Review: "Pushkin and Blackness on the Web"
The subject of Pushkin and his “blackness” is one that continues to attract American students of Russian. For this reason, Pushkin Review has attempted to assess the resource most likely to be the one our undergraduates first consult upon investigating this topic: the World Wide Web.
Scholars in recent years have attained a more complex understanding of the facts of Pushkin’s African heritage and a more sophisticated approach to its possible significance for both the poet and his readers in his own time and in ours. Ground-breaking works in this regard include Dieudonné Gnammankou’s Abraham Hanibal, l'aïeul noir de Pouchkine (Paris, Présence Africaine, 1996), the volume Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness (edited by Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy, Nicole Svobodny and Liudmilla Trigos, Northwestern University Press, 2006), and conferences such as that held at Harvard University in April of 2008, “Aleksandr Pushkin: An Historic Symposium at Harvard. Exploring the Dual Heritage of Russia's Greatest Poet, Father of Modern Russian Literature, and the Black Russians of the 20th Century.” American students interested in the question of Pushkin and race, however, are more likely to turn first not to Gnammankou or Nepomnyashchy et al., but to the English-language Internet. My own experience of “Googling” terms like “Pushkin AND Africa,” “Pushkin AND blackness,” “Pushkin AND Gannibal,” etc. certainly suggest that Internet sites aimed at the general public offer at best a simplified view of this issue, and occasionally real misinformation. Still, it is clear that increasing scholarly interest in the facts and implications of Pushkin’s African ancestry has had an impact on Pushkin’s presence on the web.
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Review: Roman Koropeckyj. «Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic»
Roman Koropeckyj. Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008. xvii + 549. ISBN 978-0-8014-4471-5. Cloth.
On the first page of this excellent new biography,Roman Koropeckyj relates how, in 1968, the Polish communist government, which had hitherto praised Adam Mickiewicz as the country’s first patriotic poet, banned a production of his drama Forefather’s Eve. Its anti-Russian sentiments made them nervous. Reading this as a non-Slavist scholar of Byron and romanticism, I wondered to what extent Mickiewicz, known in cliché, after all, as “the Polish Byron,” united creativity on the page with activity on the street. Indeed, Part III of Forefather’s Eve (the part which, I surmise, the communists banned), is one long depiction of the way Russia is attempting to wipe Poland and Polish culture from the face of the earth. Action is the only possibility left when you leave the theater, and the communists were, from their own perspective, correct to ban it. In other words, Mickiewicz is not “the Polish Byron”: the analogy is false. Byron was all in favor of revolutions abroad (a revolution at home might have caused a fall in the value of his holdings in government funds), but he could have gone back home from exile any time he wanted, while Mickiewicz had already been exiled from Poland once, before the Polish Uprising of 1831—albeit to the comforts of St. Petersburg, Odessa, and Moscow—and had he tried to return to Poland post-1831, he would have been at the very least sent to Siberia. Yet, as Koropeckyj writes, “Byron came to share the same space in Mickiewicz’s pantheon as Napoleon” (45). In 1822, we find Mickiewicz writing in a letter, “I read only Byron, and cast aside books if written in a different spirit, since I don’t like lies; if there’s a description of happiness, family life, this rouses my indignation as much as the sight of married couples and children; this is my only aversion” (46–47)—which puts an interesting, if sad, gloss on Mickiewicz’s interpretation both of “lies” and of Byron’s version of “happiness”: this last has indeed very little to do with marriage, or children. Byron was a bad husband and an indifferent father: Mickiewicz, as Koropeckyj shows, outgrew the adolescent distaste for breeding shown in this letter, married, and had six children, towards whom he was affectionate in the normal way. He became, indeed, “the Byron of his country, but a moral and Christian Byron” (247) if that isn’t too glaring a contradiction in terms. When Mickiewicz translated The Giaour, it became accepted as a virtual Polish poem in its own right precisely because he changed the Giaour’s deathbed sneers at Christian consolation into pious acceptance of the same.
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