An Economic History of Russia - Vol. 1

By James Mavor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE PEASANT QUESTION IN THE RUSSIAN LITERARY MOVEMENT

IT would have been surprising, considering the large rôle bondage and its consequences have played in Russian life, if the contemporary drama, romance, and art were silent about it. The romantic movement in literature which stirred all Europe in the early thirties of the nineteenth century found in the lot of the peasant ample material for artistic treatment.1 It is true that the Romanticists idealized the peasant; but, after all, in their hands he was a more real creature than the pictorial models of the eighteenth- century Classicists. One of the earliest among Russian men of letters to become infected at once with the new movement in art and with enthusiasm for the peasant was V. G. Byelinsky,2 who afterwards became the Sainte-Beuve of Russia. In 1831 Byelinsky wrote a drama inspired by Schiller Die Räuber. One of the characters in this drama is an old mujìk, who says, for example: "When the old master died, the Barina (lady) began to tyrannize so much over us, that God preserve us from giving such a life even to a fierce Tartar, either here or in the next world. She beat us like dogs, sent us into the army, made us beggars, deprived us of bread and cattle, searched our granaries, broke our implement chests, and took money and cloth. Whoever was found guilty of some trifling offence might be sent into a far-distant votchina. One could not tell what next she might do to us. The chained men in the gaols were better off than, for our sins, we were with the Barina." The hero of the tragedy is the illegitimate son of a pomyetschēk. This outbreak on the part of a bondman causes him to reflect: "Are these people only born into the world to serve

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1
As, for example, by Balzac.
2
1810-1848.

-352-

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