Academic journal article Kritika

National Cuisine and Nationalist Politics: V. F. Odoevskii and "Doctor Puf," 1844-45

Academic journal article Kritika

National Cuisine and Nationalist Politics: V. F. Odoevskii and "Doctor Puf," 1844-45

Article excerpt

When the publishers of the generally progressive Literaturnaia gazeta began to publish a weekly "economic" supplement, Zapiski dlia khaziaev (Notes for Proprietors), they sought to answer a growing demand for practical advice literature in Nicholas I's Russia. Starting in the mid-1830s, the number of periodicals and publications devoted to pragmatic concerns--agriculture, cooking, etiquette, medicine, hygiene, industry--rose dramatically. (1) While at the time some commentators dismissed this demand as a mere "fashion" for estate management or domestic economy, these books and periodicals demonstrated a new interest not simply in improving the mechanics of everyday life but in understanding and explaining that life in some deeper way. (2) Practical literature gave every individual the opportunity to be the best Russian he or she could be; as Faddei Bulgarin put it in the first issue of his journal Ekanam, everyone from "agriculturists, industrialists, and manufacturers" to all "good little housewives and conscientious proprietors" could play a role in the process of redefining Russian everyday life, in improving and changing the world around them. (3) Yet, perhaps because anyone could take part in the process of improvement, deciding what those changes ought to be, defining what was "best" for Russia even at the level of the household or the estate, became a deeply political question.

In the pages of Zapiski dlia khoziaev, the voice that most often addressed this question was the only figure to appear in nearly every issue: a somewhat mysterious "Doctor Puf," whose weekly semi-serious, semi-satirical column treated cooking as a particularly important subject. "Cooking is a matter common to all mankind," Doctor Pufwrote. "Not a single people invented an entire cuisine at once, but each has brought its inventions into one general whole--the property of all humanity." (4) In reality, the author of Doctor Puf's articles was Prince Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevskii (1804-69), the last member of an ancient, but by the 19th century largely impoverished, aristocratic family. Odoevskii was a well-educated and multi-talented public servant and philanthropist whose kindness, hospitality, and keen mind made him a popular figure among educated Russians of his era. (5) But for all his reputed mildness of character and moderate politics, Odoevskii's choice first to masquerade as Doctor Puf, and then to shift the focus of his writing from pure cooking advice to social commentary, showed him to possess a sharp satirical voice that made him a trenchant analyst and critic. His criticism took on one of the major issues of the day, nationalism, as he sought to separate out a rational discussion of national characteristics from any particular ideology based on perceived national difference or supremacy.

Odoevskii's particular concern with nationality and nationalism placed him squarely in the midst of the major political questions of the day, although hardly in sync with them. Slightly earlier, the triad of "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality" had become a unifying theme of Nicholas I's reign, first stated by Minister of Education S. S. Uvarov and later developed by many writers, including, prominently, Faddei Bulgarin. This conception of "Official Nationality" promoted a state-oriented patriotism based on religion, the Romanov dynasty, and a newer ideal of romantic Russianness; in practice, too, it often promoted a certain uncritical promotion of anything identified as "Russian." (6) In addition to this official development, the 1830s and 1840s also saw a split develop in the minds of the oppositional intelligentsia along nationalist lines. Most of these writers touted the development of some ideal Russia but split on the value of Russianness. The socalled Westernizers believed that Russia needed further development along Western lines; the Slavophiles, in contrast, celebrated Russia's past and saw the West as a dangerous pollutant. …

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