In January of 1838, Faddei Bulgarin published an article titled “Readers and Writers” (Chitateli i pisateli) in The Northern Bee (Severnaia pchela), the newspaper he edited jointly with his long-time collaborator Nikolai Grech. Structured as a casual conversation between a professional writer, who is a stand-in for Bulgarin, and his friend who, it is indicated emphatically, is not a cultural producer, the article treats lightheartedly the position of writers in relation to their audiences, which is described as follows,
[it] is not the writer, but the reader who reigns, legislates, and judges in literature; and where does the reader pronounce these judgments? At the lectern, in journals? No, at the whist game, at dinner, at tea, near the fireplace; and the verdicts uttered by the reader sotto voce, sometimes with half a phrase [vpolfrazy] disperse throughout society and strike the proud writer in the most sensitive place – the pocket!1
Given Bulgarin’s reputation as a second-rate writer with an unapologetically commercial interest in the middling segments of the reading public, the commodification of culture implicit in the statement that the reader’s poor appraisal results, first and most importantly of all, in a loss of profit are unsurprising. Such assertions as “he is your reader — end of story! He is your master [khoziain]; he has every right to announce to society whether you are clever or stupid, engaging or boring, educated or an ignoramus” reiterate Bulgarin’s publicly and frequently articulated orientation towards his audience, whom he tends to address as one comprised of his social equals or even superiors throughout his career.2 However, the inflation of the average reader’s role — and that, in the episode above, the readers utter their evaluative words not at the lectern but over tea or a game of whist underscores the non-institutional character of this audience of private citizens — functions primarily as a rhetorical tactic. The readers who are empowered to make all-important judgments about the quality of literature on the pages of Bulgarin and Grech’s periodicals are largely fictive; and they are ventriloquized in a series of moves that ensure not the reader’s but the journalist-critic’s position as an arbiter of middlebrow taste and a major force capable of directing the period’s book market.3 As I will outline briefly in the pages below, Bulgarin and Grech wrote into being what appeared to be a robustly influential audience, a discursive construct which they then wielded with gusto according to the exigencies of the moment.
4 To indicate multiple ways in which aspects of the period’s media environment — perceptions about the book market, the characteristics of a growing public articulated by the press, and the evolving position of cultural producers — shed light on Alexander Pushkin’s relatively understudied forays into professional journalism will be my main objective in this essay.5
The dynamics between writer and audience receive ample treatment throughout Pushkin’s career.6 Some works rehearse explicitly the demands of a public constituted by the print media vis-à-vis the cultural producer cast as a poet. The likely deliberately unfinished7 prose work called “Fragment” (Otryvok, 1830 and 1832)8 contains a statement to which Pushkin would return in a later, also unfinished, but better-known work, “Egyptian Nights” (Egipetskie nochi, 1835), which has long been read for its complex and systematic contemplation of the status of art, especially poetry, in the age of literary commerce.9 Whereas in “Fragment” we read the following:
The public views [the poet] as its property [publika smotrit na nego kak na svoiu sobstvennost’], and considers itself entitled to demand a full report about his slightest move. According to the public’s opinion, he is born for its pleasure, and breathes only so as to arrange rhymes. Should circumstances require the poet’s presence in the countryside, upon his return the first man who meets him asks, ‘have you brought us anything new?’ Should he arrive in the army, so as to see friends and relations, the public demands immediately a poem about the latest victory, and the newspaper-men [gazetchiki] become vexed for being made to wait for so long,10
in “Egyptian Nights” the passage is reworked as follows,
The public views him [the poet] as its property; according to its opinion, he is born for its benefit and pleasure. Should he return from the countryside, the first man who meets him asks, ‘have you brought us anything new?’ Should he be thinking about the disordered state of his affairs or the illness of a person dear to him, immediately a vulgar smile accompanies the vulgar exclamation, ‘surely, you must be composing something!’(VIII: 263)
In the second iteration, the episode about the poet visiting the army has been excluded, probably because it bore the most direct relation to Pushkin’s own experience as a celebrity-poet at the mercy of the nascent print media of the late 1820s and early 1830s. In June of 1829 the Tiflis News (Tiflisskie vedomosti) began to follow Pushkin’s travels in the Transcaucasian region as he neared the border with the Ottoman empire. The periodical reported,
Our hopes have come true: Pushkin visited Georgia. He spent little time in Tiflis; wishing to see the war, he requested permission to be in the campaign with the active troops and arrived at the encampments by Iskan-su on 16 June. Our foremost poet has marked his trips to various parts of Russia with works worthy of his glorious pen: from the Caucasus he gave us the “Prisoner of the Caucasus,” in Crimea he wrote the “Fountain of Bakhchisarai,” in Bessarabia he wrote the “Gypsies,” in the inner provinces he described the exquisite scenes of Onegin. Now our reading public entertains most pleasant hopes in relation to A. Pushkin’s presence among the Caucasian troops and asks, what will our favorite poet, witness to bloody battles, present us with [podarit] from the military encampments?11
A number of periodicals picked up the Tiflis News’s story, chief among them the Northern Bee which began by reprinting this notice as well as reporting on Pushkin’s travels (via a special correspondent), then proceeded in the coming months to find the poet lacking in patriotic feeling for not having produced a work that would celebrate the Russian victories in the 1829 war with the Ottoman empire.12 The Northern Bee’s criticism of Pushkin reached a climax when, following the eruption of heated polemics between the poet and Bulgarin (the famous “Anekdot” affair, which has received ample critical attention)13, the newspaper printed the following:
And so, our hopes have vanished! We thought that the author of Ruslan and Liudmila had traveled to the Caucasus in order to soak up the lofty feelings of poetry, to become enriched with new impressions and to convey to posterity in dulcet song the great feats of contemporary Russian heroes. We thought that the great events in the East, which have astonished the world and gained for Russia the respect of all enlightened nations, would arouse our poets’ genius, and we were wrong! The famous lyres remained silent, and in the desert of our poetry appeared once again Onegin, pale and weak…14
The “we” here can indicate both the article’s author, Bulgarin, and the public rendered as a collective that speaks in unison. The latter point gains credence in the context of The Bee’s treatment of Pushkin beginning with the newspaper’s inception in 1825. The Northern Bee discussed the poet frequently, primarily dispensing praise until late in 1829 when Pushkin’s relationship with Bulgarin grew pointedly adversarial. In the years leading up to the quarrel, the newspaper did a great deal both to potentially advertise and, simultaneously, to commodify Pushkin’s writings.15 The Bee made a habit of ranking the poet’s works according to quality. In addition to overwhelmingly positive reviews and notices that celebrated “our reading public’s” admiration for “our” poet, The Bee issued admonitions aimed to protect (presumably new or otherwise naïve) readers from purchasing such texts as the false Evgenii Onegin, a poem called Evgenii Vel’skii which, The Bee warned, was printed in a format and on paper identical to those of Pushkin’s novel in verse, as well as such works as “The Kirghiz Prisoner” (the false “Prisoner of the Caucasus”) and “The White Shawl” (which, in the Bee’s inimitable formulation was “in comparison with the 'Black Shawl' […] rather like some manner of kerchief produced by some Moscow amateur-craftsman before a genuine, expensive shawl of Cashmere”).16 Increasingly, works of literature became understood as things to acquire, goods to own, while the reading public came to occupy the position of a collective, admiring patron and, ultimately, a powerful if discursively generated force in the period’s cultural institutions. Bulgarin and Grech wrote this public into being and made it speak (or else spoke for it) as it pleased them, so that when the Bee’s relations with Pushkin and his associates soured, it was possible for the criticisms and accusations to issue from a ventriloquized, at times still admiring, but increasingly disappointed public.
A useful illustration of this phenomenon may be glimpsed in The Northern Bee’s caustic reply to Pushkin’s less than felicitous announcement in The Literary Gazette (Literaturnaia gazeta) that the latter periodical “was necessary not so much for the public as for a certain number of writers who, for a variety of reasons, could not appear under their own names in any of the Petersburg or Moscow journals.” (XI: 89). The Bee produced a so-called “Query” (Vopros) written by a purported reader “on behalf of several readers of Russian journals,” with a request to explain Pushkin’s statement which
casts all Russian readers into the greatest astonishment and provokes strange doubts! How is it permissible to publish a newspaper not for the public but for a certain number of writers? Who are these writers who cannot appear under their own names in journals? How large is their certain number? […] Could this be a joke or a mystification perchance? It is difficult to believe that the journal’s publishers would write such manifestos against themselves! I remain in anticipation of your reply, and so forth.
The reply of the publishers of the Northern Bee.
We know nothing, we understand nothing, and cannot vouch for the others.17
Thus, the newspaper said little from its own point of view, but instead — as many commentators have noted — raised potentially damaging, dangerous questions about The Literary Gazette’s potentially illicit list of contributors, all while writing from the point of view of an individual reader and of the public broadly, as in the confident reference to “all Russian readers.”
I will return to the polemics of the early 1830s below; for the moment, a few additional words about Pushkin’s travels in 1829 are in order. Following the press’s coverage, Pushkin, rather than to comply with the demand that he produce a work that celebrates Russian military victories, penned instead a nexus of works (“the Fragment,” “Egyptian Nights,” and Journey to Arzrum (Puteshestvie v Arzrum)) that registered retrospectively this episode in his reception by the journals.18 He attempted a reply to The Bee’s and other periodicals’19 demands for a panegyric in the preface to The Journey to Arzrum, which he presented as the only text he had published about Russia’s eastern war.20 The drafts of this preface treat themes intimately connected with those of “The Fragment,” especially in relation to the cultural producer’s exasperation before the public’s orders, as for example in the following episode,
Our journalists somehow learned about [my travels] and gave me the honor of mentioning my journey in their leaflets […] Upon my return I published a chapter of Eugene Onegin written three years ago. In The Northern Bee an unknown Aristarchus21 gave me a serious scolding, on account of, he said, we were expecting not Eugene Onegin but a poem on the taking of Arzrum. The venerable Messenger of Europe also grumbled at the Rhapsodes who did not sing the successes of our arms.
All of this was rather strange. What business was it of theirs, I thought with vexation, where I travel, and must I really write exactly what the journalists order me to write? What unfortunate people the Russian writers are! Only they are outside the censorship law. Our private life is subject to public exposure. (VIII: 1022)
While the demand for a poem on the taking of Arzrum — and here one imagines an ode — evinces an outdated understanding of the regnant Russian poetic forms and sensibilities, the journalistic hounding itself appears modern, as it would scarcely have been possible in previous decades. Pushkin’s preface catalogs the peculiar conditions of the celebrity-writer in an age of nascent print media; it also reads like a retroactive attempt to gain control over the narrative about his own persona. Had Pushkin retained this episode in the preface’s final version (he did not), the main text of Journey to Arzrum (excluding the appended essay on the yezidi tribes) would have been framed by references to negative reviews of Pushkin’s works in the press. At the travelogue’s end, the poet’s return to Russia proper coincides with a re-entry into the domestic media environment, as Pushkin-the-traveler finds
Russian journals on the table. The first article I saw was a review of one of my works. In it the reviewer abused me and my poetry in every way possible. I began to read it out loud. Pushchin stopped me, demanding that I read it with greater mimicking artistry. It should be born in mind that the review was embellished by the usual contrivances of our criticism: it was a conversation between a sacristan, the woman who bakes communion bread, and the proofreader at the print-shop, the Raisonneur [Zdravomysl] of this little comedy. Pushchin’s request seemed so amusing to me that the vexation produced by my reading of the journal article disappeared completely and we roared with whole-hearted laughter.
Such was my first greeting in my dear fatherland. (VIII:483)
The review Pushkin-the-traveler reads is the poet’s own creation: it satirizes Nikolai Nadezhdin’s article in The Messenger of Europe (Vestnik Evropy) about Poltava.22 That review had been structured as a conversation between the author, a Romantic, a stranger, and the proofreader at the print-shop and it made use of what would become a hackneyed practice: ventriloquizing everyman-personae for critical ends so as to present the judgments of a public comprised of relatively average people. Ultimately, both the very premise that Pushkin might provide a theatrical reenactment of the review and certainly the hearty laughter with which the piece concludes read as a dramatization of Pushkin’s potential, partial, ambivalent, and certainly short-lived rapprochement with the press. While Journey was written largely in 1835, the poet publishing it in 1836 had become recently a professional journalist, editor of The Contemporary (Sovremennik). To a limited extent, he could be said to wield a public of his own or at least to take some part in the shaping of what was for early nineteenth-century Russia an especially elusive concept: public opinion. The route to assuming editorship of The Contemporary was rather long.
In an August, 1825 letter to Petr Viazemskii, Pushkin complained, “when will we finally start a journal! I am beside myself with wanting to (mochi net khochetsia), but in the meantime follow Polevoi at least.” (XIII: 204-205) Less than a year later, in May of 1826, Pushkin would quip that “[i]t is time to send off Bulgarin, and The Well-Intentioned, and Polevoi, our friend. There is no time for it now, but as God is my witness, I will start up a journal some time.” (XIII: 279)23 In both of these missives, Pushkin’s comments about the current state of the periodical press brim with disappointment; equally palpable is the urge to found a journal that will be a decisive improvement. Pushkin pits his potential venture against the periodicals produced by some of the period’s most commercially successful and professional journalists, Bulgarin and Nikolai Polevoi. The reference to Alexander Izmailov’s The Well-Intentioned (Blagonamerennyi), a thoroughly “home-made,” unprofessionally produced journal, marks the opposite end of the spectrum in the period’s journalistic culture.24
Spirited send-offs for the period’s active journalists, as well as equally spirited invitations for collaboration in the establishment of a periodical of his own, occur with some frequency in Pushkin’s correspondence. The relatively vague plans of the 1820s grew more definite by the 1830s as Pushkin attempted in earnest to found multiple periodicals: a political newspaper for the publication of which he received initial approval (the paper itself was never produced) and what became known as The Contemporary. The texts connected to one or both of these ventures — creative works and drafts, personal correspondence, recollections by contemporaries, notices and reviews in the press, petitions to the authorities — reveal a great deal about the period’s shifting literary culture and institutions as well as about Pushkin’s varied strategies for navigating the literary marketplace. Pushkin’s multiple and not always successful attempts to work as a journalist during the final years of his career (1832–37) point to the extent to which writing for a large and broadening audience could prove both a highly appealing prospect and the source of anxiety and disillusionment. Some episodes in Pushkin’s journalistic biography suggest that the boundaries between the familiar designations that delimit camps or associations within the period’s field of cultural production — most prominently the so-called “literary aristocrats” of Pushkin’s circle and the writers of a more commercial and middlebrow orientation affiliated with Bulgarin, Grech, Polevoi, and Osip Senkovskii — appear by turns impermeably robust and remarkably porous in a way that complicates our understanding of the literary and journalistic milieux. And lastly, of considerable interest in the narrative that follows, are contemporaries’ perceptions about the meanings that might accrue to Pushkin’s professional and social identities should the poet become a journalist.
The mature years of Pushkin’s career coincided with a transitional period in Russian letters, a time characterized by the gradual broadening of the anonymous reading public, the early stages in the commercialization of literature, as well as the concomitant professionalization of the main figures active in a book market (e.g., writer, editor, publisher, bookseller).25 The period under study was dubbed by Vissarion Belinsky “the age of (Aleksandr) Smirdin,” a bookseller with three years’ schooling from a Moscow deacon, who, as William Mills Todd has put it, “enjoyed a virtual monopoly over the print media” in the 1830s.26 An early study of the history of books in Russia credits Smirdin’s initial pecuniary success with his “discovery” of the provincial landowning reader.27 This group could be counted on as among the most eager, if also naïve, purchasers of Russian literature — Russian in particular because the more elite echelons of the gentry likely continued to read more widely in European languages than in their native idiom. For instance, it has been shown that sixty-six percent of those who subscribed to receive Bulgarin’s 1829 novel, Ivan Vyzhigin — sometimes called the first Russian “bestseller” — were rural gentry. This does not mean that the rural gentry necessarily constituted a majority of his readership, just that they were — at least in some cases — likely to be the first to pay. Nor should we regard Bulgarin’s 1829 “bestseller” as a watershed moment in Russian letters because, for example, the sequel to Vyzhigin did not do nearly as well.
Rather, this was a period that saw a gradual and at times sporadic discovery of what was for Russian letters a new segment of print culture that is perhaps best described as approximating the concept of “middlebrow” and that would prove occasionally appealing on a previously unseen scale. Vyzhigin — some twenty-five hundred copies of which are said to have been sold in five days28 (an astonishing success for this period) — provides a good example of this phenomenon. While the literary elite would have been loathe to categorize it as belonging to “high” literary culture, nor was it really akin to the novels of Alexander Orlov, a writer of lowbrow fare, whose popular adaptations of the bestseller remain an artifact of Russian literary history due to Pushkin’s alter ego Feofilakt Kosichkin’s commentary on the matter.29 Whereas Vyzhigin’s commercial success was an early sign of a broadening educated public to whom one might address accessible, neither high nor low fare, a later Smirdin-sponsored venture would announce the presence of this democratizing readership more firmly. The Library For Reading (Biblioteka dlia chteniia) sent shock waves through the literary establishment when after its inception in 1834, the journal amassed a subscribership of five thousand. Responses from the literati, including Pushkin, followed. Stepan Shevyrev lamented the appearance of The Library for Reading as symptomatic of the commercialization — in his words, “the commercial direction” (torgovoe napravlenie) — of Russian letters, famously comparing the periodical to a stack of banknotes (puk assignatsii).30 Belinsky identified the journal’s readership as unsophisticated and provincial both in the sense of residence and in a more figurative key of lacking good judgment.31 Gogol, writing for Pushkin’s journal The Contemporary was prompted to ask anxiously: “What level of education does the Russian public have? And what is the Russian public?”32 Belinsky and Gogol sound consonant notes in their emphasis on the rapid growth of a motley, unknown readership and in their insistence that the periodical press has both an opportunity and something approaching a duty to develop culturally and intellectually the newest members of this public. These critical responses to The Library For Reading gave expression to a public perception about the existence of a growing, and to a large extent, provincial or unsophisticated readership; the latter two terms became virtually interchangeable in some contexts as the very designation of provincial morphed into shorthand for the new readers, quite regardless of actual geographic or demographic provenance.
Pushkin, of course, responded in turn to Gogol’s article generally and to his query about the new public particularly. Writing anonymously, as one A.B., resident of Tver province, Pushkin in the “Letter to the Editor” (published in The Contemporary) offered an educated reader, a self-styled spokesman for his provincial peers, who delivers his formulations about how well the rural audience understands the current book market from the first person plural position of, for example, “we, humble provincials.” While A.B. finds Bulgarin’s enormously successful newspaper The Northern Bee boring, he is not against the commercial trend in Russian letters as such. He even seems to lament that Pushkin’s name has left the masthead of The Library For Reading and can only offer his good wishes that The Contemporary amass a readership of five thousand subscribers by the following year. Pavel Reyfman reads “Letter to the Editor” in the context of Pushkin’s editorial practice in 1836 to arrive at the conclusion that much as the poet claimed repeatedly that the journal had no official program, A.B.’s letter is, nevertheless, “programmatic” for the position of the periodical as one through which Pushkin had hoped to access what the specialist calls “a democratic” readership.33 Reyfman also points out that despite the attempts to write for a broader public, the journal continued to be regarded by various representatives of the journalistic milieu as not a “democratic” but a high “society” publication: in particular, Belinsky, whom Pushkin had hoped to recruit for collaboration, continued to call The Contemporary an artifact of “high society” (svetskii) culture. A review of the available numbers suggests that in its first year of existence, the journal was failing to garner subscribers: the print run of the first two issues, 2400, dropped by half by the third issue at which time the journal had 700 subscribers, not an entirely poor number for the time, but certainly useful to compare to The Library for Reading’s 5000.
In the pages that follow I will provide a genesis for Pushkin’s interest in producing periodical publications that might attract a relatively wide readership, with attention to what I think are among the central factors that made it both tempting and difficult to write for an expanding public. On the one hand, the large-scale, if gradual, transformations in the field of cultural production — especially the appearance of new readers — precipitated the rise of periodicals to a particular prominence. In the writers’ own understanding of the state of affairs, journals, and newspapers could serve as effective mediators between cultural producers and their new, often naïve, growing audiences, guiding the latter to navigate both a cultural landscape and a book market understood in largely economic terms.34 Professional participation in the journalistic milieu was marked socially as not entirely appropriate for a person of Pushkin’s circles. Moreover, the extant media forms of the period could themselves be marked in socio-cultural terms, and Pushkin’s journalistic output was evaluated repeatedly as belonging too much to the culture of high society, much as his attempts to participate in the periodical press signaled a relative re-orientation towards a democratizing readership.
Paul Debrezceny has pointed out that by the early 1830s Pushkin was “beginning to find it difficult to gain access to periodicals,” citing a contributor to The Telescope (Teleskop) who observed in 1832 that “works by Pushkin come out and pass by almost unnoticed.”35 Debrezceny considers the establishment of The Literary Gazette as a short-lived and largely unsuccessful attempt to overcome this situation. Pushkin’s subsequent plans to establish periodical ventures may certainly be viewed in similar terms, as successive attempts to participate actively in the period’s literary and journalistic marketplace. In 1832, Pushkin petitioned Count Benkendorf with a request to publish a newspaper that “would have resources equal to those of The Northern Bee.” (XV: 206) He introduced the potential venture in the context of an increasingly commercial literary culture, noting that “[l]iterature has become more lively and taken on its usual, that is to say, its commercial orientation. It now comprises an aspect of industry, governed by law.” (XV:205) As would Belinksy and Gogol in coming years, Pushkin here underscores the ascendancy of the periodical press in general and the ability of a well-circulated periodical like The Northern Bee in particular to influence profoundly “the reading public, and consequently the commerce in books.” (XV: 205) Effectively, Pushkin asked for an ability to compete with The Bee’s monopoly on the directions taken by the book trade. Grech and Bulgarin’s newspaper had a subscribership of around 3000 in 1830, a very high number for the time period, and one that is known to have grown significantly (to up to 10, 000 in some accounts) over the course of the decade.36
When preliminary permission was granted in 1832 for Pushkin to begin work on a private newspaper, both the would-be editor and his associates expressed optimism that, as the poet put it in a letter to Pogodin, “this is an important business [delo vazhnoe], for the monopoly of Grech and Bulgarin has fallen.” (XV, 27) In the same letter to Pogodin, Pushkin expresses his less than professional understanding of the newspaper trade. Both the poet and such associates as Viazemskii and Dmitriev discuss Pushkin’s career change to a paper man (gazetchik) in light-hearted terms, admitting the shortcomings of their grasp on the task ahead. Pushkin’s acquaintance, Nikolai Mukhanov records in his diary multiple conversations about Pushkin’s projected newspaper, including one in which Sergei Uvarov expresses considerable doubts regarding Pushkin’s ability to publish a periodical, “since he has neither the personality, nor the persistence, nor the practical preparation necessary for a newspaper [zhurnal].” “In his own way, he is correct,” Mukhanov concludes, despite the considerable enthusiasm he appears to have had for Pushkin’s venture. 37 The newspaper never materialized, likely in some part because Pushkin and his close associates did not have sufficient professional resources. Mukhanov’s records make clear that Pushkin recognized the need for a professional associate.
As early as June of 1832, Pushkin began cautious negotiations regarding possible collaboration with none other than Nikolai Grech, Bulgarin’s business partner and co-editor. Bulgarin, with whom Pushkin had had such recent journalistic altercations as would have made direct amicable contact out of the question for both men, was out of town, living at his estate of Karlovo, near Derpt (now Tartu), where he spent a great deal of time between 1831 and 1837. Bulgarin’s absence from Petersburg proves a boon to the historian of this episode in Russian literary culture, as the Pushkin-Grech plans for collaboration are recounted dutifully by Grech in his correspondence with Bulgarin.38
Most striking in these letters is how uncertain (or, depending on one’s perspective, flexible) Pushkin appears to have been about the parameters of the enterprise, how often and how quickly he seems to have changed his mind about what shape the periodical and his collaboration with Grech would take. In a relatively short span of time, Pushkin’s plans oscillated between a daily newspaper, a weekly review, a monthly journal, a thrice weekly newspaper, and a thrice-yearly journal. According to Grech’s missives, at one point Pushkin changed his mind in the course of mere days from the plan to take over the journal Son of the Fatherland (Syn otechestva, then edited by Grech) and focus on it as a primarily literary venue to what was in many ways a radically different option: publishing his own political thrice weekly newspaper, using Grech’s typographical resources.
Given the temporal proximity to Pushkin’s heated and personal quarrel with Bulgarin, that the poet contemplated collaboration with Grech, may appear, at first, rather surprising. As is well known and as Grech makes clear in his correspondence, a professionally binding contract with him meant genuine, if slightly indirect, association with Bulgarin was inevitable. What does it mean, then, that Pushkin considered such a course of action? To begin with, this fact attests to the degree to which Pushkin’s circle lacked professional journalists, in large due to the relative social taboo that remained attached to professionalization among members of society. Moreover, this episode highlights the ways in which the boundaries that separated the so-called “literary aristocrats” from writers of a commercial orientation could, at times, become rather porous. At a relatively advanced stage in the negotiations, in a letter to Bulgarin, Grech endorses collaboration with Pushkin so as to avoid rivalry and he seems — from today’s point of view surprisingly and indeed astonishingly — certain that in less than two years’ time, the three of them (Pushkin, Bulgarin, and Grech!) would come together in one newspaper. The plans to work with Grech came to naught.
Pushkin turned to Narkiz Tarasenko-Otreshkov, with whom he began to work in September of 1832, to whom he gave powers of proxy in affairs related to the production of the newspaper, and whose abilities in the newspaper trade the poet appears to have overestimated. Still, with Tarasenko-Otreshkov’s help, Pushkin produced the requisite rough trial copy of the newspaper that was to be called Diary (Dnevnik). A trial copy had to be submitted to the authorities by any periodical prior to beginning to publish. The annotators of the 1926-1935 edition of Pushkin’s letters, which reprints the trial copy, find it very schematic and all but unfinished, haphazardly organized, as if incomplete.39 It is true that it appears rather poorly produced, has occasional strange orthography and grammar, but to the regular reader of The Northern Bee, even its awkward organization bears a strong resemblance to the newspaper Pushkin had hoped to replicate for competition. Like The Bee, the trial run of Diary reports anodyne domestic and foreign news items, but without — at least in this reader’s view — Bulgarin’s sometimes delightfully chatty flair. The trial run was presented to the authorities in October 1832. In September, Pushkin described the plan in a letter to Pogodin; sounding increasingly dissatisfied, he notes,
What sort of program would you like to see? The political section will be worthless officially; the literary section will be worthless substantially; [then there will be] news about rates of currency exchange, about travelers who have arrived and those who are departing; and there you have it, the whole program. I wanted to destroy the monopoly, and I succeeded. The rest does not interest me much. My newspaper will be a little worse than the Nor[thern] Bee. I do not intend to ingratiate myself with the public; to quarrel with the journals is good once every five years, and even then it is good for Kosichkin, not for me. I do not intend to publish poetry [in the newspaper], since Christ himself forbade us to throw pearls before the public; that is what prose-chaff (proza-miakina) is for.40 (XV: 29)
It may appear paradoxical that having been allowed to publish the newspaper, and having come so close to beginning the venture in earnest, Pushkin retreated into disappointment, finding the very parameters and capacities of the periodical he had been permitted utterly inadequate. In his petition to start a newspaper, Pushkin had promised to put his pen at the government’s service;41 regardless of how one evaluates Pushkin’s initial promise to collaborate with the state42, that the realization above occurs when the newspaper project had reached relatively advanced stages remains difficult to explain in terms that have to do with politics or the severe limitations imposed by censorship. Rather, this moment is symptomatic of a broader trend in Pushkin’s orientation toward his audience: as much as he is drawn to the media form that could afford access to the largest segment of the educated readership, he manages simultaneously to remain markedly, forcefully aloof and unwilling to cater to the public’s tastes.
In 1835, Pushkin petitioned the authorities again, but now with a two-fold request: the first part reiterated the newspaper project which had been allowed in 1832, while the second part asked for permission to publish an additional, quarterly periodical. The request for a newspaper was denied. The petition to publish a journal would result in The Contemporary. Much as it has become quite common to refer to Pushkin’s The Contemporary as a journal, the generic characterizations it accrued immediately prior to and during the course of the first year of its existence are far from simple. The publication existed in generic limbo between various forms of print media. In effect, Pushkin’s ability to position the publication vis-à-vis a broadening, democratizing readership depended on publicly circulated pronouncements about his new periodical, statements which did a great deal to delimit rhetorically the boundaries of the new venture. The vocabulary pertaining to journalistic genres was imprecise and in flux for some media forms, specifically for the distinction between newspaper and journal, as zhurnal could refer to both. On the other hand, the almanac was a distinct form that, to paraphrase Belinsky in an article I will discuss below, clearly was not a journal.43 And yet The Contemporary was referred to frequently by both designations, as well as some still more vague formulations for reasons that have to do with the varied socio-cultural weights and political meanings that various genres in print media carried at this time.
When it comes to what may be called its compositional history, the Contemporary issued from an almanac on which Pushkin had begun to collaborate with associates in 1835. Pushkin’s successful petition to Benkendorf included a request not for a journal but for “four volumes of articles” on various, overwhelmingly literary, subjects “in the manner of the English quarterly Reviews [Reviews44].” (XVI, 69) The generic designation — “four volumes of articles” instead of journal — was motivated by the fact that the authorities at this time were famously hesitant to allow additional journals, whereas less frequent publications, almanacs for example, which occupied a kind of intermediary position between books and periodicals, were permitted more easily.45 As a result, Pushkin had not become fully a journalist even in 1836.
Prior to the appearance of the first issue, Senkovskii printed a characteristically playful and thoroughly damning appraisal of what to expect from The Contemporary, which he called an “opprobrious-periodical (branno-periodicheskii) almanac […] which will be published in four books a year, or a sort of journal, four books of which will appear every three months,” and which he feigned an inability to characterize succinctly as either “this journal, or this almanac.”46 According to Vladimir Odoevsky’s recollections, references to The Contemporary as a journal sought to draw the censorship’s attention to Pushkin’s project as something that went quite beyond the boundaries established by official permit.47 Writing from a rather different social and ideological orientation and likely with no interest in alerting the censors, Belinsky also noted the generically motley character of Pushkin’s undertaking. Reviewing the inaugural issue of The Contemporary in quite generous terms, Belinksy asked, “Can there be a particular liveliness in a journal that consists of four books, and not huge books (knizhishch), and ones that appear once every three months?” The Contemporary was not properly a journal, because it would not appear with sufficient frequency. Instead, “such a journal, all of its inner virtue notwithstanding, will continue to resemble an almanac,” which latter generic designation Belinsky explained as follows: “that an almanac is not a journal and that it [an almanac] cannot have a lively and strong influence on our public need not be pointed out again.”48 Almanacs were costly, attractively designed luxury goods purchased by society people. When it gained relatively wide popularity in the early 1820s, the almanac was an outgrowth of salon literary culture; some scholars have conceived it as a kind of print surrogate for the album and a form that arose due to the gradual shift towards writing for a broadening reading public.49 However, The Contemporary’s even partial resemblance to such a form50 — read by 1836 as an attribute of elite culture — would have likely sabotaged its marketability, especially among the new, unsophisticated readership in city and province alike, a purchasing audience with what was in all senses a provincial taste for the motley contents of the middlebrow Library For Reading.
Just as critics debated the insufficient periodicity and generic hybridity of The Contemporary, various members of the literary establishment wondered aloud whether Pushkin the poet could become a journalist. Announcing that he does not intend to offend the editor, Belinsky asked, “who doesn’t know that it is possible to write wonderful poetry and at the same time be an unsuccessful journalist?”51 The Northern Bee lamented in exaggerated terms that Pushkin had exchanged the poet’s “golden lyre” for the “squeaking, never-silent, worker’s plume of the journalist” and went on to liken Pushkin’s editorship of The Contemporary to a demographic demotion: “the prince of the intellect has become the slave of the masses,” (kniaz’ mysli stal rabom tolpy), the poet having fallen silent, the journalist now produces “thick, heavy books of his dry and uninteresting journal.”52 The press was, once again, delineating the limits for Pushkin’s writerly activities, in this case not quite allowing the poet to turn journalist.
It seems to me that the professional literati’s resistance to Pushkin-the-journalist reiterated a broader sensibility regarding the incompatibility of professionalization and the heavily cultivated image of the gentleman-dilettante.53 54 When Pushkin failed to publish a newspaper in 1832, multiple members of his social circle expressed their relief. As early as April 1832, the poet’s sister, Olga Sergeevna Pavlishcheva (née Pushkina), wrote the following to her husband about Pushkin’s provisional plans to publish and to edit a daily political newspaper,
My poor brother is ready to profane his poetic genius and to profane it only in order to satisfy urgent material needs; but, judging by what he was telling me about his precarious situation, Alexander cannot do otherwise. But how will he with his lofty, contemplative, idealist soul immerse himself in the most trivial prose, tinker with workaday nonsense, reading every day the police news about who has arrived and who has departed, who has heedlessly broken his nose on the street, who was taken to the police station for public disorderly conduct, how large the audience was in the theaters, what actor or actress delighted [the public], chatter every day about the rain and the sun, and what is worst of all, publish and parse countless fables written by foreign liars with pretensions to political knowledge, to the devil with them! Much better to leave all of these banalities to Bulgarin and Grech.55
Lest we think that Puskhin’s sister’s was a society person’s (as opposed to a cultural producer’s) response, it may help to recall that Vasily Zhukovsky was glad when Pushkin’s newspaper plans dissipated and that Gogol expressed dramatically his relief, writing to Dmitriev that “Pushkin will not publish a newspaper — and this is for the better! To take on the discredited craft of the journalist at this time is not a very flattering thing even for an unknown person; but for a genius it means to sully the cleanliness and purity of his soul and to become a regular person.”56 Thus as much for Gogol as for Pavlishcheva, the poet could not remain a poet while also working as a professional journalist; it appears almost as if the two identities — figured here as social roles — were mutually exclusive. In 1836, Pushkin himself wrote to his wife that he was “terrified at each recollection that I am a journalist” and added that others would now regard him “as a Faddei Bulgarin and a Nikolai Polevoi, a spy,” thus evincing his own set of apprehensions.57 (XVI: 141) And while there was a considerable difference between editing a newspaper and editing a review or almanac (the latter especially was entirely acceptable as a gentlemanly pursuit), it seems to me that when the reviewers of The Contemporary suggested that there was something not entirely proper about the poet becoming a journalist, and that there was something of the almanac to the poet’s journal, their evaluation gained momentum thanks to the social taboo attached to professionalization and had relatively little to do with the actual contents of Pushkin’s periodical. Ultimately, taken together, these statements about Pushkin-the-journalist reveal a pervasive inflexibility in the period’s available routes for thinking about Pushkin as a cultural producer with an uncommonly broad range.
I tend to agree with Pavel Reyfman’s appraisal that as the editor of The Contemporary Pushkin was moving towards writing for an increasingly democratizing public. The discussion above is an attempt to outline the ways in which the socio-cultural circumstances of the period’s literary life made such attempts as Pushkin’s both eminently attractive and difficult to bring to fruition. Between 1832 and 1837, Pushkin’s oscillation between an expensive society almanac at one extreme and a mainstream, necessarily anodyne newspaper profit from which he would share with Bulgarin at the other, shows a cultural producer in search of something in between, some middle ground and perhaps even a middlebrow publication through which to reach the new public while deriving a revenue. Such a form, namely, the “thick journal,” was then only beginning to appear among the modes available to the print media. Following the success of The Library for Reading and especially with the 1839 resumption of Notes of the Fatherland (Otechestvennye zapiski) under Andrei Kraevsky’s editorship, the “thick journal” would come to define the contours of Russian literary culture and production.
Akimova, N.N. “Bulgarin i Gogol. (Massovoe i elitarnoe v russkoi literature: problema avtora i chitatelia),” Russkaia literatura 2 (1996): 3–22.
Belinsky, Vissarion. “Nichto o nichem,” Teleskop 31 (1835): 155–171.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (London, UK: Routledge, 1986).
Bourdieu, Pierre. The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996).
Bulgarin, Faddei. Durnye vremena. Ocherki russkikh nravov, ed. S.V. Denisenko, A.S. Strakhova (Saint-Petersburg: Azbuka-klassika, 2007).
Debreczeny, Paul. The Social Functions of Literature: Alexander Pushkin and Russian Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), 121.
Eremin, M. Pushkin-publitsist (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1976).
Feduta, A. I. and I.V. Egorov, Chitatel’ v tvorcheskom soznanii A. S. Pushkina (Minsk: Limarius, 1999).
Frazier, Melissa. Romantic Encounters: Writers, Readers, and the Library For Reading, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007).
Gessen, Sergei. spominaniiakh sovremennikov. Tom vtoroiKnigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin (Leningrad: Akademia, 1930).
Gillel’son, M. I. ed., Sovremennik. Literaturnyi zhurnal izdavaemyi Aleksandrom Pushkinym. Prilozhenie k faksimil’nomu izdaniiu (Moscow: Kniga, 1987).
Gogol, Nikolai. Polnoe sobraniie sochinenii v 14-i tomakh (Moscow and Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1937–1952), X:247.
Golovina, Tatiana. “Golos iz publiki (Chitatel’ i sovremennik o Pushkine i o Bulgarine),” Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie 40 (1999): 11–16.
Greenleaf, Monika. Pushkin and Romantic Fashion: Fragment, Elegy, Orient, Irony (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Press, 1994), 286-342.
Grits, T. and V. Trenin, M. Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia: knizhnaia lavka A.F. Smirdina, eds., V.B. Shklovskii and B.M. Eikhenbaum (Moscow: Federatsiia, 1929; Moscow: AGRAF, 2001).
Hanukai, Maksim. “The Disenchantment of Poetry: Pushkin’s ‘Egyptian Nights,’” Ulbandus Review 12 (2009/2010): 63-82.
Herman, David. “A Requiem for Aristocratic Art: Pushkin’s ‘Egyptian Nights,’” Russian Review 55, No.4 (1996): 661–680.
Kahn, Andrew. Pushkin’s Lyric Intelligence (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008), 158–215.
Larionova, E.O. ed., Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 1828–1830 (Saint-Petersburg: Gosudarstvennyi Pushkinskii Teatral’nyi Tsentr, 2001).
Lounsbery, Anne. Thin Culture, High Art: Gogol, Hawthorne, and Authorship in Nineteenth-Century Russia and America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).
Meynieux, André. Pouchkine: Homme de lettres et la littérature professionnelle en Russie (Paris: Librairie des cinq continents, 1966).
Pavlishchev, L. Vospominaniia ob A.S. Pushkine (Moscow: Universitetskaia tipografiia, 1890), 283.
Piksanov, N.K. “Nesostoiavshaiasia gazeta Pushkina ‘Dnevnik’ (1831–32),” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki 5 (1907): 30–74.
Pil’shchikov, I.A. and M.I. Shapir, “Stikhotvorets i publika v pushkinskom otryvke ‘Ne smotria na velikie preimushchestva…’ (Dopolneniia k kommentariiu),” Philologica 8, 19/20 (2003/2005).
Proskurin, Oleg. “Konets blagikh namerenii,” Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie 40 (1999): 113–141.
Pushkin, A.S. Pis’ma T.3, 1831–1833, ed. L.B. Modzalevskii (Moscow, Leningrad: Academia), 1935.
Pushkin, A.S. Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 16 tomakh, eds. M. Gorkii, D.D. Blagoi, S.M. Bondi, V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, G.O. Vinokur, A.M. Deborin, P.I. Lebedev-Polianskii, B.V. Tomashevskii, M.A. Tsiavlovskii, D.P. Iakobuvich (Moscow, Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo AN SSSR, 1937-1959), VIII: 409.
Reitblat, Abram Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii: Istoriko-sotsiologicheskie ocherki o knizhnoi kul’ture Pushkinskoi ephokhi (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2001).
Reitblat, A.I. Vidok Figliarin. Pis’ma i agenturnye zapiski F.V. Bulgarina v III otdelenie (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 1998).
Reyfman, Pavel. “Dve programmy Pushkinskogo ‘Sovremennika’,” Trudy po russkoi i slavianskoi filologii. Literaturovedenie II (Novaia seriia) (1996): 130–155.
Severnaia pchela, 1828, issue 85.
Shattock, Joanne. Politics and Reviewers; The Edinburgh and the Quarterly (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1989), 6–7.
Shevyrev, Stepan. “Slovesnost’ i torgovlia,” Moskovskii nabliudatel’ 1 (March 1835): 5–29.
Stolpianskii, P. “Pushkin i ‘Severnaia pchela’ (1825–1837),” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki 9–10 (1914): 117–190, 23–24 (1916):127–194, 31–32 (1927):129–146.
Todd III, William Mills. Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin: Ideology, Institutions, and Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).
Todd, William Mills. “The Ruse of the Russian Novel” in The Novel, V. 1., (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2006), 401–423.
Tynianov, Yuri. “O ‘Puteshestvii v Arzrum,’” Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii II (Moscow-Leningrad: Nauka, 1936), 56–73.
Vatsuro, V.E. and M.I. Gillelson, Skvoz’ umstvennye plotiny: iz istorii knigi i pressy pushkinsoi pory (Moscow: Kniga, 1972).
Vatsuro, V.E. and M.I. Gillel’son, R.V. Iezuitova, Ia. L. Levkovich et al, eds., Pushkin v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov. Tom vtoroi (Saint-Petersburg: Gumanitarnoe Agentstvo “Akademicheskii proekt,” 1998).
Zaslavskii, O.B. “Struktrunye paradoksy pushkinskogo ‘Otryvka’,” Philologica 8, 19–20 (2003/2005): 205–208.
1 Faddei Bulgarin, Durnye vremena. Ocherki russkikh nravov, ed. S.V. Denisenko, A.S. Strakhova (Saint-Petersburg: Azbuka-klassika, 2007), 309.
2 Ibid., 310.
For more on Bulgarin’s relationship to the reading public and on his ability to cater to the middling segments of the readership, see Tatiana Golovina, “Golos iz publiki (Chitatel’ i sovremennik o Pushkine i o Bulgarine),” Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie 40 (1999): 11–16 and N.N. Akimova, “Bulgarin i Gogol. (Massovoe i elitarnoe v russkoi literature: problema avtora i chitatelia),” Russkaia literatura 2 (1996): 3–22. For a very useful overview of Bulgarin’s career, see the introduction to A.I. Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin. Pis’ma i agenturnye zapiski F.V. Bulgarina v III otdelenie (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 1998).
3 Throughout this essay my understanding of what constitutes a middlebrow cultural register as well as of the positions of a cultural producer in a field of literary production owes largely to multiple works by Pierre Bourdieu. See especially Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (London, UK: Routledge, 1986) and Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996).
4 This suggestion, which I will develop below, is prompted in part by Melissa Frazier’s discussion of an analogous phenomenon in Osip Senkovskii’s editorial practice in the journal The Library for Reading. Like Frazier, I am interested here in the book market more as a discursive construction and less as an institution to be located in documentary, historical reality. Melissa Frazier, Romantic Encounters: Writers, Readers, and the Library For Reading, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007).
5 The most extensive treatments of Pushkin in the context of the period’s professional newspaper trade remain N.K. Piksanov, “Nesostoiavshaiasia gazeta Pushkina ‘Dnevnik’ (1831–32),” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki 5 (1907): 30–74 and P. Stolpianskii, “Pushkin i ‘Severnaia pchela’ (1825–1837),” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki 9–10 (1914): 117–190, 23–24 (1916):127–194, 31–32 (1927):129–146. See also, André Meynieux, Pouchkine: Homme de lettres et la littérature professionnelle en Russie (Paris: Librairie des cinq continents, 1966), especially 519–579 and, lastly, M. Eremin, Pushkin-publitsist (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1976). The volume of commentary attached to the facsimile edition of Pushkin’s journal the Contemporary is also very useful. M. I. Gillel’son, ed., Sovremennik. Literaturnyi zhurnal izdavaemyi Aleksandrom Pushkinym. Prilozhenie k faksimil’nomu izdaniiu (Moscow: Kniga, 1987).
6 Among relatively recent treatments of the topic, see A. I. Feduta and I.V. Egorov, Chitatel’ v tvorcheskom soznanii A. S. Pushkina (Minsk: Limarius, 1999).
7 For a convincing case that “Fragment” should be considered a finished text see O.B. Zaslavskii, “Struktrunye paradoksy pushkinskogo ‘Otryvka’,” Philologica 8, 19–20 (2003/2005): 205–208. For a treatment of “Fragment” in the context of the period’s journalistic appraisals of Pushkin’s works and an interpretation of it as a text that complicates the very categories of finished and unfinished see I.A. Pil’shchikov and M.I. Shapir, “Stikhotvorets i publika v pushkinskom otryvke ‘Ne smotria na velikie preimushchestva…’ (Dopolneniia k kommentariiu),” Philologica 8, 19/20 (2003/2005): 209–216.
8 On the relationship between the “Fragment” and “Egyptian Nights” and their unique position in Pushkin’s oeuvre as texts in which the author contemplates his past and present/future selves as an artist, see David Herman, “A Requiem for Aristocratic Art: Pushkin’s ‘Egyptian Nights,’” Russian Review 55, No.4 (1996): 661–680.
9 Monika Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion: Fragment, Elegy, Orient, Irony (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Press, 1994), 286–342 and Maksim Hanukai, “The Disenchantment of Poetry: Pushkin’s ‘Egyptian Nights,’” Ulbandus Review 12 (2009/2010): 63–82. Greenleaf points out that the “Kleopatra” poem included in “Egyptian Nights” was written in 1824, when “the theme of literary commerce (torg) versus poetic inspiration surfaced for the first time in [Pushkin’s] poetry,” 290.
10 A.S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 16 tomakh, eds. M. Gorkii, D.D. Blagoi, S.M. Bondi, V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, G.O. Vinokur, A.M. Deborin, P.I. Lebedev-Polianskii, B.V. Tomashevskii, M.A. Tsiavlovskii, D.P. Iakobuvich (Moscow, Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo AN SSSR, 1937-1959), VIII: 409. All subsequent references to this edition will be marked in the body of the text with volume, followed by page number. All translations from Russian are my own.
11 E.O. Larionova, ed., Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 1828–1830 (Saint-Petersburg: Gosudarstvennyi Pushkinskii Teatral’nyi Tsentr, 2001), 191.
12 Pushkin was traveling without an official permit and was being monitored throughout his journey. Especially the first of these two circumstances would have made the press’s attention all the more unpleasant.
13 For a seminal, interpretive account both of this episode and of literary institutions of the period broadly, see William Mills Todd III, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin: Ideology, Institutions, and Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), especially Chapter 2.
14 Larionova, Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 232.
15 To get a sense of how Pushkin himself may have understood Bulgarin’s access to the broad reading public, it may be instructive to recall that as early as in 1824 Pushkin sent portions of Eugene Onegin (chapter 1) to Bulgarin to print in the periodicals edited by the latter (of course not The Northern Bee, which had not been established yet), likely in order to see the public’s reaction and gauge its interest. Feduta, Chitatel’, 72.
16 Severnaia pchela, 1828, issue 85. The Bee printed the warning about the “Kirghiz Prisoner” in issue 94 of 1828; for discussions of Vel’skii see issues 55, 79, 94 of the same year.
17 Larionova, Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 217.
18 There are, of course, various other works that register other aspects of Pushkin’s critical reception: for example, most famously Onegin, less famously Novel in Letters (Roman v pis’makh, 1829). For an incisive interpretation of Pushkin’s response to the press of the late 1820s in a draft variant of The Little House in Kolomna (Domik v Kolomne, 1830), see I.A. Pil’shchikov and M.I. Shapir, “Stikhotvorets i publika.”
19 The Messenger of Europe deserves particular mention on this count for both demanding a work celebrating the Russian victories and evaluating the verses Pushkin did publish (far from celebratory in content) vis-à-vis this expectation.
20 The existence of four different drafts of the preface to Journey attests to the significance the poet attached to this document. Incidentally, in Tynianov’s view, the assertion that Journey was the only thing Pushkin published about the campaigns sounds disingenuous; see his readings of “From Hafiz” and “Delibash.” Yuri Tynianov, “O ‘Puteshestvii v Arzrum,’” Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii II (Moscow-Leningrad: Nauka, 1936), 56–73.
21 Pushkin either did not know that Bulgarin was the author of the article in question or did not wish to polemicize with him directly, preferring instead to respond to an anonymous modern Aristarchus (of Samothrace rather than Samos, of course) with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
22 Larionova, Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 157-176.
23 Both here and earlier in the same letter, Pushkin refers to Nikolai Polevoi, a contemporary journalist whose work he finds lacking in quality and substance. In the context of the full letter, that one might “follow Polevoi at least” is colored by a sarcastic inflection.
24 For a highly insightful discussion of Izmailov’s The Well-Intentioned and of Pushkin’s attitude towards it, see Oleg Proskurin, “Konets blagikh namerenii,” Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie 40 (1999): 113–141.
25 Among the several studies that examine the literary culture of the period, my own investigation has benefited especially from the following titles: V.E. Vatsuro and M.I. Gillelson, Skvoz’ umstvennye plotiny: iz istorii knigi i pressy pushkinsoi pory (Moscow: Kniga, 1972), William Mills Todd III, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin: Ideology, Institutions, and Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), and Abram Reitblat, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii: Istoriko-sotsiologicheskie ocherki o knizhnoi kul’ture Pushkinskoi ephokhi (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2001).
26 Todd, Fiction, 93.
27 Grits, T. and V. Trenin, M. Nikitin, Slovesnost’ i kommertsiia: knizhnaia lavka A.F. Smirdina, eds., V.B. Shklovskii and B.M. Eikhenbaum (Moscow: Federatsiia, 1929; Moscow: AGRAF, 2001).
28 George Gutsche, “Print Culture in the Early Reign of Nicholas I” in The Space of the Book: Print Culture in the Russian Social Imagination, ed. Miranda Remnek (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 58.
29 It would be possible to argue that the main insult of Pushkin’s article “The Triumph of Friendship, or Aleksandr Anfimovich Orlov Vindicated” was in Pushkin’s comparison of Orlov to Bulgarin, often to the former’s benefit. The very juxtaposition itself would have been offensive because of the implied erosion of the considerable distance between Bulgarin’s middlebrow and Orlov’s decidedly lowbrow/popular works. XI: 204–210.
30 Stepan Shevyrev, “Slovesnost’ i torgovlia,” Moskovskii nabliudatel’ 1 (March 1835): 5–29.
31 Vissarion Belinsky, “Nichto o nichem,” Teleskop 31 (1835): 155–171.
32 Anne Lounsbery provides an illuminating account of the extent to which Gogol’s art is pervaded by an awareness of a new addressee whose constitution and character appeared at this time difficult to determine. Anne Lounsbery, Thin Culture, High Art: Gogol, Hawthorne, and Authorship in Nineteenth-Century Russia and America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).
33 Pavel Reyfman, “Dve programmy Pushkinskogo ‘Sovremennika’,” Trudy po russkoi i slavianskoi filologii. Literaturovedenie II (Novaia seriia) (1996): 130–155.
34 Whether there existed a book market at this time depends on one’s definition of the concept. Abram Reitblat consults publication figures for fiction produced during the early decades of the nineteenth century to find a market for lowbrow fare — folk and fairy tales, the so-called chivalric romances such as Bova Korolevich, as these were the titles that saw the highest frequency of republication at this time. In his view, market conditions for books purchased by a more educated readership would not obtain until the 1860s or 1870s. See Reitblat, Kak Pushkin, passim. William Mills Todd has pointed out that if we consider the Russian nineteenth-century market for fiction in terms of its capacity to support professional writers financially alongside the contemporaneous situation in England and France, then the Russian “market” even by late mid-century appears rather paltry compared to the Western commerce in letters. For these reasons, in my own use of such terms as “market,” “the reading public” and “commercialization” of literature, I try as much as possible to stay within the vocabulary of the figures under study, chief among them Pushkin. See William Mills Todd, “The Ruse of the Russian Novel” in The Novel, V. 1., (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2006), 401–423. Moreover, it is especially useful here to recall Andrew Kahn’s assertion that much as the Russian literary milieu was far less robust in such features as book sales and the readership than its European counterparts, Pushkin reacted to the Russian situation in exaggerated terms, treating it as something akin to a better-developed European Romantic-era market. Andrew Kahn, Pushkin’s Lyric Intelligence (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008), 158–215.
35 Paul Debreczeny, The Social Functions of Literature: Alexander Pushkin and Russian Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), 121.
36 As is well known, the editors’ near-monopoly on the news trade was aided greatly by Bulgarin’s association with the Third Section. As Abram Reitblat has pointed out, some form of collaboration with the Third Section was a fairly common practice associated with producing a major periodical during the years in question. Reitblat recounts, for example, that Nikolai Polevoi had come to collaborate quite closely with the state in his capacity as editor of Moscow Telegraph (Moskovskii telegraf). Reitblat also cites Pushkin’s assurance to Benkendorf to place his future newspaper at the state’s disposal, to use it in order to shape and direct public opinion in concert with the wishes of the authorities, as another example of the same tendency. See, Kak Pushkin vyshel v genii, passim.
37 It appears that Uvarov was irked by the fact that Pushkin had petitioned Benkendorf, rather than working with Uvarov himself. See the pages below for a discussion of the vocabulary pertaining to periodical genres. The Russian “zhurnal” could mean both newspaper and journal at this time; it is clear from the context that Mukhanov is referring to the newspaper, which he also calls a gazeta. V.E. Vatsuro, M.I. Gillel’son, R.V. Iezuitova, Ia. L. Levkovich et al, eds., Pushkin v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov. Tom vtoroi (Saint-Petersburg: Gumanitarnoe Agentstvo “Akademicheskii proekt,” 1998), 222.
38 Grech’s correspondence with Bulgarin has been reprinted with commentary by Abram Reitblat in Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie 40 (1999): 94–113.
39 A.S. Pushkin, Pis’ma T.3, 1831–1833, ed. L.B. Modzalevskii (Moscow, Leningrad: Academia), 1935.
40 On Pushkin’s practice of publishing his works — and especially his poetry — in periodicals with which he, at various times, had an adversarial relationship, see Sergei Gessen, Knigoizdatel’ Aleksandr Pushkin (Leningrad: Akademia, 1930).
41 Over the years, scholars have interpreted this episode in a variety of ways. Piksanov calls it a shameful moment in Pushkin’s biography; Reitblat offers a large body of evidence that indicates, I think quite reasonably, that collaboration with the government was very nearly unavoidable for anyone wishing to publish a periodical (and especially one like Pushkin’s Diary, which was to be permitted to print political news) at the time.
42 Incidentally, Mukhanov attests to this in his diary, stating that Pushkin will be “giving the most expeditious political news from the ministry of internal affairs,” Pushkin v vospominaniiakh, 220.
43 Even such habitués of the period’s journalistic milieu as Bulgarin and Belinsky could call a newspaper a zhurnal, likely a residual effect of the Russian linguistic borrowing from the French journal. To give two examples, Bulgarin called both The Literary Gazette and The Northern Bee a “zhurnal.” See, Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike,1834–1837 (Saint-Petersburg: Gosudarstvennyi Pushkinskii Teatral’nyi Tsentr, 2008), 149, 155. In the majority of the texts I have consulted from this period, however, the distinction between gazeta and zhurnal on one side and al’manakh on the other is well-established and firm. Moreover, in the first half of the nineteenth century zhurnal could also refer to a personal diary, or, in Russian, dnevnik. The title of Pushkin’s newspaper project, Dnevnik, appears less strange in this context, inasmuch as the multiplicity of the lexical meanings of zhurnal may have lent to the word dnevnik some shades of meaning that gestured towards the periodical press. I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers for pointing me to this third sense of the word zhurnal.
44 In English in the original.
45 Vatsuro and Gillel’son, Skvoz’ umstvennye plotiny, passim and 216–219.
46 Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike,1834–1837, 121–123.
47 Vatsuro and Gillel’son, Skvoz’ umstvennye plotiny, 218.
48 Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike,1834–1837, 144–149.
49 Reitblat, Kak Pushkin, 70–82.
50 I am concerned here only with the 1820s and 1830s. The almanac would resurface as a productive media form at multiple points throughout the nineteenth century. The meanings it accrued in the Russian cultural imagination varied with each iteration.
51 Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike,1834–1837, 161.
52 Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike,1834–1837, 160.
53 The case of Nikolai Karamzin would remain the exception, rather than the rule.
54 This was a far from uniquely Russian phenomenon. In the early 1800s, Francis Jeffery was embarrassed to assume editorship of the Edinburgh Review and wrote about wishing to keep his “intercourse with gentlemen only,” lest the work should assume a “tradesman-like concern.” At the same time, it appears that in Great Britain the job of newspaper editor was evaluated as unequivocally ungentlemanly, whereas that of Review editor could be “the office of a scholar and a gentleman.” See Joanne Shattock, Politics and Reviewers; The Edinburgh and the Quarterly (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1989), 6–7.
55 L. Pavlishchev, Vospominaniia ob A.S. Pushkine (Moscow: Universitetskaia tipografiia, 1890), 283.
56 Nikolai Gogol, Polnoe sobraniie sochinenii v 14-i tomakh (Moscow and Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1937–1952), X:247.
57 See the discussion above for more on the period’s journalists’ collaboration with the Third Section that likely inspired Pushkin’s fear about being counted a spy.