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Reading Russia, vol. 2

 | 
Damiano Rebecchini
, 
Raffaella Vassena

Part II. The Long Nineteenth Century

The Success Of The Russian Novel, 1830s-1840s

Damiano Rebecchini

Texte intégral

  • 1   M. N. Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi v XIX veke (Moscow, 1927), 29.
  • 2   By novels, here we mean fictional narratives no shorter than 96 pages (3 printer’s sheets). The e (...)
  • 3Vtoroe priblavlenie k Rospisi rossiiskim knigam (1832); Sistematicheskii reestr russkim knigam s (...)

1Compared to other European countries, the production of original novels in Russia during the eighteenth century remained low: just slightly more than 100 such titles were published.1 In the same period, translations of European novels into Russian numbered eight times as many. The ratio between original and translated novels did not change significantly for the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Between 1801 and 1829, only 46 Russian-language novels were published, as opposed to 489 translations of foreign novels.2 A real boom in the publication of novels, both in the original and in translation, occurred in the 1830s when: between 1830 and 1839, as many as 319 titles were published.3 It seems that, in that period, the Russian public wanted to read nothing but novels; however, the greatest novelty for those readers was the change in ratio between original Russian works and those that had been translated into Russian. For the first time in the history of Russian publishing, the production of Russian novels exceeded that of translated novels. Between 1830 and 1839, 166 Russian novels came out versus just 153 translated novels. Compared to the 1820s, the original production had increased almost tenfold. The change seems impressive, considering how slowly the Russian readership had traditionally been in changing its cultural tastes. One wonders: what was behind these figures? What were the main factors that led to this change in the Russian public’s reading habits? And what cultural and ideological consequences did this transformation have? In this chapter, after examining the conditions that favored the expansion of the Russian reading public and the success of Russian novels, we will look at the process of cultural and ideological homogenization experienced by the reading public in the 1830s. Then we will analyze the opposite processes of segmentation, ideologization, and radicalization of the reading public that took place in the 1840s.

1. The Conditions for Success

  • 4   W. Pintner, “Government and Industry During the Ministry of Count Kankrin, 1823-1844,” Slavic Rev (...)
  • 5   E. S. Korchmina, I. V. Voskoboinikov, “Moglo li izmel’chanie pomeshchich’ikh khoziaistv v kontse (...)

2The success of the Russian novel in the 1830s should be framed within a context of substantial economic expansion and greater social mobility than in previous decades. After the crisis generated by Napoleon’s invasion, Russia’s economy—helped by the protectionist economic policy inaugurated in 1822 by the Minister of Finance, Kankrin4—seemed to grow quickly from the 1820s on. The fragmentation of landownership, a process which had intensified between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, had led to an increase in the productivity of the land.5 The number of small- and medium-sized landowners increased, and they simultaneously began to have more capital than in the past. This new capital could then be spent on cultural products and leisure needs.

  • 6   Cf. Blackwell, The Beginning of Russian Industrialization, 72-95.
  • 7   J. Randolph, “Communication and Obligation: The Postal System of the Russian Empire, 1700-1850,” (...)

3Significant improvements were also made in the field of commerce. Favored by the creation of a network of stable city markets and enhanced by a system of large provincial seasonal fairs, domestic trade became more common and widespread.6 These improvements benefited not only the noble class but also the lower classes. Despite limited access to credit for most of the non-noble social classes and persistent difficulties in transportation (the first paved highway was built only in 1817 and a genuine railway network only appeared in the 1850s), the 1820s and 1830s represented a period of indisputable economic growth for many classes in Russia. At the same time, thanks to the improvements made to the postal service during the reigns of Catherine II and Alexander I, printed matter in general began to spread more widely throughout the empire, regularly reaching not only the provincial capitals, but also the centers of the most remote districts.7

  • 8   A. J. Rieber, Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia (Chapel Hill, 1982), 46-50.
  • 9   E. Kimerling Wirtschafter, Social Identity in Imperial Russia (Dekalb, 1997), 33, 67, 71-73.
  • 10   Ibid., 67.
  • 11   Ibid.

4This development favored some limited social mobility at various levels: the richest merchants aspired to the ranks and privileges of the nobility; the most enterprising among the townspeople (meshchanstvo) often entered the merchants’ third guild;8 not infrequently, the enfranchised peasants made money by trading and manufacturing, while the less dynamic part of the landed nobility tended to become impoverished due to the poor yield of serf labor.9 In 1828, the Minister of Education, Prince Karl A. Liven, described the situation in these terms: “In Russia […] a prosperous peasant can at any time become a merchant and often is both simultaneously […]; the extent of the noble class is so boundless that at one end it touches the foot of the throne and at the other is almost lost in the peasantry.”10 And he concluded: “Every year many persons from the urban and peasant class enter the nobility after rising to officer rank in the military or the civil service.”11

  • 12   W. B. Lincoln, In the Vanguard of Reform: Russia’s Enlightened Bureaucrats; 1812-1861 (DeKalb, 19 (...)
  • 13   A. G. Rashin, Naselenie Rossii za 100 let (Moscow, 1956), 90.
  • 14   D. Brower, “Urbanization and Autocracy: Russian Urban Development in the First Half of the Ninete (...)
  • 15   A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 16 vols (Moscow, Leningrad, 1949), vol. 11, 247-248.
  • 16   Cf. M. Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 1828-1848, PhD dissertation (Be (...)
  • 17   Cited in V. V. Poznanskii, Ocherk formirovaniia russkoi natsional’noi kul’tury. Pervaia polovina (...)

5The improvement in the overall economic conditions of the country and the increase in social mobility were accompanied by a rapid increase in the population. Between 1796 and 1850, Russia’s population nearly doubled, going from 36 million in 1796 to 69 million in 1850.12 Rapid urbanization of the country occurred in parallel to this development. In just three decades, Moscow’s population rose from 270,000 in 1811 to 349,000 in 1840; in the same period, that of St. Petersburg increased from 335,000 to 470,000.13 This growth was mainly related to the development of trade and industry.14 Aleksandr Pushkin portrays this new context of social mobility well: “Moscow, having lost its aristocratic luster, flourishes in other ways: its industry, heavily subsidized and protected, has definitely revived and developed with extraordinary energy. The merchants are getting rich and have begun to settle in the buildings that were given up by the nobles.”15 The general improvement in the economic and living conditions of the most enterprising provincial landowners, merchants, and certain segments of the urban population generally resulted in more free time to devote to entertainment and cultural consumption.16 The increased social mobility favored the spread of the literary tastes of the upper classes even among the middle and lower-middle classes. In 1823 the poet and former Minister I. I. Dmitriev, wrote: “In the old days, only the most educated among our aristocrats read Kheraskov, while today he is read by the most learned representatives of all classes: merchants, soldiers, servants, even sweet vendors.”17

  • 18   A. G. Rashin, “Gramotnost’ i narodnoe obrazovanie v Rossii v XIX i nachale XX v.,” Istoricheskie (...)
  • 19   Rashin, “Gramotnost’ i narodnoe obrazovanie,” 72; see also Kimerling Wirtschafter, Social Identit (...)
  • 20   Rashin, “Gramotnost’ i narodnoe obrazovanie,” 52.
  • 21   Kimerling Wirtschafter, Social Identity in Imperial Russia, 66.
  • 22   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 92-96. According to Boris Mironov, at (...)
  • 23   N. M. Karamzin, “On The Book Trade and Love of Reading in Russia,” in N. M. Karamzin, Selected Pr (...)

6The increase in education played an important role in the social expansion of Russian readers. Between 1808 and 1834, the total number of students in both state and religious schools increased by 74%.18 These were not just the children of nobles, who at the end of the 1820s made up 55% of all the students in gymnasiums and religious schools, but also those of employees and civil servants (16%), of townspeople (meshchane) and artisans (8%), of merchants (6%), of the clergy (3%), and even of soldiers (2%) and peasants (2%).19 The low percentage of those who had received a formal education within a scholastic institution (0.5% of the entire population) hides the fact that forms of home and family schooling still played quite an important role in the country’s literacy.20 The increase in home education among the non-noble classes under Nicholas I should not be underestimated. In that period, the lower classes became increasingly aware that education was the most vital key to economic and social success, and forms of home education by paid teachers, mutual education by family members, and self-directed education became popular.21 Although literacy increased at a much lower rate than the population growth as such, the range of social origin among those who learned to read in those decades significantly increased.22 Among non-nobles, those who were literate mostly lived in cities. In 1803, when the writer and journalist Nikolai Karamzin wrote in On the Book Trade and Love of Reading in Russia (O knizhnoi targovli i liubvi ko chteniiu v Rossii) about the spread of reading among the lower classes that had taken place in previous decades, he was likely referring to the growing urban reading audience: “It is true that many nobles, even those who are well off, still do not get newspapers; but on the other hand the merchants, the burghers, now love to read them. The poorest people subscribe, and even the most illiterate want to find out what do they write from foreign lands!23

  • 24   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences.

7As it has been convincingly shown, the expansion of the Russian readership, especially in the 1830s and 1840s, was mainly due to the spread of reading among social classes such as small provincial landowners, merchants, clerks, and, if only partly, townspeople.24 This is confirmed by an attentive observer of the time, the journalist and writer Tadeusz Bułharin, known in Russia as Faddei Bulgarin. Bulgarin was on friendly terms with some of the major booksellers in St. Petersburg and, in 1826, he prepared for the government a detailed profile of the Russian reading audience that was meant to improve the use of censorship. In his report, the journalist accurately identified the categories that made up what he called the “middle class” of readers (srednee sostoianie nashei publiki):

  • 25   A. I. Reitblat (ed.), Vidok Figliarin. Pis’ma i agenturnye zapiski F. V. Bulgarina v III otdeleni (...)

In Russia, it consists of: a) well-off nobles working as civil servants, and landowners residing in the countryside; b) nobles without means, educated in state institutions; c) state officials and all those we call employees (prikaznye); d) rich traders, entrepreneurs, and even townspeople (meshchane). This middle class, which is the most numerous and mostly educates itself through readings and exchanges of ideas, constitutes the so-called Russian public. They read a lot, mostly in Russian, closely follow literary successes, and perceive the favorable or difficult course of literature.25

  • 26   Ibid., p. 47.
  • 27   We also have testimonies of Siberian peasant readers in the first half of the nineteenth century. (...)
  • 28  Cf. “Sostoianie gramotnosti mezhdu kupechestvom i zhiteliam podatnogo sostoianiia v Saratovskoi Gu (...)
  • 29   I. M. Bogdanov, Gramotnost’ i obrazovanie v dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii v SSSR (Moscow, 1964), 20 (d (...)
  • 30   Crown serfs (udel’nye krestiane) made up 5.6% of the non-noble literate population, while state s (...)
  • 31   P. Miliukov, Ocherki po istorii russkoi kul’tury. Ocherk sed’moi, Shkola i obrazovanie (St. Peter (...)
  • 32   See Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 225 and V. E. Vatsuro, Goticheskii (...)

8It is interesting that, in his description, Bulgarin divided the Russian public not so much according to social categories but to their specific level of education. Moreover, after having described the education and reading habits of the middle class and two other groups of Russian readers—the “rich and influential people” and the “scholars and writers”—he emphasized that the passion for reading was also spreading among the lower class (nizhnee sostoianie) of the Russian public. This class, he wrote, “reads a lot” and “consists of small clerks (melkie pod’jachie), literate peasants and townspeople (meshchane), country priests and the clergy in general, and finally the important class of the Old Believers (raskol’niki).”26 In general, Bulgarin’s report seems to suggest that it would be wrong to establish direct connections between reading habits and social class or estates.27 A less impressionistic confirmation of Bulgarin’s observations comes from the first census on education carried out in one of the Russian governorates, Saratov, eighteen years later. According to data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 1844 the percentage of literate people in the province of Saratov among the non-noble male population was 4%.28 Within this group of literate people, the majority were merchants (42.1%), followed by domestic serfs (dvorovye liudi) (34.4%), and townspeople (meshchane) (28.7%).29 The peasants were of course a minority, but the mere fact that there were some who could read, and that they could help more illiterate peasants become acquainted with books and reading, is striking.30 In that year, throughout Russia, some 90,000 students between state and appanage serfs had attended village state schools, while in 1853 their number reached 153,000.31 Moreover, the fact that there were serfs in the 1820s and 1830s who could not only read but even read novels and literary works, is confirmed by the lists of subscribers to some of these works.32

  • 33   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 72.
  • 34   According to Grech, in 1825 publishing in Russia cost one third of what it did in Paris; S. Gesse (...)
  • 35   Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres, 466-518; Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Au (...)
  • 36   The importance that the increase in available capital had for the development of the Russian book (...)

9One thing that certainly helped enhance the success of the novel among the new Russian readers in this period was the simple fact that they had easier access to books. Having enjoyed its first heyday in the last decades of the eighteenth century (i.e. during Novikov’s era), book production in Russia suffered a significant setback under Paul I and, more broadly, in the first years of the nineteenth century. However, it began to grow anew during the reign of Alexander I: from 1805 to 1825, the total number of published works quadrupled.33 However, the most significant changes, especially regarding the production of Russian-language works, took place during Nicholas I’s reign. In particular, the 1830s saw some major improvements in the efficiency of the book market, specifically in the production and distribution of books. Thanks to lower production costs compared to Europe, and to the country’s new economic dynamism, Russia’s book prices dropped significantly in the 1830s even as printing press output increased and the quality of the editions improved.34 At the same time, book distribution benefited from the consolidation of various institutions that promoted more consistent and ubiquitous circulation of literary works; these included provincial public libraries, circulating libraries, and thick journals (tolstye zhurnaly).35 Structural factors, such as the greater availability of capital, better organized trade, and an improved postal service, combined with personal initiatives (like those of certain talented booksellers such as Aleksandr Smirdin) to play an important role in the spread of reading.36

  • 37   On Smirdin, see T. Grits, V. Trenin, M. Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia (Knizhnaia lavka A. F. (...)
  • 38   Grits, Trenin, Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia, 239-240.
  • 39   On the reading of dreambooks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, see F. Wigzell, Reading (...)

10Smirdin’s role in these transformations should not be underestimated, as his contemporaries correctly observed.37 In St. Petersburg, the young bookseller applied the same market strategies employed for popular literature, which he had mastered during his apprenticeship in Moscow, to the narrower market of the so-called high literature.38 Smirdin distinguished himself by stimulating the dynamism of the Russian book market in many ways, improving both its production and its distribution. First, as a publisher, he contributed significantly to lowering the prices of high literature, thus attracting large portions of new readers who were formerly used to reading mainly a limited repertoire of low-quality texts, such as calendars, psalters, books of hours, collections of songs (pesenniki), dreambooks (sonniki), and lubok romances.39 Before his intervention, which began to affect the Russian book market in the early 1830s, high literature was prohibitively expensive. Reducing such prices considerably, Smirdin allowed many more people to buy and expand their choice of books. The greater demand and higher profits meant that he could significantly increase print runs and, consequently, his general turnover. In turn, the higher income enabled him to raise the fees he paid the authors, prompting them to write more, and in turn promoting, even among high society literati, the professionalization of belles-lettres. At the same time, by improving the quality of editions and opening a luxurious bookshop in one of St. Petersburg’s most prominent neighborhoods, Smirdin increased the prestige of book ownership and of literature as such among the new readers. As an experienced bookseller, he was able to make book circulation more dynamic by increasing both the quantity of copies and the number of titles in circulation. For example, like Novikov, he also gave commission-free books to other booksellers; as a result, the books available to the public in bookshops grew in number, and their circulation grew more rapid. As recalled by a witness of the time,

  • 40Materialy dlia istorii russkoi knizhnoi torgovli (St. Petersburg, 1879), 8.

In the 1830s, the release of a new novel (especially by Zagoskin) or some other work was a big event. Typically, when these novelties were published, booksellers—with the exception of Smirdin—were decidedly stingy and did not buy a sufficient number of copies: if 200 copies of a book were necessary, they ordered 10-25, and kept them hidden under the counter for their clients, without displaying them on the shelves for their colleagues to see. They did so, in order not to show them to their competitors, and they would not sell them to each other even at full price. This definitely curbed the trade. At times, it happened that, when a new book was published, booksellers did not buy it immediately, but only after customers repeatedly asked for it. Only then did they decide to buy a dozen, but by then the book was selling slowly and they eventually complained that the demand was low.40

11By selling books commission-free and keeping a large number of books in his shop for the benefit of his customers, Smirdin stimulated popular interest in books and the circulation of works.

1. Aleksandr Smirdin’s bookshop. A detail from the cover of Novosel’e, vol. 2. 1834.

1. Aleksandr Smirdin’s bookshop. A detail from the cover of Novosel’e, vol. 2. 1834.
  • 41   Cit. in M. V. Muratov, Knizhnoe delo v Rossii v XIX i XX vekakh: ocherk istorii knigoizdatel’stva (...)
  • 42   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 169.

12As one contemporary wrote following Smirdin’s death, “Smirdin’s greatest merit was that he lowered the price of books, considered literary works as capital, and established a solid link between literature and the book market.”41 As a result, the book trade under Nicholas I was characterized by “better dissemination of more copies, at lower prices, and available at a greater number of access points.”42

  • 43   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 52-53.
  • 44   Cf. V. Rjéoutski, N. Speranskaya, “The Francophone Press in Russia: A Cultural Bridge and an Inst (...)
  • 45   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 122, 448-449.
  • 46   Ibid., 122, 449. In a mere five years, from 1835 to 1840, the annual production of books in Russi (...)

13In particular, the changes triggered by Smirdin’s trade policy resulted in a great increase in the production of Russian-language books vis-à-vis foreign-language ones. In the first decade of the century, cities like Derpt (Tartu), Riga, Vilnius, Grodno (Hrodna) and Mitava (Jelgava) in the Baltic or Western provinces of the empire often saw their printing presses work more than those in St. Petersburg or Moscow, and they printed a great amount of books in languages other than Russian.43 The two Russian capitals also had printing presses that published books in French and German.44 According to Miranda Remnek, in the first years of the century, books published in French and German (including magazines) represented a third of Russia’s entire book production.45 Just thirty years later, when Smirdin’s low-price commercial strategy began to affect the market, Russian-language works (not including journals) represented about 92% of the total production.46

14One of the most important factors which influenced the increased production of Russian-language texts was the larger number of orders coming from the provinces. A witness of the time who was particularly surprised by the arrival of new readers from the provinces recalled:

  • 47Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli i izdatel’skoi deiatel’nosti Glazunovykh za sto let 1782-1882 (St (...)

The book trade in St. Petersburg and Moscow in this period, i.e. between 1829-1830 and almost until 1840, was extremely lively. The bookshops were always full of customers. In addition to local buyers, there also began to appear aristocrats and senior civil servants (liudi vysshei administratsii) who, until then, had never picked up Russian books; in winter, large numbers of landowners came and bought large amounts of books every time.47

15The same witness recalled how the best customers were not neither aristocrats nor merchants, but rather those very landowners from the provinces:

  • 48 Ibid., 55.

At the time, the best customers were considered to be the landowners from the province, they were those who paid better, whether they came to Petersburg in the winter or ordered books directly from the countryside. Evidently, serfdom gave them enough resources to satisfy their passion for reading. Most novellas (povesti), novels, and in general the so-called belles-lettres works were bought by landowners.48

  • 49   Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres, 483. Unless otherwise stated, all the prices indicated in t (...)
  • 50   Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 19.
  • 51   Cf. Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 452.
  • 52   Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres, 483.
  • 53   Cited in Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 17.
  • 54   N. Polevoi, Materialy po istorii literatury i zhurnalistiki 30kh godov XIX veka (Leningrad, 1934) (...)

16At this point, some questions arise: how much did novels cost in the 1830s? And who could afford them? In the mid 1820s, novels produced in several volumes were rather expensive, varying between 10 and 30 rubles, and in exceptional cases even 50 or 100.49 In 1824, the Russian translations of fashionable novels such as Guy Mannering, Kenilworth and Old Mortality by Walter Scott cost 10, 15, and 20 rubles respectively.50 Judging from the mid-1820s catalogue of one of St. Petersburg’s booksellers, the average price of novels by Ducray-Duminil was 18 rubles, those by Ann Radcliffe 14, by Kotzebue 13, by Walter Scott 11, and by Madame de Genlis and August Lafontaine 9 rubles.51 As for one-volume novels, their price could range between 1 and 5 rubles.52 Of course, prices could vary greatly, depending on the novelty of the work or the place where it was sold (big city or province, town bookshop, market or fair, etc.). For example, according to Belinskii, in 1829, many books cost less in Moscow than in St. Petersburg, and in the former city, 100 rubles could buy books that had a nominal price of 500 rubles.53 In general, according to Ksenofont Polevoi, the St. Petersburg editions were considered finer and were decidedly more expensive: “In the end, the public began to believe that only St. Petersburg books were good. This belief was also confirmed by the opinions of the booksellers and traveling salesmen who were keener to buy St. Petersburg books and were happy to pay more for them, saying ‘This is what we pay for’ and pointing to the magic word ‘St. Petersburg’ on the title page.”54

  • 55   Cf. D. I. Raskin, “Zhalovanie na gosudarstvennoi sluzhbe,” in Russkie pisateli. 1800-1917. Biogra (...)

17If we compare the novels’ nominal prices with the income of non-noble readers, it may seem that many of these works were not accessible to this public. During this period, the average monthly salary of a civil servant was around 60-80 rubles; a ninth-class junior employee (tituliarnyi sovetnik) received around 30 rubles per month and, when he retired, his salary fell to 18 rubles.55 With such salaries, it is not surprising that, for many, the volumes of Krylov’s tales published by Smirdin, which sold for 4 rubles in 1830, were more attractive than the 14-ruble Ann Radcliffe novels. In fact, numerous testimonies confirm that those who paid the full price of a book were only a small part of its readership, and there were many ways of getting hold of novels at reduced prices: one could turn to reading libraries or markets, and it was even possible to rent books from peddlers who sold them door to door (see Golovina, “Belles-Lettres and the literary interests of middling landowners,” in the present volume).

  • 56   Letter to M. P. Pogodin of 11 July 1832, in Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 14, 27.
  • 57   Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 139. According to Pushkin in particular, during the 1830 (...)
  • 58   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 273-274.

18The significant decrease in book prices promoted by Smirdin widened the range of readers’ social origins; it encouraged even those who usually went for lubok literature editions, which cost a few dozens kopecks, to read contemporary Russian novels. Ownership of a novel, in the editions launched by Smirdin, thus became a symbol of cultural prestige that new readers might acquire. This also had a significant impact in reorienting the publishers’ preferences with respect to certain literary genres, and thereby causing discontent among the already well-established writers. In July 1832, Pushkin wrote: “The barbarity of our literary market drives me mad. Smirdin has undertaken all kinds of commitments, he has committed himself to a large number of novels and such things, and he will not come to terms for any reason: ‘tragedies do not sell,’ he says, in his technical jargon.”56 At the same time, as Pushkin noted, the low price policy could only apply to fairy tales and novels, which already benefited from a certain degree of circulation, but certainly not to poetry: “The price is determined not by the writer, but by the bookseller. The demand for poetry is limited. Only those who can pay 5 rubles for a seat at the theater can afford it.”57 In 1833, 44 volumes of poetry and 28 plays were published, compared to no fewer than 124 new novels; and in the following years, the ratio increased even more in favor of novels.58

  • 59   Cf. A. I. Reitblat, Biblioteki dlia chteniia i ikh chitateli, in Idem, in Ot Bovy k Bal’montu, 54 (...)
  • 60   The existence of this deposit raises some doubts as to the effective democratization of reading a (...)
  • 61   Cf. I. Watt, The Rise of the Novel. Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (London, 1972), 47.
  • 62   Cited in Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 179.
  • 63   F. V. Bulgarin, Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin (St. Petersburg, 1831), vol. 4, 327.
  • 64   Cf. [A. Ia. Storozhenko], “Mysli Malorossiianina,” Syn otechestva, 25, 1 (1832), 48, cited in Bea (...)

19An important contributing factor to the greater diffusion of the novel at this time was the new circulating or lending libraries which, having been increasing in number since the 1830s, were now not only in capitals but also small provincial towns.59 Public libraries like St. Petersburg’s still played a marginal role in the spread of the novel, and the many provincial fairs and city markets (the Gostinyi Dvor and Apraksin Dvor in Petersburg, the one at Sucharevskaia bashnia and the Smolensk market in Moscow), which often also sold used books, could not always get access the latest titles. However, private lending libraries allowed people to read the latest books—especially novels, newspapers, and magazines—without having to pay the full price of the work or even an annual subscription. The subscription prices of the circulating libraries reflect the kind of audiences that could access them. The 1828 terms of subscription to Smirdin’s library reveal that an annual subscription cost 30 rubles and a monthly one cost 5 rubles; to these, one should add an extra fee if one wished to consult the magazines (20 rubles for a year, 3 for one month), plus a fixed deposit.60 The success of circulating libraries is traditionally associated, even in Europe, with the success of the novel as a genre.61 Indeed, even Smirdin’s Russian contemporaries perceived the novel as one of the genres that was most frequently requested in this type of library: “Placing on the shelves as many novels as possible, and then 500 to 600 other books; advertising the library, and printing an alphabetic list of several thousand books: that is called opening a circulating library” wrote one contemporary.”62 In fact, when analyzing the book orders made by booksellers in the 1830s, one notices not only that they ordered more novels than any other genre, but also that the quantity of books destined for their circulating libraries significantly increased. For example, in 1831 Smirdin ordered of one of the most anticipated novels by Bulgarin, requesting as many as 300 copies for his bookshop and 50 copies for his circulating library.63 That the number of copies for sale was bigger in absolute terms than that of copies to be allocated to the lending library should not mislead us in regard to the spread of the work. If sold, a copy could circulate and be read by a limited number of people in addition to the owner; but the exposure of such a private copy was minimal compared to a copy destined for a circulating library, which would pass through dozens and dozens of hands. As evidenced by a Ukrainian subscriber to Smirdin’s library, A. Ia. Starozhenko, in 1832 the books he received were always extremely tattered: “They always send me books… that are so dilapidated that it is terrible to unwrap them, for fear of tearing away pages that were turned into tinder by a multitude of readers.”64

  • 65   Cf. Miranda Beaven Remnek, “Russian Literary Almanacs of the 1820s and Their Legacy,” Publishing (...)

20Another element that consolidated the Russian book trade, setting the stage for the further spread of the novel, was the success in that period of some composite editorial formats, such as literary almanacs and thick journals (tolstye zhurnaly), which ensured a broader and more regular circulation of literary texts and helped consolidate trade mechanisms of literary production. The period of the greatest popularity of literary almanacs (i.e. between the mid-twenties and the mid-thirties) marked the passage of high literature from a sort of amateur circulation into a commercial system.65 The popularity of almanacs also significantly benefited novelists and readers of novels. Almanacs helped reveal the commercial potential of literature in the new economic and social context of 1820s Russia, establishing a remuneration system for authors; at the same time, almanacs made many new readers familiar with other forms of prose, such as novellas (povesti), with which they often were unfamiliar and which ‘prepared’ them for the novel. The case of Aleksandr Bestuzhev (pseudonym Marlinskii) is exemplary. He was not only the publisher of one of the most successful almanacs of the time, Poliarnaia zvezda (The North Star, 1822-1823), which kickstarted the almanacs’ fashionability and became the first to pay its authors significant fees; Bestuzhev was also the author of tales (povesti) that achieved great success in the early thirties, paving the way for the Russian novel.

  • 66   Cf. L. Ia. Ginzburg, “Biblioteka dlia chteniia v 30-kh godakh. O. I. Senkovskii,” in Ocherki po i (...)
  • 67   On the readers of Biblioteka dlia chteniia, cf. L. Ia. Ginzburg, “Biblioteka dlia chteniia v 30-k (...)
  • 68   Cf. J. Randolph, “Communication and Obligation: The Postal System of the Russian Empire, 1700-185 (...)

21In the mid 1830s, the success of some thick journals, such as Biblioteka dlia chteniia (The Library for Reading) further consolidated the book market, limiting the risks for publishers while simultaneously allowing readers easier access to the works of the most popular authors—and foremost among whom were the novelists.66 While at the beginning of the nineteenth century, journal subscribers were relatively few (between 600 and 1200 on average), in the second half of the 1830s, subscribers to Biblioteka dlia chteniia reached somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 in a very short time.67 Thanks to the annual subscription system, these customers guaranteed publishers a secure income, which in turn allowed them to pursue contributions from the most popular authors. Thus, even those readers from the most remote provinces of the empire, who previously could only count on what was offered to them by street vendors or at local fairs, could receive a regular and guaranteed supply of texts to read, at a fixed price, and which arrived on time and offered varied and high-quality content. Smirdin, who financed and published Biblioteka dlia chteniia, made the punctuality of its composition and the ubiquity of its distribution one of the main reasons for its success. The spread of thick journals in the provinces was guaranteed by a truly widespread postal service.68 Here is how Belinskii explained, in 1835, the success of Biblioteka dlia chteniia:

  • 69   V. G. Belinskii, “Nichto o nichem, ili otchet g. izdateliu ‘Teleskopa’ za poslednee polugodie” (1 (...)

I said that the secret of the long-lasting success of ‘Biblioteka’ consists in the fact that this magazine is a provincial magazine par excellence […]. Imagine the family of a landowner from the steppes, a family that reads everything that comes their way from cover to cover. They have not had the time yet to read the last page […], when along comes the next issue, just as full and talkative, speaking one and many languages at the same time. And what great variety indeed one finds in this magazine! The daughter reads Mr. Ershov, Mr. Gogniev and Mr. Strugovshchik’s verses, and Mr. Zagoskin, Mr. Ushakov, Mr. Panaev, Mr. Kalashnikov and Mr. Masal’skii’s povesti; the son, a member of the new generation, reads Timofeev’s verses and Baron Brambeus’s povesti. The father reads the articles on the two- or three-field rotation systems, on the various ways to fertilize the land, and the mother on how to cure tuberculosis and dye fabrics.69

  • 70   Todd, “Periodicals in Literary Life of the Early Nineteenth Century,” 55.
  • 71   See chapter 3 of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: “The Division of (...)
  • 72   On this, cf. D. Rebekkini, “Russkie istoricheskie romany v 30kh gg XIX veka,” Novoe literaturnoe (...)
  • 73   Karamzin, “On the Book Trade and Love of Reading in Russia,” 189.
  • 74   On thick journals and their audience in the 1830s, cf. A. I. Reitblat, Tolstyi zhurnal i ego publ (...)
  • 75   On the decrease in the number of pages in Russian novels in the mid 1830s, cf. Kufaev, Istoriia r (...)
  • 76   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 5, 186.
  • 77Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 79-80.

22Belinskii’s description deftly captures one of the fundamental features that characterized the Russian editorial system of the 1830s, when the readership rapidly expanded: an “encyclopedic inclusiveness.”70 Even as a single product, almanacs, novels, and thick journals, tended to meet the diverse cultural needs of the new provincial reader. They were able to speak to the new public in “one and many languages at the same time.” As Adam Smith had shown, in restricted market situations, in order to meet his own needs, every worker must carry out a large number of tasks.71 Similarly, in a tightly restricted literary market, such as that of the Russian provincial landowner, those formats had several functions.72 From the point of view of an isolated and/or not particularly wealthy reader, maximum satisfaction corresponds to the consumption of only one editorial format capable of meeting multiple cultural needs. The editorial formats preferred to the general public in the 1830s were not ‘specialized’ literary forms but ‘multi-purpose’ ones. Karamzin had already noticed this back in 1803 when, reflecting on the novels of his time, he wrote: “contemporary novels are rich in all types of information. An author, having taken it upon himself to write three or four volumes, resorts to every expediency, and even to all branches of knowledge, to fill them: Now he describes some kind of American island, exhausting Bűsching; now he explains the characteristics of local plants, consulting Bomare; thus, the reader learns both geography and natural history.”73 The editorial format of the thick journal, which dominated the late 1830s, perfectly corresponded to the multiple needs of the new provincial reader.74 At the same time, this editorial format could not but influence the literary genres that it incorporated, foremost among them the novel. If in the early thirties there was a real boom of multiple-volume novels, the emergence of thick journals during the mid-thirties precipitated other trends: the size of novels was reduced, certain elements of the context shrank (the geographical descriptions, the historical context, etc.), plots changed, etc.75 In 1841 Belinskii wrote: “today, instead of the old, much sought-after four volumes, novels generally come out in one or two slim little books, printed in large characters, or, if they fear that they will not find any readers, they stretch them out over the pages of five or six issues of a tolstyi zhurnal.”76 An observer of the publishing market of the time noticed that the decrease in the sales of multiple-volume novels of the early 1840s “can be attributed, to some extent, to the creation and success of the monthly tolstye zhurnaly, which amply incorporated all kinds of literature.”77

  • 78   A. G. Tartakovskii, Russkaia memuaristika XVIII-pervoi poloviny XIX v.: ot rukopisi k knige (Mosc (...)
  • 79   Ibid, 186.
  • 80   V. P. Kozlov, “Istoriia Gosudarstva Rossiiskogo” v otsenkakh sovremennikov (Moscow, 1989), 21.
  • 81   Ibid., 23.

23The great success of the novel in 1830s Russia, however, was aided not only by important changes in the book market and in the Russian publishing system. New cultural and ideological factors were no less important in promoting the wide circulation of Russian novels among the Russian public. Among these, we might count Russians’ widespread developing interest in the history of their country. The events of the preceding French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic campaigns stirred in people throughout Europe a new interest in the history of their nations. Russia’s 1812 victory against Napoleon and the triumphant 1813-1815 Russian campaigns in Europe awakened—across all classes, albeit to varying degrees—a surge of patriotic pride in Russian society, a temporary refusal of foreign cultural influences, and a new curiosity for national history and the origins of their native greatness. Russian readers could only partly satisfy their interest in the most recent historical events and their need to make sense of them.78 During the 1810s, memoirs on Russian history were few; they dealt mostly with the Napoleonic campaigns and were published exclusively in expensive magazines.79 The commercial success of the first volumes of Nikolai Karamzin’s History of the Russian State (Istoriia gosudarstva rossiiskogo), published in 1818, was an important indicator not only of the public’s interest in its national history, but also in the reading of prose narratives. The first eight volumes of the first edition had a considerable (for the time) print run of 3000 copies, while the then-average print run of historical works typically ranged between 300 and 1200 copies.80 Nevertheless, despite being sold at the considerable price of 50 rubles, the first volumes of Karamzin’s History were sold out within two months. Karamzin’s prose, with its simple language and plain but compelling style, was immediately appreciated by the public. Shortly thereafter, the St. Petersburg bookseller Slenin reached an agreement with the author regarding the preparation and printing of a new, corrected edition.81 Although in the following years the remaining tomes did not enjoy the same success, the news of Karamzin’s earnings spread widely throughout Russian society, and set an interesting precedent in the history of the Russian publishing market. To Pushkin’s eyes, it was precisely that work which initiated the “Smirdin period” of Russian literature, i.e. the successful age of Russian novels. In 1830 Pushkin wrote:

  • 82   A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 16 vols, (Moscow, Leningrad, 1937-1959), vol. 14, 252- (...)

Ten years ago, a very limited number of amateurs were concerned with literature. It was a noble and delightful kind of occupation, but not a large-scale activity yet. Readers were too few. The book market was limited to some translations of foreign novels, popular booklets on the interpretation of dreams, and collections of songs. A man like Karamzin, who has had an important influence on Russian culture and has dedicated his life solely to scientific study, provided the first example of the economic benefits deriving from the literature business.82

  • 83   Kozlov, “Istoriia Gosudarstva Rossiiskogo” v otsenkakh sovremennikov , 27.
  • 84   Ibid., 31.
  • 85   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 171.
  • 86   Tartakovskii, Russkaia memuaristika, 186.
  • 87   On the joint reading of novels and memoirs, cf. D. Rebekkini, “V. A. Zhukovskii i frantsuzskie me (...)
  • 88   Cf. R. N. Kleimenova, Knizhnaia Moskva v pervoi polovine XIX veka (Moscow, 1991), 29-32; Beaven R (...)
  • 89   Cf. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 11, 92.
  • 90   See, for example, what O. Senkovskii writes in Biblioteka dlia chteniia, 1834, vol. 2, section 5, (...)
  • 91   V. G. Belinskii, “Vzgliad na russkuiu literaturu za 1847,” Idem, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol (...)

24In fact, given the prices of the first editions of his History—the first was 50 rubles, the second 87 rubles, while in the provinces the price of his work with its subsequent volumes could reach 100 rubles—it is evident that the book could initially circulate only among very wealthy readers.83 Yet judging from the subscriptions, the work’s circulation was geographically broad, reaching even remote Siberian cities such as Irkutsk and Omsk.84 Only with later editions (especially the fourth edition, which was designed by Smirdin between 1833 and 1835 as an ‘economic’ one with a small number of notes and priced at 30 rubles) was a great increase in readership possible—even among non-noble readers.85 At the same time, from the 1830s and especially from the 1840s onward, Russian memoirs began to embrace the entirety of Russian history more broadly, and the publication of memoirs as such became more frequent.86 Russian memoirs enhanced the success of the Russian novel within the wider Russian society, making readers more acquainted with realistic narratives and war prose. Often, those who in that period read novels also read memoirs.87 In the same period, history books (especially biographies of the great heroes of Russian history, like Peter the Great, Suvorov, Kutuzov, or of Napoleon) represented a not insignificant portion of the Russian book market (between 7-14%, depending on the source).88 It is likely that for many of the new readers, who were used to chivalric romances with marked fantastic elements, the new Russian novels—especially the historical ones—answered the same type of interest that had led them to read memoirs and historical biographies. Reflecting on the success of historical novels in the thirties, Pushkin observed: “the images of our past, no matter how weak and unfaithful, have an inexplicable charm on our imagination, which is oppressed by the monotony of the present, the ordinary.”89 For Pushkin, and other critics with him, there was but a fine line between the historical memoir and historical fiction.90 Indeed, at this time, for many readers the distinction between a memoir, a historical biography, and a novel would be all but imperceptible. Novels themselves not infrequently came in the form of fictional memoirs. Thus, in 1848 Belinskii, noting the continuity between memoirs and contemporary novel, wrote: “Memoirs, when they are skillfully written, are something like the furthest edge of the novel of which they are the conclusion.”91

2. Successful Russian Novels of the 1830s and Their Readers

  • 92   R. LeBlanc, The Russianization of Gil Blas: A Study in Literary Appropriation, (Columbus, Ohio, 1 (...)
  • 93   On the newspaper Severnaia pchela, cf. N. Schleifman, “A Russian Daily Newspaper and its New Read (...)
  • 94   A. I. Reitblat (ed.), Vidok Figliarin. Pis’ma i agenturnye Zapiski F.V. Bulgarina v III Otdelenie(...)
  • 95   See Grits, Trenin, Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia, 227.

25At the end of the 1820s, coinciding with the great success of Walter Scott’s novels, the Russian novel likewise began to show signs of a strong commercial potential. In 1829, Faddei Bulgarin published Ivan Vyzhigin, a satirical and picaresque novel considered to be “Russia’s first best-seller.”92 At the time, Bulgarin was a journalist already well known to the Russian public, and he was especially esteemed as the author of popular feuilletons. Along with Nikolai Grech, he controlled a significant share of the news media. Not only did he, with Grech, run a reputable magazine like the Syn otechestva (Son of the Fatherland), which had merged with another important historical journal, Severnyi arkhiv (Northern Archive); he also edited the most popular Russian newspaper, Severnaia pchela (The Northern Bee).93 A few years earlier, Bulgarin journalist had realized that literature could be a very useful weapon in shaping public opinion, as he proved in his essay on censorship and the Russian public, and was rightly convinced that, at that moment, the novel could be the most effective instrument for this task. It was no accident that he had his first novel printed by Smirdin in 2000 copies (or, according to other sources, in 3000 or 4000 copies) instead of the usual 1200. The success of his first novel, which was advertised in his journal prior to its release, was immediate: all the copies were sold out in just three weeks.94 His novel was republished in a second edition that very year, and the following year saw a third edition. According to Nikolai Grech, it sold 7000 copies in two years.95 To many observers, it was clear that the Russian novel’s time had come.

  • 96   LeBlanc, The Russianization of Gil Blas, 145-200.
  • 97   Ibid., 42-43.
  • 98   Cf. ibid., 86, 145-146.
  • 99   It is no coincidence that Nicholas I and Benkendorf proposed it as a recommended reading to the D (...)
  • 100   Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 102.
  • 101Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovlii, 51.

26In terms of literary genre, Ivan Vyzhigin looked back to the rich picaresque tradition, especially the “high” middle-class model made popular in France by Alain René Lesage.96 If the Spanish founders of the genre were less known in Russia, then Lesage’s Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane (1715-1732) was very popular in the second half of the eighteenth century, as proven by its nine Russian editions published between 1754 and 1812.97 A first attempt at the Russification of this genre was made at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Vasilii Narezhnyi with his The Russian Gil Blas, or The Adventures of Prince Gavrila Sionovich Chistiakov (Rossiiskii Zhilblaz, ili Pokhozhdeniia kniazia Gavrily Sionovicha Chistiakova) (1812-1813). In his novel Narezhnyi denounced, through coarse and naturalistic description, the corruption of the Russian landowners’ world and the many vices of Russian society. Narezhnyi’s novel, however, had a very limited circulation due to the intervention of the censorship, as a result of which it was withdrawn from the market. Nevertheless, manuscript copies circulated among a limited number of readers.98 From the government’s perspective, Bulgarin’s first novel proposed a much more acceptable representation of Russian society than Narezhnyi’s work.99 At the center of the novel is an orphaned, lower-class character, more resembling a naive and passive type than a fraudulent and enterprising picaro to whom a series of mishaps occur, compelling him to move across the geographic and social space of imperial Russia. In different roles he thus explores the world of provincial landowners, that of civil servants and officials, the dissolute and luxuriously gilded life of the capital’s youth, the world of crime, and life among the peoples of the Steppes before finally completing his social ascent by becoming rich and discovering his aristocratic origins. Despite a certain superficiality of the characters, whose names represent the perfect reflection of their moral qualities (Vyzhigin, Nozhov, Vorovatin, etc.), the novel reflected the nature of Russian social mobility in that period quite well. In general, compared to the escapist function of Walter Scott’s books, Bulgarin’s novel, with its emphasis on different groups from contemporary Russian society, brought the reader back into their world and—via its satirical remarks about the ancient blueblood aristocracy—could yield ideological readings. Not by coincidence, the group of literary figures close to Pushkin, like Prince Viazemskii, reacted vehemently to the novel. As A. N. Vul’f noted in his diary: “The events in the novel are hardly compelling […] and the description of the way of life of our aristocrats is funny; some figures here have become the incarnation of all the vices and possible defects to be found in this class, of all the abuses that happen every day.”100 Nevertheless, others readers must have enjoyed how Bulgarin’s novel shed light on the dynamics of a society where barriers and divisions between classes were becoming more flexible. At the same time, Bulgarin’s novel, with its critical view of Russia’s ancient hereditary aristocracy and its exaltation of the service nobility, may have garnered the sympathy of many readers possessing a connection to the public administration. In general, the success of Bulgarin’s novel was so broad that the bookseller I. I. Zaikin offered Bulgarin a 30,000-ruble contract for his next novel (the author had received 2000 rubles for Ivan Vyzhigin).101 As the magazines of the time report, Bulgarin’s novel was a huge success among very diverse audiences. Nikolai Polevoi wrote in the Moskovskii telegraf (The Moscow Telegraph):

  • 102   Cited in Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 101.

In studies, drawing rooms, stock exchanges, in cities and in villages, throughout all of Russia, the works of Mr. Bulgarin, and especially his Ivan Vyzhigin, constitute an object of conversation. The enlightened and the unenlightened, the wise and the foolhardy, ladies, old men, officers, merchants, civil servants, even young girls and children are exchanging opinions about Mr. Bulgarin’s literary success. Discussions on Ivan Vyzhigin lighten the mood of cold courtesy visits, boring sightseeing tours, random meetings between businessmen and meetings behind laden tables. […] Mr. Bulgarin’s works are being read throughout all of Russia.102

  • 103   Ibid.
  • 104   Cited in V. P. Meshcheriakov, A. I. Reitblat, “Bulgarin,” in Russkie pisateli. 1800-1917. Biograf (...)
  • 105   Cf. Ju. Striedter, Der Schelmenroman in Russland: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des russischen Roman (...)

27As can be seen from this description of his audience, Bulgarin’s novel found favor with wideswaths of the reading public, irrespective of sex or age. Other statements made by contemporaries emphasized the broad social spectrum of those who read novels. Some critics, seeking to denigrate the author, underlined how his novel was read primarily by household servants in the antechambers of noble palaces: “his noisy fame has already flown over the boudoirs and salons and now resonates in the antechambers.”103 And again: “all the servants, they say, never cease to enjoy it: they tear it out of one another’s hands.”104 Furthermore, Ivan Vyzhigin was also the first Russian novel to be read widely by European readers. The novel, indeed, properly publicized by Bulgarin in the French press, was soon translated into French, English, German, Italian, Polish, and other foreign languages, and achieved considerable exposure in foreign magazines.105

  • 106   Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres, 509.
  • 107   Our estimates consider only novels published in volume form and not in journals, which were never (...)
  • 108   Cf. Rebekkini, Russkie istoricheskie romany, 419.

28The name of Faddei Bulgarin, however, is linked not only to the success of the picaresque novel but also to another genre that, in the wake of Walter Scott’s success, attracted the attention of a large share of the Russian public of the 1830s: the historical novel. This is the genre that in the 1830s led to what André Meynieux called a “revolution” in the tastes of the Russian public: the transition from the almost exclusive consumption of foreign novels in translation to a genuine interest in Russian novels as well.106 Entranced by the descriptions of the past and of everyday life in the other European countries which they had encountered in foreign historical novels, Russian readers now grew eager to familiarize themselves with their own history and their own past. The production of novels in this period reflects the changes taking place among Russian readers. While only 46 Russian novels were published in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, in the thirties their number increased to 166.107 Of those 166 Russian novels, more than half of them (93) were historical novels published in one or more volumes, while the remainder were (in order of popularity) satirical and picaresque novels, followed by sentimental and Gothic novels.108 In previous decades, reading a French, German, or English novel in the original or in translation was a common practice for the Russian public, one that necessarily placed the reader in contact with an exotic setting. However, starting from the 1830s, Russian readers increasingly began to find familiar names, settings, customs, and behaviors in the novels they read, ones that belonged to their history and their world. But who were the readers of these Russian historical novels? What in these novels attracted them in particular? And what cultural and ideological impact did the reading of these novels have?

  • 109   Ibid., 418.
  • 110   For Roslavlev, cf. the sales ad in Literaturnaia Gazeta, n. 33 of June 10, 1831.

29Some answers to these questions may be found by taking a quick glance at the entire repertoire of historical novels published in that period. These were usually fairly long works presented in several volumes, and they are different in many ways from the classical Russian historical novels that are most highly regarded today. Such novels had been published in collections (e.g. Taras Bul’ba appearing in Gogol’s Mirgorod [1835]) or in thick journals (e.g. Puhskin’s The Captain’s Daughter [Kapitanskaia dochka] appearing in Sovremennik [The Contemporary] in 1836). Unlike these exemplars, the average length of Russian historical novels from that period was about 500 pages; some reached a staggering 1600 pages.109 Consequently, their price was high. The first genuine Russian historical novel, Iurii Miloslavskii by Mikhail Zagoskin, was sold for 20 rubles in 1829.110 Consequently, these novels were, at least initially, intended for wealthy readers.

  • 111   Letter by Zagoskin to M. E. Lobanov of 9.4.1830, in A. O. Kruglyi, “M.E. Lobanov i ego otnoshenii (...)
  • 112   Cfr. D. Rebecchini, “Reading Novels at the Winter Palace under Nicholas I: from the Tsar to the S (...)
  • 113   P. A. Pletnev, Dnevnik zaniatiia s det’mi Nikolaia I, Rukopisnyi otdel IRLI, Arkhiv P. A. Pletnev (...)

30While Pushkin’s reputation declined in the thirties (as evidenced by the lack of commercial success of his final works) and the youngest readers were more attracted by Marlinskii’s romantic tales about the Caucasus, the general public preferred Bulgarin and Zagoskin’s historical novels. In 1829, i.e. the exact same year in which Bulgarin’s Ivan Vyzhigin was published, Zagoskin also published what was acknowledged by the contemporary press as the first Russian historical novel, Iurii Miloslavskii, or Russians in 1612 (Iurii Miloslavskii, ili russkie v 1612). The novel, which deals with the end of the Polish domination during the Time of Troubles and the rise of the Romanov monarchy, perfectly embodies the model of the historical novel à la Walter Scott. Given the audience’s familiarity with this model and Zagoskin’s successful interpretation of it, his first novel achieved immediate and extraordinary success. Although it had been published in 2400 copies after the first edition of 1829, it was republished in two editions the following year and again in 1832, 1838, 1841, 1846, and 1851. The novel, which was completely in line with the government’s ideological position, was read at the court of Nicholas I and much appreciated there. “The Emperor sent for me,” Zagoskin wrote to a friend, “and showered me with compliments.”111 Not only the Tsar, but also his retinue appreciated Zagoskin’s novel, as the register of the servants’ library at the Winter Palace testifies.112 The novel appealed also to a very demanding group of aristocratic poets, like Pushkin, who wrote him a positive review, and to the poet Vasilii Zhukovskii, who read it both to the then twelve-years-old heir to the throne and to the even younger Grand Duchesses.113 As evidenced by numerous testimonies, Zagoskin’s historical novel was appreciated both in the capitals and in the provinces and proved to be a perfect read for families. His themes, narrative technique, and style were perfect for the collective readings held by the head of the family during quiet evenings in the living room as other members of the family of different sexes and ages listened in. After Zagoskin’s great success, Russian historical novels enjoyed a boom; their prices dropped, and the social base of their public widened and grew more differentiated. Their readers began to include increasingly larger numbers of provincial residents with links not only to the world of landowners, but also traders and townspeople.

  • 114   On the 1830s and 1840s novels dedicated to the 1812 war see D. Rebecchini, Il Business della stor (...)
  • 115   Cf. Rebekkini, “Russkie istoricheskie romany,” 421; Rebecchini, Il Business della storia, 210-212 (...)
  • 116   See Leibov, Vdovin, “What and How Russian Pupils Read in School,” in the present volume.
  • 117   B. Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and the Spread of Nationalism (Londo (...)

31Historical novels offered Russian readers one of the easiest and most enjoyable means for familiarizing themselves with the history of their own country. Most of these novels’ titles highlighted their historical nature. In addition to the commercially attractive label of “historical novel,” the titles gave away other details to the readers: the historical context of the setting, the year, the kingdom or century in which it was set, etc. Sometimes the title also included another indicator of the work’s historical genre, i.e. the type of historical source that inspired the novel (for example, the phrase “taken from” followed by “memoirs,” “manuscripts,” “documents,” “legends,” etc.) to guarantee its historical veracity. In most cases historical information in footnotes is so generic as to suggest that the authors were thinking of rather uncultivated readers with an extremely vague at best knowledge of the history of their country. More often, this production focused on novels set in recent periods of Russian history. In the 1830s, the recent 1812 war against Napoleon (15 works) was by far the most represented event depicted in historical novels; it attracted an outsize portion of the public’s interest, as confirmed by the contemporaneous production of memoirs.114 Then followed the novels about Peter the Great’s era (9 titles) and about the Time of Troubles that coincided with the ascent of the reigning Romanov dynasty (9 titles).115 These data suggest that a large proportion of Russian readers were concerned not so much with escaping mentally into distant and legendary times in Russian history, but rather with confronting Russia’s recent past. Given the limited availability of historical works and memoirs on the market, the historical novel was one of the privileged forms through which the 1830s Russian public became aware of its past and built its national identity. With their conservative historical vision, most of these Russian works paved the way, and at a certain point, aided in the dissemination of the official ideology that Nicholas I and his Minister of Education Uvarov were trying to spread in schools through their educational policy. Zagoskin’s historical novels were frequently prescribed as compulsory reading matter in schools116. In Russia, as in the rest of Europe, the public’s interest in national historical novels was one of the clearest signs of the spread of nationalism—and, at the same time, one of the tools by which it could spread. As pointed out by Benedict Anderson, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, novels “provided the technical means for ‘re-presenting’ the kind of imagined communities that is the nation.”117 Whereas historiographic works and memoirs mostly represented the past of the monarchy and of the State elites, in historical novels the Russian public could recognize the past and the customs of the whole nation.

32Russian historical novels helped not only to shape in the public a sense of its nationhood, but also to assimilate other peoples into the empire. A significant number of these historical novels (10 titles) were set across regions on the edge of the Empire—such as the Siberian steppes, the Caucasus mountains, the Western and Baltic provinces, or the Ukrainian prairies—which became part and parcel of the Russian Empire over the centuries. They were the work of authors who came from or had lived in those areas, who specialized in novels with those local settings. These included the Siberian Ivan Kalashnikov; the Ukrainian Petr Golota, the author of three historical novels on Little Russia; or Platon Zubov, the author of two historical novels set in the Caucasus. Their novels represented the crucial moments of those national communities’ assimilation into the empire. While those works offered Russian readers a particular form of domestic exoticism (one not far from that offered by Scottish Highlanders to contemporary English readers), they also greatly helped make many readers from those regions, i.e. Ukrainian, Siberian or Caucasian readers, into good Russian subjects; at the same time, however, the Russian historical novel did little to make Russian readers more European. Historical novels set in Western Europe were quite rare (4 titles).

  • 118   Cf. Reitblat, “F. V. Bulgarin i ego chitateli,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 103.
  • 119   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 128, 234-235.
  • 120   Cf. V. A. Pokrovskii, “Problema vozniknoveniia russkogo ‘nravstvenno-satiricheskogo romana’ (O ge (...)
  • 121   D. Rebekkini, “Pervyi russkii istoricheskii roman o voine 1812 goda ‘Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin’ Fad (...)
  • 122   See the subscription lists in F. V. Bulgarin, Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin, vol. 4, 295-340.

33Along with Zagoskin, Bulgarin was certainly the most successful Russian novelist of the 1830s. But who exactly were his readers? The lists of subscribers to his novels give us an accurate picture of the changes among his better-off readers, that is, those who could afford to subscribe to his novels in advance. An analysis of 440 subscriptions to the first edition of Ivan Vyzhigin (out of the first edition’s 2000 printed copies) provides us with some data. The greatest number of subscribers consisted of landowners and officials (66%).118 Among the latter, there were not only senior officials, who were the majority, but also many in the lower clerical ranks of the public administration; these accounted for 25% of his readers. Although statistically insignificant, the presence of merchants (6% of all subscribers) on this list is also noteworthy.119 Finally, it is worth noting that Bulgarin’s novel primarily attracted a St. Petersburg audience, which represented 42% of readers who pre-ordered it. If the number of subscriptions from the provinces (52%) is not surprising, it is nevertheless interesting to observe that the author was far less popular with the Muscovite public (which accounted for only 4% of all subscriptions). Even more interesting is the analysis of how his readers evolved since the great success of his first novel. With Dimitrii Samozvanets he significantly increased the amount of subscribers, who reached the considerable number of 661 (out of 2400 printed copies). Among these, the number of readers from the provinces increased, reaching 58% of the total, while St. Petersburg readers fell considerably (down to 37%), while the share of Muscovite readers remained stable (5%).120 Above all, there was a change in the social composition of his readers: those belonging to the officers’ class decreased (from 27% to 21%), merchants and townspeople increased (from 6% to 12%), particularly in the two capitals (they made up to 15% of all St. Petersburg subscribers and up to 23% of those in Moscow). This trend was confirmed by his following novel, Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin, a sequel to Ivan Vyzhigin, set during Napoleon’s campaign of 1812121. The number of subscribers to Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin kept increasing, reaching 714 subscriptions for a total of 2245 pre-ordered copies (including those ordered by booksellers). While the proportion of subscriptions taken out by officers and soldiers remained stable (23%), his readers from the trades increased (from 6% subscribing to Ivan Vyzhigin to 14% to this book). Most importantly, his subscribers from the provinces rose to 63%, including those coming from remote cities of the empire, such as Omsk in Siberia, Turku in Finland, Kishinau in Bessarabia, Oshmiani in Belarus, Odessa in Ukraine, Tbilisi in Georgia, Mamadysh in Tatarstan, and even beyond the borders of the Empire, such as Bucharest in Rumania, etc.122 Subscription figures reflect a sharp increase in Bulgarin’s provincial readers, while in the big cities, and in Petersburg in particular, his audience (33%) expanded greatly among the merchant class, while Muscovites remained a very marginal share of Bulgarin’s readership (4%). This also explains the comment offered by Pushkin, who had hoped that Bulgarin’s fame was declining when it was instead merely spreading more into the provinces:

  • 123   Letter from Pushkin to P. A. Pletnev of April 11, 1831, in Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, v (...)

Petr Ivanovich made its arrival in Moscow where, apparently, it was received rather coldly. What sorcery was this? Were we really able to open our audience’s eyes? Or did the dear things figure it out for themselves? Yet they seemed so made for each other, Bulgarin and the public, that it seemed that they were to live and die together.123

  • 124   Bulgarin, Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin, vol. 4, 295-340.

34The lists of subscriptions to the various novels can also provide precious information on booksellers’ distribution channels and their expectations for the demand in the various cities of the empire. If the majority of subscriptions to Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin were for individuals or families, who ordered only one copy, some major booksellers of the time also made orders for large quantities of copies. Besides Smirdin, who ordered 300 copies for his Nevskii Prospekt bookshop and 50 for his lending library, large orders were made by the bookseller Ivan Petrovich Glazunov, who asked for 200 copies for his Petersburg bookshop and 100 for his Moscow bookshop (which further confirms Bulgarin’s greater popularity in the Northern capital). Also in Petersburg, the bookseller Ivan Vasil’evich Slenin ordered 100 copies, and 100 copies each were ordered by the booksellers Aleksei and Leontii Sveshnikov. For Moscow’s bookshops, Aleksandr Shiriaev ordered 250 copies and Vasilii Loginov 200, but it is very likely that these booksellers’ orders were also destined, in part, for the provinces. Smaller quantities were ordered directly by booksellers from the provinces (50 copies for Kyiv’s bookshops, 25 copies respectively for the bookshops in Odessa, Tula and Kursk, 10 for those in Voronezh, Novocherkask, Saratov, etc.), while individual copies went to provincial public libraries (like Odessa’s public library) or military ones (the Moscow Guard Regiment library, the Hunters Regiment library, etc.).124

  • 125   On this, cf. Rebekkini, “Russkie istoricheskie romany,” 421-428. Cf. f.i. Vestnik Evropy, 1828, v (...)

35The Russian historical novel achieved its moment of greatest success in the first half of the 1830s. In 1834 alone, 17 new Russian historical novels came out in 48 combined volumes, with an average of 180 pages per volume. Of course, from a stylistic point of view, this mass of fictional texts could not distinguish itself in its originality and stylistic refinement. Given the rapid expansion of the audience in that period, especially among the less educated, Russian historical novels started to draw on old fictional elements to meet the needs of their new readers. There are numerous critical articles that describe their composition as an industrial assemblyline of old stereotypes from sentimental, Gothic, bandit, and picaresque novels.125 The main motif in most of the plots of these novels—two lovers separated by the conflict—is one of the most ubiquitous plots of the European novel tradition, widely exploited by the sentimental novel. The favorite locales in this type of historical novel (the road, the forest, the inn, the fortress or castle) were by then recognizable literary clichés of picaresque and Gothic novels. Despite its claims of verisimilitude, the historical novel also absorbed fantastic and supernatural elements from the Gothic novel, incorporating traditional Gothic ghosts, mysteries and prophecies. Responding to its expanding readership, the new Russian historical novel intensified its most conventional traits and increased the use of old fictional clichés. It was precisely these easily recognizable novelistic clichés that determined the public’s favor and the critics’ harsh reviews. Prince Vladimir Odoevskii saw in them a form of translation—from Russian, in a sense, rather than from foreign languages:

  • 126   V. Odoevskii, “O vrazhde k prosveshcheniiu zamechaemoi v noveishei literature,” Sovremennik, 1836 (...)

In the end, our writers came up with a nice idea. They opened Karamzin’s History, cut out a few pages, stuck them together, and very joyfully they made three discoveries at the same time: 1) that such a work can be taken for a novel by a reader [...]; 2) that translating from Russian is much easier than translating from foreign languages; 3) that writing is not as difficult as they thought it was.126

36This quote suggests an important link between the mass-produced foreign novels that were translated into Russian and the new mass production of original Russian historical novels. The historical novel genre prompted mass production. Acknowledging the great success of the genre, not a few authors took to producing historical novels serially: Bulgarin, Lazhechnikov, Massal’skii, I. R. Glukharev, A. I. Churovskii each published three in ten years; S. M. Liubetskii and A. A. Pavlov published four in the same period; Zotov and Zagoskin, five. The success of the genre began to decline in the second half of the 1830s with the rise of thick journals, which increasingly included historical narratives. Thus, only four years later, in 1838, the number of newly published historical novels decreased to a mere four titles. At the same time, within the new structure of the thick journals, the historical novel turned into a historical povest’: it lost some of its ‘encyclopedic’ aspects, such as the lengthy descriptions of the local color and the considerations on the historical background; and the plot lost its secondary episodes, and focused entirely on the reflections of the historical conflict on the hero’s life. Both the first edition of Gogol’s Taras Bul’ba and Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter belong to this phase.

  • 127   Cf. S. [Liubets]kii, Tan’ka razboinitsa Rastokinskaia, ili tsarskie terema, istoricheskaia povest (...)

37Since the book market had been flooded with these novels in the first half of the thirties, soon even this production started to diversify itself and its authors began to grow more specialized. The first such authors, such as Zagoskin and Bulgarin, had directed their novels to the ‘virgin soil’ of the new readers, exploiting the ideological component of this genre and representing key periods in Russia’s imperial history like 1612 and 1812. Over time, other novelists enhanced these works’ entertainment component, insisting now on a bandit element, now on a Gothic aspect, now on a Sentimental facet. It was mainly the authors that targeted the popular and less educated readers who made their ‘expertise’ more commercially recognizable, starting with the title of their novels. This is the case of A. I. Churovskii and A. P. Protopopov, successful authors of historical novels with strong Gothic influences such as The Witch, or Terrible Nights on the Dnieper (Ved’ma, ili Nochi strashnye za Dneprom, 1834, third edition 1848) or The Black Koshchei, or The Farm Beyond the Dnepr’ by the Mountain of the Moon (Chernoi Kashchei, ili Zadneprovskii khutor u lunnoi gory, 1834, third edition 1849); or S. M. Liubetskii, who masterly developed the historical-bandit genre in his Tan’ka, the Brigandess from Rostok (Tan’ka, razboinitsa rostokinskaia), a novel that, even though it had a detailed historical setting, was linked to the most compelling tradition of bandit novels such as Vanka Kain: it focused on the charismatic figure of a female bandit, the bearded and unscrupulous head of a gang of killers (1834).127 Indeed, similar distinctions, made explicit to the reader through the text’s very title, were fundamental for an audience that was still quite diverse both socially and culturally. As recalled by Apollon Grigor’ev, the son of a civil servant at Moscow’s city council, the preceding generation often found reading Walter Scott’s historical novels to be boring:

  • 128   A. Grigor’ev, Vospominaniia (Moscow, 1988), 79.

In general, the older generation of readers found it hard to tolerate the really new and dramatic narrative form of the Scottish novelist. ‘As soon as he starts with his interminable dialogues,’ my father used to say, ‘one really gets bored to death’ and he remorselessly skipped pages. The meticulous characterization that Walter Scott was always trying to achieve did not interest him. What he, like many of his contemporaries, liked the most in a novel was a compelling plot, so it was natural that he enjoyed reading the celebrated novelist only when he told of famous historical figures or, as in Robert, Count of Paris, when he reported various fascinating adventures.128

38It was among readers like Grigor’ev’s father or his colleagues, all junior clerks at the Moscow City Council, that works such as Liubetskii’s Tan’ka, the Brigandess found their fans. Compare Grigor’ev’s description of what people from that clerical world read:

  • 129   Ibid., 76-77.

Not only my father, who had received a limited but to some extent complete and encyclopedic education for his time, but also his fellow civil servants, who were half illiterate and looked like they could only care about bribes, confiscations, and taverns—they too had not only heard of Pushkin, but had also read some of his works. Of course, a small part of the time they spent away from the office and the taverns was also sometimes dedicated to reading, even after a heavy drinking session; and they used at least a small amount of the money that remained to them after their ordinary and drinking expenses to buy books, of course buying them especially at the Smolensk or Sucharevskaia bashnia markets; some of them even tried to set up their own small home library of sorts. And the craze for these purchases, completely useless in the opinion of their wives, spread specifically when the unstoppable wave of Russian historical novels began. Then even the most drunken county clerk, unable to stay sober for just one moment—he too had read a book, and had even bought it from those who went around carrying them […]. It was Tan’ka, the Brigandess from Rostok who, whip in hand, looked absolutely wonderful to him, to the point that, apparently, he even bought a snuffbox with the image of the famous heroine on it.129

  • 130Moskovskii Telegraf, 1832, vol. 18, 253.

39Rafail Zotov, another leading figure in the Russian historical novel’s market of the time, addressed a slightly different range of readers: younger, less conservative, more open to European fashions and customs, and interested in a different kind of adventure. In his novels, particularly in his best-selling book Leonid, or Some Aspects of Napoleon’s Life (Leonid, ili Nekotorye cherty iz zhizni Napoleona, 1832, sixth edition 1882), he represented a hero new to the Russian public: Leonid was young, handsome, athletic, brave, spoke all European languages perfectly, and was as at ease moving around European courts as he was in the alcoves of many fascinating European baronesses and actresses. In his casual dealing with various important historical figures from Napoleon to Talleyrand, and in his casual wandering through their parlors and bedrooms, Leonid allowed readers not only to feel truly European, but also to satisfy their voyeuristic desire to look into the private lives of the powerful, to exercise their “waiter’s psychology” (Hegel). Not by chance, when the novel came out, it shocked many and aroused the moralistic reaction of critics, who treated it in the same way as they did Paul de Kock’s ‘immoral’ novels: “Indeed, what abhorrent action has Leonid not committed?! He kidnapped his girlfriend, deserted from the Russian army, killed a commander, seduced his patroness; he is a hero only when protected by women, he is a bigamist, a spy, etc. etc.”130 Zotov’s novel represented one of those cases in which the opinion of critics diverged radically from that of readers, but this did not prevent it from becoming successful. From its first anonymous publication in 1832, its popular status remained firm among the Russian public throughout the nineteenth century, with at least five new editions.

40During the 1830s, with the passing of time and the diversification of its offerings, the rapid development of the Russian novel genre created new distinctions, new stratifications in the public, and new communities of readers. In 1836, for example, Gogol’ distinguished three categories of novels:

  • 131   Cf. N. V. Gogol’, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14 vols (Moscow, 1937-1952), vol. 8, 199-200.

15-ruble novels, which are almost always large, long, massive, in 4 volumes of 300 pages each; then there are the 8- and 6-ruble novels, these likewise in four or even just two volumes. And usually these volumes are 160 pages and sometimes even less. This type of cheap novel is usually written by young people, it is full of romanticism, exclamation marks are never lacking, and there are many ellipses. Finally, there are the 4-to-5-ruble novels, which are typically composed of three volumes, sometimes two, but these volumes are usually no more than 60 or 90 pages.131

  • 132   Ibid.

41As pointed out by Gogol’, differences in size and price also often corresponded to differences in the cultural level of their authors and readers. Gogol’ wrote that shorter novels were often the work of popular authors, professional writers, who were lacking a solid culture: “It’s usually people of a certain age who write them, people who are unemployed. It is our army of self-taught writers and the commander of this array is Aleksandr Anfimovich Orlov, whom our St. Petersburg journalists are so fond of ridiculing.”132

  • 133   A. I. Reitblat, “Moskovskaia nizovaia knizhnost’,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 157-181; (...)
  • 134Syn otechestva, 27 (1831), 60-68; Severnaia pchela, 46 and 201 (1831). On Bulgarin’s subsequent p (...)
  • 135   Cf. A. I. Reitblat, “Russkie ‘bestsellery’ pervoi poloviny XIX veka,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel (...)
  • 136   Cf. Reitblat, “Moskovskaia nizovaia knizhnost’,” 176.
  • 137   Ibid.

42Actually, starting from the 1830s, the name of Aleksandr Orlov, together with that of Fedot Kuzmichev, Ivan Gur’ianov, Nikolai Zriakhov, and some other Moscow literati had gained considerable reputation among popular readers who could not afford the longer novels and had to make do with works that cost a few kopecks.133 A few months after the success of Bulgarin’s first Russian novel, Ivan Vyzhigin, Orlov began publishing a cycle of imitations and continuations of the Vyzhigin cycle. Published by the talented Muscovite publisher Loginov, these proved quite successful. Soon his example was followed by Gur’ianov. Orlov alone published six such works in 1831; they had titles such as The Genealogy of Ivan Vyzhigin, Son of Van’ka Kain (Rodoslovnaia Ivana Vyzhigina, syna Van’ki Kaina). These were eighty-page novellas in one or more volumes, very cheaply priced and written in a popular comic style. While Bulgarin had wanted to reconnect with the high picaresque tradition, Orlov and Gur’ianov appropriated his character to tie it to the comic-satirical tradition of lubok literature’s rogue genre (very popular among their readers), which included works like Matvei Komarov’s Van’ka Kain. Alongside this trend, Orlov made a name for himself in the early thirties with a series of novellas that, in a popular but rich and highly expressive language, mocked the flaws and eccentricities of the world of merchants, salesmen, and junior clerks. These works were harshly criticized, primarily by Bulgarin in Severnaia Pchela, which strongly influenced the tastes of the provincial public, but also by Moskovskii Telegraf: these were “trinkets coming from fifteenth-class booksellers,” the work of a hack “from the flea market.”134 But among the lower urban population, Orlov’s name suddenly acquired a reputation and became appreciated for the humor in his scenes, the fidelity in the description of the customs of that world, and the simplicity of his language in, for example, Dunia the Silly Girl from Moscow, or The Corset is a Bit Tight (Duniachka, moskovskaia mezhdoumochkaia, ili Uzen’kii korsetets) and The Revelry of the Merchants’ Sons in Mar’ina Roshcha, or Smash Everything! What a Hoot! (Razgul’e kupecheskikh synkov v mar’inoi roshche, ili Povalivai! Nashi guliaiut!), which were reprinted several times.135 As early as 1831, the poet N. M. Iazykov, who knew the author personally, wrote that Orlov “enjoyed great notoriety in taverns and in the city market (gostinnyi dvor).”136 In 1838, replying to critics’ ironic and mocking remarks, Belinskii acknowledged Orlov’s deserved fame: “People who sometimes talk about A. A. Orlov’s novels with sarcasm are wrong: he has his own audience, who found in his works what they were looking for and needed, and within a certain literary sphere he alone, among many, has made himself a real reputation and enjoys his well-deserved authority.”137 While the criticisms and reviews from the most important magazines stigmatized his name and moved him away from the most affluent and culturally demanding readers, the low price of his works would nonetheless attract a different audience who appreciated his novels more than Walter Scott’s. A contemporary observer correctly pointed out:

  • 138Moskovskii Telegraf, 1831, vol. 5, 106-107.

You are wrong, dear critics, to attack the works of Mr Orlov; if it were not for them, what would you give to read to those who, as they say, paid coppers for their education and can only pay kopecks, and not assignation rubles, for a book? Almanacs would do, but they are expensive; Walter Scott in Russian translation is cheap, but they don’t understand him. What, then? Mr Orlov writes for these readers in a clear manner, sells at a low price, and his books have a big advantage over Milord Georg and Sovestdral: they describe what is close and familiar to readers, what is near and contemporary138.

43The popularity of Orlov, the “Russian Scarron” according to one critic, thus existed primarily for those groups of readers who were not sophisticated enough to grasp Walter Scott’s value and at the same time were tired of old lubok romances like Milord Georg and Sovestdral. Compared to the generally exotic and fairy-tale worlds of those cheap books, readers found in Orlov’s novels accurate and amusing descriptions of their environment.

44Beyond the enjoyment of recognizing their own world and laughing at its flaws, the lower-class urban readers also had another reason for appreciating Orlov’s novellas: the pleasure of standing out from the crowd simply for the act of reading. It was a pleasure derived from the prestige that novels enjoyed in popular urban environments. Orlov himself wrote about this matter in his 1835 letter to the Minister of Education Uvarov, in which he complained about the censors’ excessive intervention into his works:

  • 139   A. A. Orlov, “Pis’mo ministru narodnogo prosvescheniia S. S. Uvarovu,” Novoe Literaturnoe Obozren (...)

For the upper classes, I wrote little; I have written especially for the lower and middle classes. Considering that the masses (prostonarodie) cannot read the Derzhavins, the Lomonosovs, and the like, I decided to take a different path. I saw that the shopkeepers, when sitting at the counter, or the laborers (fabrikanty), or the artisans, when they are not occupied, spend time reading Bova Korolevich, Eruslan Lazarevich, and the like. And by doing this they keep away from those vices that arise from having nothing to do. But since everything has been read and re-read, I decided to satisfy the simpler people by publishing various stories that could serve to distract them. I saw that the tailors, the shoemakers, are happy to spend 10 kopecks on my very inexpensive books, like Duniachka, the Silly Girl from Moscow, The Preobrazhenskii Ribbons, The Creased Blouse, and the like.139

45In addition to praising reading as a pastime for otherwise idle minds and hands, Orlov also noted that, in some settings, reading novels could become a form of education and stimulate in people a useful sense of pride and distinction:

  • 140   Original titles: Nekolebimaia druzhba chukhlomskikh zhitelei Kruchinina i Skudoumova; Zevak na Ma (...)
  • 141   Reitblat, “Moskovskaia nizovaia knizhnost’,” 175-176.

I saw that the shoemaker, in his spare time, having gathered his friends around him and reading (and nearly spelling out) The Unshakable Friendship of the Citizens of Chukhloma Kruchinin and Skudoumov, The Slacker at Makar Fair’, The Broken Leg or Games for Merchants,140 begins to explain to his companions everything about these funny types, and, seeing an audience before him, he is pleased to be their reader. So, on the one hand, he tries to read slightly better, but on the other, he also instills in others the desire to learn to read. And as he goes from one level of knowledge to the next, he also tries to learn to write, but seeing that he does not understand the figures (which I had placed in the book on purpose), he also tries to study mathematics. And the same happens to his companions, who never would have thought of wanting to study. Whereas they themselves, who now also want to be called readers, with no need for a master’s cane, beg him to teach them to read when not at work; and that one, seeing himself surrounded by so much respect, as if he were a master […], gives them a pencil instead of a caning and gets down to teaching them. The cobbler’s little hut [izba] is thus made into a classroom. So, inadvertently, culture begins to spread, and consequently, the government’s objective to increase education is fulfilled.141

  • 142   Besançon, Éducation et société en Russie, 15
  • 143   A. I. Reitblat, “Tsenzura narodnykh knig,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 182.
  • 144   Reitblat, “Tsenzura narodnykh knig,” 184.

46Reading novels helped popular readers to sharpen their reading and writing skills and, at the same time, allowed them to stand out culturally in their world, thereby encouraging others to imitate them. Reading cheap novels allowed those readers to acquire the symbolic capital they had not been able to obtain through schooling, and often impelled them to reproduce the practices of symbolic domination of the dominant world in their own world. Orlov’s description is certainly apologetic, but the situation reflected in this testimony might today appear paradoxical: a low-ranking writer explains to the Minister of Education the usefulness of reading and education for the lower classes. In fact, the repressive measures that were taken by the government against such forms of literature show that the top tiers of the state by no means wished to spread culture among the lowest social classes through reading. In the cultural vision shared by Minister Uvarov and Nicholas I, the knowledge available to each of the Russian society’s classes had to be strictly limited to the type of work that the subjects could carry out.142 As shown by Abram Reitblat, between 1828 and 1855, “the main target and the main victim of Moscow censorship in those years were not the works by the opposition or ‘high literature,’ but popular books.”143 The cited problem with such books was not only the impropriety of their language, or the use of a sometimes vulgar lexicon, or lapses of style, or content that “offended morals and the moral sense,” as per the censorship code of 1828;144 rather, the government simply had a programmatically hostile attitude toward the practice of reading among the working classes and, moreover, toward novels in particular. Following this first wave of popular literature mainly aimed at an urban audience, Minister Uvarov wrote:

  • 145   Cited in A. Kotovich, Dukhovnaia tsenzura v Rossii. (1799-1855) (St. Petersburg, 1909), 301.

The passion for reading and in general for literary activity, which was previously limited to the upper classes, has now penetrated the middle class and is widening even beyond these limits. In addition, regardless of the fact that this cheap literature is politically unsuitable for the people, it not only brings no benefit to their intellectual development and education but, on the contrary, will soon become an obstacle to them. Right-thinking people have openly acknowledged that this literature has proven harmful in those countries where it has spread and consolidated.145

47The usually hostile attitude toward the practice of reading among the masses was, for example, what compelled Uvarov himself to intervene with the Moscow censorship committee in 1834 to forbid Orlov to publish any of his works. Although Orlov protested to the Minister, the writer had to stop publishing his works for two years.

  • 146   On him, cf. D. Rebecchini, “Fedot Kuzmichev, un servo della gleba nella campagna contro Napoleone (...)
  • 147   On these works, cf. Rebecchini, “Fedot Kuzmichev,” 205-217.
  • 148   Iu. M. Lotman, “Massovaia literatura kak istoriko-literaturnaia problema,” in Idem, Izbrannye sta (...)
  • 149Moskovskii Telegraf, 1831, vol. 5, 106-107.

48A similar fate occurred to another of the ‘stars’ of the Moscow public of the 1830s and 1840s, Fedot Kuzmichev.146 Unlike Orlov, he was actually a self-taught writer, a footman owned by Princess A. M. Golitsyna. Having become one of the Princess’s house servants at the young age of thirteen, he was recruited to Moscow’s military contingent in 1812 and sent to fight against the French. His youth notwithstanding, he took part in the battle of Borodino, in the retreat of the French from Russia, and in the German and French campaigns of 1813 and 1814, during which he traveled as far as Paris. When he was freed from serfdom in 1830, he moved to Moscow, where he began to write and publish a great number of booklets that earned him some degree of success: fairy tales and satirical stories, two books on the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-1829, collections of anecdotes, a primer, some booklets to interpret dreams, and probably his most popular work, the historical bandit novel The Daughter-Robber, or The Lover in the Barrel. A Popular Legend from Boris Godunov’s Time (Doch’ razboinitsa, ili Liubovnik v bochke. Narodnoe predanie iz vremen Borisa Godunova, 1839), which had seven different editions during the 1840s and was as successful as Tan’ka the Brigandess. Unlike Orlov, who specialized in satirical descriptions of Moscow’s merchants and lower classes, Kuzmichev owed his fame to his patriotic themes. In the mid-thirties he incurred the same censorship problems as Orlov, and from the late thirties onward he decided to concentrate his production on a cycle of autobiographical patriotic novellas exalting the heroic simple Russian soldier of the Napoleonic wars. He published six booklets on 1812 and the subsequent campaigns against Napoleon, all dedicated to the cycle of “the Russian soldier.”147 Each of these works is characterized by an extraordinary stylistic variety. Chapter after chapter, Kuzmichev employs a series of narrative techniques taken from a variety of different genres: epic fiction and romance, dramatic and epistolary narrative. The various chapters have different intonations, from those typical of the Bible to others borrowing from folk genres. In the same work, different stylistic registers and literary languages alternate between Classicism, Sentimentalism, and Romanticism, all combined into a very popular syncretism. As noted by Iurii Lotman, “in the late eighteenth-early nineteenth century, it was as if mass literature represented a huge natural reserve in which unearthed animals, known to the reader only from museum models, lived and reproduced in their natural conditions.”148 Kuzmichev’s works were true natural reserves of literary genres and styles from the past. In them, genres and stylistic features long dead in high literature survived in the still quite fertile and lush environment of low literature. If the Russian historical novel drew on fictional genres from previous decades (the Sentimental, Gothic, and bandit novels) to make itself more recognizable and acceptable to its new provincial readers, then these popular novellas drew on genres and stylistic features from a more distant past, from folklore to classicist epic, in order to put their uneducated popular readers in contact with the largest possible number of forms that, regardless of those forms’ obsolete status, were new to them—almost like a small library containing all the literature of the previous century. This is what contemporary writers meant when they said that the masses “paid coppers for their education”:149 they only read popular fiction that cost a few kopecks and, through these hybrid forms, they came into contact with the literature of the past, which then shaped their tastes. Thus, by reading these novels, even lower-class readers—who neither attended school nor read Lomonosov or Derzhavin’s works, but instead learned to read on books worth only a few kopecks—started to gradually educate themselves and develop their literary tastes, just as Karamzin had foreseen in his 1802 commentary and as Belinskii confirmed 30 years later:

  • 150   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 3, 83.

Readings must always be at the reader’s level and the reading process should always be gradual, a journey, a development: from English Milord one reader gets to Ivan Vyzhigin, and there he stops; another, having started from Guak, or The Unshakable Fidelity (Guak, ili Nepreoborimaia vernost’) and, having gone through the many Vyzhigins, goes as far as Walter Scott and Cooper. Let our Russian people read to their own health, may a lust for reading spread among them day after day! Whatever awakens or quenches this lust is fine!150

3. Fragmentation and Ideologization of the Russian Public in the 1840s: the Case Of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Gogol’s Dead Souls

49The 1840s saw a process of fragmentation, segmentation, and ideologization of the Russian public. While the success of the Russian historical novel led to greater cultural and ideological standardization among Russian readers during a phase of expansion of the reading audience in the 1830s, the publication of some of the most important contemporary Russian novels of the 1840s caused greater internal division among the Russian public. The distance between readers from different generations increased, and distinct interpretive communities formed, possessing different aesthetic and ideological orientations that often proved to be in conflict with each other. The difficult economic conditions into which the country quickly collapsed created fertile ground for this process.

50In 1838, Russia entered a phase of economic crisis. For some years, crop production had not been good and the situation had worsened due to a prolonged drought. The monetary reform of 1839, which had further contributed to lowering the price of books, had not improved things much. Readers from the provinces, who were hit by the consequences of the economic crisis earlier and more harshly, were the ones who reduced their book orders the most. Business, for some big publishers like Smirdin, started to decrease. Overestimating the demand from Russian buyers, Smirdin had flooded the market with a large number of novels that—under the conditions of a broad financial crisis—quickly lost value. In January 1840, Gogol’ captured the corresponding crisis in the book market while describing his plans for his future novel Dead Souls:

  • 151   Gogol’, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 11, 269.

If I wait a year, when my new novel is ready, then I will be able to attract the attention of 4000 readers, and the people will once again rush to buy works that no one cares about now; and, in the meantime, these difficult years will pass, years of hunger and shortage of crops, which have reduced the number of buyers. The booksellers now openly say that they have no money at the moment, and that those who once bought books now put them aside to try to fix their properties that are going to ruin because of the lost crops.151

  • 152   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 111.
  • 153 Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 5, 200-201. See also Pribavlenie k Sankt Peterburgski (...)

51In the early forties, a large number of novels which had previously been issued on the market lacked buyers and began to end up on the counters at markets on Nikol’skaia Street in Moscow, at the Apraksin market of St. Petersburg, or in baskets at provincial fairs.152 In 1841, Belinskii noted how Bulgarin’s novels had “silently moved to the Apraksin market, into the bags of second-hand booksellers, and into the baskets of traveling booksellers and peddlers.”153 The circulation of works by authors who were once famous and fashionable among lower-class readers, and the rapid circulation of news through the press, aided in the turnover of the literary establishment and caused the public to change their tastes more rapidly.

  • 154   N. G. Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa o peterburgskoi knizhnoi torgovle za piat (...)

52The memories of a bookseller of the time, Nikolai Ovsiannikov, who long worked as an apprentice at the popular Apraksin market, can help us reconstruct the channels through which valuable novels from the 1830s ended up in the hands of popular readers.154 For example, Ovsiannikov describes the frequent visits made by the servants and lackeys of aristocratic families to the popular St. Petersburg market at the beginning of the 1840s. Loaded with books that were either stolen from their masters’ libraries or given to them by their owners, the servants were the most sought-after visitors by open-air booksellers because they sold their goods at a very low price. At other times, it was the booksellers themselves who went directly to the homes of the more affluent readers, hoarding books that were already read or reputed to be of little interest in order to sell them to popular readers. At the Apraksin market, coalitions of second-hand book dealers began to form; having agreed among themselves to keep prices low, they took part in auctions of entire private libraries in order to resell the books individually. Also frequent were sweeping sales by the largest bookseller-publishers, such as Smirdin, of what was left in their warehouses or of excess printed works.

  • 155   Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa, 14.
  • 156   The rest of Smirdin’s stock was sold partly to second-hand booksellers who supplied provincial fa (...)
  • 157Severnaia pchela of 15 February 1847, n. 36, 1.
  • 158   Ibidem. See the memories of one of these street vendors in N. I. Sveshnikov, Vospominaniia propas (...)

53At the end of the 1830s in particular, news spread of the frequent summer trips that Smirdin made to Moscow to get rid of the works that he could not sell in the more refined northern capital. Lacking cash and not wanting to lose his prestige within the St. Petersburg market, Smirdin went to the booksellers in Moscow who, according to the testimony of one such individual, “duped him nicely.”155 So it happened, for example, that at the beginning of the 1840s a substantial part of his stock ended up in the hands of one of the greatest Muscovite booksellers of lubok literature, Loginov.156 Per Severnaia Pchela, “the late Loginov was the last resort for the Petersburg and Muscovite booksellers. [...] If a book did not sell, they immediately took it to Moscow, to Loginov, and he bought all the copies, mostly by weight, and scattered them all over Russia, accompanied by pompous ads that he had his writers compose.”157 Indeed, Loginov ran a contingent of about 500 street vendors who traveled through towns and villages in the provinces with books that no longer sold in the capitals.158 Thus, in the late 1830s and early 1840s, a large number of high literature books reached the readers from the lowest classes or those who lived on the outskirts of the Russian Empire.

  • 159   On Smirdin’s book lotteries, cf. Grits, Trenin, Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia, 353-355 and M (...)

54In the early 1840s, in order to settle his debts, Smirdin himself resorted to some creative marketing methods that contributed to the broadening of the social base of the Russian readers. Very famous, for example, were the lotteries that he organized (following the example of French booksellers) to get rid of a large share of his stock of books, amounting in total to some 700,000 rubles. Between 1843 and 1844, Smirdin sold about 34,000 lottery tickets for the price of one ruble, each ticket corresponding to some books as well as the chance to win a big cash prize.159 Smirdin’s lotteries achieved, in Ovsiannikov’s opinion, some remarkable success even among those who were not traditionally attracted to the type of books in which the great bookseller-publisher dealt:

  • 160   Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa, 15.

They were immensely beneficial to the book commerce and market, because if someone who, let’s say, had never read a book won a book and then read it and by chance got passionate about it, he would then become a new avid reader and a possible buyer of other books. Thus, trade was stimulated by the fall in prices caused by the books that were won and immediately re-sold, and by the low prices with which they tried to enlist, so to speak, new readers and buyers.160

  • 161Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 71. See also Gessen, Knigoizdatel ‘Aleksandr Pushkin, 146.
  • 162Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 81.
  • 163   Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa, 30-32
  • 164   On the reasons for Smirdin’s bankruptcy, see Kishkin, Chestnyi, dobryi, prostodushnyi, 68-78.
  • 165   Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa, 33-34.

55It was precisely in that period, in the first half of the 1840s, that a number of important publishers were forced either to radically transform their businesses or to close them down. For example, due to the crisis at the beginning of the 1840s, the Glazunov booksellers could hardly sell the last volumes of the new posthumous edition of Pushkin’s works.161 In general, during that period, the Glazunovs were forced to reduce their investments in literary works and focused mainly on the production and sale of manuals, which were less subject to market fluctuations, given that they were mostly ordered by state institutions.162 Starting from the mid forties, other publishers, such as Korablev and Siriakov, decided to specialize in religious literature.163 In 1845, Smirdin was forced to close his large bookshop with a reading room on the Nevskii Prospekt and, beginning in 1847, he devoted himself exclusively to publishing. With the publication of the Complete Collection of Works by Russian Authors (Polnoe sobranie sochinenii russkikh avtorov), a colossal work that came out in 70 volumes between 1846 and 1856, Smirdin tried to recover from his debts by publishing, at a very low price (1 ruble per volume), the complete works of 35 Russian authors, many of which were unobtainable or otherwise never collected before. Yet the project did not have the desired success, and the bookseller closed down his business in 1856, deep in debt.164 A new bookseller-publisher named M.D. Ol’khin started his business in 1842 with a large amount of capital (he was one of Smirdin’s creditors and had inherited part of his stock), but went bankrupt in just 6 years.165

  • 166Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 79-80.
  • 167   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 5, 186.
  • 168Severnaia pchela, 19 February 1844, n. 39, 1 cited in A. I. Reitblat, “Tolstyi zhurnal i ego publ (...)

56According to the testimony of one of the Glazunov booksellers, the decrease in sales of novels published in volume form at the beginning of the 1840s was due above all “to the success of the monthly thick journals.”166 Since they sold their subscriptions in advance, monthly journals (as Osip Senkovskii’s Biblioteka dlia chteniia had shown) guaranteed publishers lower costs and much more consistent revenues than those offered by the retail sale of works in volume form. Published in magazines, divided into blocks of chapters that came out month after month, Russian novels underwent a noticeable formal change. In 1841, Belinskii described the nature of the evolution recently undergone by the Russian novel: “Current novels, instead of the old much-missed four volumes, are now usually either published in two large-font thin little volumes or, fearing that they might not attract enough readers, spread across the pages of five or six issues of a thick journal.”167 In the mid-forties, Bulgarin recorded the decline of the multiple-volume novel and the increasing dominance of the journal: “Booksellers everywhere now say that working hard is no longer worth it, because nothing else circulates except journals and, if you jot down a povest’ or a novel, these always end up in journals.”168 From that moment on throughout the nineteenth century, Russian novels were read initially—and primarily—in thick journals rather than in single editions. The practice of reading novels thus acquired two separate but parallel modalities. One type of novel reading, based on monthly magazines, was fragmented and spread out in time, full of anticipation and particularly interested in the details of the work. The other type, carried out through single editions or collections of novels, was more consistent and faster, and was perhaps less focused on individual details but still able to better grasp the overall idea of the work.

  • 169   V. I. Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov XIX v. (Moscow, 1958), 319.
  • 170   Ibid., p. 320.
  • 171   A. D. Galakhov, Zapiski cheloveka (Moscow, 1999), 185.
  • 172   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 319.

57The publication of novels in thick journals had the advantage of allowing readers to track down the authors that they had particularly loved in the past and who were more in line with their aesthetic and ideological orientations. Thanks to the mediation of the editors, readers began to have the opportunity to participate more actively in literary life and began to influence the production of novels more directly. It was in this period, indeed, that the most dynamic readers, even those from the most remote provinces, became active and began to pick up their pens and write to magazines, expressing opinions and commenting on what they read. More and more frequently, it was no longer the author who proposed his novel to the publisher, as it used to happen in Smirdin’s days; rather, it was the journal editor who chose the authors that he knew would be more appreciated by his audience. This practice created a deep rift within the Russian public. Thanks to their greater interaction with their readers, journals ended up segmenting the audience into communities that shared the same favorite authors and critics, and indeed, the same reactions to novels.169 Belinskii underlines how important the role of magazines was in this process: “Some journals survive thanks to a high number of subscribers and their different positions divide the audience into different literary groups”.170 As recalled by A. D. Galakhov, magazines contributed to dividing the public: “Frequently, they were the ones who fueled the controversy since, even then, readers were divided into literary parties that had varied positions on orientations, contents, and other aspects of the production of the periodical press”.171 In 1841, I. Panaev wrote in Otechestvennye zapiski that “it is known that Russian literature […] is divided into several parties (partii); therefore, as a consequence, the reading audience is also dividing into parties.”172 For the first time, Russian readers began to form “parties.”

  • 173   Ch. A. Ruud, Fighting Words: Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 1804-1906, 2nd ed. (Toron (...)
  • 174   Ruud, Fighting Words, 80.
  • 175   In the same period in France, where there was a larger number of magazines, the Revue des Deux Mo (...)
  • 176   Cf. M. I. Gillel’son, P. A. Viazemskii: zhizn’ i tvorchestvo (Leningrad, 1969), 324. The figure s (...)

58The economic crisis at the end of the 1830s also fueled the growing discontent of provincial landowners. At the same time, the political and social demands made by urban groups—especially students, teachers, young intellectuals—became more evident. The clash of the interests of these two groups—the landowners and the urban intelligentsia—created some fertile ground for further divisions among the Russian public. The new generation of readers in particular did not see their new interests or their ideals and aspirations recognized at all in the magazines and newspapers circulating at that time. Biblioteka dlia chteniia, which at the beginning of the 1840s was still the most widespread magazine, continued catering mostly to an old provincial public, one that was conservative and not very demanding from the aesthetic point of view. During that decade, it quickly lost readers (from 7000 subscribers from 1837, to 3000 in 1847, down to 2100 in 1849);173 Syn otechestva (The Son of the Fatherland) kept publishing historical and travel memoirs and historiographical works on past military glories, mainly entertaining the current military, retired officers, and older public officials; Pletnev’s refined Sovremennik kept away from controversies and found its scanty readership among an older and more select public from St. Petersburg, one more nostalgic for Pushkinian times; Mikhail Pogodin’s conservative Moskvitianin (The Muscovite), which had just over 300 subscribers in 1845, and the reactionary Maiak (The Lighthouse) mostly attracted the sympathies of readers attracted to patriotic and nationalistic ideals.174 The new generations of readers who looked to Europe as a model—and were, moreover no longer satisfied with the official patriotism of many historical novels and conservative magazines—sought a new voice, and the journals that sought to provide that voice were, for example, Otechestvennye zapiski (Notes of the Fatherland), overseen by Andrei A. Kraevskii and (starting in 1847) the new Sovremennik edited by Nekrasov and Panaev. Thanks to Belinskii’s help and Kraevskii’s skills, Otechestvennye zapiski emerged as the definitive journal for most progressive Russian readers between 1839 and 1846. In a few years, the magazine went from 1250 subscribers in 1839 to 3000 in 1843, and reached 4000 subscriptions in 1847.175 According to Prince Viazemskii’s estimates, 4000 or 5000 subscriptions at the time meant an audience of almost 100,000 readers, taking into account that it was precisely at that historical moment that collective readings (especially in urban areas) intensified and spread far beyond the aristocratic salons. 176

  • 177   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 305.
  • 178   Cf. Pavlova, “Chitatel’ moskovskogo universiteta,” 62.
  • 179   Cit. in Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 305.
  • 180   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 320-321.
  • 181   Galakhov, Zapiski cheloveka, 155.
  • 182   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 5, 200-201.
  • 183   April 16, 1840 letter from Belinskii to Botkin in Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 11, (...)

59The most passionate readers of Otechestvennye zapiski were mostly students, gymnasium teachers, and professors, but there were, of course, also progressive landowners, young officers, officials and employees with liberal ideas.177 In the city, the journal’s issues were easily accessible not only via circulating libraries, but they could also be found in in cafés, pastry shops and taverns.178 The students represented a vital category among the readers of Otechestvennye zapiski, as they were the most enthusiastic and, apparently, the least critical. “There’s an article by Belinskii!” wrote Herzen in My Past and Thoughts (Byloe i dumy), “and to this call the students ran into the libraries, the coffee rooms, threw themselves on the thick volume of Otechestvennye zapiski, snatched it from each other’s hands, read it until it was reduced to dust, until they removed its pages and, as a result, two or three authorities and old beliefs would disappear, as if they had never been.”179 Belinskii, the leading critic of Otechestvennye zapiski, enjoyed enormous popularity with the youth, which only further exacerbated divisions among the Russian public. As Aleksandr Kul’chitskii wrote in September 1840 from the faraway Ukrainian town of Khar’kiv, Belinskii’s articles provoked strong reactions that divided the provincial reading public: “You have the particular skill,” he wrote to Belinskii himself, “to make yourself as many friends as you make yourself real enemies.”180 The role of the literary critic became increasingly important in guiding the public’s opinion and in influencing their preferences with regard to the most fashionable novels one could read. Among the young, literary criticism and the bibliographic chronicle were the first section to be read, even before the literary section, and they heavily influenced the way in which certain novels were interpreted.181 Thanks to the mediating role of magazines, the reading of novels became a practice that was increasingly prepared and ideologically directed by critics. It was Belinskii’s articles from the early 1840s that eclipsed Bulgarin’s fame as a novelist and diverted many young readers toward new novels such as A Hero of our Time (Geroi nashego vremeni, 1840) by Mikhail Lermontov and Dead Souls (Prikliucheniia Chichikova, ili Mertvye dushi, 1842) by Nikolai Gogol’.182 “Journalism, in our time, is everything,” wrote Belinskii in 1840, “the journal is a pulpit, and who can be angry at this?”183 The secularization and ideologization of the Russian public in the 1840s occurred mainly through the reading of thick journals such as Otechestvennye zapiski and Sovremennik.

  • 184   V. I. Vagin, “40-e goda v Irkutske,” in Literaturnyi sbornik. Sobranie nauchnykh i literaturnykh (...)

60The publication of Lermontov’s and Gogol’s novels played a significant role not only in stimulating but even in shaping the segmentation of the Russian public. The stylistic originality and the interpretative openness of these two novels made it possible to delineate and emphasize cultural and ideological differences of which the public only then became conscious. The deeply ambiguous nature of these two novels allowed readers to project onto them very different aesthetic and ideological positions. In particular, a novel like A Hero of our Time, with its complex narrative and ideological structure, created a profound generational rift in the Russian public and increased the distance between readers of different ages. If the Caucasian and military settings were easily recognizable by the reader of the 1830s, who often tended to compare them to Marlinskii’s Caucasian novellas or to historical novels, the fragmentary narrative structure of the work often left the more traditional readers confused. For older readers or those coming from the more remote provinces who were used to Marlinskii’s pompous style, Lermontov’s novel appeared excessively simple, almost basic. A reader from Irkutsk, where Marlinskii’s style was still in vogue, stated that “it is a good novel, but it is written too simply.”184

61The title of Lermontov’s novel, A Hero of Our Time, significantly increased the gap between younger and older Russian readers. The older generation of readers, who were accustomed to the simple and noble heroes of Russian historical novels, expected a model to imitate and were disappointed and irritated by Pechorin; the younger ones, on the other hand, found him to be a complex and fascinating character with whom they could identify. Significant differences are reflected, for example, in the opinions of four readers of different ages: the Grand Duchess Mariia Pavlovna (1786-1859), Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1855), the tsar’s second son Konstantin Nikolaevich (1827-1892) and a student at the University of Kazan’, Aleksandr I. Artem’ev (1820-1873). Of course, the differences in their opinions about Lermontov’s novel are not reducible to a simple generational difference; however, this factor seems to be highly influential, crucially conditioning their horizon of expectation and the literary tastes that then matured over time.

62After appreciating the first part of Lermontov’s novel, Nicholas (then 44 years old) was greatly disappointed by the second part, which the tsar interpreted by comparison with the romantic French novels so popular with the new generations, such as La confession d’un enfant du siècle by Alfred de Musset. He wrote to his wife in June 1840:

  • 185   E. Gershtein, Sud’ba Lermontova, 2nd edition (Moscow, 1986), 63-64.

I have finished reading Hero and find the second part repugnant, perfectly worthy of being in vogue. It is the same emphatic representation of those despicable and implausible characters populating contemporary foreign novels. Such novels ruin morals and harden the character […] They have a deplorable effect, because in the end you get used to thinking that the whole world is made up of people like that, people who only perform the apparently best deeds with the basest and vilest intentions. And what can that lead to? Hate and scorn for the human race!185

  • 186   Ibid. See also B. M. Eikhenbaum, “Nikolai I o Lermontove,” in Idem, O proze. Sbornik statei (Leni (...)
  • 187   Ibid.

63And he added that the novel’s hero should have been the old pragmatic and loyal captain Maksim Maksimych rather than young Pechorin, who was cynical and disillusioned. “When I started reading this work, I rejoiced and hoped that he could possibly be the hero of our time,” he wrote, and yet “Mr. Lermontov proved unable to represent this noble and simple character; he replaced him with poor, very unattractive personalities, which should have been left aside (even if they do indeed exist) so as not to cause irritation”.186 The tsar, like many older readers who observed a reading paradigm typical of Pushkin’s era, saw in the novel’s hero above all a self-portrait of the author: “I am convinced that it is a miserable book that bears witness to the great corruption of his author,” he wrote to his wife, determined to send its author back to the Caucasus.187

64A similar reaction to Lermontov’s novel is expressed by the tsar’s sister, the grand duchess Mariia Pavlovna, ten years his senior (then 54 years old) in a letter that she sent to the empress in 1840. Like the tsar, Mariia Pavlovna likewise established a strong link between the novel genre and explicit moral content that could easily be deciphered by the reader. Mariia Pavlovna wrote:

  • 188   Gershtein, Sud’ba Lermontova, 73.

Lermontov’s novel shows the signs of his talent and also of his art, but, even if one cannot expect works of this kind to be a treatise on morality, it is still to be hoped that in them one might find a pattern of thought or intent that can lead the reader to certain precise conclusions. In Lermontov’s novel you find nothing but the tendency and the need to conduct a complicated game aimed at dominating, coming out on top, thanks to a particular indifference of the soul that makes any kind of relationship impossible and which, in the sentimental sphere, often leads to betrayal.188

65The grand duchess tends to link those characteristics of Lermontov’s hero not so much to the influence of contemporary French novels as the tsar did, but rather to the influence of Goethe’s Faust. Thus, for example, the grand duchess explained the character of Pechorin to herself as follows:

  • 189   Ibid.

The author has taken it from Goethe’s Mephistopheles, but with the great difference that in Faust the devil is only deployed to help Faust to overcome the phases of his desires, and he remains a secondary character, even if he is given an important role. Lermontov’s hero, on the other hand, is the main character and, considering that the means that he uses are his own means and come from him, it is not possible to approve of them.189

66We find very different reactions between two readers of the following generation, the tsar’s son Konstantin Nikolaevich, who read A Hero of Our Time when he was eighteen, and the university student Aleksandr I. Artem’ev, who read it at the age of twenty. Konstantin Nikolaevich read the novel after having enjoyed some of Lermontov’s poems set in the Caucasus. The grand duke was really taken by the novel and it was seen as a typical expression of romantic literature set in that region. Konstantin Nikolaevich wrote in his diary:

  • 190   Cited in A. Sidorova, Obrazovat’ v detiakh um, serdtse i dushu.” Vospitanie velikikh kniazei v se (...)

I have read Lermontov’s famous novel A Hero of Our Time. It contains wonderful descriptions of the Caucasus, as do all his works, and the story itself is interesting, but the truth of the portrait of the hero and the link between his religious nature and that odious worldly indifference (eta sviaz’ religioznosti s etoi gnusnoi svetskoiu kholodnostiiu) is disgusting. All in all, however, I found it enthralling, because this is the Caucasus190.

67Despite the fact that the grand duke found certain sides of Pecorin’s character repugnant, he cannot deny, as his father had done, that his is a real character and one that exercises a certain fascination on him.

  • 191   See in particular his review in Notes of the Fatherland of July 1840 (NN. 6-7), especially where (...)

68A similar passion for Lermontov’s hero, although expressed in different terms, can be found in the letter that the student Artem’ev, studying at the University of Kazan’, sent to the editorial staff of the journal Otechestvennye zapiski. Artem’ev was the son of a Kazan’ alcohol sales controller and studied at the university at the expense of the state. As he writes in his confession-letter to the editorial staff, he had loved Marlinskii’s stories as a boy, and later admired Polevoi and his Moskovskii Telegraf, the publication that had brought to Russia a good part of the new European literary movements and trends; most recently, he had become a passionate reader of Otechestvennye zapiski. His reaction to Lermontov’s novel bears clear traces of the opinion that Belinskii had just expressed on the pages of the magazine.191 In his letter, Artem’ev, speaking of Lermontov’s book, sides with this magazine against the opinion of the conservative journal Maiak (The Lighthouse), which had criticized the work:

  • 192   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 44-45.

For what reason do those people not want to recognize that A Hero of our Time is a beautiful book, a work of art? Perhaps for the fact that Lermontov, who we can say (or rather we have to say) is the only true representative of our literature, did not put in his book some sentences from a primer, he did not say that vice is hateful and virtue is praiseworthy! But should we really spend all our life with a schoolmaster’s cane in our hand?! The Lighthouse guardians are afraid that we, once we read Lermontov’s book, become heroes of our time like Pechorin. And who are we supposed to be, Maksim Maksimych? It seems to me that we need to follow our time, rather than stay behind it. A Hero of our Time, at least for me, is much more of a moral work, even if it does not include very long religious prayers […] I prefer to resemble Pechorin rather than to start praying somewhere in the street and be called a Bible-thumper; I would not really like to resemble the Pharisees from the Gospel... This is what I think of A Hero of our Time.192

69One first notes in the young student’s opinion a decisive rejection of the moralistic, almost classicist conception of literature that had influenced the tsar’s and grand duchess’s judgment. In Artem’ev’s eyes, that Lermontov’s protagonist lacked ideal traits did not necessarily make him an immoral hero. His opinion is the result of a radical renegotiation of the values that had been offered to his generation by institutions such as state school (“the master’s cane”) and the Orthodox church (“Bible-thumper”), which are now completely dismissed in favor of the new values proposed by contemporary literature. It was precisely the rejection of religious and school values, perceived by the student as no longer appropriate to his time (“we must follow our time”), that allowed Artem’ev to identify himself with Lermontov’s hero. Although no explicitly anti-religious attitudes were expressed in the novel, Lermontov’s hero clearly offered this young reader behaviors, gestures, and psychological and intellectual attitudes in which he recognized himself, and which he felt were contemporary—even if he still expressed them in the evangelical language that he had learned from his traditional world and from which he was trying to free himself.

  • 193   Cf. A. S. Bodrova, “K istorii posmertnykh izdanii Lermontova: Slovesnost’, kommertsiia i institut (...)
  • 194   However, a note by Kraevskii in 1844 suggests that not all the copies were immediately sold; only (...)
  • 195   M. Iu. Lermontov, A Hero of our Time, translated by J. H. Wisdom, M. Murray (New York, 1916), 334
  • 196 Ibid., 333.
  • 197   Ibid., 335.

70The fact that reactions like the tsar’s were not an isolated case, but rather a tendency shared by many old generation readers, is confirmed by Lermontov’s own reaction to the very first responses of the public to his novel. In general, the novel was greatly successful with readers. After the appearance of three of the novel’s episodes in Otechestvennye zapiski (“Bela” in No. 3 of 1839, “The Fatalist” in No. 11 of 1839, and “Taman’” in No. 2 of 1840), the first complete edition in volume form, issued in 1000 copies in the spring of 1840 at the very low price of 2 silver rubles (about 7 assignation rubles), sold out.193 In the following few years, two more editions of 1400 and 1200 copies each followed and were sold at the same price.194 If having read the discrete episodes published in Otechestvennye zapiski prevented readers from expressing their overall opinion on the elusive character of the hero, the publication of the entire work in volume form in May 1840 immediately aroused a great deal of criticism from readers. In the preface to the second edition of 1841, published one year later, the author himself strongly reacted to his readers’ initial, intense protests: “Many of its readers have been dreadfully, and in all seriousness, shocked to find such an immoral man as Pechorin set before them as an example. Others have observed, with much acumen, that the author has painted his own portrait and those of his acquaintances! . . . What a stale and wretched jest!”195 In his preface, Lermontov, employing a caustic irony, scolded the first reactions of the Russian public to his novel, attributing his readers’ mistaken reactions to their poor literary education: “The public of this country is so youthful, not to say simple-minded, that it cannot understand the meaning of a fable unless the moral is set forth at the end. Unable to see a joke, insensible to irony, it has, in a word, been badly brought up.”196 And, speaking of the positive, completely idealized heroes such as those who appeared in Russian historical novels, he concludes: “People have been surfeited with sweetmeats and their digestion has been ruined: bitter medicines, sharp truths, are therefore necessary.”197 Focusing on the features of what was, in his eyes, a hero of his time—heroic in a decidedly ambiguous and ironic way—Lermontov not only opened the door to his readers’ most divergent interpretations about what a “hero” should be like, but truly divided readers of different generations, putting them on opposite sides of an interepretive line, arguing about what “our time” was supposed to be. Starting with Lermontov’s novel, readers’ different reactions to contemporary Russian novels increasingly tended to distinguish themselves according to generational rather than social criteria.

  • 198   Cited in Iu. Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi. “Mertvye dushi”: pisatel’, kritika, chitatel’ (Moscow (...)
  • 199   Ibid., 125.
  • 200   S. Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 145-146.

71No less divisive were the reactions of the Russian public to Gogol’s Dead Souls. If Lermontov’s novel had seemed to many a portrait of the youth of the time (i.e. an important part of the new public), attractive to some readers and repulsive to others, Dead Souls initially appeared as a merciless caricature that targeted the largest share of the Russian reading public of the 1830s: the small landowners from the provinces. Readers’ reactions were not long in coming. Unlike Lermontov, Gogol’ had decided not to publish parts of his novel in the magazines, but rather to publish it all at once as a book, so that the whole work would make a greater impression on the public. The novel, printed in 2500 copies, was an immediate success despite the very high price of 10 silver rubles and 50 kopeks (about 37 assignation rubles) at which it was sold at when it arrived in bookshops in May 1842. A month after the release of the novel, an official source reported that “despite the, as they say, gloomy times for the book trade, Gogol’s work is selling out. The booksellers, who already had great expectations, never cease to be amazed at the speed at which they are selling The Adventures of Chichikov.”198 A few months later, in September 1842, Belinskii wrote in Otechestvennye zapiski: “Soon it will no longer be possible to find ‘Dead Souls’ in any of our bookshops, even though it has been printed in a large number of copies.”199 In February of the following year, the copies had already sold out and a new edition was being prepared; however, it only came out in 1846, with a circulation of another 2400 copies, which also sold out as early as the beginning of 1847.200 Right from the start, the novel provoked strong reactions. Konstantin Aksakov wrote:

  • 201   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 125.

The writers, the journalists, the booksellers, the individual readers all say that we haven’t had such movement for a long time as we now have with Dead Souls. Truly not a single person has remained indifferent; the book has touched everyone, aroused everyone, and everyone says his piece. Praise and abuse resound from all sides, and there is plenty of each, but also a complete absence of indifference.201

  • 202   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 319.
  • 203   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 126.

72The novel touched more than one nerve with the Russian public and had caused them to take an explicit position on the work. In 1841, Panaev asked from the pages of Otechestvennye zapiski: “And you, my benevolent reader, to which party do you belong?”202 Upon the publication of Dead Souls, one individual noted that “without this book it would be impossible to presuppose the variety of opinions that has now arisen in society.”203 In order to describe said variety of readers’ reactions to Gogol’s novel, contemporaries often resorted to a complex classification of the audience of Dead Souls. Sergei Aksakov insisted on the differences in its readers’ literary culture:

  • 204   Ibid., 126-127.

It is possible to divide the audience of the Dead Souls into three groups. The first, which includes the educated youth and all those who are able to understand the high value of Gogol’, welcomed him with enthusiasm. The second group is composed of people who, as it were, found themselves perplexed, and who, accustomed to having fun with Gogol’s works, all of a sudden were not able to understand the profound and serious meaning of his poem. The third group of readers got angry with Gogol’: they recognized themselves in various figures in the poem and with determination they set out to defend the whole of Russia whom he had offended.204

  • 205   Ibid., 127.

73As was already the case with Lermontov’s novel, here too the generational factor played a fundamental role, as noted by N. Ia. Prokopovich: “All the young generation had gone crazy for Dead Souls.”205 The very plot structure of the novel, made up of episodes feebly linked by the journey of the protagonist, Chichikov, favored collective readings among the young, in small groups of two or three companions or whole classes of students, per the recollection of V.V. Stasov, then a student at the Institute of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg:

  • 206   Ibid. About Dostoevskii’s testimony, cf. F. M. Dostoevskii, Ob iskusstve (Moscow, 1973), 297.

This book came to us in the late summer of 1842, when we were just back from our holidays. Courses had not yet started. And so we spent our time in the way that we liked the most: reading Dead Souls in one breath, all together, huddled up in one big group, to put an end to the quarrels as to whose turn it was to read it... And in this way, over the course of a few days, we read and re-read this great, extraordinarily original, unique, national, and brilliant work of art. We were drunk with enthusiasm and amazement.206

74This collective type of reading, in large groups of students, tended to radicalize judgments and to cancel, or silence, the more moderate perplexities or reactions.

  • 207   Cf. V. I. Shenrok, Materialy dlia biografii Gogolia (Moscow, 1897), vol. 4, 551.
  • 208   Regarding this, readers were influenced by two famous critics of the time: Gogol’s novel was comp (...)
  • 209   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 132.
  • 210   Ibid., 133.
  • 211   Ibid., 130.
  • 212 Ibid., 132.

75If the originality of Gogol’s style and vision of the novel had left young readers decidedly enthusiastic, many other readers, especially those who had been brought up on novelistic models from previous decades, were left puzzled and disoriented. A reader from the province of Khar’kiv, the landowner Konsantin I. Markov, wrote to Gogol’ about the reactions of readers from his region: “Your poem has caught our audience by surprise and here we do not yet realize what kind of work yours is. It’s not bad, many think, but how strange it is, they add.”207 The title and the narrative structure could be linked back to the picaresque novel or to the adventure novel, but on the title page the author clearly stated that it was a narrative poem. Those provincial readers who read the novel expecting adventures similar to those of Bulgarin’s Russian picaros were no less disappointed than those city readers who read it thinking of the light and risqué adventures of Paul De Kock’s French heroes.208 The models against which most of the contemporary audience measured the adventures of Chichikov were Bulgarin’s and Paul De Kock’s characters. To Konstantin Aksakov, who told the author of the readers’ perplexities about “the absence of an anecdotal external link,” Gogol’ replied without surprise: “Poor reader, he greedily took a book in his hands to read it as if it were a compelling novel that could distract him, but then, tired, he had to lower his hands and head, finding nothing but boredom in it, which he had not foreseen at all.”209 And, again, the following year, Gogol’ wrote: “What fault of mine is it, if the public has a stupid head and in its eyes I am the same as Paul de Kock: Paul de Kock writes a novel a year, they say, and so why should I not do that too? After all, it’s a novel; I called it a poem just for a joke.”210 Dead Souls not only lacked a hero like those to whom its readers were accustomed (a lucky picaro, a trendy dandy, or a tragic romantic hero), but all the other characters in the novel also tended to merge with the landscape, to be transformed into objects, immobilized caricatures—while, at the same time, the landscape was animated and anthropomorphized in a total blurring of the boundaries between the animate and the inanimate, between the tiny and the majestic. Unlike the provocative fragmentariness of Lermontov’s novel, Gogol’s work surprised its readers with its tragicomic indefiniteness and the complete break in its proportions. Not a few readers, prompted by the most hostile critics, found that the novel only contained descriptions of the lowest and most vulgar aspects of life in the Russian provinces, and paid specific attention to vulgar details of everyday life that were absent in previous literature. It all seemed to them in bad taste and unacceptable for a work of art: “How impatiently I had waited for Dead Souls, and what is the result? Apart from a lot of filth, there is nothing good in it. Did you read the analysis made by Senkovskii?” wrote a female reader, prompted by a review in Biblioteka dlia chteniia.211 According to a witness of the time, the readers’ sensitivity towards the low and vulgar aspects of everyday life (poshlost’) in Gogol’s meticulous descriptions of the servant Petrushka, for example, was inversely proportional to the reader’s social position: “All those who have personally known the dirt and the smell, and not just by hearsay, are very indignant about Petrushka, even though they say Dead Souls is a really fun thing. In high places, […] readers have noticed neither the dirt nor the stink and they have all gone crazy about your poem,” wrote Prokopovich to the author.212

  • 213   W. M. Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin (Cambridge, MA, London, 1986) 175.
  • 214   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 131.
  • 215   P. I. Orlova-Savina, Avtobiografiia (Moscow, 1994), 183.
  • 216   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 131-132.

76Gogol’s novel produced a very different effect among those who listened to some chapters read aloud by the author in St. Petersburg’s salons and other high places, where they were enchanted by the magical power of Gogol’s hypnotic sentences, and those who silently read it in some corner of the provinces and could evaluate the work as a whole, better noticing the lack of homogeneity in the style. As William Mills Todd writes, in St. Petersburg’s salons, “the orally delivered text seems to have invited a spirit of cooperation from its listeners, a willingness to accept as natural and to overlook or tolerate the comic strangeness, contradictions, and discontinuities of Dead Souls.”213 Among the Muscovite public, which was traditionally more conservative, the novel was sometimes considered insignificant, and sometimes indecorous: “F.I. Vas’kov said that the jokes in the novel are trivial and indecent,” wrote Sergei Aksakov to the author, “and that it is not becoming for a lady to read it in full.”214 Certain descriptions of the most intimate details of the existence of servants and coachmen appeared decidedly unsuitable for a female audience. A Moscow actress like Praskov’ia Ivanovna Orlova, for example, could not avoid blushing when reading aloud about the smell that Petrushka emanated.215 Other readers felt offended by the too-familiar tone with which the narrator addressed his reader: “There is somebody who was offended by the following words: ‘Let’s now look at what our friend is doing’? ‘And who would this friend be?’ he said, ‘Selifan or a tavern waiter?!’ ‘How are people like these supposed to be my friends?!’”216 For those who educated young people, Dead Souls was an inappropriate reading, especially due to the vulgarity of the world that it described, as well as its improper and sometimes indecent language:

  • 217 Ibid., 131.

A respectable youth educator said that we must avoid picking up Dead Souls because we would get dirty; all that’s inside that book you can find at the market... A colonel advised […] to change one’s opinion about the novel so as not to run the risk of losing one’s place in the Pages’ corps, lest the rumor reach the general, who is someone who knows all of Derzhavin by heart...217

  • 218   Vagin, “40-e goda v Irkutske,” 265.
  • 219   Ibid..
  • 220   Ibid.

77In the unsophisticated salons of the remote Siberian town of Irkutsk, where, per one witness, “the notion of high style dominated and Marlinskii’s high-sounding language (treskuchii iazyk) was considered the ultimate in style,” Gogol’s novel was regarded as “a silly thing, ‘enormously vulgar.’”218 Here the local readers seemed to admire especially Gogol’s lyrical digressions: “They appreciated only the lyrical passages, like ‘Whither, then, are you speeding, O Russia of mine?’ and things like that.”219 The reader from Irkutsk emphasizes how Gogol’ until then had been considered above all a comic author, not a high-level author: “In general Gogol’ did not have the reputation of being an excellent writer, although his first stories were considered very funny.”220

  • 221   Cf. D. Field, The End of the Serfdom. Nobility and Bureaucracy in Russia, 1855-1861 (Cambridge, L (...)
  • 222   Cf. Nikolai I, “Rech’ v zasedanii Gosudarstvennogo Soveta 30 marta 1842,” in Filin M.D. (ed.), Im (...)
  • 223   E. I. Shcherbakova, M. V. Sidorova (eds.), Rossiia pod nadzorom. Otchety III otdeleniia, 1827-186 (...)
  • 224   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 127.
  • 225   Ibid., 128.
  • 226   Ibid., 129.
  • 227   Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin, 165.
  • 228   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 145.
  • 229   Ibid., 129.
  • 230   Ibid.

78But the heated reactions among the readers of Dead Souls were provoked not only by their different aesthetic positions on the work’s ambiguous narrative form (sometimes markedly oral and colloquial, sometimes abruptly emphatic), or on the hybrid structure of the genre (between the picaresque novel and the poem), or on the absence of a true hero with distinctive features (one either positive or negative), or on descriptions of details that were considered too vulgar. It was also the encounter between that ambiguous textual structure, which parodied and played with the dominant ideology, and a tense and restless socio-political context that generated such opposed and violent reactions among the Russian public. The novel came out just when the finance minister Kankrin was preparing a monetary reform that was to significantly impact the interests of landowners. Moreover, two months before the publication of Gogol’s novel, the Russian government had been promoting a timid and partial reform of serfdom (Polozhenie ob obiazannykh krest’ianakh).221 In March 1842, Nicholas I had given a speech at the Council of State in which he recognized that serfdom was “an evil” and that in the future it would have to change, but he had only given some general guidelines for such changes and had vaguely left their practical realization up to the goodwill of the owners.222 The tsar had talked about the reform in terms so general and vague that it irritated both the progressives and the conservatives. Above all, he had fostered the fears of many landowners, who saw the legal basis for their livelihood and welfare threatened. The mere existence of this possibility had stirred many owners, as the head of the III section wrote in his report to the tsar: “A large part of the landowners have regretfully seen in this law a first step of the government towards further provisions that will end up depriving them of their property, by freeing peasants from the condition of serfdom.”223 Thus Gogol’s novel came out in an environment of social tension and great political expectation. As Dostoevskii wrote, the youth at the time “all seemed to be taken with something, they were all waiting for something.”224 To the noble educated readers—and not only those with a Westernizer orientation but also those who were drawn to Slavophile ideals—the novel seemed to represent an answer to the unrealistic reformist intentions of the government. One reader wrote: “Gogol’ deserves great recognition because he has really shown the substance of things and can tame the arrogance of our reformers from the capital.”225 The grotesque caricatures of the landowners that featured in the novel, underlining their ignorance, their isolation, and the brutality of their landownership, personally irritated numerous readers from that social class: “From every corner of Russia, Gogol’ hears that landowners are insulting him harshly; this is clear proof that his portraits are faithful and that the originals have been correctly spotted! […] Many before have described the daily life of the Russian nobility, but no one has infuriated them like this.”226 Unlike Lermontov’s novel, which questioned the identity and individual values of the contemporary city reader, Gogol’s novel needled the readers from the provinces by raising doubts about their real social position. After years of reading edifying patriotic historical novels, Gogol’s book, with its merciless depiction of Russia’s provincial society, caused those readers to recognize themselves in its caricature-like portraits, provoking their indignant reactions. Konstantin Aksakov reported to the author: “Many landowners are seriously angry and consider you their mortal, personal enemy.”227 He concluded: “All the various Chichikovs and Nozdrevs of the higher or lower level are rising up. The various Manilovs and above all the Korobochkas, they attack Gogol’ with childish ingenuity”.228 Provincial officials had violent reactions, as one firsthand witness reported to Gogol’: “Here I have squabbled with Bulgakov, the governor of Siberia, who is so reminiscent of Dead Souls; apparently he must have recognized himself in some scam or other, the scoundrel.”229 But even in St. Petersburg’s salons, which generally welcomed Gogol’s novel, there were also those who, like Count F.I. Tolstoy, saw in the novel an offense to the honor of the whole homeland and held that Gogol’ was “an enemy of Russia” and that it was necessary “to send him to Siberia with his feet in irons.”230 These reactions alone demonstrate that, when read in its totality, the novel tended to take on a broad symbolic value: it was interpreted not only as a caricature of the Russian landownership or of the provincial society, but as a work that called into question the destiny of all of Russia.

  • 231   On the cover designed by Gogol’, see the observations of N. Tikhonravov in N. V. Gogol’, Sochinen (...)

79In this case, too, the title played a significant role in inspiring divergent interpretations of the work itself. No less ambiguous than the title of A Hero of our Time, the title chosen by Gogol’ for his novel encouraged readers to create, according to their social orientations and positions, the most diverse interpretations. The ambiguity of the title was accentuated by the cover that Gogol’ had personally drawn and had had lithographed for the first edition of his novel, and which he only slightly modified for the 1846 second edition of the novel.231 His contemporaries considered that cover as beautiful as it was eccentric; it undoubtedly attracted the reader’s attention. The title imposed on the author by the censors, “The Adventures of Chichikov,” which evoked the tradition of the picaresque novel, was printed much higher up on the page than was usual at the time, and in letters so small as to appear decidedly marginal.

2. N.V. Gogol’, Book cover for Dead Souls (1842)

2. N.V. Gogol’, Book cover for Dead Souls (1842)
  • 232   Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin,165.

80The reader’s attention was diverted from the title by a whole series of curious little scenes and details of gentry daily life in the provinces. These drew the reader’s gaze away from the top edge of the cover and towards the central part: the image of a horse-drawn carriage riding by, a multitude of bottles of champagne, glasses of various shapes, rich dishes, and other convivial objects. In the central part of the cover, much bigger than the official title, in a font twice as large, there appeared the ambiguous and sacrilegious oxymoron that Gogol’ had chosen as the title of his work, and which the censors had turned into the subtitle: Dead Souls. This inscription was surrounded and emphasized by a thick baroque frame strewn with skulls, with a sketch of the profile of three skeletons. This frame had the primary function of clearly highlighting the allegorical substance of the work for the reader. Visually, the connection between the convivial life of Russia’s provincial nobility and the inscription “Dead Souls” decorated with skeletons and skulls was immediate for the reader: they—and not the peasants—were the “Dead Souls.” Thus, for many readers, the logical connection between the concept of “Dead Souls” and the corrupt owners described in the first chapters became much stronger than that with the deceased peasants whom Chichikov tries to buy. The inverse ratio of magnitude between the title and the subtitle, the former provided in a very small font and the latter in a much larger one, had been reproduced on the frontispiece of the work. It was no coincidence that readers who referred to the novel by the title imposed on it by the censors were few: everyone knew it as Dead Souls. But from a graphic point of view, the cover gave even more credence to the work’s self-identified genre. The word “poem” stood out at the center of the page, in white against a black background, in characters truly gigantic for the time, decorated with a frame supported by two baroque mascarons and a lyre. It was this word that suggested to the Russian reader the epic-national value of the story. The cover itself, therefore, with its three-part structure, suggested to the reader multiple possible and opposed readings of the work: a satirical-realistic reading, an allegorical-religious reading, and an epic-national reading. As noted by a contemporary, there were those who saw the subtitle of the work as a fun joke devised by Gogol’, and there were those who took it seriously: “Some say that Dead Souls is an epic, that they understand the meaning of this title, others see in it a joke.”232

  • 233   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 135.
  • 234   Cf. the opinion of the landowner from the Khar’kiv governatorate Konstantin Ivanovich Markov in S (...)

81In addition to the title and the cover, the narrator’s increasingly emphatic digressions likewise invited the contemporary reader to attribute to the work an ever-broader symbolic and allegorical meaning. To many, the novel appeared as a judgment—almost a divine judgment—on the fate of Russia. A final verdict, however, had not at all been clearly pronounced by the author. In July 1842, Herzen wrote the following in his diary about the debates surrounding Dead Souls: “The Slavophiles and the anti-Slavophiles have split into parties. The former say that it is the apotheosis of Rus’, it is our ‘Iliad,’ and they praise the novel accordingly; the others are furious, they say that in that novel there is an anathema of Rus’ and for this they throw themselves against it. Similarly, the anti-Slavophiles are also split.”233 The fact that many among the public knew that it was only the beginning of an intended trilogy further increased the possible interpretations of the novel’s meaning.234

  • 235   Cf. Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin, 167.

82The public’s first reactions to and variable criticisms of Dead Souls gave rise to a series of opposing interpretative models that, like an invisible trace, profoundly influenced the public’s subsequent opinions of other Russian novels that would be published in the following decades. Once the Russian public became aware, thanks to Dead Souls, of the profoundly political nature of the contemporary Russian novel, it could no longer pretend not to see it. For decades, Russian readers continued to read novels as if they were political treatises, driven by titles like Who is to Blame? by Alexander Herzen, What is to Be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevskii, etc. Moreover, thanks to the work’s intrinsic artistic and ideological ambiguity (it was sometimes interpreted as a realistic work and an accusation, sometimes as a fantastic and grotesque work), Gogol’s novel continued to exert its divisive power on the Russian public far beyond its own era, throughout the twentieth century, creating continuous contrapositions between those readers that emphasized its political nature and those that exalted its fantastic mastery.235

  • 236   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 7, 447.

83In these years, famous critics such as Belinskii quickly dispatched old literary heroes and proclaimed new one like Lermontov and Gogol’, destroyed old idols and imposed new ones—and all of this accelerated not only the transformations of the reading public’s literary tastes but also, given the ideologization of reading itself, the evolution of Russia’s contemporary political conscience. Just four years after the publication of A Hero of our Time, Belinskii wrote: “One cannot fail to be surprised at the speed at which Russian society is moving forward […]. A Hero of our Time was the new Onegin; four years have passed and Pechorin is no longer a current ideal.”236 Five years after the publication of Dead Souls, in 1847, when the Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends (Vybrannye mesta iz perepiski s druz’iami) was published, the critic had already begun to destroy Gogol’s literary and ideological heritage.

84The de-legitimization of the old literary heroes and the imposition of new forms of politicized reading did not escape the authorities’ notice. In February 1848, while reporting to the tsar on the behavior of a young soldier, A. F. Orlov, the head of the gendarmes, clearly underlined how the reading of literary works was becoming more and more a political fact for young people:

  • 237   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 310.

Second Lieutenant Bannikov in his testimony explained that, having developed, thanks to Otechestvennye zapiski, a total lack of respect for our old men of letters, he went from that to disrespecting everything that is respected by others, including the authorities, our current order of things, and even the person of Your Majesty.237

  • 238   Gogol’, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 6, 589.
  • 239   Ibid.
  • 240   D. Fanger, “Gogol and His Reader,” in W. M. Todd III (ed.), Literature and Society in Imperial Ru (...)
  • 241   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 366, note 35.
  • 242   Kraevskii stated that from 1839 on, Notes of the Fatherland’s editors had been flooded with liter (...)
  • 243   Ibid.
  • 244   Ibid., 317-318.
  • 245   Ibid., 316.
  • 246   Ibid., 308.
  • 247   Ibid., 307.
  • 248   Ibid., 307-308.

85Starting from the reactions of the public to Dead Souls during the 1840s, interactions between the public and the novelists became more intimate than in the previous decade. In his introduction to the 1846 second edition of his novel, Gogol’ addressed his readers’ indignant and offended reactions, inviting his readers to collaborate with him. He asked them to send him their notes and detailed reports on their reading of the work, to compare the events of the fictional characters with their personal experiences; he even begged them to suggest possible developments for the stories of his heroes. In his introduction, Gogol’ wrote that the reader had to “carefully observe all the figures that I represented in my book and tell me how that figure should behave in this or that situation; what, judging from the beginning, would happen afterwards to that character; what new circumstances he may come across, and what should be added with respect to what I have already written.”238 He added: “I would like to keep this in mind when there is a new edition of my novel, which will thus appear in a new and better version.”239 Aware of having created divisions and oppositions among the public, and of having failed to create an epic work in which everyone could recognize himself, Gogol’ aspired to a process of collective creation in the sequel, and hoped that he would manage to bring his readers together.240 Forms of collaboration like the one advocated by Gogol’ were certainly an exception, yet in this period the public increasingly began not only to send its reviews to the editors of journals, but also to propose their own amateur works.241 Marshaling their opinions and their preferences, readers substantially influenced the choice of authors and works to be published.242 For example, in March 1844, a reader from Porech’e, a village west of Moscow, wrote to the editorial staff of Otechestvennye zapiski a mistake-ridden letter in which, on behalf of 30 more subscribers from the area, he harshly criticized The Living Dead (Zhivoi mertvets), a work by Prince Odoevskii: “How could you decide to publish such vulgarity in the best Russian journal?! Is it possible that it is only out of respect for his princely title?” As can be seen, political and social sensitivity played a major role in the judgment of this uncultivated provincial reader: “Is it possible that his crest with a crown has moved your indulgence to such an extent as to seriously damage your journal? Here we have so many unworthy princely highnesses, who like geese trace their lineage back to the Romans, and many of them cackle, speak and write exactly like those birds.”243 The reader concluded the letter in a threatening way: “I know more than 30 people subscribed to your journal who believe that this work is exactly as I told you, and they say that if you send us these works again the magazine will not be worth anything and they will not subscribe to it anymore, and that amounts to more than a thousand and five hundred rubles. And I do not know how many of those that I do not know personally also believe the same.”244 The weight of the public’s opinion had become more and more perceptible, despite the ever-growing physical distance between readers and authors. In February 1847, the journalist Galakhov wrote to Kraevskii: “I think sometimes one should not trust too much one’s opinion about a novel, and one has to pay more attention to the criticism of the majority of readers. I give you some examples. You had, and still have, a good opinion of Dostoevskii’s Mr. Prokharchin, and yet all the Muscovite readers (both the educated and the uneducated) have loudly protested against this work.”245 Amazed by the sea of letters that the editors received from an increasingly active public—one that no longer read only passively but also wrote to criticize or approve—Odoevskii himself decided to write an article in 1843 describing this new phenomenon. He wrote: “The editors of Otechestvennye zapiski and Literaturnaia gazeta (The Literary Gazette) no longer know which way to turn for the amount of letters they receive from various provinces: a collection of these letters could make up a curious chapter in the history of our literature, and we are ready to share them with anyone who would like to give a public lecture on this topic.”246 The awareness of the active role played by readers in the literary process was not only increasing among the public; critics were also becoming aware of how the ideologization of readers (i.e. developments that could be traced to their journals) were for the first time aided by the formation of a public sphere in Russia. The magazines represented interpretive communities composed of individuals who shared interests, skills, and often a similar language, aesthetic, and/or ideological orientation. The oft-conflicting interactions between these communities represented the first initial formation of public opinion. In 1847, Belinskii wrote: “Russian criticism now rests on a more solid foundation: now it is no longer to be found only in magazines, but also among the public.”247 And he went on: “Education and culture have openly spread not only among the middle class, and with this I mean the so-called people of various ranks (raznochintsy), but also among the lower classes: now, at least, it is no longer rare to find educated and even cultured people among the merchants or the townspeople (meshchane) [...] It cannot be said in any way that today in Russia there is no civil society and even that there is no public opinion.”248

  • 249   L. McReynolds, The News under Russia’s old Regime. The Development of a Mass Circulation Press (P (...)
  • 250   See Rebecchini, “Reading Foreign Novels,” in the present volume.
  • 251   Galakhov, Zapiski cheloveka, 148.
  • 252   N. G. Patrusheva, I. P. Fut, Tsirkuliary tsenzurnogo vedomstva Rossiiskoi imperii. Sbornik dokume (...)
  • 253   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 116.

86Naturally, this process of democratization and mobilization of public opinion, which shifted the location of contemporary debates from aristocratic salons to the pages of the magazines, was but an initial stage in the formation of Russia’s public sphere.249 Despite censorship of translations, the reading of foreign novels (such as those by George Sand) impacted ongoing challenges to traditional Russian values and caused the adoption of new behavioral patterns no less than debates in Russian magazines did. French novels often communicated their sociopolitical intentions much more explicitly and effectively than was permissible in Russian novels and criticism alike250. Russian novelists and critics were often forced to speak to their audiences ambiguously, counting on the fact that their readers “had learned to read between the lines.”251 Yet this modality of reading “between the lines” had been typical of the progressive aristocratic culture of poetry during the Pushkin era, and it was once more being observed by young readers from various classes; these conditions allowed for the widespread ideologization of literature in a time of strict censorship. Concerned by these developments, the Russian government tried to intervene with what few means it had available: by increasing import taxes on foreign novels and stiffening internal censorship on Russian ones. As early as May 1847, the Minister of Education advised the St. Petersburg censorship committee that “for some time, Russian works such as tales (povesti) and novels have been full of attacks against state officials, presenting this class in the most infamous and ridiculous manner possible,” and urged all the censors to make sure that “such descriptions did not exceed the limits of dignity and taste.” Simultaneously, the printing of Russian novels was permitted “only when the censors are convinced of the purity of the author’s intentions.”252 After 1848, censorship became even more oppressive, with obvious repercussions for the number of novels produced. Forms of ideologized reading shifted to texts from other genres, especially to the physiological sketch, which privileged a more allusive and less direct type of language, while Russian production of novels dropped dramatically. While in 1847 94 Russian novels were published, only one year later, in 1848, the number fell sharply to 42 titles, rising slightly to 51 in 1849, only to decrease to 24 in 1850.253 Yet the polarization of the Russian public and the ideologization of reading had already begun, and these tendencies emerged with renewed force in the mid fifties at the beginning of Alexander II’s period of reforms, which granted greater freedom of the press.

Conclusions

87To conclude, in the 1830s, the success of the Russian novel occurred in a context of general expansion of the reading audience, which was aided by the general decrease of book prices and books’ faster circulation. Thanks to the greater development of the book market, the Russian production of novels became increasingly more differentiated, both in terms of prices and sub-genres, in an attempt to satisfy the increasingly wide readership. During this period, the largest share of the Russian public—made up mainly of small owners from the provinces but also including a growing number of merchants, city clerks and townspeople—changed its reading preferences: rather than the occasional consumption of a limited repertoire of old lubok romances, religious texts, and cheap entertainment books, they now turned mostly to novels, both foreign and Russian alike. The Russian historical novel in particular—the most widespread genre of the 1830s—not only managed to satisfy the curiosity and interests of readers of different ages and social classes, but also contributed to a greater ideological and cultural homogenization and standardization of the Russian public. It was mostly thanks to Russian historical novels that the different members of the Russian reading public discovered their history, a past in which they could recognize themselves. The set of historical stereotypes that these novels spread among their readers contributed significantly to the conceptual foundation of the Russian public’s burgeoning national identity.

88At the beginning of the 1840s, a serious economic crisis exacerbated living conditions, especially in the provinces. Divisions among the public re-emerged, but now they formed differently than they had in the past. Social distinctions decreased, while divisions between readers belonging to distinct generations increased. Readers of the same age but coming from different social groups more often agreed in matters of shared taste and ideological orientation. The success of two Russian novels—Lermontov’s A Hero of our Time and Gogol’s Dead Souls, markedly ambiguous both formally and ideologically—accentuated aesthetic and ideological oppositions among the reading public, oppositions that were virtual non-factors in the previous decade. At the same time, the affirmation of the thick journals, in which the new novels increasingly appeared, accelerated this process of segmentation, ideologization, and radicalization of public opinion—processes that had begun in the early 1840s but expressed themselves more vigorously during the era of major reforms.

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Notes

1   M. N. Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi v XIX veke (Moscow, 1927), 29.

2   By novels, here we mean fictional narratives no shorter than 96 pages (3 printer’s sheets). The estimate includes the reprints of novels published earlier, but not the eighteenth-century lubok romances. Our estimate considers the following repertoires: Rospis’ rossiiskim knigam dlia chteniia iz biblioteki Aleksandra Smirdina, sistematicheskim poriadkom raspolozhennaia (St. Petersburg, 1828); Pervoe priblavlenie k Rospisi rossiiskim knigam Smirdina (St. Petersburg, 1829); Vtoroe pribavlenie k Rospisi rossiiskim knigam (St. Petersburg, 1832).

3Vtoroe priblavlenie k Rospisi rossiiskim knigam (1832); Sistematicheskii reestr russkim knigam s 1831 po 1846, edited by M. D. Ol’khin, (St. Petersburg, 1846). These figures do not include novels published in magazines.

4   W. Pintner, “Government and Industry During the Ministry of Count Kankrin, 1823-1844,” Slavic Review, 23 (1964), 45-62; W. L. Blackwell, The Beginning of Russian Industrialization (Princeton, 1968), 140-144; W. Pintner, Russian Economic Policy Under Nicholas I (Ithaca, 1967).

5   E. S. Korchmina, I. V. Voskoboinikov, “Moglo li izmel’chanie pomeshchich’ikh khoziaistv v kontse XVIII – nachale XIX vv. sdelat’ ikh bolee proizvoditel’nymi?,” in Rus’, Rossiia. Srednevekov’e i Novoe vremja (Moscow, 2015), vol. 4, 458-464.

6   Cf. Blackwell, The Beginning of Russian Industrialization, 72-95.

7   J. Randolph, “Communication and Obligation: The Postal System of the Russian Empire, 1700-1850,” in S. Franklin, K. Bowers (eds), Information and Empire Mechanisms of Communication in Russia,1600–1850 (Cambridge, 2017), 178-179. See, for example, what an average 1830s landowner from Vladimir province, such as Andrei Chikhachev, wrote: “Those who live in the countryside, and never leave it, most likely tend to grow wild. How impatiently you wait, pacing, for the one who went out to the post office, and the more his bag is bulging with packets, the happier you feel.” T. N. Golovina, “Golos iz publiki: chitatel’-sovremennik o Pushkine i Bulgarine,” Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 40 (1999), 11.

8   A. J. Rieber, Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia (Chapel Hill, 1982), 46-50.

9   E. Kimerling Wirtschafter, Social Identity in Imperial Russia (Dekalb, 1997), 33, 67, 71-73.

10   Ibid., 67.

11   Ibid.

12   W. B. Lincoln, In the Vanguard of Reform: Russia’s Enlightened Bureaucrats; 1812-1861 (DeKalb, 1982), 34.

13   A. G. Rashin, Naselenie Rossii za 100 let (Moscow, 1956), 90.

14   D. Brower, “Urbanization and Autocracy: Russian Urban Development in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century,” The Russian Review, 42 (1983), 393-394.

15   A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 16 vols (Moscow, Leningrad, 1949), vol. 11, 247-248.

16   Cf. M. Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 1828-1848, PhD dissertation (Berkeley, 1999), 83-115. See also W. Bruce Lincoln, “The Daily Life of St. Petersburg Officials in the Mid Nineteenth Century,” Oxford Slavonic Papers, n.s. 8 (1975), 87-88.

17   Cited in V. V. Poznanskii, Ocherk formirovaniia russkoi natsional’noi kul’tury. Pervaia polovina XIX veka (Moscow, 1975), 58

18   A. G. Rashin, “Gramotnost’ i narodnoe obrazovanie v Rossii v XIX i nachale XX v.,” Istoricheskie zapiski, 37 (1951), 50.

19   Rashin, “Gramotnost’ i narodnoe obrazovanie,” 72; see also Kimerling Wirtschafter, Social Identity in Imperial Russia, 66-67.

20   Rashin, “Gramotnost’ i narodnoe obrazovanie,” 52.

21   Kimerling Wirtschafter, Social Identity in Imperial Russia, 66.

22   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 92-96. According to Boris Mironov, at the beginning of nineteenth century literacy was highest among the nobility (84 to 87 percent), followed by the merchants (over 75 percent), then the meshchanstvo (townspeople), workers (rabotnye), and peasants. Literacy varied considerably among the diverse social groups making up the peasantry. Regional variations were also important. By the end of the eighteenth century the level of literacy among male peasants ranged from 1 to 12 percent, in 1847 it reached an average of 10 percent. By the end of eighteenth century literacy among urban dwellers ranged to approximately 20 percent, in 1847 it increased to 30 percent. See B. N. Mironov, “The Development of Literacy in Russia and the USSR from the Tenth to the Twentieth Centuries,” History of Education Quarterly, vol. 31, 2 (Summer, 1991), 234-242.

23   N. M. Karamzin, “On The Book Trade and Love of Reading in Russia,” in N. M. Karamzin, Selected Prose, trans. Henry M. Nebel (Evanston, 1969), 186.

24   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences.

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

26   Ibid., p. 47.

27   We also have testimonies of Siberian peasant readers in the first half of the nineteenth century. See A. F. Volodkovich, “Lichnye biblioteki i krug chteniia soslovnykh ‘nizov’ Sibiri (pervaia polovina XIX v.),” in Knizhnoe delo v Sibiri (konets XVIII-nachalo XX veka) (Novosibirsk, 1991), 29-32.

28  Cf. “Sostoianie gramotnosti mezhdu kupechestvom i zhiteliam podatnogo sostoianiia v Saratovskoi Gubernii,” Zhurnal Ministerstva Vnutrennikh del, 14 (1846), 525-528 Cf. A. V. Blium, “Massovoe chtenie v russkoi provintsii kontsa XVIII – pervoi chetverti XIX v.,” in I. E. Barenbaum (ed.), Istoriia russkogo chitatelia (Leningrad, 1973), I, 42; A. I. Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii. Istoriko-sotsiologicheskie ocherki o knizhnoi kul’ture pushkinskoi epokhi (Moscow, 2001), 14.

29   I. M. Bogdanov, Gramotnost’ i obrazovanie v dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii v SSSR (Moscow, 1964), 20 (data from Zhurnal Ministerstva vnutrennikh del, 14 (1846), 525-528).

30   Crown serfs (udel’nye krestiane) made up 5.6% of the non-noble literate population, while state serfs constituted 2.7%, and those who worked for local landowners 1.2%.

31   P. Miliukov, Ocherki po istorii russkoi kul’tury. Ocherk sed’moi, Shkola i obrazovanie (St. Petersburg, 1899) 342. A discussion of such data may likewise be found in A. Besançon, Éducation et société en Russie dans le second tiers du XIXe siècle (Paris, La Haye, 1974), 19-20. State serfs were subjects of the Ministry of State Property and contributed to the treasury in the form of quit-rent. Appanage serfs (or crown serfs) belonged to the royal family, to whom they paid rent and bore service obligations, and were subjects of the Ministry of the Imperial Court

32   See Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 225 and V. E. Vatsuro, Goticheskii roman v Rossii (Moscow, 2002), 211.

33   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 72.

34   According to Grech, in 1825 publishing in Russia cost one third of what it did in Paris; S. Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin. Literaturnye dokhody Pushkina, (Leningrad, 1930), 21-22. On the decrease in the price of books, cf. A. Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres et la littérature professionnelle en Russie (Paris, 1966), 481-489. On the general improvement of the quality of books, see Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 125-129.

35   Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres, 466-518; Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 136-144; A. I. Reitblat, in Ot Bovy k Bal’montu i drugie raboty po istoricheskoi sotsiologii russkoi literatury (Moscow, 2009), 38-72. On provincial public libraries, see Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 181-185; K. I. Abramov, Gorodskie publichnye biblioteki Rossii: Istoriia stanovleniia (1830–nachalo 1860-kh gg.) (Moscow, 2001); S. Smith-Peter, Imagining Russian Regions. Subnational Identity and Civil Society in Nineteenth-Century Russia (Leiden, 2017), 68-84.

36   The importance that the increase in available capital had for the development of the Russian book market has been correctly underlined by Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 144. On the improvements in the postal service, see J. Randolph, “Communication and Obligation: The Postal System of the Russian Empire, 1700-1850,” 178-179.

37   On Smirdin, see T. Grits, V. Trenin, M. Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia (Knizhnaia lavka A. F. Smirdina), pod red. V. B. Shklovskogo, B. M. Eikhenbauma, (Moscow, 1929); N. P. Smirnov-Sokol’skii, Knizhnaia lavka A. F. Smirdina (Moscow, 1957); L. S. Kishkin, Chestnyi, dobryi, prostodushnyi… Trudy i dni Aleksandra Filippovicha Smirdina (Moscow, 1995).

38   Grits, Trenin, Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia, 239-240.

39   On the reading of dreambooks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, see F. Wigzell, Reading Russian Fortunes. Print Cultures, Gender and Divination in Russia from 1765 (Cambridge, 1998), 65-87.

40Materialy dlia istorii russkoi knizhnoi torgovli (St. Petersburg, 1879), 8.

41   Cit. in M. V. Muratov, Knizhnoe delo v Rossii v XIX i XX vekakh: ocherk istorii knigoizdatel’stva i knigotorgovli, 1800-1917 gody, (Moscow, Leningrad, 1931), 75.

42   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 169.

43   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 52-53.

44   Cf. V. Rjéoutski, N. Speranskaya, “The Francophone Press in Russia: A Cultural Bridge and an Instrument of Propaganda,” in D. Offord, L. Ryazanova-Clarke, V. Rjéoutski, G. Argent (eds.), French and Russian in Imperial Russia: Language Use among the Russian Elite (Edinburgh, 2015), I, 84-102.

45   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 122, 448-449.

46   Ibid., 122, 449. In a mere five years, from 1835 to 1840, the annual production of books in Russian went from 708 to 867 titles. Literary works, which made up most of Russia’s book production, increased even more, from 185 in 1835 to 301 in 1840. See Muratov, Knizhnoe delo v Rossii, 66-67.

47Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli i izdatel’skoi deiatel’nosti Glazunovykh za sto let 1782-1882 (St. Petersburg, 1883), 62.

48 Ibid., 55.

49   Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres, 483. Unless otherwise stated, all the prices indicated in this chapter are understood to be in assignation rubles and not in silver rubles. In 1838 one assignation ruble was worth 28.6 silver kopecks.

50   Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 19.

51   Cf. Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 452.

52   Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres, 483.

53   Cited in Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 17.

54   N. Polevoi, Materialy po istorii literatury i zhurnalistiki 30kh godov XIX veka (Leningrad, 1934), 334.

55   Cf. D. I. Raskin, “Zhalovanie na gosudarstvennoi sluzhbe,” in Russkie pisateli. 1800-1917. Biograficheskii slovar’ (Moscow, 1992), vol. 2, 609 and Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 19.

56   Letter to M. P. Pogodin of 11 July 1832, in Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 14, 27.

57   Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 139. According to Pushkin in particular, during the 1830s, Russian poetry did not meet the interest of a large part of the female reading audience. On the reasons for this lack of interest among female readers, see A.S. Pushkin, “Otryvki iz pisem, myslei i zamechanii,” in Idem, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, XI, 52.

58   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 273-274.

59   Cf. A. I. Reitblat, Biblioteki dlia chteniia i ikh chitateli, in Idem, in Ot Bovy k Bal’montu, 54-72.

60   The existence of this deposit raises some doubts as to the effective democratization of reading allowed by circulating libraries: Smirdin’s library required the entire price of the book or 25 rubles as a deposit. It is probable, though, that in less prestigious or in provincial circulating libraries the deposit could have been lower; cf. Rospis’ rossiiskim knigam dlia chteniia iz biblioteki Aleksandra Smirdina, I-II.

61   Cf. I. Watt, The Rise of the Novel. Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (London, 1972), 47.

62   Cited in Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 179.

63   F. V. Bulgarin, Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin (St. Petersburg, 1831), vol. 4, 327.

64   Cf. [A. Ia. Storozhenko], “Mysli Malorossiianina,” Syn otechestva, 25, 1 (1832), 48, cited in Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 179.

65   Cf. Miranda Beaven Remnek, “Russian Literary Almanacs of the 1820s and Their Legacy,” Publishing History, 17 (1985), 65-86; A. I. Reitblat, “Literaturnyi al’manakh 1820-1830kh gg. kak sotsiokul’turnaia forma,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 70-81.

66   Cf. L. Ia. Ginzburg, “Biblioteka dlia chteniia v 30-kh godakh. O. I. Senkovskii,” in Ocherki po istorii russkoi zhurnalistiki i kritiki, vol 1: XVIII vek i pervaia polovina XIX veka (Leningrad, 1950), vol. 2, 324-341; W. M. Todd III, “Periodicals in Literary Life of the Early Nineteenth Century,” in D. A. Martinsen (ed.), Literary Journals in Imperial Russia (Cambridge, 1997), 53-59; A. I. Reitblat, “Tolstyi zhurnal i ego publika,” in Idem, Ot Bovy k Bal’montu, 38-41.

67   On the readers of Biblioteka dlia chteniia, cf. L. Ia. Ginzburg, “Biblioteka dlia chteniia v 30-kh godakh. O. I. Senkovskii,” in Ocherki po istorii russkoi zhurnalistiki i kritiki, vol 1: XVIII vek i pervaia polovina XIX veka, (Leningrad, 1950), 327. On the number of readers, cf. N. I. Mordovchenko, “Zhurnalistika dvadtsatykh i tridtsatykh godov,” in Istoriia russkoi literatury (Moscow, 1953), vol. 6, 594, 608; M. Frazier, Romantic Encounters. Writers, Readers and the “Library for Reading” (Stanford, 2007), 23.

68   Cf. J. Randolph, “Communication and Obligation: The Postal System of the Russian Empire, 1700-1850,” 155.

69   V. G. Belinskii, “Nichto o nichem, ili otchet g. izdateliu ‘Teleskopa’ za poslednee polugodie” (1836), in Idem, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 13 vols (Moscow, 1953-1959), vol. 2, 20.

70   Todd, “Periodicals in Literary Life of the Early Nineteenth Century,” 55.

71   See chapter 3 of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: “The Division of Labour is limited by the extent of the Market,” in A. Smith, The Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (Oxford, 1979), vol. 2, 31-36.

72   On this, cf. D. Rebekkini, “Russkie istoricheskie romany v 30kh gg XIX veka,” Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 34 (1998), 421-426.

73   Karamzin, “On the Book Trade and Love of Reading in Russia,” 189.

74   On thick journals and their audience in the 1830s, cf. A. I. Reitblat, Tolstyi zhurnal i ego publika, in Idem, Ot Bovy k Bal’montu, 38-53.

75   On the decrease in the number of pages in Russian novels in the mid 1830s, cf. Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 274.

76   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 5, 186.

77Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 79-80.

78   A. G. Tartakovskii, Russkaia memuaristika XVIII-pervoi poloviny XIX v.: ot rukopisi k knige (Moscow, 1991), 135-221.

79   Ibid, 186.

80   V. P. Kozlov, “Istoriia Gosudarstva Rossiiskogo” v otsenkakh sovremennikov (Moscow, 1989), 21.

81   Ibid., 23.

82   A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 16 vols, (Moscow, Leningrad, 1937-1959), vol. 14, 252-253.

83   Kozlov, “Istoriia Gosudarstva Rossiiskogo” v otsenkakh sovremennikov , 27.

84   Ibid., 31.

85   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 171.

86   Tartakovskii, Russkaia memuaristika, 186.

87   On the joint reading of novels and memoirs, cf. D. Rebekkini, “V. A. Zhukovskii i frantsuzskie memuary pri dvore Nikolaia I (1828-1837). Kontekst chteniia i ego interpretatsiia,” in Pushkinskie chteniia v Tartu, III (Tartu, 2004), 229-253. Cf. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 11, 98.

88   Cf. R. N. Kleimenova, Knizhnaia Moskva v pervoi polovine XIX veka (Moscow, 1991), 29-32; Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 450.

89   Cf. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 11, 92.

90   See, for example, what O. Senkovskii writes in Biblioteka dlia chteniia, 1834, vol. 2, section 5, 14-15. Also cf. Biblioteka dlia chteniia, 1834, vol. 4, sect. 2, 19; 1834, vol. 5, sect. 2, 109; 1835, vol. 13, sect. 2, 63-64.

91   V. G. Belinskii, “Vzgliad na russkuiu literaturu za 1847,” Idem, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol 10, 316.

92   R. LeBlanc, The Russianization of Gil Blas: A Study in Literary Appropriation, (Columbus, Ohio, 1986), 146.

93   On the newspaper Severnaia pchela, cf. N. Schleifman, “A Russian Daily Newspaper and its New Readership: Severnaia Pchela, 1825-1840,” Cahiers du Monde et Russian soviétique, XXVIII (2), avril-juin 1987, 134.

94   A. I. Reitblat (ed.), Vidok Figliarin. Pis’ma i agenturnye Zapiski F.V. Bulgarina v III Otdelenie (Moscow 1998), 46-47. On the circulation of the first edition of the novel Ivan Vyzhigin by Bulgarin, cf. Otechestvennye Zapiski, 1829, n. 108, 137. Cf. Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 51.

95   See Grits, Trenin, Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia, 227.

96   LeBlanc, The Russianization of Gil Blas, 145-200.

97   Ibid., 42-43.

98   Cf. ibid., 86, 145-146.

99   It is no coincidence that Nicholas I and Benkendorf proposed it as a recommended reading to the Decembrist Kornilovich who was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Cf. P. E. Shchegolev, “Blagorazumnye sovety iz kreposti,” Sovremennik, vol. 2, 1913, 293.

100   Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 102.

101Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovlii, 51.

102   Cited in Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 101.

103   Ibid.

104   Cited in V. P. Meshcheriakov, A. I. Reitblat, “Bulgarin,” in Russkie pisateli. 1800-1917. Biograficheskii slovar’ (Moscow 1989), vol. 1, 350.

105   Cf. Ju. Striedter, Der Schelmenroman in Russland: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des russischen Romans vor Gogol’ (Berlin, 1961), 213.

106   Meynieux, Pouchkine homme de lettres, 509.

107   Our estimates consider only novels published in volume form and not in journals, which were nevertheless a minority. To distinguish novels from povesti, we considered only those works longer than 96 pages (3 printer’s sheets). Our estimate was calculated starting from the following repertoires: Rospis’ rossiiskim knigam dlia chteniia iz biblioteki Aleksandra Smirdina (1828); Pervoe pribavlenie k Rospisi rossiiskim knigam Smirdina (1829); Vtoroe pribavlenie k Rospisi rossiiskim knigam (1832); Sistematicheskii reestr russkim knigam s 1831 po 1846, edited by M. D. Ol’khin, (St. Petersburg, 1846).

108   Cf. Rebekkini, Russkie istoricheskie romany, 419.

109   Ibid., 418.

110   For Roslavlev, cf. the sales ad in Literaturnaia Gazeta, n. 33 of June 10, 1831.

111   Letter by Zagoskin to M. E. Lobanov of 9.4.1830, in A. O. Kruglyi, “M.E. Lobanov i ego otnosheniia k Gnedichu i Zagoskinu,” Istoricheskii vestnik, avg. 1880, 697.

112   Cfr. D. Rebecchini, “Reading Novels at the Winter Palace under Nicholas I: from the Tsar to the Stokers,” Slavic Review, 78, 4 (Winter 2019), 980-985.

113   P. A. Pletnev, Dnevnik zaniatiia s det’mi Nikolaia I, Rukopisnyi otdel IRLI, Arkhiv P. A. Pletneva. 1829-1830, fond 234, op. 1, ed. 2, l. 17 ob, l. 20 ob.

114   On the 1830s and 1840s novels dedicated to the 1812 war see D. Rebecchini, Il Business della storia: il 1812 e il romanzo russo della prima metà dell’Ottocento fra ideologia e mercato (Salerno, 2016).

115   Cf. Rebekkini, “Russkie istoricheskie romany,” 421; Rebecchini, Il Business della storia, 210-212. Different data are reported in D. Ungurianu, Plotting History. The Russian Historical Novel in the Imperial Age (Madison, Wisconsin, 2007), 260.

116   See Leibov, Vdovin, “What and How Russian Pupils Read in School,” in the present volume.

117   B. Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and the Spread of Nationalism (London, New York, 1991), 25.

118   Cf. Reitblat, “F. V. Bulgarin i ego chitateli,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 103.

119   Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 128, 234-235.

120   Cf. V. A. Pokrovskii, “Problema vozniknoveniia russkogo ‘nravstvenno-satiricheskogo romana’ (O genezise Ivana Vyzhigina),” Izvestiia AN SSSR, seriia VII, otdelenie obshchestvennykh nauk, 8 (1932), 940.

121   D. Rebekkini, “Pervyi russkii istoricheskii roman o voine 1812 goda ‘Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin’ Faddeia Bulgarina i ego chitateli,” in A. I. Reitblat (ed.), F. V. Bulgarin – pisatel’, zhurnalist, teatral’nyi kritik. Sbornik statei (Moscow, 2019), 423-442.

122   See the subscription lists in F. V. Bulgarin, Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin, vol. 4, 295-340.

123   Letter from Pushkin to P. A. Pletnev of April 11, 1831, in Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 14, 161.

124   Bulgarin, Petr Ivanovich Vyzhigin, vol. 4, 295-340.

125   On this, cf. Rebekkini, “Russkie istoricheskie romany,” 421-428. Cf. f.i. Vestnik Evropy, 1828, vol. 15 (July-August 1828), 231-232.

126   V. Odoevskii, “O vrazhde k prosveshcheniiu zamechaemoi v noveishei literature,” Sovremennik, 1836, vol. 2, 207; also cf. V. Odoevskii, “Kak pishutsia u nas romany,” Sovremennik, 1836, vol. 3, 48-51.

127   Cf. S. [Liubets]kii, Tan’ka razboinitsa Rastokinskaia, ili tsarskie terema, istoricheskaia povest’ XVIII stoletiia (Moscow, 1834), vol. 1, 121.

128   A. Grigor’ev, Vospominaniia (Moscow, 1988), 79.

129   Ibid., 76-77.

130Moskovskii Telegraf, 1832, vol. 18, 253.

131   Cf. N. V. Gogol’, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14 vols (Moscow, 1937-1952), vol. 8, 199-200.

132   Ibid.

133   A. I. Reitblat, “Moskovskaia nizovaia knizhnost’,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 157-181; A. I. Feduta, “Kto b ni byl ty, o moi chitatel’…”: problema chitatelia v literature pushkinskoi epokhi (Minsk, 2015), 234-242.

134Syn otechestva, 27 (1831), 60-68; Severnaia pchela, 46 and 201 (1831). On Bulgarin’s subsequent protests cf. M. K. Lemke, Nikolaevskie zhandarmy i literatura. 1826-1855 (St. Petersburg, 1909), 284-286.

135   Cf. A. I. Reitblat, “Russkie ‘bestsellery’ pervoi poloviny XIX veka,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 197.

136   Cf. Reitblat, “Moskovskaia nizovaia knizhnost’,” 176.

137   Ibid.

138Moskovskii Telegraf, 1831, vol. 5, 106-107.

139   A. A. Orlov, “Pis’mo ministru narodnogo prosvescheniia S. S. Uvarovu,” Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 40 (1999), 187-192. See also Reitblat, “Moskovskaia nizovaia knizhnost’,” 175.

140   Original titles: Nekolebimaia druzhba chukhlomskikh zhitelei Kruchinina i Skudoumova; Zevak na Makar’evskoi iarmonke; Perelomlennaia noga, ili Kupecheskie gulianki na iarmarke.

141   Reitblat, “Moskovskaia nizovaia knizhnost’,” 175-176.

142   Besançon, Éducation et société en Russie, 15

143   A. I. Reitblat, “Tsenzura narodnykh knig,” in Idem, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, 182.

144   Reitblat, “Tsenzura narodnykh knig,” 184.

145   Cited in A. Kotovich, Dukhovnaia tsenzura v Rossii. (1799-1855) (St. Petersburg, 1909), 301.

146   On him, cf. D. Rebecchini, “Fedot Kuzmichev, un servo della gleba nella campagna contro Napoleone. Guerra e letteratura popolare in Russia ai tempi di Gogol’,” Acme, vol. 51, 2 (May-August 1998), 205-217, and A. I. Reitblat, “F. Kuzmichev”, in Russkie pisateli. 1800-1917. Biograficheskii slovar’ (Moscow, 1994), vol. 3, 208-209.

147   On these works, cf. Rebecchini, “Fedot Kuzmichev,” 205-217.

148   Iu. M. Lotman, “Massovaia literatura kak istoriko-literaturnaia problema,” in Idem, Izbrannye stat’i, 3 vols (Tallin, 1993), vol. 3, 386.

149Moskovskii Telegraf, 1831, vol. 5, 106-107.

150   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 3, 83.

151   Gogol’, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 11, 269.

152   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 111.

153 Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 5, 200-201. See also Pribavlenie k Sankt Peterburgskim Vedomostiam, 1843, n. 234, 2. In his In the World (V liudiakh), Maksim Gor’kii recalls how Bulgarin’s novel Ivan Vyzhigin was still being read out loud among the minor craftsmen of Nizhnii Novgorod in the early 1880s. Cfr M. Gor’kii, Sobranie sochinenii, 30 vols. (Moscow, 1951), vol. 13, 417.

154   N. G. Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa o peterburgskoi knizhnoi torgovle za piatidesiatiletie do 1870, in Materialy dlia istorii russkoi knizhnoi torgovli (St. Petersburg, 1879), 46-52.

155   Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa, 14.

156   The rest of Smirdin’s stock was sold partly to second-hand booksellers who supplied provincial fairs, and partly to the St. Petersburg bookseller Ol’chin. Cf. Grits, Trenin, Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia, 349-350.

157Severnaia pchela of 15 February 1847, n. 36, 1.

158   Ibidem. See the memories of one of these street vendors in N. I. Sveshnikov, Vospominaniia propashchego cheloveka (Moscow, 1996).

159   On Smirdin’s book lotteries, cf. Grits, Trenin, Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia, 353-355 and Muratov, Knizhnoe delo v Rossii, 74.

160   Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa, 15.

161Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 71. See also Gessen, Knigoizdatel ‘Aleksandr Pushkin, 146.

162Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 81.

163   Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa, 30-32

164   On the reasons for Smirdin’s bankruptcy, see Kishkin, Chestnyi, dobryi, prostodushnyi, 68-78.

165   Ovsiannikov, Vospominaniia starogo knigoprodavtsa, 33-34.

166Kratkii obzor knizhnoi torgovli, 79-80.

167   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 5, 186.

168Severnaia pchela, 19 February 1844, n. 39, 1 cited in A. I. Reitblat, “Tolstyi zhurnal i ego publika,” Idem, Ot Bovy k Bal’montu, 38.

169   V. I. Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov XIX v. (Moscow, 1958), 319.

170   Ibid., p. 320.

171   A. D. Galakhov, Zapiski cheloveka (Moscow, 1999), 185.

172   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 319.

173   Ch. A. Ruud, Fighting Words: Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 1804-1906, 2nd ed. (Toronto, Buffalo, London, 2009), 96. For an overview of the journals from the 1840s, cf. R. L. Belknap, “Survey of Russian Journals, 1840-1880,” in D. A. Martinsen (ed.), Literary Journals in Imperial Russia (Cambridge, 1997), 91-101.

174   Ruud, Fighting Words, 80.

175   In the same period in France, where there was a larger number of magazines, the Revue des Deux Mondes had 2500 subscriptions in 1848. Cf. Ruud, Fighting Words, 95, 278.

176   Cf. M. I. Gillel’son, P. A. Viazemskii: zhizn’ i tvorchestvo (Leningrad, 1969), 324. The figure should not be taken literally, and may appear excessive, but it indicates a ratio of 20 readers to each subscription, which in several cases, as with subscriptions taken out to circulating libraries or literary cafes, might be a realistic estimate. On the ratio of subscriptions to readers, see also the estimates of Reitblat, “Tolstyi zhurnal i ego publika,” 47-48. On group reading in urban areas, see A. S. Pavlova, “Chitatel’ moskovskogo universiteta pervoi poloviny XIX v.,” in I. E. Barenbuam (ed.), Istoriia russkogo chitatelia, vol. 1 (Leningrad, 1973), 58-76.

177   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 305.

178   Cf. Pavlova, “Chitatel’ moskovskogo universiteta,” 62.

179   Cit. in Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 305.

180   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 320-321.

181   Galakhov, Zapiski cheloveka, 155.

182   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 5, 200-201.

183   April 16, 1840 letter from Belinskii to Botkin in Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 11, 505, and February 19, 1840 letter to Botkin in Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 11, 453.

184   V. I. Vagin, “40-e goda v Irkutske,” in Literaturnyi sbornik. Sobranie nauchnykh i literaturnykh statei o Sibiri i Aziatskom vostoke (St. Petersburg, 1885), 265.

185   E. Gershtein, Sud’ba Lermontova, 2nd edition (Moscow, 1986), 63-64.

186   Ibid. See also B. M. Eikhenbaum, “Nikolai I o Lermontove,” in Idem, O proze. Sbornik statei (Leningrad, 1969), 425.

187   Ibid.

188   Gershtein, Sud’ba Lermontova, 73.

189   Ibid.

190   Cited in A. Sidorova, Obrazovat’ v detiakh um, serdtse i dushu.” Vospitanie velikikh kniazei v sem’iakh imperatorov Nikolaia I i Aleksandra II (Moscow, 2019), 179.

191   See in particular his review in Notes of the Fatherland of July 1840 (NN. 6-7), especially where the critic writes about how many blamed Lermontov for the novel’s absence of “moral judgments” (Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 4, 235).

192   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 44-45.

193   Cf. A. S. Bodrova, “K istorii posmertnykh izdanii Lermontova: Slovesnost’, kommertsiia i institut avtorskogo prava v nachale 1840-kh godov,” Russkaia literatura, 3 (2014), 49.

194   However, a note by Kraevskii in 1844 suggests that not all the copies were immediately sold; only the first run was. Out of the 3600 copies comprising the three editions printed between 1840 and 1842, 2088 copies were sold immediately, while some of the other copies were either given away or lost. In April 1844, 1090 copies remained unsold. Cf. V. Manuilov, “Lermontov i Kraevskii,” Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vol. 40-41 (Moscow, 1948), 384.

195   M. Iu. Lermontov, A Hero of our Time, translated by J. H. Wisdom, M. Murray (New York, 1916), 334.

196 Ibid., 333.

197   Ibid., 335.

198   Cited in Iu. Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi. “Mertvye dushi”: pisatel’, kritika, chitatel’ (Moscow, 1984), 124.

199   Ibid., 125.

200   S. Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin, 145-146.

201   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 125.

202   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 319.

203   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 126.

204   Ibid., 126-127.

205   Ibid., 127.

206   Ibid. About Dostoevskii’s testimony, cf. F. M. Dostoevskii, Ob iskusstve (Moscow, 1973), 297.

207   Cf. V. I. Shenrok, Materialy dlia biografii Gogolia (Moscow, 1897), vol. 4, 551.

208   Regarding this, readers were influenced by two famous critics of the time: Gogol’s novel was compared to Paul de Kock’s novels by both F. V. Bulgarin, who, in Severnaia Pchela defined it a “work à la Paul De Kock,” and by O. I. Senkovskii in Biblioteka dlia chteniia. See Severnaia pchela, 1842, No. 279 and 1843, No. 18; Biblioteka dlia chteniia 1842, sect. 8, 51-53.

209   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 132.

210   Ibid., 133.

211   Ibid., 130.

212 Ibid., 132.

213   W. M. Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin (Cambridge, MA, London, 1986) 175.

214   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 131.

215   P. I. Orlova-Savina, Avtobiografiia (Moscow, 1994), 183.

216   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 131-132.

217 Ibid., 131.

218   Vagin, “40-e goda v Irkutske,” 265.

219   Ibid..

220   Ibid.

221   Cf. D. Field, The End of the Serfdom. Nobility and Bureaucracy in Russia, 1855-1861 (Cambridge, London, 1976), 59.

222   Cf. Nikolai I, “Rech’ v zasedanii Gosudarstvennogo Soveta 30 marta 1842,” in Filin M.D. (ed.), Imperator Nikolai I (Moscow, 2002), 243-245.

223   E. I. Shcherbakova, M. V. Sidorova (eds.), Rossiia pod nadzorom. Otchety III otdeleniia, 1827-1869 (Moscow, 2006), 293.

224   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 127.

225   Ibid., 128.

226   Ibid., 129.

227   Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin, 165.

228   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 145.

229   Ibid., 129.

230   Ibid.

231   On the cover designed by Gogol’, see the observations of N. Tikhonravov in N. V. Gogol’, Sochineniia, izd. 10e (Moscow, 1889), vol. 3, 477, and E. A. Smirnova, Poema Gogolia “Mertvye dushi” (Leningrad, 1987), 76-78.

232   Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin,165.

233   Mann, V poiskakh zhivoi dushi, 135.

234   Cf. the opinion of the landowner from the Khar’kiv governatorate Konstantin Ivanovich Markov in Shenrok, Materialy dlia biografii Gogolia (Moscow, 1897), vol. 4, 551.

235   Cf. Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin, 167.

236   Belinskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 7, 447.

237   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 310.

238   Gogol’, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 6, 589.

239   Ibid.

240   D. Fanger, “Gogol and His Reader,” in W. M. Todd III (ed.), Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914, (Stanford, 1978), 90.

241   Kuleshov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 366, note 35.

242   Kraevskii stated that from 1839 on, Notes of the Fatherland’s editors had been flooded with literary works and materials sent by readers; cf. Kulesov, Otechestvennye zapiski i literatura 40kh godov, 366.

243   Ibid.

244   Ibid., 317-318.

245   Ibid., 316.

246   Ibid., 308.

247   Ibid., 307.

248   Ibid., 307-308.

249   L. McReynolds, The News under Russia’s old Regime. The Development of a Mass Circulation Press (Princeton, 1991), 6-7.

250   See Rebecchini, “Reading Foreign Novels,” in the present volume.

251   Galakhov, Zapiski cheloveka, 148.

252   N. G. Patrusheva, I. P. Fut, Tsirkuliary tsenzurnogo vedomstva Rossiiskoi imperii. Sbornik dokumentov (St. Petersburg, 2016), 74.

253   Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi, 116.

Table des illustrations

Titre 1. Aleksandr Smirdin’s bookshop. A detail from the cover of Novosel’e, vol. 2. 1834.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ledizioni/docannexe/image/12866/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Titre 2. N.V. Gogol’, Book cover for Dead Souls (1842)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ledizioni/docannexe/image/12866/img-2.jpg
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Auteur

Damiano Rebecchini is Professor of Russian Literature at Università degli Studi di Milano. His research interests include Russian literature of the nineteenth century, the Court Culture, and the history of reading in Russia. He is the author of Il business della Storia. Il 1812 e il romanzo russo della prima metà dell’Ottocento fra ideologia e mercato (Salerno, 2016) and co-editor of the volume Reading in Russia. Practices of reading and literary communication, 1760-1930 (Milan, 2014). In recent years, his research has been focusing on the education of Tsar Alexander II. He is also the translator of Dostoevskii’s Crime and Punishment (Milan, Feltrinelli, 2013) and Gogol’s Petersburg Tales (Milan, Feltrinelli, 2020).

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