Tragedy in the Balkans: Pushkin's Critique of Romantic Ideology in «The Gypsies»

Maksim Hanukai

Among the many colorful escapades that Pushkin is said to have taken part in during his famed Southern exile were the several weeks that he spent among a nomadic gypsy tribe in Moldavia. According to an oral account passed on to her nephew by Pushkin's Kishinev acquaintance Ekaterina Zakhar´evna Stamo (née Ralli), the twenty-two-year-old poet was accompanying Stamo's brother Konstantin on a visit to Dolna when he met and fell madly in love with a beautiful gypsy girl named Zemfira. The daughter of the respected tribe elder (buli-basha), Zemfira was a tall girl with large black eyes and long undulating braids who dressed like a man, wore colorful trousers (sharovary), and smoked a pipe. Pushkin was so enchanted by Zemfira's beauty that he asked Konstantin if he could stay with the tribe. And so he settled there for several weeks, during which time he and Zemfira could be seen strolling together in the woods, holding each other's hands, and, unable to speak the same tongue, communicating by pantomime. This idyll came to an abrupt end when Pushkin began to suspect Zemfira of infidelity. Waking up one morning to learn that Zemfira had run off with a young gypsy, Pushkin followed her to the next village, but, unable to find her, decided to return alone to Kishinev. It was several years later that he received a letter from Konstantin informing him of Zemfira's brutal murder at the hands of her new lover. The tragic episode inspired Pushkin to write his great narrative poem The Gypsies (1824).[1]

Stamo's exotic tale of illicit love, jealousy, and murder has recently been challenged on a number of factual and ethnographic counts, highlighting some of the difficulties that readers have faced in approaching Pushkin's last Southern poema.[2] The Gypsies has often been regarded as a watershed work for Pushkin, one that marked his break with the peculiar brand of Romanticism that he inherited from Lord Byron.[3] But as Stamo's apparent eagerness to project the fictional plot of The Gypsies onto Pushkin's biography seems to suggest, the semiotic context within which the poem was written and read was still in large part defined by Byronic codes and conventions. In fact, The Gypsies presents a collision of two distinct genres, or, rather, two poetic modes – one subjective and lyrical, the other objective and dramatic. While the lyrical mode encourages readers to draw connections between the author's personal experiences and the events of the plot, the dramatic mode is characterized by a distanced authorial perspective and makes a gesture toward universalization. It is, in part, the uneasy coexistence of these two modes that lends The Gypsies its power and novelty. It also makes the poem a perfect case study for examining the changing status of tragedy in the Romantic period. What happens to the Romantic narrative poem when it takes on the form and topoi of traditional tragedy? What effect is achieved by the fusion of the lyrical and the dramatic? What is the relationship between the private experience of tragedy and its publicization in a work of literature? Finally, what does The Gypsies tell us about the development of Pushkin's own tragic vision? By reexamining the biographical, philosophical, and literary influences that helped shape Pushkin's poem, I intend to address some of these larger questions.


1. "Accursed city Kishinev!"

Begun in Odessa in January of 1824, The Gypsies was completed in October of the same year at Pushkin's family estate in Mikhailovskoe. The composition of the poem came at the close of a particularly turbulent period in Pushkin's life, the tragic consequences of which would continue to trouble him for a long time to come. "The Gypsies," I hope to show, represents the poet's attempt to come to terms with his experiences during this period. A hybrid work, part Romantic narrative poem and part neoclassical tragedy, it brings together the personal and the historical, philosophical critique and poetic commemoration.

To understand Pushkin's state of mind in this period we must connect his personal biography to the historical events then unfolding in tragedy's birthplace, Greece. In 1821, encouraged by recent revolutions in Spain and Italy, the radical faction of the Philike Hetairia, a secret organization of Greek nationalists, urged its leader Alexander Ypsilantis to spearhead a revolt in the Rumanian Principalities in the hope of overthrowing Ottoman rule and winning the Greeks their independence. Though reluctant at first, Ypsilantis decided that he could use the revolt to enlist the help of the Balkan peoples and, more importantly, the Russians. On February 21, his army crossed the river Pruth into the Moldavian capital Jassy, whereupon he issued a proclamation alleging the support of "a great power" (Russia) and urging his countrymen to rise up against the Ottoman tyrants. Pushkin, who was acquainted with Ypsilantis and other Hetairists in Kishinev, wrote enthusiastically about the events in a letter to a friend: "I am informing you of occurrences which will have consequences not only for our land, but for all of Europe. Greece has revolted and proclaimed her freedom. […] The rapture of men's minds has reached the highest pitch, thoughts are directed to one theme, the independence of the ancient fatherland."[4]

Pushkin's enthusiastic support for the Greek cause reflected a desire shared by many Europeans to return Greece to her former glory. According to Demetrios J. Farsolas, the Philhellenic movement that developed in the wake of the Greek Revolution was "the greatest expression of liberalism in the period of reaction," enlisting among its supporters such prominent writers as Shelley, Byron, Goethe, Chateaubriand, Alfred de Vigny, Alexander Dumas, and Victor Hugo.[5] "We are all Greeks – our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece," Shelley wrote at the time.[6] Byron's name, especially, has become forever tied to the Greek Wars of Independence, and yet, it bears remembering that it was only two years later, in 1823, that Byron made his fateful decision to join the Greek struggle. Still, Byron's influence may be felt in Pushkin's response to the revolt, for it was Byron's promotion of the Romantic cult of the "great man" that led Pushkin to see Ypsilantis as the latest incarnation of the Romantic hero. "The first step of Alexander Ypsilanti is excellent and brilliant," Pushkin wrote to a friend. "He has begun luckily. And, dead, or a conqueror, from now on he belongs to history – 28 years old, an arm torn off, a magnanimous goal! An enviable lot."[7] Indeed so eager was Pushkin to share in Ypsilantis's glory that he addressed a letter to the general expressing his wish to volunteer for his army.[8] It was also around this time that Pushkin wrote his exuberant poem "War," in which he wondered whether the sight of battle will awaken in him "the blind passion for glory […] the thirst for death, fierce fervor of heroes."[9]

But Pushkin's support for the Greek cause was also bolstered by the political climate in Kishinev. "Accursed city Kishinev," which Pushkin had contrasted (unfavorably) to the Biblical Sodom, was in reality a hotbed of political activity. [10] In addition to its large Greek population, which included the Hetairists, Kishinev was then home to leading figures in Russia's liberal and intellectual circles, and it was in the company of men like M. F. Orlov, K. A. Okhotnikov, P. S. Pushchin, and V. F. Raevsky, all members of the secret Union of Well-being, that Pushkin discussed the latest political news and speculated about its meaning for Russia. For the more radical among them, like Orlov, the prospect of Russia's intervention on the side of the Greeks was part of a larger scheme to bring revolution to their homeland. Having arrived in Kishinev in the summer of 1820 to take charge of the 16th infantry division, Orlov immediately set to work on realizing his ambitions. He surrounded himself with supporters, weeded out opposition, and made contacts with the leading Hetairists. According to the testimony of one contemporary historian, Orlov even made arrangements with Ypsilantis so that if his unsanctioned intervention in the Greek struggle caused him to fall out of favor with the Russian tsar he would be given a base in Moldavia to wage war against Petersburg.[11] What Orlov thus advocated amounted to revolution and civil war. As he wrote in a letter to A. N. Raevsky upon taking charge of his division, "16 thousand armed, 36 cannons and 6 Cossack regiments. One can have a merry time with these numbers."[12]

Pushkin's friendship with Orlov and other men in his circle played a decisive role in shaping his political outlook. Indeed, so ardent was his political fervor during this period that, according to Yuri Lotman, he became "a true exponent of political ideas tied to the more radical elements in the 1821-1822 phase of the Decembrist movement."[13] Some of Pushkin's more extreme political views have been preserved by his Kishinev acquaintance P. I. Dolgorukov. On April 30, 1822, Dolgorukov recorded in his diary: "Pushkin is criticizing the government, landowners, speaks sharply, resolutely." On May 27, he writes, Pushkin "released the following syllogism: ‘Formerly people rose up against one another, now the King of Naples is at war with his people, the King of Prussia is at war with his people, the King of Spain – likewise; it is not hard to see which side will be victorious.'" And again on July 20: "Pushkin flared up, went mad and lost all self-control. Finally, he let fly accusations at all levels of society. The civil servants are scoundrels and thieves, the generals are for the most part beasts, only the class of land workers is worthy of respect. Pushkin was especially harsh on the Russian gentry. All of them should be hanged, and if ever the day will come, he will be happy to tie the knots."[14] The extremity of these views shows how much Pushkin was swayed by the surrounding political climate. But as the situation began to take a turn for the worse, his initial optimism quickly gave way to disillusionment.

Despite a brilliant beginning, the Greek movement never won the support of the Russian tsar, who feared that a conflict with the Ottoman Empire would open a breach in the Holy Alliance. Left to themselves, the Hetairists succumbed to dissention and were soon overpowered by the far better armed Turks. By the fall of 1821, the Turks had retaken Wallachia, and Ypsilantis was compelled to lay down arms and to seek refuge in Austria. Though the revolution would go on for another eight years, many among the Philhellenes grew increasingly skeptical about the success of the struggle.

Things fared no better for Pushkin's friends in Kishinev. Alexander I began to monitor the activities of the Kishinev circle in 1821, after receiving a denunciation about Orlov and the Union of Well-being.[15] Over the next two years, Orlov's circle was systematically infiltrated and dismantled, a process that coincided with the beginning of a critical period in the evolution of Decembrism. According to Lotman, a new theme is introduced in the Decembrists' thought at this time, which now centers on the unbridgeable gap separating the revolutionary leader and the people: "The individualistic Romantic hero was rebuked for his egoism and his inability to understand the people, and the people – for their slavish resignation. The enlightenment idea of innate goodness and reason was entirely subjected to doubt. All this gave rise to tragic sentiments in a number of Decembrists."[16]

Yet for all its pathos, the poetry of the Decembrists remained full of civic optimism, as illustrated by Kontratii Ryleev's epistle to Alexander Bestuzhev, preceding his narrative poem Voinarovsky. A far more tragic sense of life begins to permeate the correspondence and poetry of Pushkin, who was utterly disenchanted with the Greek revolution and especially with the Greek people. "Nothing has yet been so much of a people as the Greek affair," Pushkin writes to one of his friends, observing, however, that the people, "for the main part, are self-centered, uncomprehending, light-minded, ignorant, stubborn; an old truth which all the same bears repeating." Having been accused by his friend for being "an enemy of the liberation of Greece and an advocate of Turkish slavery," Pushkin responds, "We have seen these new Leonides in the streets of Odessa and Kishinev – we are personally acquainted with a number of them, we attest to their complete worthlessness […] I am neither a barbarian nor an apostle of the Koran, the cause of Greece interests me acutely; this is just why I become indignant when I see these poor wretches invested with the sacred office of defenders of liberty."[17] Thus, Pushkin's attitude towards the Greeks shifted from admiration to derision. By June 1824, he could write to Petr Viazemsky, "It is unforgivable puerility that all enlightened European peoples should be raving about Greece. The Jesuits have talked our heads off about Themistocles and Pericles, and we have come to imagine that a nasty people, made up of bandits and shopkeepers, are their legitimate descendants and heirs of their school-fame."[18]

"From about 1823, a change was evident in [Pushkin's] political poetry," observes Farsolas, "a new note of skepticism was heard, skepticism both with respect to the successful outcome of any revolutionary movement and with respect to the genuine determination of the peoples to achieve freedom."[19] It is around this time that Pushkin writes some of his most bitter verses, many of which speak to the poet's political disillusionment. Two related subjects are introduced in these poems: the awareness of betrayal (izmena)and a concern with the poet's loss of faith in the people.[20] In "My carefree ignorance […]," Pushkin imagines being visited by a "cunning demon," whose cynical outlook forces him to see the world with fresh eyes. The vanity of his youthful dreams becomes apparent as the poet directs his gaze on the people, who turn out to be "arrogant," "base," "cruel," "fickle," "foolish," "cowardly," "vain," and "cold" (II: 293). The poet now compares the people to a herd of cattle; they ignore his calls for freedom and are therefore doomed to live out their lives under the yoke of tyranny. Though this poem remained unfinished, Pushkin used a variant of its final lines in "Sower of freedom in the wilderness […]," "an imitation of a fable by the moderate democrat Jesus Christ [Mark 4: 3-9]," as he calls the poem in a December 1, 1823 letter to Alexander Turgenev. In the same letter Pushkin also quotes from his 1821 ode on the death of Napoleon, referring to it dismissively as "my last liberalistic delirium."[21]

It was in this mood and against this background that, in January 1824, Pushkin first sat down to work on "The Gypsies."[22] No mere exotic tale of the kind expected by Stamo, The Gypsiesis an example of what Jerome McGann has called "dramas of displacement," works in which "the actual [i.e., topical] human issues with which poetry is concerned are resituated in a variety of idealized localities."[23] Other examples of such works in the Romantic period include Byron's "The Island" and Shelley's "lyric drama" "Hellas," two texts that, in their own way, responded to contemporary political events. Yet while Byron and Shelley used exotic localities as an Ideal against which the insufficiencies of the political and cultural present could be measured and judged,[24] in "The Gypsies," Pushkin questions the very premises upon which such ideals are based, offering instead a critique of the "Romantic ideology" that inspired them. As we shall see, The Gypsies explains the tragic failure of European liberalism by tracing it back to its philosophical roots in the Enlightenment. But it was in the unlikely meeting between Rousseau and Racine that Pushkin found the recipe for a peculiarly modern work of tragedy.


2. "Silver-tongued madcap"

The Gypsies was "Pushkin's first work with profound philosophical content," writes Nikolai Fridman,[25] and Lotman maintains that "any reader familiar with the main theme of eighteenth-century enlightenment sociology will be struck by connections between ‘The Gypsies' and a whole sphere of ideas from the ‘age of philosophy.'"[26] Pushkin's text is constructed around a set of conceptual antinomies – civilization and nature, reason and passion, necessity and freedom – which lends it a philosophical and universalist character. Such antinomies were a staple of eighteenth-century philosophical prose (e.g., Voltaire's contes philosophiques and Montesquieu's Lettres persanes), which often satirized modern society by contrasting it to some displaced or unrealized Ideal. Especially notable in "The Gypsies," however, is the presence of a dialogue between Pushkin and Rousseau. It was the ideas of Rousseau, more than any other philosopher, that Pushkin believed had the most profound impact on modern society. It was also to Rousseau that he traced the origins of its latest crisis.

Though Pushkin would have been familiar with Rousseau's sentimentalist fiction from his Karamzinian youth, it was only under the influence of political events in the Balkans that he undertook a serious study of his philosophy.[27] Among the works by Rousseau that Pushkin read in this period are the Confessions, the First and Second Discourses, Émile, and the Jugement du Projet de paix perpétuelle de Monsieur l'Abbé de Saint-Pierre.[28] Rousseau was, of course, a darling of the liberals, at least one of whom, Pushkin's close friend V. F. Raevsky, boasted of having learned The Social Contract by rote, "like the letters of the alphabet."[29] The liberals saw Rousseau primarily as a philosopher of revolution, someone whose words had a special resonance in the context of the events then unfolding in Europe. By contrast, Pushkin seems to have developed a much more ambivalent attitude toward the "silver-tongued madcap" (as he calls Rousseau in Chapter One of "Eugene Onegin"), appropriating his views for a number of his most Romantic poems, but also faulting Rousseau for having inspired some of modern man's more harmful illusions.

The Gypsies contains what is perhaps Pushkin's most sustained critique of Rousseau. Scholars have often remarked upon this or that aspect of Pushkin's dialogue with Rousseau in this poem, but in examining his treatment of themes like the social contract or the noble savage they have looked to Rousseau's philosophy as a whole rather than to a specific source text. Yet we can be fairly sure that Pushkin had one work, the Second Discourse ("On Inequality"), especially in mind as he was writing "The Gypsies." As the following analysis aims to show, it was the Second Discourse's connection of public welfare to private passions that provided Pushkin with many of the themes for his philosophical tragedy.[30]

"It is of man that I am to speak," writes Rousseau, and indeed, of all his political texts, the Second Discourse is the most concerned with such human issues as love, jealousy, the relations between men, and the causes of their unhappiness.[31] Rousseau's argument revolves around the familiar contrast between men of civilization and men of nature, its novelty consisting in Rousseau's unambiguous preference for the latter. Civilized man, according to Rousseau, lacks the vigor of his primitive ancestor, having been sapped of his strength by the twin evils of labor and luxury. Whereas the savage lives in harmony with nature, enjoying the benefits of its gifts and ignorant of any restrictions on his freedom, civilized man has inflicted misery upon himself by entering into a state of society that deforms his natural character and subjects him to universal dependence. Rousseau also makes an important distinction between the savage's needs and the enlightened man's passions. In contrast to the savage, who lives "in the calm of the passions" (140), the man of civilization is constantly at their mercy. The more violent the passions, writes Rousseau, the more necessary are laws to contain them. And yet, Rousseau asks whether these very laws do not rather serve to inflame the passions.

Rousseau's primitive utopia is a world without industry, without ties, without wars, and, importantly, without laws, for, he writes, "It is neither the growth of enlightenment nor the curb of the Law, but the calm of the passions and the ignorance of vice that keep [savage men] from evil-doing" (151-152). Rousseau traces the origin of our passions, and hence the need for laws, to a single root evil: the idea of property. It is our need to distinguish ourselves through the accumulation of property that gives rise to greed, jealousy, affectation, and amour propre, spreading inequality among men and causing them to engage in violence. By contrast, Rousseau claims that the savages "had not the slightest notion of thine and mine, or any genuine idea of justice," and looked on any violence they might suffer "as an easily repaired harm rather than as a punishable injury" (154). Here again Rousseau illustrates his point through the example of conjugal love. While in the primitive state of society men lived "without Houses or Huts or property of any kind" (145), males and females united fortuitously, and everyone bedded down at random, the need to accumulate property caused men to form close-knit family units and to protect these units through impetuous acts of violence. "A tender and sweet sentiment steals into the soul, and at the least obstacle becomes an impetuous frenzy, jealousy awakens together with love; Discord triumphs, and the gentlest of passions receives sacrifices of human blood" (165).The family becomes for Rousseau both the source of "the sweetest sentiments known to man" (164) – that is, conjugal and paternal love – and the symbolic locus of his private tragedies. This complex symbolic function that the family plays in his philosophy will be important to keep in mind as we turn our attention to "The Gypsies."

The Gypsies opens with a colorful description of a nomadic gypsy tribe, breathtaking for Pushkin's ability to introduce, in just a few bold strokes, some of the defining themes of his poem:

Цыганы шумною толпой
По Бессарабии кочуют.
Они сегодня над рекой
В шатрах изодранных ночуют.
Как вольность, весел их ночлег
И мирный сон под небесами;
Между колесами телег,
Полузавешанных коврами,
Горит огонь; семья кругом
Готовит ужин… (IV: 179)

[In a noisy throng
The gypsies roam Bessarabia.
Today they will sleep in
Ragged tents by the river.
Their camp and peaceful sleep under the skies
Are gay, like freedom;
A fire burns between the wheels of carts
Partly draped with carpets;
Afamily sits in a circle
And prepares supper.]

Unsettled and poor, the gypsies share many virtues with Rousseau's noble savage: freedom (vol´nost´, na vole), vigor (zhivo), peace (mirnyi, mirnye), tranquility (spokoino). Yet what is immediately striking about the opening lines is the emphasis that Pushkin places on domesticity. We are told of a family preparing supper, of the gypsies' "peaceful family cares," of the "songs of wives and the cries of children." This emphasis on family is even stronger in Pushkin's drafts for the poem, where the tribe itself is described as a single extended family: "In a noisy/free family the gypsies…" (IV: 405). The gypsies represent an intermediate form of society, having evolved beyond the primitive stage and yet preserved their original nature. Neither primitive nor civilized, they correspond precisely to that "just mean between the indolence of the primitive state and the petulant activity of our amour propre" that Rousseau calls, in the Second Discourse, "the genuine youth of the World" and "the happiest and the most lasting epoch" (167).

Into this "golden age" domestic idyll Pushkin introduces his Romantic hero, Aleko, setting the stage for a very peculiar family drama. Aleko, we are told, had been roving the deserted space around a nearby funeral mound, when he was spotted and led back to the camp by the gypsy girl Zemfira. The location of their first meeting is, of course, portentous, part of a larger pattern of foreshadowing that lends the plot an air of tragic and circular inevitability. Zemfira tells her father that Aleko is being pursued by the Law and that he wants to become, like them, a gypsy. Pushkin leaves the meaning of these lines deliberately vague. Has Aleko committed a terrible crime and is therefore on the run from the authorities, or is "the Law" here, as Lotman believes, a metonymic stand-in for "the very idea of State organized society?"[32] The two meanings are, I believe, complementary, for as we have seen, Rousseau thought that civilization breeds violence, that the Law, paradoxically, inflames rather than contains the passions. In fleeing civilization, Aleko is also running away from the violence of his passions. The inner struggle that results from this flight will comprise one side of the poem's tragic conflict.

Aleko's Rousseauism is captured in two speeches in which he inveighs against the evils of civilization. The first is prompted by Zemfira, who asks Aleko whether he regrets leaving his homeland. "What is there to regret?" he responds. Life in the cities is unfree and stifling; the people are ashamed to love, afraid to think; they bow their heads before idols and eagerly put on chains in exchange for money. Aleko's second speech, excluded from the published text, is a monologue spoken over the cradle of his infant son, which mixes themes from several works by Rousseau, including both the First and Second Discourses and the educational treatise Émile. Especially striking are the concluding lines of the monologue, which suggest a political aspect to Aleko's disillusionment: "Perhaps I deprive society of a Citizen," he proclaims, "But so what – I am saving my son" (IV: 446). He even wonders how his own life might have turned out had he been born in a tent or in the thickets of a forest: "Oh, how many bitter pangs of remorse, / Anxieties, […] and disenchantments / Would I not have known then" (IV: 446-447).

A key word in both speeches, and in the poem as a whole, is the word izmena, which can mean "unfaithfulness," "betrayal," or "treason." Pushkin exploits the different connotations of this word throughout The Gypsies in order to suggest links between different types of social relationships – conjugal, fraternal, political – and to draw distinctions between Aleko's idealized image of gypsy society and his negative view of civilization. "What did I abandon? The fear of betrayal, / The judgment of prejudice" (IV: 185), he asks Zemfira; and in the drafts for the monologue he asserts that, raised among nature, his son will neither "fabricate treasons" (IV: 446), nor "ungratefully betray / His soul, which yearns for freedom" (IV: 448). Aleko believes that, driven by pride and self-interest, civilized men betray one another as well as their own nature. By contrast, their simple manners and disregard for property helps the gypsies remain true to themselves, making their society, in Aleko's view, a sanctuary against the deceitful practices of civilization.

But izmena is also related to the Russian verb meniat´ ("to change"), and it is Aleko's desire to see the gypsies as a people that are essentially static, or unchanging, that sets him up for bitter disillusionment. Believing they conform to the timeless ideal of the golden age, Aleko hopes to paradoxically settle down with the nomadic gypsies. "Never change, my gentle friend" (IV: 186), he entreats Zemfira, asking her to remain faithful both to him and to the idealized image that he has formed of her.[33] At the same time, Aleko himself proves unable to grow accustomed to gypsy ways, managing to temporarily repress but not to overcome the passions of civilization.

These two aspects of the theme of change are explored most vividly in two speeches given by Zemfira's father. The first speech recounts an oral legend about a Mediterranean poet who once fell out of favor with "the Tsar" and was forced to spend the remainder of his life in exile among the gypsies. The poet was old in years but young and lively in spirit, and his wondrous gift of song and gentle manners quickly earned him the affection of his hosts. Loved though he was, the poet could not grow accustomed to the hardships of gypsy life and to his last days pined for the comforts of his native land. The story is meant to warn Aleko of how difficult it is to change one's ways, for, says the gypsy, "Freedom is not always dear / To one accustomed to comfort" (IV: 186).[34] Aleko, however, draws from it a lesson about the vanity of worldly fame, recognizing in the story a retelling of the life of Ovid.

But the gypsy's story may contain a more subtle meditation on the inevitability of change and the workings of history, for it departs markedly from Ovid's own account of his exile among the "Getae" – a warlike, barbarian people who, the poet complained, "often talk maliciously about me […] perchance reproaching me with my exile."[35] "Among them there is not one who does not bear quiver and bow, and darts yellow with viper's gall."[36] The savage Getae have little in common with the gentle gitans, just as the Roman Ovid is of a completely different mold than the Russian Aleko. In suggesting a continuity between them the old gypsy unwittingly highlights their differences. Both the man of civilization and the child of nature are equally subject to the changes wrought by the march of history.

Another kind of impermanence is explored in the second speech delivered by the old gypsy. Following a period of conjugal happiness Zemfira falls out of love with Aleko, and, through her singing, even hints at having taken a lover. Her father tries to console Aleko with a bitter story from his own past, recalling how he himself had been abandoned by his young wife Mariula. He compares a woman's heart to the moon, which "ranges free under the distant vault, shining an equally ephemeral light on all things in nature" (IV: 193). Just as no one can force the moon to shine on one spot, so too one cannot tell a young girl: "Love only one, do not change" (IV: 193). When Aleko asks why he did not take revenge on the lovers, the gypsy responds with a series of clichés: "К чему? вольнее птицы младость; / Кто в силах удержать любовь? / Чредою всем дается радость; / Что было, то не будет вновь." (IV: 195) ["What for? Youth is more freer than a bird; / Who has the power to hold on to love? / Happiness is given to each in turn; / What was once, will not be again."]

Boris Tomashevsky has called the old gypsy a raisonneur whose speech expresses the humanistic ideals of the eighteenth century, and indeed, the gypsy's words recall two related strands of enlightenment thought: stoicism and libertinism.[37] Both strands played an important role in Rousseau, whose primitive utopia was characterized by a curious blend of libertine sexual mores and Stoic virtues like resignation and physical vigor. The gypsy's words express resignation before the laws of nature – the moon, nature's analogue to women, being an old symbol suggestive of the female reproductive cycle and hence of female sexuality. By contrast, the gypsy deems Aleko's desire to constrain Zemfira's sexuality "irrational" (bezrassudno) (IV: 193). In his view, as in that of many eighteenth-century materialists, social conventions are powerless before the laws of nature.[38]

And yet, Pushkin's gypsy tribe is clearly no libertine utopia. Though the old gypsy did not, like Aleko, demand recognition for his conjugal rights over Mariula, he was nevertheless clearly scarred by the experience of infidelity, observing, "from then on I grew cold to other women" (IV: 195). The gypsies may base their relationships on ideas of self-interest and agreement, but they experience the same need for attachment and possession common to all men: "He will be mine," Zemfira declares upon meeting Aleko (IV: 181). Izmena, the experience of which Aleko sought to escape, is equally painful in gypsy society as in civilization.

The Gypsies thus makes use of Rousseauist themes to ultimately deliver an anti-Rousseauist message. Rousseau prefaced his Second Discourse by calling attention to the "hypothetical and conditional" nature of his arguments, stating that his aim was to forget "times and Places" in order to learn about "man in general."[39] Perhaps influenced by new methods of historiography, but more importantly by his personal experience in the South, Pushkin challenges Rousseau's thesis, setting The Gypsies in an idealized Rousseauist locale but injecting into it the elements of time and history. From his exile in Kishinev, Pushkin had witnessed the tragic failure of European liberalism, hastened by the prevalence of infighting, betrayal, idealism, and ambition. In Pushkin's view, the liberals had been blinded by Rousseau and by his fiery followers, including Byron, whose works helped fashion what Jerome McGann has called a "Romantic ideology." The Gypsies captures the resulting mood of disillusionment but also reveals the tragic flaw in the liberals' thinking. It remains to be seen how Pushkin's perception of this flaw set him on a path to writing his first work of tragedy.


3. "Ivan Ivanovich Racine"

The Gypsies has been called "a tragedy of fate and passions,"[40] and yet little effort has been made to understand what role these twin forces play in the poem, or indeed what connection the poem has to the ancient genre of tragedy. Attempts to address these problems have been few and limited. Readers have commented upon Pushkin's use of "tragic motifs,"[41] the resolution of "tragic conflicts,"[42] and the presence of "tragic characters."[43] Of great interest and confusion has been the hybrid form of the poem, which oscillates between narration and dialogue, lyric and drama.[44] Yet no one has asked what it meant for Pushkin to write a tragic work at the height of the Romantic period. Still less clear is what Pushkin understood by the words "tragedy" and "tragic."

In January-February 1824, at exactly the time that he began to work on "The Gypsies," Pushkin wrote a letter to his brother Lev in which he remarks upon the merits of two very different works of literature. The comments were prompted by a recent translation of Racine's Phèdre by a giftless poet and dramatist M. E. Lobanov. Pushkin begins by objecting to the inaccuracy of Lobanov's translation, but his mocking criticism of the translator quickly gives way to outright mockery of the original. "And what is Ivan Ivanovich Racine characterized by if not verses full of meaning, precision, harmony!" he writes after quoting a poorly translated line. "The plan and characters of Phèdre are the acme of stupidity and insignificance in their invention." Racine's Theseus, according to Pushkin, "is nothing but Molière's first cuckold," while Hippolyte – "le superbe, le fier Hippolyte" – "a well-bred child, polite and respectful." "Read all that belauded tirade," Pushkin says of Hippolyte's celebrated speech in Act 4, Scene 2 of Phèdre, "and you will be convinced that Racine had no clue about how to construct a tragic character." For contrast, Pushkin points to an example that lies outside the genre of traditional tragedy: the speech of the young lover Hugo in Byron's narrative poem "Parisina" (1816).[45]

"The comparison to Racine shows that Pushkin read ‘Parisina' as a dramatic work," writes Michael Wachtel, a statement that I believe should be amended by replacing the italicized word with "tragic."[46] The comparison suggests an understanding of the tragic that is not strictly confined to the genre of tragedy – that is, to a distinction between, on the one hand, theme or mood, and, on the other, form or genre. Pushkin draws the same distinction in his unfinished essay "On Classical and Romantic Poetry," which argues that Romanticism entails the expression of old themes or moods in poetic forms unknown to antiquity. "Parisina" employs a new (non-classical) form to treat a traditional tragic theme (incest). Itis a tragic text, though not strictly speaking a tragedy.

Wachtel examines the influence of "Parisina" on The Gypsies in an interesting article on Pushkin and Byron, suggesting that Pushkin borrows several key motifs from Byron's poem, but more importantly that he was influenced by Byron's appeal, in the "Advertisement" to "Parisina," to the authority of Greek tragedy: "Since Byron had explicitly linked his tale to Greek tragedy, one can hardly be surprised that Pushkin did the same," he writes, adding that "the impulse to combine antiquity with romanticism [in The Gypsies] rests on Byron's example."[47]

"Parisina"was undeniably an important model for Pushkin in "The Gypsies," but does Pushkin's poem really have anything in common with Greek tragedy? I believe that in seeing The Gypsies as a hybrid of Romantic poem and ancient tragedy, Wachtel, like other readers before him, overlooks a more immediate model, namely Racine.[48] For Pushkin's unflattering comments about Racine notwithstanding, The Gypsies is far closer in spirit to Phèdre than to anything written by the Greek tragedians. Though historical circumstances may have led him to stylize his poem after the tragedies of antiquity, Pushkin, who never rejected but instead adapted and absorbed the works of his precursors, turned to Racine to help shape his tragic vision.[49]

It may be useful to quote here the distinction between ancient and modern tragedy made by Marmontel in one of his articles for the Encyclopédie. "Man falls into danger and into misfortune through a cause which is outside him or within him," writes Marmontel:

Outside him, it is his destiny, his situation, his duties, his bonds, all the accidents of life, and the action which the gods, nature, and other men exercise on him…. Within him, it is his weakness, his imprudence, his inclinations, his passions, his vice, sometimes his virtues; of these causes the most fruitful, the most pathetic, and the most moral is passion combined with natural goodness…. This distinction of the causes of misfortune, either outside us, or within us, brings about the division into two systems of tragedy, the ancient and the modern.[50]

Marmontel attributed the discovery of this new inner source of tragic actions to Corneille, but it was Racine who became known as a psychologist and undisputed master of the passions. Racine was born "with the delicacy of the passions," writes Louis de Jaucourt,[51] and both his and Marmontel's words are echoed by Mme de Staël, a writer whose ideas had a profound influence on Pushkin. "In imitating the Greeks in some of his plays, Racine explains by reasons drawn from human passions the crimes commanded by the gods," she writes. "He places moral development alongside the power of fatalism."[52] Staël explains the modern redefinition of tragedy in terms of changing religious beliefs, but it would be more accurate to link it to developments in philosophy and science, and to the new materialistic conception of the universe. Passion, and the need or impossibility to control it, became an important concern for enlightenment thinkers grappling with the problem of human freedom in a world governed by the laws of nature. Though outside forces (fate and the gods) continue to play a symbolic role in neoclassical tragedy, their powers are, as it were, internalized, for the real conflicts take place within the bodies and hearts of men.

The twin forces of fate and passion are practically synonymous in Phèdre, a play that Henri Peyre has called "the masterpiece of the tragedy of passion."[53] According to Peyre, fatality has marked Racine's characters with a predestination to misfortune, so that "all their struggles against that inner fatality […] are foredoomed to frustration."[54] No reason is given for Venus's anger in the play, and none of the characters stand a chance against her all-consuming power. Love in Phèdre is not a game but a mortal disease; it is both a cosmic and a natural force that ensures the triumph of carnal desire over reason. As her nurse Oenone explains to Phèdre, love is "a fate imposed since time began," "a natural frailty" shared by all mortals.[55] And yet, what distinguishes Racine's Phèdre from her Greek and Roman models is the deep inner anguish that the Queen feels over the consciousness of her sinful passion. Phèdre's attempt to repress her passion is an act of rebellion that marks her as a direct precursor to the rebel heroes of Schiller and Hugo. But no show of remorse or demonstration of will allows Phèdre the kind of escape from judgment that is offered by the redemptive mythology of the Romantics. The world of Racinian tragedy remains closed to any notion of reconciliation. Their fates sealed, Racine's heroes suffer from passions they cannot control and are punished for deeds they cannot help committing.

"Tragedy seems to demand a closed world," writes Jeffrey Cox, "a world from which the hero cannot (or will not) escape, a world that has narrowed to the point where choice and fate name two facets of the same act."[56] Scholars have long distinguished between the closed worlds of ancient and neoclassical tragedy and the open world of Romantic tragic drama. According to Cox, Romanticism brought the rebirth of romance, "and thus of the quest that breaks out of the enclosed world of tragedy."[57] Abandoning the classical unities of time and space, as well as the traditional, hierarchical ordering of the universe, Romantic writers portrayed "modern, revolutionary man's heroic attempt to order the chaos of the liberated self and to shape history freed from divine control."[58] Richard Sewall traces the shift from closed- to open-world tragedy to the mid-eighteenth-century reform movement in England and France, and especially to Rousseau, the pioneer of this movement. The movement held an optimistic vision of life, Sewall argues, and employed a method which was the reverse of the tragic. Under the impulse of Rousseau, he writes, "Evil was reduced to evils, which were looked upon as institutional and therefore remediable. The nature of man was no longer the problem; rather, it was the better organization and management of men. Individual man was good; society had corrupted him and society could be changed." Though both Enlightenment and Romantic reformers were rebellious, and often prey to melancholy, neither their rebellion nor their despair were tragic: "The old haunting fear and mystery, the sense of paradox and dilemma at the very center of man's nature, had been replaced […] by a new and confident dogma. Man's eyes were turned, not down and in, but outward, upward, and toward the future.[59]

Though we may contest Sewall's normative definition of tragedy, it seems true that the dramas of Schiller and Hugo, and the Rousseauist narrative poems of Byron, present a more liberated vision of man than found in the works of earlier writers. Rebellion becomes a way for the Romantic hero to prove his inner freedom in the face of necessity. His actions are not directed by outside forces, but are self-willed; his demise – not a moment of judgment but of reconciliation.

Not so in "The Gypsies," where a Racinian marriage of passion and fate closes off, as it were, the open world of Romanticism. "In order to achieve a final tragic conclusion," writes Yuri Mann, "Pushkin needed to create the impression of a closed circle."[60] This impression is created, first, by a complicated pattern of repetition and foreshadowing that lends the plot an air of tragic inevitability. We have already noted the way Aleko's and Zemfira's first meeting foreshadows their final, violent confrontation. They meet by a funeral mound, perhaps the very same one to which Aleko returns, many years later, only to find Zemfira alone with another lover. Zemfira's last words ("I will die loving") echo the last words of the song she had learned from her mother ("I die loving"), and indeed, Zemfira's actions repeat, with more tragic consequences, those of Mariula. Other instances of repetition include the recurring moon imagery; the contrasting story lines of Aleko and Ovid; and the repetition of several key words and images in the opening and closing descriptions of the gypsies.

But the greatest impression of inevitability is achieved by the narrator's two complementary observations about passion and fate. The first caps off the only description we have of Aleko's past. We are told that Aleko had once been "pulled by the distant star of glory"; that he was occasionally "visited by luxury and entertainment"; that he had experienced numerous times of trouble (IV: 184). In each of these cases Aleko is the passive object, not the agent, of the action, a characterological pattern that is stressed throughout the narrative. Aleko's lack of willpower sets him apart from the strong-willed, action-oriented Byronic hero, suggesting that Pushkin was exploring the link between "passion" and "passivity." The passions "can be so strong as to inhibit all practice of personal freedom," reads the Encyclopédie article on "Passions," "a state in which the soul is in some sense rendered passive; whence the name passions."[61] The passions play the role of fate in The Gypsies (as in Phèdre); though they may be repressed, their power eventually proves triumphant:

И жил, не признавая власти
Судьбы коварной и слепой –
Но боже! как играли страсти
Его послушною душой!
С каким волнением кипели
В его измученной груди!
Давно ль, на долго ль усмирели?
Они проснутся: погоди! (IV: 184)

[And so he lived, not recognizing the power
of cruel and blind fate –
But Lord! How the passions played
with his obedient soul!
With what agitation did they simmer
in his tortured breast!
How long have they already, for how much longer will they stay quiet?
They will wake again: just you wait!]

It would be wrong, I believe, to identify Aleko's passions with the Rousseauist passions of civilization, for the concluding lines suggest that they are also experienced by the gypsies:

Но счастья нет и между вами,
Природы бедные сыны!...
И под издранными шатрами
Живут мучительные сны.
И ваши сени кочевые
В пустынях не спаслись от бед,
И всюду страсти роковые,
И от судеб защиты нет. (IV: 203-204)

[But there is no happiness even among you,
Poor sons of nature!...
And under ragged tents live tormenting dreams.
And your nomadic canopies
did not escape harm even in the deserts,
and everywhere are fatal passions,
and there is no defense against the fates.]

Thomas Barran argues that Aleko's violent deed will eventually bring down the gypsy society, "for the Gypsies now know fatal passions and they are held in thrall by the fates."[62] But it is evident from other points in the narrative that the gypsies were already familiar with the passions, and even with violence. The speaker in Zemfira's song taunts her hated husband, daring him to "cut" and "burn" her. She has taken a courageous young lover, she says, and together, they make love and laugh at her husband's gray hairs. The song shows that the gypsies are not strangers to the passions, for they know about jealousy, experience hatred, and are capable of taking pleasure on account of another. It reveals a violent side that one does not expect from the peaceful children of nature. So appalled by the song was the Rousseauist historian Nikolai Karamzin that, following a performance of it at a Petersburg soirée, he is said to have asked how "such horrors" could be set to music.[63]

Thus Pushkin trains a distinctly Racinian tragic vision onto the Rousseauist utopias of Byron and other Romantics. According to Nikolai Fridman, Rousseau's philosophy, "with its exhortation to return to more primitive forms of life, opened the wonderful possibility of representing ‘exceptional' individuals, belonging to ‘exceptional' peoples, and living among ‘exceptional' nature."[64] This possibility was explored in numerous Romantic texts, from Schiller's Robbers, in which temporary escape is found among a band of brigands, to Byron's "Eastern Tales," with their exotic, oriental locales and passionate, strong-willed protagonists. Despite their conventionally tragic endings, these narratives did not question but rather reinforced the dominant Romantic ideology, for even if the Romantic hero proved incapable of finding happiness outside of civilization, the failure was never of primitive society, which remained idealized, but exclusively that of civilization. By contrast, Pushkin shows that, enlightened or not, man is prey to the same fates and passions, undermining the logic behind Rousseau's dream of escape from civilization. The laws of necessity crush the Romantic dream of freedom, as the open world of Romanticism meets the limits imposed by Racinian tragedy.


4. "The miraculous power of song"

Though completed in the fall of 1824, The Gypsies did not see print until the spring of 1827. On June 6, 1827, the chief of the second precinct of the Moscow corps of gendarmes, A. A. Volkov, wrote to the director of the Third Section of His Imperial Majesty's Own Chancellery, Count A. Kh. Benkendorff, to call his attention to a "suspicious" vignette on the title page of Pushkin's new poem (Figure 1). The vignette featured a miscellany of emblematic objects: a torn manuscript, a dagger, a broken chain, a serpent, a laurel wreath, and an overturned chalice. Answering Benkendorff's request to investigate, Volkov reported that the vignette was not of Russian origin but had been specially ordered from Paris. Pushkin had picked out the vignette himself, wrote Volkov, but he concluded that it did not appear to be dangerous. Volkov explained that the serpent and chalice were emblems of Hell, the dagger stood for revenge, and the torn manuscript, for betrayal. Whether intentionally or not, Volkov allowed the wreath and broken chain to pass without comment.[65]

Figure 1

Volkov failed to observe that the vignette was in fact taken from a four-volume history of the Greek War of Independence by the French diplomat and historian François Pouqueville, where it was printed at the close of a chapter dedicated to the failed campaign of Alexander Ypsilantis.[66] The vignette, as Pushkin would have known, is not merely decorative, but in its own way tells a narrative about the failed hopes of the uprising. The torn manuscript stands for a broken contract; the dagger, for revolution; the wreath, for victory; the broken chain, for freedom. These symbols of revolutionary hope, however, are overshadowed by the much larger serpent and chalice, which perhaps stand for betrayal in the form of a poisoned cup of brotherhood. Betrayal was, as we have seen, a key theme in "The Gypsies." In making use of this vignette, Pushkin was offering the reader a key to understanding his allegorical poem.

But yet another vignette appears on the back cover of the original edition, which, too, has not received any attention (Figure 2). This second vignette again features a manuscript, a serpent, a dagger, and a wreath; but by far the largest object in it is a mask of the kind worn by tragic actors in ancient Greek theater. Given our knowledge about Pushkin's personal involvement in selecting the first vignette, we can be quite certain that this one, too, was deliberately chosen by the author. The two vignettes are, I believe, the clearest indication we have of how Pushkin himself viewed his text: they show that, for him, The Gypsies was not simply another oriental poem but rather a historically inspired work of tragedy.

Figure 2

The Gypsies traces the traditional tragic path from the hero's hamartia (initial blindness) towards anagorisis (recognition), but this alteration in Aleko's vision is not accompanied by any hope for redemption. And yet, if none of the heroes experience relief, for their "author," poetry itself may present a form of catharsis. For all the bleakness of its concluding lines, the Epilogue draws a sharp distinction between Aleko's experience of tragedy and that of the poet, who is able to soften tragedy's fatal blow through the purgative power of his verse. Though the poet does not dwell on the cause of his sorrows, the Epilogue suggests that it may have something to do with the intersection of history and private experience. It mediates between terrible visions of empire and memories of the poet's own stay with the gypsies, which (true or not) helped initiate the myth that will be later embellished by readers like Stamo. The poet suggests that he himself once followed the gypsies' lazy throngs through the desert, shared their simple food, and fell asleep by their campfires. Most surprising of all, however, is the reappearance of the name "Mariula" ("And for a long time sweet Mariula's / Tender name did I repeat") (IV: 203), which hints at a creative continuity between the poet's life and his art. Is Aleko's story a poetic reimagining of Pushkin's real-life stay with the gypsies, or is the Epilogue simply an instance of Romantic self-fashioning?

The answer, I believe, lies somewhere in between. Though we may never know whether Pushkin really did live with a tribe of Moldavian gypsies, we can be quite certain that at no time did he meet any gypsy girls named Zemfira or Mariula. As elsewhere, the drafts speak louder than the published text, for among the original versions of the above lines we find the following: "And I repeated the tender names of Ralli, Zemfira, Mariula" (IV: 463). The fact is that Mariola (with an ‘o') was not a gypsy at all, but the daughter of Zakhar ("Zemfiraki") Ralli, a Moldavian landowner whose Kishinev home was frequently visited by Pushkin. Ralli's other daughters were Elena and Ekaterina Ralli (i.e., Ekaterina Stamo), but it was Mariola who, according to Pushkin's friend Ivan Liprandi, was "the most beautiful of all her Kishinev acquaintances."[67] Pushkin seems to have enjoyed a brief flirtation with the eighteen-year-old Mariola, with whom he often danced at the musical soirées hosted by her family. The playful tone that characterized their friendship is captured in a bawdy letter he wrote Mariola from Odessa, just weeks after the latter's marriage.[68]

When news of Mariola's marriage reached Pushkin in Odessa, it was sure to stir up those "visions of days both bright and sorrowful" that he soon brought to life in his poem. Pushkin's friendship with the Rallis was indeed a rare bright spot in an often gloomy period of his Kishinev exile. This period began with promise of great social and political change only to end in the utter failure of this promise and a widening sense of skepticism and disillusionment. Neither an autobiography nor a work of pure fiction, The Gypsies is a tragic narrative of displacement that mixes critique with commemoration. It traces the causes of the liberals' failure to an uncritical reception of Rousseau, whose ideas, Pushkin believed, helped erect a harmful Romantic ideology. Pushkin deconstructs this ideology by reintroducing into Rousseau's philosophy the missing elements of time and history: human nature is not static but inconstant; izmena exists in the deserts as well as in the great centers of civilization. Given the context, Pushkin was naturally led to stylize his poem after the manner of ancient tragedy, yet for inspiration he looked not to the Greeks but to Racine, and especially to his great tragedy Phèdre. No defense is possible against the twin forces of passion and fate in "The Gypsies," and the Romantic open world proves an illusion undermined by the reality of human nature. This tragic insight is at the heart of Pushkin's poem. A product of personal experience, philosophical reflection, and creative activity, The Gypsies initiates a new period in Pushkin's career, marked by the entrance of tragedy into his poetic vision.

The University of Notre Dame


[1] Z. K. Ralli-Arbure, "Iz semeinykh vospominanii ob A. S. Pushkine," Minuvshie gody 7 (July 1908), 1-6.

[2] See Leighton Brett Cooke, "Puškin and the Femme Fatale: Jealousy in Cygany," California Slavic Studies, vol. 14 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 99-126, and N. G. Demeter, Istoriia tsygan: novyi vzgliad (Voronezh: IPF Voronezh, 2000).

[3] See B. M. Tomashevskii, Pushkin, vol. 1 (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademiia Nauk, 1956), 644-645.

[4] Letter to V. L. Davydov (?), March 1821. Alexander Pushkin, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, trans. J. Thomas Shaw (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1967), 79-80.

[5] Demetrios J. Farsolas, "The Greek Revolution in the Principalities as Seen by Alexander Pushkin," Neo-Hellenika II (1975), 98.

[6] From the "Preface" to Hellas (1821). Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers, eds., Shelley's Poetry and Prose (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), 409.

[7] Letter to V. L. Davydov (?), March 1821. Pushkin, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 81.

[8] Farsolas, "Alexander Pushkin," 66.

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all citations of Pushkin's poetry are taken from Alexander Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 17 vols. (Leningrad: 1937-1959). On Pushkin's preparations for war see his March 23, 1821, letter to A. A. Delvig and March 24, 1821, letter to N. I. Gnedich.

[10] Letter to F. F. Vigel, November 24, 1823. Pushkin, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 139-140.

[11] Qtd. in Iu. M. Lotman, "Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin. Biografiia pisatelia," Pushkin (St. Petersburg: Iskusstvo-SPB, 1997), 75.

[12] Qtd. in I. Iovva, Iuzhnye dekabristy i grecheskoe natsional´no-osvoboditel´noe dvizhenie (Kishinev: 1963), 61.

[13] Lotman, "Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin," 77.

[14] Qtd. in V. E. Vatsuro, ed., Pushkin v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, 2 vols. (Moscow: 1974), I: 360-361.

[15] Iovva, Iuzhnye dekabristy i grecheskoe natsional´no-osvoboditel´noe dvizhenie, 67.

[16] Lotman, "Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin," 86.

[17] See the two letters to Vasily Lvovich Davydov (?) in Pushkin, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 166-167.

[18] Ibid., 161.

[19] Farsolas, "Alexander Pushkin," 73.

[20] Cf. Lotman, "Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin," 86.

[21] Pushkin, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 145-146. The draft of this letter is even more revealing: "This is my last liberalistic delirium. The other day I repented and, looking at Western Europe [Italy and Spain] and around me [Greece], I turned to the Gospel and wrote this parable in imitation of the fable by Jesus" (emphasis mine).

[22] Cf. B. M. Tomashevskii, Pushkin, 631-632.

[23] Jerome J. McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 1.

[24] Ibid., 126.

[25] N. V. Fridman, Romantizm v tvorchestve A. S. Pushkina (Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 1980), 111.

[26] Iu. M. Lotman and Z. Mints, "‘Chelovek prirody' v russkoi literature XIX veka i ‘Tsyganskaia tema' u Bloka," Blokovskii sbornik: trudy nauchnoi konferentsii, posviashchennoi izucheniiu zhizni i tvorchestva A. A. Bloka, mai 1962 g. (Tartu: 1964), 103.

[27] See B. M. Tomashevskii, Pushkin i Frantsiia (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel´, 1960), 95-96, 132-140.

[28] See Lotman, "U istoka siuzheta o Kleopatre," 363; M. P. Alekseev, "Pushkin i problema ‘Vechnogo mira'," Pushkin: sravnitel´no-istoricheskie issledovaniia (Leningrad: Nauka, 1984), 174-220.

[29] Qtd. in P. E. Shchegolev, Dekabristy (Moscow: 1926), 13.

[30] The connection between The Gypsies and Rousseau's Second Discourse was first made by Yuri Lotman, whose brief aside on the influence of this treatise unfortunately remained undeveloped. See ibid. Lotman discusses The Gypsiesin two other articles: Iu. M. Lotman, "Istoki ‘tolstovskogo napravleniia' v russkoi literature 1830-kh godov," Izbrannye stat´i (Tallinn: Aleksandra, 1993), esp. 50-59; Lotman and Mints, "‘Chelovek prirody' v russkoi literature XIX veka i ‘Tsyganskaia tema' u Bloka." The topic was examined in greater detail by Thomas Barran; however, like other critics, Barran is more interested in the idea of social contract and fails to detect in Rousseau's treatment of the passions the spring around which Pushkin turns his tragedy. See Thomas Barran, Russia Reads Rousseau, 1762-1825 (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002), 300-308.

[31] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, trans. Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1997), 131. All subsequent citations from Rousseau will be given parenthetically.

[32] Lotman, "Istoki ‘tolstovskogo napravleniia' v russkoi literature 1830-kh godov," 53.

[33] In the drafts, these words were spoken by Zemfira, who, upon first meeting Aleko, entreats him: "Never change, never change" (IV: 411).

[34] Cf. Rousseau: "[I]t is as true of freedom as it is of innocence and virtue that one appreciates their worth only as long as one enjoys them oneself, and loses the taste for them as soon as they are lost." Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, 176.

[35] See Tristia V.10 in Ovid, Tristia. Ex Ponto., trans. Arthur Leslie Wheeler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965), 249.

[36] See Tristia V.7 in ibid., 237.

[37] B. M. Tomashevskii, Pushkin, 618, 625. Tomashevsky also writes that the gypsy society "is no more than an idealized image of the ‘golden age,' just as the old gypsy – a spokesman for the humanistic and philanthropic ideas of universal harmony and mutual tolerance" (625).

[38] A more overtly libertine tone was struck in the drafts of Pushkin's poem. "A woman's love is free" (IV: 425), the gypsy tells Aleko in one version, while a draft of the opening sequence pictured gypsy men in bed with their young girlfriends (IV: 406). Zemfira, too, is more sexualized, inviting Aleko to "take pleasure" in her love after their first meeting: "Take pleasure in my love in the silence of calm night. Come, I melt, my gentle friend" (IV: 411).

[39] Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, 132.

[40] V. V. Vinogradov, Stil Pushkina (Moscow: Nauka, 1999), 507.

[41] M. Kagan, "O Pushkinskikh poemakh," V mire Pushkina, ed. S. Mashinskii (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel´, 1974), 86.

[42] Viacheslav Ivanov, "O ‘Tsyganakh' Pushkina," Sobranie sochinenii, 4 vols. (Brussels: 1987), 299; Tomashevskii, Pushkin, 617.

[43] Tomashevsky compares the old gypsy to the chorus in Greek tragedy. Tomashevskii, Pushkin, 618.

[44] Viacheslav Ivanov, for example, called The Gypsies"a large lyric-epic poem" in which the various conflicts reach "tragic" heights. See Ivanov, "O ‘Tsyganakh' Pushkina," 299.

[45] Letter to L. S. Pushkin, between January 12 and early February, 1824. Pushkin, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 149-150.

[46] Michael Wachtel, "Pushkin, Byron, and the Legacy of Antiquity," Russian Literature and the West: A Tribute to David M. Bethea, ed. Alexander Dolinin, Lazar Fleishman, Leonid Livak (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 122.

[47] Ibid.

[48] The association between The Gypsies and Greek tragedy was first made by Viazemsky, who objected that the final lines of the poem were "too Greek." See V. E. Vatsuro and S. A. Fomichev, Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 3 vols (St. Petersburg: 1996), I: 322.

[49] I do not mean to suggest, of course, that The Gypsies is free of Byron's influence; rather, I argue that he "deconstructs" the Byronic narrative poem by means of a turn backwards to Racine. On the subject of "Byron and Pushkin," see V. M. Zhirmunskii's Bairon i Pushkin. Iz istorii romanticheskoi poemy (Leningrad: Academia, 1924) – a classic study whose main flaw, in my view, is to treat Pushkin's "Southern poems" as a whole, without accounting for changing circumstances and intentions.

[50] Qtd. in Bernard F. Dukore, Dramatic Theory and Criticism (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1974), 290.

[51] See entry for "Tragédie" in Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond D'Alambert, eds., L'Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Paris: 1751), XVI: 515.

[52] Germaine de Staël, De la littérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales, 2 vols. (Paris: 1800), I: 37-38.

[53] Henri Peyre, "The Tragedy of Passion: Racine's Phèdre," Tragic Themes in Western Literature, ed. Cleanth Brooks (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1955), 101.

[54] Ibid., 94.

[55] Jean Racine, Phèdre, trans. Margaret Rawlings (New York: Penguin, 1962), 138-139.

[56] Jeffrey N. Cox, In the Shadows of Romance: Romantic Tragic Drama in Germany, England, and France (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1987), 1.

[57] Ibid., 2.

[58] Ibid., 25.

[59] Richard Sewall, The Vision of Tragedy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980), 84.

[60] Iurii Mann, Dinamika russkogo romantizma (Moscow: Aspect Press, 1995), 73.

[61] See entry for "Passions" in Diderot and D'Alambert, eds., L'Encyclopédie, XII: 142.

[62] Barran, Russia Reads Rousseau, 307-308.

[63] P. A. Viazemskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 12 vols. (St. Petersburg: 1878), VII: 55.

[64] Fridman, Romantizm v tvorchestve A. S. Pushkina, 119.

[65] M. A. Tsiavlovskii and N. A. Tarkhova, eds., Letopis´ zhizni i tvorchestva Aleksandra Pushkina, 4 vols. (Moscow: SLOVO, 1999), II: 274, II: 280; B. M. Tomashevskii, "Melochi o Pushkine," Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii 2 (1936).

[66] See François Pouqueville, Histoire de la régénération de la Grèce (Paris, 1824). The vignette appears on the last page of volume 2.

[67] Vatsuro, ed., Pushkin v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, I: 259-260.

[68] Letter to Maigin and an Unknown Woman, November (after the 4th), 1823. Pushkin, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 144-145. Shaw fails to make the connection between "Maigin" (in his translation, "Madame Maiguine") and Mariola, but it is clear from another mention of Maigin in Pushkin's October-November, 1823, letter to Vigel´ (ibid., 139-140).


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