From Emotionalist to Sentimentalist: The Transforming Narrative Voice in Karamzin's Pis'ma Russkogo puteshestvennika

John F. Isham, Columbia University

Literary works employing entry-divisions (e.g., epistolary novels, travelogues, fictional diaries) flourished in eighteenth-century Europe. Russia also had its fair share of entry-style works, yet their importance has never been sufficiently appreciated. The use of entries allowed Russian Sentimentalist writers such as Aleksandr Radishchev ("Dnevnik odnoj nedeli") and Nikolaj Karamzin (Pis'ma russkogo puteshestvennika) to develop, among other things, an artificial semblance of time during which realistic and convincing changes in their characters could take place.

This paper argues that Karamzin used the entry style in Pis'ma russkogo puteshestvennika not only to chronicle the psychological development of the traveler's character, but also to create a narrative voice that in itself could develop and transform during the course of the work. The changes in this voice can be monitored and gauged by paying close attention to the passages where the traveler directly appeals to his correspondent-friends. The earliest appeals in the first, third and fifth paragraphs of the very first entry introduce a "refrain" that intermittently recurs during the remainder of the text. All instances of the refrain are expressed with similar vocabulary (e.g., serdce, gore, pechal'nyj, radostnyj), themes (e.g., attachment/separation), and a heightened state of emotion (frequent use of exclamation marks). The meaning of the refrain, however, changes substantially. Beginning by proclaiming in the first entry an attachment for the old and familiar (what we might call simple "emotionalism"), the traveler eventually comes to express a love for the new (or as he puts it in the seventy-third entry, "I look at new [places] with the most lively pleasure."). This transformation is not sudden by any means, but takes place through a very gradual modulation of the refrain each time it appears—a process that allows us to witness the creation of the Sentimental literary voice.

My approach employs a close reading of the Pis'ma and a comparison of Karamzin's entry-style technique with that of Radishchev and his European precursors (such as Richardson and Rousseau). I also build on Hans Rothe's treatment of the Pis'ma, Gitta Hammarberg's reading of Karamzin's other prose, and Baxtin's theory of dialogism.