Personae and Personality in the Work of O. I. Senkovskij

Melissa Frazier, Sarah Lawrence College

As editor and leading contributor of The Library for Reading O. I. Senkovskij produced a distinctive brand of literary criticism, one marked by two features in particular: almost all of Senkovskij’s work is characterized by a strong sense of personality, so strong, in fact, as to seriously annoy many of his readers; at the same time, though, this personality is not quite Senkovskij’s, since it tends to be embodied in a series of personae, most famously Baron Brambeus, but also, for example, Tjutjundžju-Oglu-Mustafa-Aga, O. O....O!, the three landowners from Tver′ and Kritikzada. Senkovskij’s tendency to create personae has been linked to the work of the great English satirists and would-be reformers of morals of the eighteenth century, and in particular Addison and Steele; this paper will argue, however, that Senkovskij’s practice more exactly mirrors the work of English writers more closely his contemporaries, and because both arise from similar conditions.

Great Britain in the early nineteenth century, like Russia, was in the midst of profound changes in concepts of both author- and readership. In a newly anonymous world of publishing authors like Sir Walter Scott and editors like John Lockhart, John Wilson and William Maginn used personae in a new way, to make the burden of personality heavier while simultaneously cutting the connection which would tether a fictional persona to a real person, and it is this paradoxical combination of both more and less which we find also in Senkovskij. A response to changing conditions of publishing and also the means of effecting these changes, this new sort of persona in Russia as in Great Britain served to slyly underscore the simultaneous abstractness and concreteness of the written word and also of the reader, that increasingly amorphous reading public on whom a new generation of writers depended in a very material sense.