Alexander Pushkin's Novel in Verse, «Eugene Onegin», and Its Legacy in the Work of Vladimir Nabokov

Renate Lachmann

Translated by Mark Pettus

 

Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse Eugene Onegin (1833) overcame thresholds imposed by the conventions of genre and style to become a threshold text itself over the course of its canonization; marked by inno­vation and a sharp break with tradition, it is a text that divides Russian literature into a “before” and “after.” Contemporary literary criticism la­beled it an “encyclopedia of Russian society”—a label that, throughout the history of its interpretation, certainly obscured the purely literary encyclo­pedism of the text. Eugene Onegin is a highly complex text, featuring self-commentary, meta-textuality, allusions to other texts, and parody, in which pre-Romantic and Romantic European literature is digested and broken down. The canonization process that produced Alexander Pushkin the “classic” author, and the strain exerted upon the Pushkin “legacy” by subsequent generations of poets, have played a decisive role in Russia’s cultural self-conception. Particularly prominent in this process was Vladi­mir Nabokov, whose émigré works reclaimed the Pushkin legacy, and who thereby made his own contribution to the canonization process, as Push­kin’s literary double.

Read more ...

"Portable Graveyards": Albums in the Romantic Culture of Memory

Justyna Beinek

 

In his 1820 tongue-in-cheek article in the journal Blagonamerennyi (The Benevolent One), a certain “N. Virsheeskii” complains about the then fashionable “invention” of albums and their detrimental effect on literary culture: “Now all new poems and prose are devoured by these portable graveyards to the detriment of Poetry and Eloquence.” Despite his appar­ent goal of destroying the reputation of the album, this fictional self-professed “scholar from Koltovskaia” quite well articulates the complex­ities and uses of the album. He notes the album’s open, hybrid structure by describing a “terrifying mix” of poetry, prose, drawings, and musical notes “thrown together” and “without any order.” He points out that the album is a “collection” of “names of authors,” and its woman owner fre­quently acts like a “conqueror,” demonstrating his intuitive understanding of how albums operate within the realms of literary and erotic collecting. He also very aptly calls albums “portable graveyards” (podvizhnye klad­bishcha), thus noting one of the album’s most important facets, its link to the Romantic fascination with death, memory, and a belief that writing has the power to bridge the two.[1] Almost a decade later Evgeny Baratyn­sky would also call the album a graveyard in his poem “V al´bom” (In an Album; 1829), penned in fellow-poet Karolina Pavlova’s album. His meta-album poem, starting with the words “Al´bom pokhodit na kladbishche…” (The album resembles a cemetery) offers a poetic conceptualization of the album as a cultural artifact. Both the fictional scholar and the poet—in different registers and at different points of the Golden Age—interpret the album as a space where memory of the dead is preserved via material ob­jects, as well as the writing of names and inscriptions. Likewise, most of the writers of the Pushkin period and, indeed, most of the literate popula­tion of the time, were engaged in album culture.

Read more ...