Puškin from the Beyond: An Analysis of an “Unreliable Source”

In her Memoirs, published by The Historical Herald in the 1870s, Puškin’s sister Ol′ga Sergeevna Pavliščeva (1797–1868) presented a short poem which she claimed was dictated by her late brother’s spirit during a family seance. In the eve of Puškin’s centennial anniversary, a journal of Russian spiritists, The Rebus, reprinted this poem under the title “A posthumous poem by Aleksandr Sergeevič Puškin” (1899, #22, May 30). The given text entered an unusual “anthology” of Russian afterlife poetry, collected by The Rebus in the 1880s and 90s (Tred′jakovskij, Venevitinov, Žukovskij).

The publication of these posthumous poems, produced by the so-called method of “direct writing,” may be considered as one of the utmost expressions of the notorious quasi-religious cult of literature and literati that had emerged by the end of the nineteenth century. It is evident that these texts do not provide us with information on their departed authors, but rather on the aesthetic and religious beliefs, aspirations, and fears of a certain group of readers. In the words of Jurij Lotman, the deciphering of such “unreliable texts” might become “an important source of our knowledge” concerning Russian literary mythology and cultural consciousness of the late nineteenth century.

“Puškin’s epistle from the beyond” belongs to an array of the most informative works of the kind. In my paper, I plan to demonstrate how some major tendencies of the “Puškin myth” are logically realized in this bizarre poem. I presume that the appearance of the work is closely linked to the “family legend” about Puškin and his death, created by some of the poet’s relatives and friends (Žukovskij, Pavliščevs, Dal′). The second publication of the “epistle” during the 1899 jubilee, in turn, should be viewed in the context of the stormy polemics of the late 1890s concerning the symbolic meaning of the poet’s death (Merežkovskij, Solov′ev, Rozanov). The participants of that dispute expanded on the famous question, formulated by Žukovskij, a witness of Puškin’s death, as early as 1837: “… Oh, what could he tell me, if he could be resurrected?!”

Thus, the purpose of my paper is threefold: to show a) which motifs and devices of Puškin’s lyrics were used by the creator(s) of the “posthumous poem” b) the links between the text and the “family legend” of Puškin’s demise (1837–1860s), and c) the meaning and role of the poem in the pre-symbolist myth on Puškin (1880–1890s).