Elements of the Familiar Letter in Puškin’s Domik v Kolomne

The influence of the familiar letter on the literature of A. S. Puškin cannot be overstated. The genre of the familiar letter was accompanied by a “familiar tone” which is reflected in many of Puškin’s works as well as those of his contemporaries. An awareness of and affinity with the familiar letter would have enabled Puškin’s contemporaries to read his works in this context. Given the significance of this genre for Puškin and the literary atmosphere of his time, an approach which references the familiar letter as a genre has much to offer later generations of readers as well.

This paper seeks to examine Puškin’s Domik v Kolomne within the frame of the familiar letter and investigate the implications of such a reading. In his book The Familiar Letter as a Literary Genre in the Age of Puškin, William Mills Todd establishes a framework which is relevant to any number of texts of the time. Perhaps the most defining characteristic of the familiar letter is its inherent sense of freedom, both stylistic and thematic. Puškin’s desire for creative freedom is echoed, for example, in his choice of meter the ottava rima, which other, most notably Byron in Beppo, used to combine metapoetical themes and ironic or even anecdotal styles. The conversational style of the familiar letter is supported by other features of the genre present in Domik v Kolomne, such as a closeness to the events of the moment, an awareness of the recipient’s and future readers’ interests, a sense of intimacy with the reader, the inclusion of concrete detail, literary self-consciousness, and self-irony. Identifying the implicit and explicit signs of the influence of the familiar letter in Domik v Kolomne serves several purposes. Firstly, it further reinforces the importance of the familiar letter in the literature of the age. Secondly, an understanding of this genre and its characteristics offers the contemporary reader a new way to read the poem as a whole, rather than focusing on the differences in theme and tone between the opening eight stanzas and the remainder. Thus the purpose of this paper is to identify elements of the familiar letter in Domik v Kolomne and discuss how they reflect a sense of unity in the poem which some readings have overlooked. Finally, a reading of Domik v Kolomne through the prism of the familiar letter underscores Puškin’s interest in and the Romantic preoccupation with new literary forms.