'Byron, Pushkin and Russia' 1-5 July 2009 Maxim Gorky Institute, Moscow, and Pushkin Conference Centre, Mikhailovskoye
Cochran, Peter, The Byron Journal
This conference was at least eighteen years overdue. It had first been proposed by our Russian colleagues in 1991, but they had been rebuffed. In 2007 they approached us again, and Western contacts were arranged for them.
The Gorky Institute is in a leafy enclave in central Moscow, with a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. The first plenary session of the conference, on 1 July, consisted of four speeches of welcome in English and a talk by me on the principles of my internet Byron edition. I thanked Professor Anne Barton and Mr Geoffrey Bond for their funding, without which I could not have been there, and gave the Institute library five books. After an afternoon of papers in Russian, the conference moved, via an overnight train to Pskov, to Mikhailovskoye.
We arrived at Pskov at 7.30 am on Thursday 2 July, and were at our Mikhailovoskoye hotel by 11.00 am. That afternoon we had our first and most important excursion - to the family estate where Pushkin was exiled, and where he wrote much of Eugene Onegin. The contrast with Newstead Abbey was striking: at Mikhailovskoye, everything is either authentic or in authentic copy; at Newstead, eighty per cent is the work not of Byron at all, but of Colonel Wildman and Nottingham City Council. One thing Newstead lacks, however, is mosquitoes. Mikhailovskoye has plenty of them. Nevertheless it was quickly evident that Byron does not have the same significance for English culture that Pushkin has for Russia.
At dinner Professor N. A. Solovyova (Moscow State University) explained the ambition to found a Russian Byron Society. She said that the Russian State Scientific Foundation would back such a move. Many Western dignitaries would, she was assured, be happy to write in support if it was thought helpful.
The Friday schedule had an English-language-only session in the morning, and a 'production' of The Vision of Judgement in the afternoon. It all took place at Mikhailovskoye's Pushkin Conference Centre, a new building with state-of-theart facilities. The eight English-language papers (two given by Russians) were very lucid. The afternoon 'production' of The Vision of Judgement took place at one end of the library, and featured witty performances by English, American, Italian, Irish and Russian colleagues. I started with an introduction about George III, Southey and why Byron hated the latter. There was an illuminating debate afterwards about the poem's dramatic qualities. There were then two parallel Russian-language sessions.
After dinner that night the delegates adjourned to a café for convivial activity, with much recitation and singing - neither of them common in Western Byron conferences. A little impatient with the non-stop repertoire of lachrymose Russian love-songs, I insisted on finishing the day with 'It was a Lover and his Lass'.
The next morning began with a four-session, Russian-language panel. Dr Svetlana Klimova, from Nizhni Novgorod, opened the event by singing a Pushkin setting. Next occurred the inaugural meeting of the Russian Byron Society. Professor Solovyova was elected Chairman/President, with Dr Klimova as her second-in-command, and me as Patron. Two afternoon excursions followed, to the estates of Petrovskoye and Trigorskoye, after which the delegates returned on the overnight train to Moscow and dispersed. …