Bulgarin as the Author of an Anonymous Anti-Puškin Pamphlet, O Borise Godunove (1831)

Mikhail Gronas, University of Southern California

An anonymous pamphlet O Borise Godunove. Razgovor pomeščika i učitelja rossijskoj slovesnosti (Moscow, 1831) was one of the first critical reactions to Puškin’s tragedy and contained the most severe criticism. The pamphlet even caused a certain critical appreciation of its own. There appeared a few reviews of Razgovor and several contemporary critics mentioned it in their reviews of Puškin’s work. Characteristically, Puškin’s supporters, Belinskij among them, ridiculed the pamphlet, whereas Puškin’s enemies praised the witticisms of the anonymous author. It is not known whether Puškin himself read the pamphlet. To Vjazemskij’s inquiry on the subject Puškin responded with a pun: “Razgovorov o Borise ne slyxal i ne vidal. Ja v chužie razgovory ne vmešivajus′”.(Puškin to Vjazemskij, July 3,1831). However, it is very likely that later Puškin familiarized himself with the pamphlet: Razgovor was actually the first critical work on Puškin which appeared in the form of a separate edition. The authorship of Razgovor has not been established and it has been republished in various critical collections as an anonymous piece of anti-Puškin criticism.

I propose to attribute the pamphlet to Faddej Bulgarin. The attribution is based on a number of stylistic traits, turns of speech, rhetorical devices and ideas common to Razgovor and the body of texts signed by or previously attributed to Bulgarin. Often, Razgovor contains the same ideas and the same observations expressed in the same manner and using the same language and rhetorical strategies as in the known Bulgarin’s writings on Puškin in the late 20s–early 30s.

Though the textological arguments seem sufficiently convincing, authentication of the attribution presents certain difficulties. Both the anonymity and the place of publication beg for an explanation, since Bulgarin usually signed his articles and published them in Petersburg. The tentative explanation I propose is based upon the following. In the Spring of 1831, due to his participation in writers’ quarrels, Bulgarin fell into the tsar’s bad graces and couldn’t risk an open offensive against Puškin; the Spring and Summer of 1831 was the very height of Polish uprising, which made Bulgarin maintain a low-profile and withdraw to his Karlovo estate. The topic of Boris Godunov was especially sensitive for him because of the then surfacing accusation that he had plagiarized from Puškin’s tragedy. All of this would have prevented him from open attacks on Puškin. On the other hand, Puškin’s vitriolic anti-Bulgarin articles must have infuriated Bulgarin and called for revenge. In this situation Bulgarin might have resorted to anonymity, choosing Moscow as the place of publication and altering his usual style in order to cover up his traces.