan Culler—that the very idiom “to learn by heart”—d’apprendre par coeur—points to the centrality of the heart-image in our understanding of what poetry is.95 Unreliable as etymological evidence tends generally to be, it may be worth noting here that the Russian equivalent for “memorizing by heart” is not heart-related at all. Literally, the inner form of the Russian vyuchit’ naizust’ can be rendered as “to learn by-out-of-mouth.” If indeed the process of learning a poem by heart can be construed as being a metaphor of internalization, learning it naizust’ implies externalizing, transporting poetry from the realm of reading to that of performing.


Franklin S., “Mapping the Graphosphere: Cultures of Writing in Early 19th-Century Russia (and Before),” Kritika, 12, 3 (2011), 531–560.

Glagoleva O. E., Tul’skaia knizhnaia starina, Tula, 1992.

Golovina T. N., “Eshche odin spisok ‘Goria ot uma’,” in Potaennnaia literatura, Ivanovo, 2004, vol. 4-5, 27–33.

Golovina T. N., “Gazeta dlia odnogo chitatelia,” in Potaennnaia literatura (Ivanovo, 2000), vol. 2, 26–33.

Golovina T. N., “Russkaia iziashchnaia slovesnost’ v kruge chteniia pomeshchikov srednei ruki (po arkhivnym dokumentam 1830-1840kh godov),” Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 157 (2019).

Hodge T. P., A Double Garland: Poetry and Art-Song in Early-Nineteenth-Century Russia (Evanston, 2000).

Hoogenboom H., “Sentimental Novels and Pushkin: European Literary Markets and Russian Readers,” Slavic Review, 74, 3 (2015), 553-574.

Mel’ts M., “Pesni i romansy na stikhi Pushkina,” in Pushkin i ego sovremenniki, 2 (St. Petersburg, 2000), 138–158.

Petina L., “Ob al’bomnom kharaktere russkikh izdanii pervoi poloviny XIX veka,” in Literaturnyi byt pushkinskoi pory, edited by N. I. Mikhailova (Moscow, 2012), 141–160.

Pickering Antonova K., An Ordinary Marriage: The World of a Gentry Family in Provincial Russia (Oxford, 2012).

Pil’shchikov I., Peschio J., “The Proliferation of Elite Readerships and Circle Poetics in Pushkin and Baratynskii (1820s–1830s),” in M. Remnek (ed.), The Space of the Book: Print Culture in the Russian Social Imagination (Toronto, 2011), 82–107.

Reitblat A. I., Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii (Moscow, 2001).

Reitblat A. I., “Pis’mennaia literatura v Rossii v XIX veke,” in D. Rebecchini, R. Vassena (eds.), Reading in Russia: Practices of Reading and Literary Communication (1760-1930) (Milano, 2014), 79–97.

Tabakova N. A., “Pushkin v al’bomakh sovremennikov,” in G. V. Zykova (ed.), Pamiati Anny Ivanovny Zhuravlevoi: Sbornik statei, E. N. Penskaia (Moscow, 2012), 282-96.

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

Vatsuro V., “Literaturnye al’bomy v sobranii Pushkinskogo doma (1750–1840-e gody).” Ezhegodnik Rukopisnogo otdela Pushkinskogo doma na 1977 god (Leningrad, 1979), 3–54.

Vatsuro V., S. D. P. Iz istorii literaturnogo byta pushkinskoi pory (Moscow, 1989).

Vinitsky I., Vasily Zhukovsky’s Romanticism and the Emotional History of Russia (Evanston, 2015).

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


1   This chapter is a slightly reworked excerpt from Lyric Complicity: Poetry and Readers in the Golden Age of Russian Literature by Daria Khitrova. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2019 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

2   P. A. Pletnev, “Pis’mo k grafine S. I. S. o russkikh poetakh,” in V. Vatsuro, S. A. Fomichev, E. O. Larionova (eds.), Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 1820–1827 (St. Petersburg, 1996), 244.

3   M. Cohen, The Social Lives of Poems in Nineteenth-Century America (Philadelphia, 2015), 13–14, 17–59.

4   C. Legoy, “Le siècle de la ‘métromanie’: usages sociaux et politiques de la poésie dans la France de la Restauration,” Romantisme, 140 (2008), 9–20.

5   A. Bestuzhev, “Vzgliad na russkuiu slovesnost’ v techenie 1824 i nachale 1825 godov,” in Poliarnaia zvezda, izdannaia A. Bestuzhevym i K. Ryleevym, edited by V. Arkhipov, V. Bazanov, Ia. Levkovich (Moscow, Leningrad, 1960), 488.

6   “Vesna,” Novosti literatury, 17 (1822), 62 (signed “R,” dated 1821); emphasis in the original. Following Mikhail Longinov’s attribution of the elegy to Batiushkov, it was included in his Works, but only in the “Dubia” section, since Longinov never explained his attribution and no evidence was found to support it.

7Arkhiv brat’iev Turgenevykh (St. Petersburg, 1911), vol. 2, 364.

8   Ibid., 365.

9   See A. I. Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii (Moscow, 2001); D. Rebecchini, R. Vassena (eds.), Reading in Russia: Practices of Reading and Literary Communication (1760-1930) (Milan, 2014); H. Hoogenboom, “Sentimental Novels and Pushkin: European Literary Markets and Russian Readers,” Slavic Review, 74, 3 (2015), 553-574. See also chapters by Zorin in the first volume, and by Golovina and Rebecchini in the present volume.

10Arkhiv brat’iev Turgenevykh, vol. 2, 72.

11   A. Merzliakov, Kratkoe nachertanie teorii iziashchnoi slovesnosti (Moscow, 1822), 173-174.

12   -R-, “Pismo k izdateliu,” Moskovskii vestnik, pt. 1, 1 (1827), 79-80.

13   I. Brodskii, Sochineniia (St. Petersburg, 1992), vol. 1, 61. Translation: “So, the years have now passed / in which you lived precisely / so that we might sometimes name our feelings / using your words.”

14   See J. Culler, “Why Lyric?” PMLA, 123, 1 (2008), 201–206; and V. Jackson, “Who Reads Poetry?” PMLA, 123, 1 (2008), 181–187.

15   Cited from V. Gorchakov, “Vyderzhki iz dnevnika ob A. S. Pushkine,” in V. Vatsuro et al. (eds.), Pushkin v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov (St. Petersburg, 1998), vol. 1, 259.

16   See A. Peskov, “Vzgliad na zhizn’ i sochineniia Boratynskogo,” in Letopis’ zhizni i tvorchestva E. A. Boratynskogo, edited by A. Peskov (Moscow, 1998), 21-22; V. Vatsuro, S. D. P. Iz istorii literaturnogo byta pushkinskoi pory (Moscow, 1989), 182-200, 259-61, 289-90.

17   Translation: “I have outlasted my desires, / Have ceased to love my dreams; / What remains for me is only suffering, / The fruit of the heart’s emptiness. // Silently obedient to my fate / I drag my martyr’s crown, / I dwell, sorrowful and aloof / And wonder if my end will come. // Thus, stricken with a tardy chill / When winter’s whistling winds are heard, / Alone on a bare bough / There trembles a belated leaf.” The album inscription is a copy of the journal version (published in Novosti literatury in 1823 and quoted here). I reinstated Pushkin’s punctuation and corrected one misremembered word.

18   See N. A. Tabakova, “Pushkin v al’bomakh sovremennikov,” in Pamiati Anny Ivanovny Zhuravlevoi: Sbornik statei, edited by G. V. Zykova, E. N. Penskaia (Moscow, 2012), 288-290.

19   As Robert Darnton has shown, projecting the read upon one’s private life was a widespread mode of reading since Rousseau; see R. Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre (New York, 1984), 215-256. See also Zorin, “A Reading Revolution?,” in volume 1.

20   M. Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (Berkeley, 1980).

21   S. Franklin, “Mapping the Graphosphere: Cultures of Writing in Early 19th-Century Russia (and Before),” Kritika, 12, 3 (2011), 531–560; see also A. I. Reitblat, “Pis’mennaia literatura v Rossii v XIX veke,” in Reading in Russia, 79–97.

22   N. Ivanitskii, “Avtobiografiia,” in Shchukinskii sbornik (Moscow, 1909), vol. 8, 228.

23   O. E. Glagoleva, Tul’skaia knizhnaia starina (Tula, 1992), 78.

24   Cited from I. Andronikov, Lermontov: Issledovaniia i nakhodki (Moscow, 1977), 186.

25   I. Dmitriev, Vzgliad na moiu zhizn’ (Moscow, 1866), 69.

26Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’, edited by P. A. Orlov (Moscow, 1979), 91.

27   See M. Mel’ts, “Pesni i romansy na stikhi Pushkina,” in Pushkin i ego sovremenniki, 2 (2000), 138–158; and T. P. Hodge, A Double Garland: Poetry and Art-Song in Early-Nineteenth-Century Russia (Evanston, 2000).

28   See (accessed April 6, 2020).

29   [I. Dmitriev], Karmannyi pesennik, ili Sobranie luchshikh svetskikh i prostonarodnykh pesen (Moscow, 1796).

30   Yu. Tynianov, “Ode as an Oratorical Genre,” translated by Ann Shukman, New Literary History, 34, 3 (2003), 565–596.

31   G. Derzhavin, Sochineniia Derzhavina s ob’iasnitel’nymi primechaniiami Ia. Grota (St. Petersburg, 1864–1883), vol. 7, 570.

32   Ibid.

33   Ibid.

34   Ibid.

35   Here and elsewhere I quote “Finland” as translated by Rawley Grau in Baratynsky, A Science Not For The Earth: Selected Poems & Letters, edited by R. Grau and I. Bernstein (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), 13.

36   Translation: “Soundless now is the shield of summons, the skaldic voice / unheard, the blazing oak tree cold, / the raging winds have carried off the solemn cries— / the sons know nothing of the fathers’ valiant deeds, / and the countenance of their gods / lie overthrown in the dust of the earth!” E. Boratynskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem (Moscow, 2002), vol. 1 edited by A. M. Peskov, I. A. Pil’shchikov, A. R. Zaretskii, 140-141.

37   Quoted in A. Peskov, Boratynskii: Istinnaia povest’ (Moscow, 1990), 162-163; I made use, in part, of Grau’s translation of Konshin’s text (Baratynsky, A Science Not For The Earth, 483-484).

38Vospominaniia Bestuzhevykh, edited by M. Azadovskii (Moscow, Leningrad, 1951), 157-158.

39   S. Aksakov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (St. Petersburg, 1886), vol. 3, 78.

40I. A. Krylov v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, edited by A. M. Gordin, M. A. Gordin (Moscow, 1982), 194-195.

41   S. Zhikharev, Zapiski sovremennika, edited by B. Eikhenbaum (Moscow, Leningrad, 1955), 259, 445-46.

42   Ibid., 279.

43   K. Aksakov, “Pis’ma k M. G. Kartashevskoi,” edited by E. Annenkova, in Ezhegodnik Rukopisnogo otdela Pushkinskogo Doma na 1973 god (Leningrad, 1976), 76.

44   “Pis’mo V. A. Zhukovskogo,” Russkii arkhiv, 7 (1866), 1070.

45   Aksakov, “Pis’ma k M. G. Kartashevskoi,” 75.

46Russkaia sentimental’naia povest’, 296.

47   A. Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia: Iz istorii russkoi emotsional’noi kul’tury kontsa XVIIInachala XIX veka (Moscow, 2016), 44. See also Zorin, “A Reading Revolution?,” in volume 1.

48   K. Batiushkov, Opyty v stikhakh i proze, edited by I. Semenko (Moscow, 1977), 55.

49 Bernard de Fontenelle, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, translated by E. Gunning (London, 1803), xiv.

50   K. Batiushkov, Sochineniia v dvukh tomakh, edited by A. Zorin (Moscow, 1989), vol. 2, 177.

51   See T. N. Golovina, “Gazeta dlia odnogo chitatelia,” in Potaennaia literatura (Ivanovo, 2000), vol. 2, 26–33; K. Pickering Antonova, An Ordinary Marriage: The World of a Gentry Family in Provincial Russia (Oxford, 2012), 17-19; and the in-depth study of Chichachev’s reading habits in Golovina, “Belles-Lettres and the Literary Interests of Middling Landowners,” in the present volume.

52   See T. N. Golovina, “Eshche odin spisok ‘Goria ot uma’,” in Potaennaia literatura, (Ivanovo, 2004), vol. 4-5, 27–33.

53   Cited ibid., 31.

54Ostaf’evskii arkhiv kniazei Viazemskikh, edited by V. I. Saitov, P. N. Sheffer (St. Petersburg, 1899), vol. 2, 65.

55   Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 44.

56   I. Vinitsky, Vasily Zhukovsky’s Romanticism and the Emotional History of Russia (Evanston, 2015), 12; for an in-depth analysis of Zhukovskii’s “domestic utopia” see also pages 111-122, 147-152.

57Perepiska V. A. Zhukovskogo i A. P. Elaginoi. 1813-1852, edited by E.M. Zhiliakova (Moscow, 2009), 642; V. Zhukovskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v 20 tomakh, vol. 13 edited by O. B. Lebedeva, A. S. Ianushkevich (Moscow, 2004), 62.

58   Ibid., 65; for clarity’s sake, I have restored the words and sentences written in shorthand in the original to their full forms.

59   Ibid., 63.

60   Ibid., 65.

61   Ibid., 63.

62   Ibid., 92.

63   Ibid., 107.

64   Ibid., 63; on the role of poetic “self-quotations” in Zhukovskii’s diaries and notebooks, see O. B. Lebedeva, “Printsipy romanticheskogo zhiznetvorchestva v dnevnikakh V. A. Zhukovskogo,” in V. A Zhukovskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v 20 tomakh, vol. 13, 423-424.

65   See the description of the notebook, quoted from Pavel Simoni, ibid., 468.

66   Ibid., 68-69.

67   Ibid., 69.

68   Ibid.

69   Ibid., 75.

70   A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow, Leningrad, 1937-59), vol. 16, 160.

71   I. Dolgorukov, Povest’ o rozhdenii moem (St. Petersburg, 2005), vol. 2, 303.

72   Ibid., 416.

73   See Von Zitzewitz, “Reading Samizdat,” volume 3.

74   V. P. Stepanov, “Neizdannye teksty I. M. Dolgorukova,” in XVIII vek, edited by N. D. Kochetkova (St. Petersburg, 2002), 427.

75   N. Iazykov, “Pis’ma k rodnym,” edited by A. A. Karpov, in Ezhegodnik Rukopisnogo otdela Pushkinskogo doma na 1976 god (Leningrad, 1978), 174.

76   See M. Tsiavlovskii, Stat’i o Pushkine (Moscow, 1962), 218.

77   Cited from Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 338.

78   Cited from the R. D. Boylan translation in Goethe, Novels and Tales, (London, 1854), 297.

79   Cited from Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 338. For a close reading of Turgenev’s entry (of which the fragment quoted here is but a minor part) see I. Vinitskii, “Posviashchenie v poeziiu,” Russian Studies, 2, 1 (1996), 53-77.

80   B. Tomashevskii, Pushkin i Frantsiia (Leningrad, 1960), 78.

81   Cited from Iu. Tynianov, “Arkhaisty i Pushkin, in Idem, Pushkin i ego sovremenniki (Moscow, 1969), 48.

82   K. Batiushkov, Sochineniia v 3 tomakh, edited by L. Maikov, V. Saitov (St. Petersburg, 1885–1887), vol. 3, 78.

83   O. B. Lebedeva, A. S. Ianushkevich (eds.), Zhukovskii v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov (Moscow, 1999), 102.

84   V. Zhukovskii, Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh (Moscow, 1960), vol. 1, 396; emphasis in original.

85   See T. Fraiman, Tvorcheskaia strategiia i poetika V. A. Zhukovskogo (1800-pervaia polovina 1820-kh godov) (Tartu, 2002), 12-35.

86   Zhukovskii, Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh, vol. 4, 544.

87   Zorin, Poiavlenie geroia, 44.

88   As discussed in her two conference papers “Effekt Archimbol’do v opisatel’noi lirike: ‘Osen’’ Baratynskogo” (delivered at IRLI, St. Petersburg, in 2008) and “‘Osen’’ Baratynskogo: rekonstruktsiia kanona” (delivered at Tartu University in 2010).

89   Zhukovskii, Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh, vol. 1, 264, 262.

90   Translation: “I paid my visit to you, captivating bower, / not in the joyful days of life-restoring Maytide, / when, beckoning with verdant branches / you lure the wanderer into your leafy shade [...]” Boratynskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem, vol. 2, 301. Trans. by Rawley Grau in Baratynsky, A Science Not for the Earth, 147.

91   V. Pecherin, “Zamogil’nye zapiski,” in Russkoe obshchestvo 30-kh godov XIX v. Liudi i idei: Memuary sovremennikov, edited by A. I. Fedosov (Moscow, 1989), 154.

92   S. Glinka, Zapiski (Moscow, 2004), 146.

93   See, among others, “The Decembrist in Daily Life: Everyday Behavior as a Historical-Psychological Category,” in Iu. M. Lotman, B. A. Uspenskij, The Semiotics of Russian Culture, edited by A. Shukman (Ann Arbor, 1984), 71–123; and “The Poetics of Everyday Behavior in Eighteenth-Century Russian Culture,” in The Semiotics of Russian Cultural History, edited by A. D. Nakhimovsky, A. Stone Nakhimovsky (Ithaca, 1985), 67–94.

94Noveishii polnyi pis’movnik, ili Vseobshchii sekretar’ (St. Petersburg, 1810), 55.

95   J. Derrida, “Che cos’è la poesia?,” in A Derrida Reader, edited by P. Kamuf (New York, 1991), 230; J. Culler, Theory of the Lyric (Cambridge, MA, 2015), 130.


Daria Khitrova is Associate Professor at Harvard University (Slavic Department). More than 20 of her scholarly articles range from Russian poetry to film to the history of dance. Her first book is Lyric Complicity: Poetry and Readers in the Golden Age of Russian Literature (University of Wisconsin press, 2019).


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