Echoes of Pushkin’s Journey to Arzrum in Mandelstam’s Journey to Armenia

Victoria Thorstensson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This paper will address the surprising absence of explicit connections and parallels between Mandelstam’s collection of sketches Journey to Armenia (1933) and Pushkin’s Journey to Arzrum (1835).

Pushkin’s Myth played an enormous role in the self-perception of Russian Modernism. Consciously or unconsciously, Russian poets, writers and literary scholars were reliving the major events in Pushkin’s life and art, as if history was repeating itself one hundred years after. The early thirties had a special significance, as they symbolized not only a turn to the “mature” Pushkin of the 1830s but also a series of personal and social tragedies and disasters, leading to the eventual doom of the poet. Pushkin’s journey to Arzrum in 1829 was seen as a symbol of this “turning point,” and for Mandelstam, as well as for some other poets of the Silver Age (including Bely and Pasternak), a similar trip became both a necessary pilgrimage and a personal spiritual quest. Considering the affinity with Pushkin’s fate that Mandelstam deeply felt, and the similarities of some biographical details, an explicit dialogue between the two travelogues would almost be expected. Yet, scholars have been dissappointed to find no such dialogue, except for a small number of echoes and parallels.

I will examine previous studies of the topic (B. Gasparov, Isenberg, H. Gifford, J.G. Harris, A. Wachtel) and try to propose some new explanations for the scarcity of such echoes and parallels. The basis of my study is the texts of the travelogues themselves, Mandelstam’s poems of the Armenian cycle, early drafts, variants and notebooks. Information is also drawn from other available sources, such as memoirs (N. Mandelstam) and letters.

In my analysis, I will also consider the impact of the formalist theories, especially the writings of Iurii Tynianov (The Death of Vazir Mukhtar (1927), Arkhaisty i novatory (1929)) on the development of the concept of life-creation on the basis of the Pushkin’s myth, and on an understanding of the subject of the Pushkin’s journey to Arzrum in the 1930s. In my paper, I will examine how Mandelstam removes some allusions to Pushkin’s texts from earlier drafts of Journey to Armenia, and earlier version of some poems, and disguises others.