Andrei Zorin. Poiavlenie geroia: Iz istorii russkoi emotsional’noi kul’tury kontsa XVIII–nachala XIX veka. Мoscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2016. 568 pp. ISBN 978-5-4448-0528-2.
© Laboratorium. 2017. 9(1)
Alexandra Smith. Address for correspondence: School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of Edinburgh, 50 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LH, UK. email@example.com.
Although the eighteenth century is considered to have been a radical period of modernization, in Russia reforms of the era triggered numerous debates about the need for a specifically Russian modern identity. Not only did Russian writers, civil servants, and thinkers engage with the most important works produced by European philosophers and writers in an idiosyncratic manner, they also sought to forge their distinct identities with the help of travelogues, diaries, and personal correspondence. Unlike Peter the Great’s radical violation of Russian traditions, Catherine the Great’s reforms aimed at bringing together Russian and European customs and cultural values in order to promote a new conceptualization of the national past. In the age of Catherine, many prominent Russian writers, including Nikolai Novikov and Denis Fonvizin who did not abandon Russia’s orientation towards the West, did question the limits of reshaping themselves into Frenchmen and discussed how to accommodate Europeanism without distorting Russian national identity. Andrei Zorin’s informative study provides many insights into the appropriation of French, British, and German models by Russian Europeans and demonstrates well how Russian literary language evolved within the period from late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. It also reveals the role of European literature in the formation of personal and collective identities in Russia by focusing on the expression of emotional experiences through theatrical performances and theatrical forms of behavior. To a large extent, this is an interdisciplinary study that explores such issues as the anthropology of subjectivity and feeling, the formation of emotional communities, and the use of emotions as an interpretative system in the context of Russian cultural developments in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The study comprises an introduction, six chapters, and a conclusion. It also includes a bibliography, a list of archival sources, and an index of names. As Zorin explains in the short preface, his study examines Russian emotional culture during the period when various competing discourses produced by Russian court officials, masonic lodges, and writers aspired to create a new symbolic language for expressing emotional experiences suitable for educated and Europeanized Russian citizens. A substantial part of the book is devoted to the poet and autobiographer Andrei Turgenev (1781–1803) whose life and works anticipated many developments found in Russian romanticism. Zorin asserts that to some extent his tragic life invokes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, although Turgenev’s idea to eat ice cream during a bad cold and sleep in wet clothes does not look like a deliberate imitation of Goethe’s character (pp. 486–487). Zorin’s discussion of the notion of a desired suicidal death that permeates Turgenev’s diary suggests that Turgenev was also influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s sentimental novel Julie, or the New Heloise (pp. 487–488). In Zorin’s view, Turgenev, despite his involvement with Russian Masons, was a product of a Russian court culture that he absorbed through his theater-going experiences and personal friendships.
The study illuminates well how Turgenev’s love adventures and emotional outbursts are documented in his diary in such a way that suggests it was meant to be read as an auto/biographical literary work. By copying some of his letters to his friends and lovers into his diary, Turgenev created a monological narrative that could be read as a reflexive study of his emotional life. The notion of friendship is examined in the book in various contexts in a highly informative way, so the emergence of a new sentimental conceptualization of friendship shaped by Rousseau’s works is well documented in the personal correspondence and diaries of many prominent public figures and writers, including Nikolai Karamzin and Aleksander Radishchev. For example, Radishchev, in his “A Will for My Children” written in the Peter and Paul Fortress in July 1790, curiously addresses his family members as friends rather than beloved ones or dear ones. He defines them as “the dearest friends of my soul” (liubezneishie druz’ia dushi moei [p. 98]). Zorin’s critique of Yurii Lotman’s views on Radishchev’s life and death suggests that one should not rely extensively on the account of Radishchev’s life as produced by his son Pavel, who created his own myth of his father’s personality as a rebel and figure opposed to the Russian monarchy (pp. 203–207). Other illuminating examples of the deconstruction of existing myths prevalent in Russian scholarship include Zorin’s extensive discussions of Catherine the Great’s plays, in which she made many powerful allusive attacks on Russian Masons and mystics; Karamzin’s role in exporting Western idioms of emotional expression in his travelogues with the help of epistolary genre; and the view cultivated by Russian scholar Aleksander Veselovskii about Andrei Turgenev being a prototype of Aleksander Pushkin’s character from Eugene Onegin Vladimir Lenskii. Zorin also argues compellingly that Vissarion Belinskii, in addition to disseminating G. W. F. Hegel’s ideas in Russia, developed his own vision of the individual and history by drawing from the literary works of Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov (p. 508). Such an angle enables Zorin to demonstrate how eighteenth century bookish forms of behavior survived and flourished in the nineteenth century.
Throughout the book Zorin shows that social character is a product of social forms that are learned in the process of socialization. His study draws on the findings of many Russian and Western scholars, including Yurii Lotman, Nikolai Plotnikov, Andreas Shoenle, Holger Siegel, David Riesman, Lidiia Ginzburg, and Richard A. Shweder. It is an important contribution to the fields of Russian studies, comparative literature, and the European history of ideas. Grounded in archival research, Zorin’s study combines theoretical approaches with a nuanced and effective close reading of various diaries and letters. It encourages scholars to rethink spaces of identity in Russia and to reconsider how personal and collective identities are formed with the help of highly theatricalized forms of personal and public modes of expression.
Zorin’s book is a valuable contribution to the ongoing interdisciplinary scholarship on emotions. Although in the last 30 years research on emotions has advanced significantly, verbal art is largely absent from the research projects led by cognitive scientists. More importantly, Zorin’s discussion of the representation of love and desire found in Turgenev’s letters and diaries exemplifies well that the Petrine reforms in Russia laid the foundation for the popularity of the notion of secular, romantic love among educated Russians. Their emotional experiences are presented in Zorin’s book as cultural constructs borrowed from popular European novels. Many early Russian memoirs, including one of the earliest private journals written by Prince Kurakin, The Life of the Prince of Boris Ivanovich Kurakin, Which He Himself Wrote, present romantic experience as markedly foreign. Likewise, Turgenev was able to describe his romantic experiences in Russian—without evoking religious and moralist connotations—with the help of idioms of passion and lovesickness found in foreign literature.