The Metaphor "Russia as Unattainable Beloved" in the Silver Age

Ellen Rutten, University of Groningen

In his article on plot space in Turgenev's works (1986), Jurij Lotman speaks of a recurring plot structure in nineteenth-century Russian literature in which the relationship beween the hero and the heroine parallels that between the hero and Russia (or society in general). According to Lotman, this parallel on plot level implicitly suggests a relation of equivalency between the heroine and Russia: in a way, the heroine represents Russia in the literary works in question.

The relation of equivalency that Lotman speaks of becomes more explicit in the Silver Age of Russian literature. Here it turns into a distinct metaphor: "Russia as an unattainable beloved." Many poets and philosophers of the time refer to Russia as a bride, a wife, a beloved, and to the intellectual elite—represented by the hero or the poet—as her potential, but failing, lover or bridegroom. Although the metaphor recurs in Russian literary plots after the Silver Age as well, in this period it is expressed most explicitly.

In my paper, I want to discuss the place and function of the metaphor "Russia as an unattainable beloved" in the Silver Age, specifically by examining the work of Aleksandr Blok and Nikolaj Berdjaev. In Blok's collection of poems Native Land (1908) we can find many examples where Russia is represented as a beloved woman, and the poet as her lover. A similar tendency to conceptualize Russia as an unattainable beloved and the intellectual elite as her lover can be discerned on a more theoretical level, in the philosophical writings of Berdjaev during the same period (e.g. "On the eternal-womanly in the Russian soul" [1915]). My purpose is first to analyze the stock elements of the metaphor as it is used in both perspectives—the poetic and the philosophical—and second to place it in its proper historico-cultural context.