“Fanni” is Anton Del’vig’s frank and fatuous take on an aesthetic debate in the mid-1810s as to whether earthly delights are a fitting subject for intimate lyrical poetry. Del’vig presents a fairly ribald tack on this issue, saying that it is sweeter to take a sexual lesson from Fanny than to endure the sighs and tremors of a chaste young girl, i.e., that the niceties of virtuous lyricism are a deceptive dead-end compared to the pleasures of Epicurean verse.
“Fanni” was well known to Del’vig’s contemporaries and informed the subtext of a number of their poems. Its discovery in 1919, for example, immediately helped illuminate one of the most obscure passages in Evgenij Onegin (Gofman, 124). A few years later, another redaction turned up in the archives of the literary society “The Green Lamp”, tying “Fanni” into the larger master text of the group (Modzalevskij, 33-34). And “Fanni” has recently been linked to the subtext of Baratynskij’s “Elizijskie polja” (Pil’ščikov).
To date, though, the subtext of “Fanni” itself remains a mystery. This subtext was well known to Del’vig’s contemporaries, who commonly use the name in their poems and correspondence. Most intriguing is the figure of Fanny her/himself. Because the name was an important one for Puškin, commentators have advanced an explanation: that Fanny was a St. Petersburg prostitute (Puškin, I: 568); some even venture that Fanny was “on tour” from Paris (Ščerbačev, 182). But in a strange footnote to “André Chenier,” Puškin says that Fanny was “one of the mistresses of An. Ch.” (Puškin, II: 81). Other explanations abound.
In this paper, I piece together the subtext of Del’vig’s “Fanni”. The unpublished homoerotic verse of Arkadij Rodzianko, another member of “The Green Lamp,” provides the missing link to Horace’s odes. The novels of Auguste Lafontaine provide other important clues, as do allusions to Fanny (the person) and “Fanni” (the poem) in a wide range of letters, archival documents and unpublished poems from the late 1810s. On the basis of this reconstruction, I argue that Del’vig’s Fanny is an emblematic intersection of libertinage and social dissent typical of “The Green Lamp”. This conclusion, in turn, provides new insights on “The Green Lamp”, its aesthetic and social values, and its impact on the verse of its membership.
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