Editing Pushkin: A Seminar Held at Oxford University, UK, July 2007

By O'Neil, Catherine | Pushkin Review, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview

Editing Pushkin: A Seminar Held at Oxford University, UK, July 2007


O'Neil, Catherine, Pushkin Review


In 2006 the first volume appeared of a projected new collection of Pushkin's works: Pushkin: Poemy i povesti. Chast' I. Moscow: Novoe izdatel'stvo, 2006. Commentary by Oleg Proskurin. The complete edition is entitled Pushkin. Sochineniia. Kommentirovannoe izdanie pod obshchei redaktsiei Devida M. Betea (Moscow: Novoe izdatel'stvo). The collection is supported by the Vilas Trust and the Pushkin Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As part of the preparation of this new edition of Pushkin, the editors hosted a six-day seminar at Oxford University. This seminar, organized by David Bethea, was a workshop on the problems posed by editing Pushkin. The goal of the seminar was two-fold: 1) to discuss the best approaches to editing Pushkin's work, and 2) to prepare younger scholars who, it is hoped, will continue to work in the field and indeed take over as the "new generation" of great Pushkinists. Despite the pressure this may have caused at first, as the week unfolded the animated and often downright jolly atmosphere in the small group discussions allowed for collegial relations to be established between scholars and students and a very promising working group has been formed. (1)

Each day was devoted to detailed discussion of one or two texts. The daily seminar was led by an expert on that text who has written or is writing the commentary for that particular volume. The discussions covered the following texts: Kapitanskaia dochka (led by Alexander Ospovat); Andzhelo (led by Alexander Dolinin); Ruslan i Liudmila, Kavkazskii plennik, Bakhchisaraiskii fontan (led by Oleg Proskurin); Boris Godunov (led by Maria Virolainen). An entire day was given to lively debate and dialogue about the manuscript copies, publication and censorship issues in each case, and--a particularly important topic for editors--consideration of what should be included in the commentary to each volume. It was this last theme that occupied much of the seminar.

As the above list of texts shows, the main task at hand focused on Pushkin's works that appeared in his lifetime and with the publication of which he was actively engaged. As it turns out, none of these texts nor its publication history has been adequately examined, and there remain numerous lacunae in the scholarship that affect standard reception and interpretation. Indeed, this is the point of the project as a whole: to publish Pushkin's texts as they appeared in his lifetime. As David Bethea explains in the preface to the first volume: "there are numerous instances where the versions published in Pushkin's lifetime differ from the versions established subsequently by scholarly practice," so "our goal is to present to the reader these published texts as 'literary facts"' (3).

Oleg Proskurin's extensive commentary to the first volume (Ruslan i Liudmila, Kavkazskii plennik, Bakhchisaraiskii fontan) is likely to be the model for subsequent volumes; thus a brief description is in order. The first section (232 pages) is a facsimile reproduction of the 1835 Poemy i povesti, chast'pervaia, including the three poemy and appendices to Bakhchisaraiskii fontan, "Vypuska iz puteshestviia po Tavride I. M. Murav'eva-Apostola" and "Otryvok iz pis'ma" (Pushkin's letter to Del'vig, apparently a response to Murav'ev-Apostol). After this facsimile comes the commentary proper, and this indeed provides a wealth of material for students and researchers alike. It is divided into sections: History of the publication itself; then for each work a description of the composition and manuscripts, variants in earlier publications, the history of the composition of the poem; literary background (sources and debates); early reviews of the poem; line-by-line commentary (all together 360 pages).

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