Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism: From the Golden Age to the Silver Age. Edited by Boris Gasparov, Robert P. Hughes, and Irina Paperno. California Slavic Studies, vol. 15. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. 494 pp.
The twenty-three essays in this volume are the product of a conference held at the University of California, Berkeley in May of 1987 to commemorate the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Pushkin's death. The focus and underlying assumptions of this conference, however, were quite different than those of other conferences held to commemorate the Pushkin jubilee, and consequently the papers themselves are quite different. Rather than focusing on specific problems of Pushkin studies or different approaches to Pushkin, as was the case for example at the conference held the same year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (the papers from the Madison conference have been published by Indiana University Press), these essays celebrate the notion of "cultural return" and are based on two assumptions: 1) that there are deep affinities between the Golden and Silver Ages of Russian literature; and 2) that the Pushkin myth occupies a central place in the Modernist culture of the Silver Age. In fact, as one of the participants, Monika Greenleaf, noted, the time frame of the period virtually coincides, at a century's distance, with the dates of Pushkin's own life.
Sam Driver. Puškin: Literature and Social Ideals. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. xii, 143 pp.
Sam Driver worked many years on this subject, publishing selected parts as articles along the way; now we have the fine result in book form. The word "politics" is not in the title, but this is a study of Pushkin's development as a political, as well as social, thinker. Driver concentrates on the poet's thought after 1828 without neglecting teh earlier, more liberal, sometimes radical political position. Central to his approach is a carefully defined notion of Pushkin's leadership of the "aristocratic party," understood as a defense of his own class of the nobility (dvorianstvo) and a rationale for a legally established class which would be at once a counter to the autocracy and its bureaucracy and a caretaker of the peasantry. Driver cautions us to be wary of interpretations of Pushkin the Decembrist fellow-traveler, and he refutes attempts to prove that teh mature Pushkin rejected his class (Blagoi's literal understanding of the sarcastic jeer "Ia meshchanin!"). His conclusion, stated early and argued throughout, is that Pushkin matured to a conservative gradualism tempered by quite liberal attitudes on such questions as serfdom, law, violence and revolution, monarchy, and the necessity of enlightenment.
Given that the two books here under review both carry forms of the words "Pushkin" and "elegy" in their titles, it is not surprising that they have similar aims: to trace the development of the Russian elegy from the middle of the eighteenth century through the first third or so of the nineteenth. In addition, both books, as products of the newly open cultural climate after glasnost´ and the fall of Soviet communism, strive to recuperate a central genre of Russian poetry that seemed to embarrass Marxist positivism as a pothole in the road to realism.