Breaking Ground: Travel and National Culture in Russia from Peter I to the Era of Pushkin

Breaking Ground: Travel and National Culture in Russia from Peter I to the Era of Pushkin

Breaking Ground: Travel and National Culture in Russia from Peter I to the Era of Pushkin

Breaking Ground: Travel and National Culture in Russia from Peter I to the Era of Pushkin

Excerpt

This book examines the evolution of literary travel writing in Russia from its emergence during the reign of Peter I (the Great, 1689–1725), through its apotheosis in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, to its decline in the 1830s and 1840s. The style or mode of travel writing referred to here as “literary” was originally conceived in Western Europe as a vehicle for the record of leisured touring, a type of private elite travel that became fashionable in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Literary travel writing became prominent in Russia during the last third of the eighteenth century, its popularity catalyzed by the rise in leisured travel that followed Peter III’s 1762 decision to relieve the gentry of obligatory state service and permit travel abroad. His wife Catherine II (the Great) has also been credited with having granted her subjects “the freedom to gallop off into foreign regions”: while quick to depose her spouse (who reigned for only six months), she confirmed his liberal travel policies. An unprecedented number of important cultural and public figures tried their hand at travel writing during Catherine’s reign (1762–96), including not only the well-known authors Denis Fonvizin, Aleksandr Radishchev, and Nikolai Karamzin, but also leading members of the aristocracy, among them the Empress herself, the princess Ekaterina Dashkova, and the prince Aleksandr Kurakin. By the time of Catherine’s death in 1796, epistolary accounts of journeys and carefully maintained travel diaries had become familiar literary forms.

Literary travel writing remained a fashionable and productive cultural phenomenon in the first third of the nineteenth century and the list of practitioners continued to grow, extending from the era’s foremost literary talents—such as Konstantin Batiushkov, Fyodor Glinka, Aleksandr Pushkin, and Vasily Zhukovsky—to numerous others whose once well-known names (e.g. Pyotr Shalikov, Ivan Lazhechnikov) are familiar primarily to specialists today. After the first few decades of the nineteenth century, however, the once popular and ubiquitous travelogue gradually . . .

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