Nikolaï Karamzine À Strasbourg: Un éCrivain-Voyageur Russe Dans l'Alsace Révolutionnaire (1789)

By Fairholm, Meagan | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 2012 | Go to article overview

Nikolaï Karamzine À Strasbourg: Un éCrivain-Voyageur Russe Dans l'Alsace Révolutionnaire (1789)


Fairholm, Meagan, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Rodolphe Baudin. Nikolai Karamzine à Strasbourg: Un écrivain-voyageur russe dans l'Alsace révolutionnaire (1789). Strasbourg: Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2011. 315 pp. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index. euro18.00, paper.

Rodolphe Baudin's book is the latest addition to a growing body of literature devoted to Nikolai Karamzin's career as a beiletrist. In this text, Baudin analyzes one episode (dated 6 August 1789) in Karamzin's Letters of a Russian Traveller. The episode in question is that of Karamzin's brief stay, spanning two nights and one day, in Strasbourg. Approaching Karamzin's text both as a historian and as a literary analyst, Baudin situates Karamzin's Letters in the intellectual and literary context of eighteenth-century Russia and provides his reader with a helpful overview of the history of Strasbourg. The author begins his analysis with an examination of the historical integrity of the Letters' contents, with regard to both the Alsatian revolutionary fervour of August 1789 and Karamzin's personal travel itinerary. Baudin next deconstructs and contextualizes Karamzin's use of literary devices, with special focus on his use of carnivalesque, theatrical, idyllic, and gothic language and imagery. Finally, he includes an extended comparison of Karamzin's Letters to other Strasbourg travel literature, both Russian and Western, which enables him to draw conclusions about the travellers' collective and personal impressions of the Alsatian city.

In his book, Baudin is not reluctant to engage with the existing scholarship on this subject, most frequently evoking Iurii Lotman's seminal work Sotvorenie Karamzina [The Creation of Karamzin]. Notably, Baudin argues against Lotman's treatment ofthq Letters as a "primarily literary, and thus essentially fictional" work, noting that the historian can glean some valuable insight into the Strasbourg riots of 6 August 1789 by reading Karamzin's account (p. 67). Baudin again positions himself against Lotman in his discussion of Karamzin's reasons for cutting short his Strasbourg tour. Although it is impossible to decisively determine Karamzin's motivation to proceed to Switzerland, Baudin's viewpoint, that Karamzin left because he was frightened of the escalating revolutionary activity in Alsace, is solidly shored up by textual evidence both from the Letters and from other extant memoirs.

Baudin finds more common ground with Lotman in his literary analysis of the text. He accepts, for instance, Lotman's premise that a fundamental division exists between the real- life author-Karamzin and the fictional narrator-Karamzin in the Letters (p. 31). Accordingly, Baudin uses this notion to support his theory that the author-Karamzin did not follow his fictional alter-ego's travel itinerary in Strasbourg. Backing his argument with a mixture of circumstantial evidence and apparent textual inconsistencies, Baudin advances the novel hypothesis that Karamzin, being prevented from visiting many tourist destinations by the early August riots, instead visited his radical friend Mikhail Kutuzov during his stay in Strasbourg.

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