Imperial Rule

By Alexei Miller; Alfred J. Rieber | Go to book overview

The Empire and the Nation in the
Imagination of Russian Nationalism

ALEXEI MILLER

Notes on the Margins of an Article by A.N. Pypin

In 1885 the noted literary historian Aleksandr Pypin published an article in the European Herald (Vestnik Evropy), entitled [The Volga and Kiev.]1 He begins it by recounting a conversation he once had with Ivan Turgenev, known for his mastery of the literary treatment of nature. In the course of the conversation it becomes clear that Turgenev has never been on the Volga. For Pypin this serves as a starting point for his argument that [Russian literature has not explored the Volga,] that [the Volga is absent in Russian painting as well] (188–189). [If we are truly so committed to the challenge of samobytnost', the originality of the Russian nation and state, so dedicated to cherish what is ours, the native as opposed to the foreign, etc., then one of our primary concerns should be to know the native, at least its basic, most characteristic elements. The Volga, undoubtedly, is one of these elements] (193). Pypin expresses similar reproaches and regrets concerning Kiev: [A historian, a publicist, an ethnographer, an artist must see Kiev, if they want to imagine vividly Russian nature and the Russian people, since here again (as on the Volga—A. M.) are to be found some of the best examples of Russian nature and one of the most interesting aspects of the Russian nation… Kiev is the only place where one feels the Russian City as it was ages ago] (199–200).

To interpret these arguments correctly, we should pay attention to two other motifs present in the article. First, the Saratov-born Pypin is fully aware that [here, on the Volga, there is a mixture of ethnicity and blood] (196). He ridicules the attempts of some to [erase] all non-Russian nationalities: [That would be a task for a monomaniac, deserving of the wellknown character of Shchedrin's who asked, 'Why the river?'] (211). In this article, as in his numerous other works, he protests against the repression of the Ukrainian language, and supports the right of the Little Russians to be different from the Great Russians, [the way the northern Frenchmen, Germans, and Italians are to the present day different from their southern counterparts.]

Second, having called the Volga and Kiev [characteristic native elements] that Russian art had not explored, Pypin contrasts them to the Caucasus, Crimea, and the Baltic provinces, popular with authors and

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