Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

By Ewa M. Thompson | Go to book overview

3
The Consolidating Vision: War and Peace as the New Core Myth of Russian Nationhood

It has been noted that the strength of a country's imperial system tends to translate into the power of its imaginative fiction. The British novel was dominant in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when Great Britain was a world empire. The French colonial empire likewise stimulated the appearance of the major French novelists. In contrast, Germany was an also-ran in the scramble for overseas colonies, and its nineteenth-century novels fall short of those of other European powers; when Germany reasserted itself after the Franco-Prussian War, its novelistic output became more significant. It has been suggested that the aggressive attitudes demonstrated in the military and political spheres have also been played out in novels, from Richardson's accounts of seduction or attempted seduction to the aggressive resourcefulness of Dickens's and Thackeray's overseas businessmen.1

In Russia too, imperial outreach translated into artistic resourcefulness. The Russian cultural memory is dotted with monuments to warriors who fought for the glory of Russia, and the inscriptions on the plinths were supplied by writers. Lev Tolstoi's oeuvre in particular mediated imperial power in ways that had a crucial influence on the Russian self-image. It reconfirmed the masculine aspect of that image and its connection with past military victories.

War and Peace was written and published during the Russian empire's most optimistic years. By 1860, Russia had taken possession of the last independent mountain area in the Caucasus, the principality of Svanetia in northwestern Georgia, and it was poised for a major campaign in Central Asia that likewise proved successful. Within Tolstoi's lifetime, the tsarist empire annexed Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistant. The western provinces remained securely within the empire's grip, in spite of insurrections and irredentism. The 1863 rising actually reconfirmed the empire's might and strengthened it economically, through the confiscation of several thousand estates of Polish, Ruthenian, and Lithuanian noblemen. The abolition of the Eastern Rite Catholic Church and the

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Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgment vii
  • Introduction: - Nationalism, Colonialism, Identity 1
  • Notes 12
  • 1 - The Problem 15
  • Notes 47
  • 2 - Engendering Empire 53
  • Notes 81
  • 3 - The Consolidating Vision: War and Peace As the New Core Myth Of Russian Nationhood 85
  • Notes 106
  • 4 - The Central Asian Narrative In Russian Letters 109
  • Notes 125
  • 5 - Imperial Desire In the Late Soviet Period 129
  • Notes 150
  • 6 - Scholarship and Empire 153
  • Notes 193
  • 7 - Deconstructing Empire: Liudmila Petrushevskaia 199
  • Notes 221
  • Selected Bibliography 223
  • Index 233
  • About the Author *
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