Slot: 29A-1 Dec. 29, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Panel: North American Pushkin Society
Chair: Angela Brintlinger, Ohio State University
Title: Pushkin’s Joseph Delorme: The Tales of Belkin as a Response to Sainte-Beuve’s Vie, Poésies et Pensées de Joseph Delorm
Author: Ana Rodriguez Navas, Princeton University
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve published his first fiction, the Vie, Poésies et Pensées de Joseph Delorme, under a false name; indeed, an entire false identity. In creating "Joseph Delorme," the Parisian critic fictionalized his ideas on literary theory; it was a technique much admired by Aleksandr Pushkin, who read the work soon after its 1829 publication and returned to it repeatedly over the next two years. The text became a key influence on Pushkin's work, particularly his Tales of Belkin (1831), which can be read as a response to – and subversion of – Sainte-Beuve's technique and literary philosophy.
The preface of Pushkin’s first prose work – which parallels Sainte-Beuve’s Vie – not only obscures Pushkin's authorial identity, but also responds to Sainte-Beuve with an alternative theory of authorship and readership, drenched in an irony that often borders on parody. Sainte-Beuve establishes a nominal distance from his character; the biography thus underscores the romantic aspects of the poet’s life and guides the reader's reactions to his poems. The Tales’ preface likewise fixes a programmatic reading on the text that follows; but Pushkin’s publisher double, "A.P.", with his scant knowledge of Belkin and botched attempts to strike a scholarly tone, quickly reveals the Tales’ parodic nature. By spoofing himself, Pushkin makes the reader his accomplice, and with this initial joke foreshadows the multiplicity of authorial presences that run through the text.
Where Sainte-Beuve distills himself to hem the reader into a prescribed reading, Pushkin's alter-ego becomes an enabling publisher-mediator, opening the text to new ambiguities and complexities. Ivan Belkin, too, is revealed as a mediator of sorts: a compiler, not a creator, of stories. Pushkin's preface thus rejects Sainte-Beuve's autobiographical interpretationism, seeing writing instead as an act of controlled construction, and flaunting artifice as its basic principle. Pushkin thus creates a springboard from which to explore and reflect on the possibilities of fiction.
Title: Interconnection of Folkloristic Approach and Literary Criticism: Aleksandr Pushkin’s The Tales of Belkin
Author: Sang Hyun Kim, University of Kansas
It is quite commonplace that numerous folkloric motifs and themes are closely linked to the thematic structure and aesthetic design concealed in Pushkin’s works of poetry, prose fiction, and drama. It has also been accepted that the themes and motifs under discussion, however, are not perceivable, or are hardly discernable throughout The Tales of Belkin. Rejecting this view, I have clear and solid evidence regarding the literary use of those folkloric materials, wedding motifs in particular. If we take into consideration that Pushkin’s personal interest in marriage rituals and wedding songs are represented in artistic form in his notes, it becomes clear that the writer was deeply engrossed in collecting wedding songs and in writing some marriage customs, as his manuscripts prove. One of the most outstanding examples supporting this assumption lies in that he notes two specific plans for the ritual under examination. Consequently, it would be reassuring to recall Pushkin’s interest in folk songs, especially in traditional wedding songs (свадебные песни) as well as non-ritual family songs (семейные песни) for the relation between the poet’s life before marriage and the artistic representation of it throughout all of the five tales.
Pushkin’s The Tales of Belkin (1831), a collected cycle of five individual short stories presented by the fictitious narrator Belkin, has usually been referred to as Russia’s “first completed work.” Most research has paid attention to the individual analysis of each tale, or to the thematic unity between the tales, how they are interwoven thematically and structurally. Some Pushkin scholars, on the other hand, deny the systematic unity within the cycle, saying that there is no distinct metaliterary plan designed by the writer. The most important focal point that this study attempts to present, however, is not like previous contentions; rather, I will graphically exhibit the creative architectonics Pushkin consciously and unconsciously presents in the work. This paper therefore will endeavor not only to present a synthetic interpretation of how the Belkin cycle is structurally designed but also to demonstrate the thematic coherency related to traditional Russian wedding folklore. Folkloric interpretation of each tale, which has largely been ignored in Pushkin scholarship and has never been previously applied to the Belkin cycle in particular, helps us to identify the architectonics, literary values, and artistic contribution that Pushkin achieves throughout The Tales of Belkin. Thereby, the most important goal of this paper is to demonstrate that the Belkin text, as a united theme, contains an underlying seminal step of Bildungsroman, to present several examples of wedding rituals that are embedded throughout the text, as well as to elucidate the structural order of the five tales which are arranged by Pushkin himself, diverting from the chronology of their writing.
Title: Don Guan as a Libertine
Author: Igor Nemirovsky, Boston College
The only scholarly approach to Pushkin’s The Stone Guest consists in emphasizing first and foremost the dissimilarities between the “little tragedy” and Molière’s play Don Juan or the Stone Guest. These differences point to the existence of other sources for Pushkin’s play. This paper will address the ascertainment of the new element of “Don Juan’s paradigm.” Previously, researchers have not used Choderlos de Laclos’ novel Dangerous Liaisons as such. The lecture will examine intertextual connections between The Stone Guest and Dangerous Liaisons and the typological resemblance of the main characters – Don Guan and Valmont. In this connection, I will raise the question of Pushkin’s inheritence of the French libertine culture.
Pushkin knew de Laclos’ novel well, and one can also contend that chronologically his interest in Dangerous Liaisons coincided with the conception of The Stone Guest. Valmont and Don Guan are libertines of a new era – they represent an ideology where Molière’s rationalism is replaced by sentimentality and cruel honesty. The sacrilegious behavior, shared by the characters of Pushkin and de Laclos, exceeds Molière’s hedonism and anti-clerical satire and becomes a form of theomachy, characteristic of a revolutionary era, and which ideologically connects rather than chronologically divides Pushkin and de Laclos.
It is known that Pushkin neither published nor even tried to publish The Stone Guest, due to possible censorship problems. But more than that, Pushkin also foresaw a possible autobiographical reading of his “little tragedy” and attempted to avoid it. One cannot rule out that the “little tragedy” reflects the poet’s musings about his fate before his wedding. However, The Stone Guest also implied another – more dangerous – autobiographical reading, and one which the poet hoped to avoid, specifically, a possible correlation of Don Guan’s confessional libertinage with Pushkin’s own religious freethinking.
Title: The Poet, the Citizen, and the Traitor in Pushkin’s “Poltava”
Author: Polina Rikoun, Ohio State University
This paper reinterprets Pushkin’s treatment of treason in Poltava, a long narrative poem about the defection of the Ukrainian hetman Mazepa from the Russian to Swedish camp in the Great Northern War.
Pushkin’s poem is usually read as a passionate condemnation of Mazepa’s treachery and a rebuttal of the view that betrayal is a legitimate mode of political resistance. Specifically, Pushkin is believed to oppose Ryleev and Mickiewicz, who represent treason as a patriotic act, the last resort available to a citizen of a weakened nation, such as Ukraine or Poland, for resisting Russia’s imperial domination. Many critics argue that Pushkin discredits this defense of a nobly-motivated traitor by revealing Mazepa’s complete moral bankruptcy (see, for instance, Blagoi, Pauls). In support of this view, Poltava’s readers often cite a passage where the narrator condemns Mazepa’s long-practiced art of deception, especially his ability to conceal his true self and speak in different voices (Sipovskii, Aronson).
But taking the narrator’s condemnation of Mazepa at face value overlooks the fact that he possesses the very qualities for which he vilifies the hetman. The narrator often blends his voice with the voices of other characters in a way that makes it impossible to tell who is speaking and to divine the narrator’s attitude to the utterance. (Debreczeny notes this ambiguity, and Burns points out that narrator’s words echo those of Mazepa at several key points). Being a chameleon, it seems, is essential not just to being a traitor, but also to being a poet. Mazepa is in fact a poet himself, and, like the narrator, he uses his art to court a beloved woman—the very same art that helps him deceive adversaries, manipulate supporters, and carry out the political intrigue that, depending on one’s point of view, makes him either a base turncoat or model citizen. I will explore the significance of the parallels between the narrator and Mazepa to offer new insight into the poem’s implicit commentary on what it means to be a poet, a citizen, and what poetic composition and citizenship may have to do with betrayal.
Aronson, M. I. “Konrad Wallenrod i Poltava.” Pushkin. Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii. 2 (1936): 43-56.
Blagoi, D. D. “Istoricheskaia poema Pushkina (“Poltava”).” Pushkin. Issledovaniia I materialy. Trudy vsesoiuznoi pushkinskoi konferentsii. Moskva, 1953. 241-65.
Burns, Virginia M. Pushkin’s Poltava: A Literary Structuralist Interpretation. Ed. Katya Burns. New York: University Press of America, 2005.
Debreczeny, Paul. “The Blackamoor of Peter the Great: Pushkin’s Experiment with a Detached Mode of Narration.” Slavic and East European Journal. 18.2 (1974): 119-31.
Pauls, John J. “Two Treatments of Mazeppa: Ryleyev’s and Pushkin’s.” Etudes Slaves et Est-Europeennes 8 (1963): 97-109.
Sipovskii, V. V. “Pushkin i Ryleev.” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki. St. Peterburg, 1906. 68-88.