lonely cottage on the
would like to talk about the very beginning of a trend of Russian writing
connected to St.Petersburg and initiated by Pushkin.
whole series of works by greatest Russian authors has constituted what Vladimir
Toporov has aptly called the ”St.Petersburg
This is a large group of works written by different prose authors and poets but
sharing some features that makes it a single tradition that has been kept for
many generations. All these features relate to the city on the
let us return to St.Petersburg and to the beginning of the text created about
it. Pushkin’s initial contribution to this tradition includes several poetic
works first of all the long poem “The Bronze Horseman” that has helped to
create the myth about this sculpture of Peter. Also such prose works as a short
novel “The Queen of Spades” belong to this cycle. In it we may see Pushkin
not only as a founder of the whole Petersburg text tradition but also as the
first Russian author who has written in the style of fantastic
realism to use the term later introduced by Dostoevsky (in his essay on
Edgar Poe). Continuing Gogol’ Dostoevsky would himself write about
St.Petersburg in this style: its main feature is a combination of a fantastic
plot with realistic details. To Pushkin’s writings connected to these serious
works also a grotesque narrative “A small Cottage in Kolomna “ belongs. It
is a half-joking funny story in which we may see some details similar to the
other works of the cycle (as Khodasevich was the first to recognize). It was
characteristic about Pushkin that he could write on a subject in a highly
elevated style, but at the same time could also compose a sort of a parody of
it. Let us read a stanza from the Bronze
Horseman where the poet directly addresses the city in an elevated style:
I love you, Peter’s own creation;
I love your stern, your stately air,
The granite that her quaysides wear.
Люблю тебя, Петра творенье,
Люблю твой строгий, стройный вид,
Невы державное теченье,
Береговой ее гранит.
same images and details of the city landscape are repeated in another poem where
the poetic mood is absolutely different:
You are wretched, you are splendid,
Stately air, cold, granite, spleen,
Servitude has never ended,
And the sky is pale and green.
пышный, город бедный,
Дух неволи, стройный вид,
Свод небес зелено-бледный,
Скука, холод и гранит.
same expression “stately air” (стройный
is used in both passages. In the first of them it constitutes a part of the
pathetic description of the magnificent city that Pushkin admires. Pushkin saw
in St.Petersburg and its architectural harmony realization of what he understood
as a thing of beauty. But in the
second poem the expression “stately air” is combined in the same line with
the “Spirit of Servitude” (non-freedom, не-воля)
hostile to Pushkin: starting from his youth his favorite word and notion was
Freedom (воля, свобода).
in both passages we find the image of granite. In the first one it refers to
those pictures of the river
the same short poem with a negative view of the city explains why still life
there was possible and even pleasant to the poet in spite of all:
Still I feel a sort of pity
Since I see the foot so dear
Gently walking in the city,
Golden curls are waving here.
же мне вас жаль немножко,
Потому что здесь порой
Ходит маленькая ножка,
Вьется локон золотой.
whom the poet admired were to him the essence of the beauty of St.Petersburg.
The fates of young women in the city are at the core of what Pushkin has written
whole cycle of mature Pushkin’s works connected to St.Petersburg and opening
this large vista in the Russian Literature starts with his oral short story “A
lonely Cottage on the
landscape of the suburb where a road goes to the Smolensk German graveyard and
farther to the hidden graves of the five decembrists is common to several
Pushkin’s works of this group including also a poem describing poet’s visits
to this graveyard. We have reasons to suppose that the story about a lonely
cottage was composed as a sort of a secret funerary composition. That can partly
explain the gloomy atmosphere of the narrative. Some of its fantastic symbols
personify death and the forces of the Evil. Devils in dresses and hats that hide
their corns are playing cards in a house of a countess as they do in Pushkin’s
poems about the card games of devils in the hell. A coachman whom the hero met
after he had lost his way somewhere in the suburbs of the city showed to him his
face or mask: it was a scull of a dead man. There was no usual regular number on
the carriage of this miraculous coachman: his sign was the apocalyptic symbol
idea that a large city is like a hell was not new; in the first years of the XVI
I century Gongora wrote a sonnet
it often happened to Pushkin while composing a narrative he had chosen a Western
European story as a pattern the scheme and images of which he would like to
recreate or follow. If one permits me a metaphor taken from the history of the
city I might point out to a similar way in which Peter the Great was thinking of
his favorite Western European city Amsterdam when he was building a part of
St.Petersburg called New Netherlands (Новая
Голландия). In the case of the Lonely
Small Cabin in it as also in the plot of a projected small tragedy “The
Devil in Love” Pushkin was following Le
diable amoureux by Cazotte, a French author of the XVIIIth century whose
images attracted later many admirers from Baudelaire to Apollinaire. Schulz’s
remarkable works have shown that Pushkin has imitated not only some episodes in
Cazotte’s story but also drawings that accompanied it in its original edition
that Pushkin possessed. He liked Cazotte because of his mystical inclinations
close to German romanticists: at that time Pushkin was also reading Hoffmann. At
that period Pushkin has already gone far away from the optimistic rational
thinking of the Enlightment. In The Queen
of Spades the number game is a symbol of the role of a chance; to Pushkin
“Chance is the God-Inventor” (Случай-
It is not accidental that there were several treatises on probabilities theory
in his library. In modern terms we might have said that he was moving from a
deterministic picture of the world to a probabilistic vision.
of Spades the name of Svedenborg appears (approximately at the same time
Balzac writes his Seraphita based on
Svedenborg’s idea; the image and the name are revived later in Osip Mandelstam
‘s poems dedicated to one of the most beautiful ladies of prerevolutionary
Petersburg). Mystical images verge on hallucinations as the card numbers that
appear to Germann in his ravings and as the statue of the Peter the Great
persecuting poor Evgenij in “The Bronze Rider”. In “The
Queen of Spades” St.Petersburg was shown as a background for a tragedy of
Germann whose greed lead him to madness. In The
Bronze Horseman Evgenij becomes crazy after the catastrophe of the flood.
The theme of abnormality haunts Pushkin at this time; he is afraid of madness.
But it seems to be inherent in the city itself, in its atmosphere. Nothing can
be more distant from the rational classicism that made him admire the
Pushkin’s poem behind an opposition between the king and a young man there is
another one: Peter and
show the instability of the artificial structure of the city Pushkin has chosen
the story of a flood. As also his study of Pugachev’s revolt, the choice of
this subject and the way in which he writes about it shows that he would like to
demonstrate how the forces of nature and human history can destroy a seeming
balance achieved by the culture. At the end of a flood Evgenij sees the cottage
where Parasha and her mother lived : in a poem it is a sign of the dreamlike
fragility of reality. At the end of A
Lonely Cottage the house of the female hero where she lived with her mother
perishes in the fire. A fireman seems to have recognized a smiling face of the
devil similar to what we may observe on Pushkin’s pictures of the inhabitants
of the hell.
was a poet of harmony and at the same time he admired the abyss near the borders
of which we experience ecstasy. Both these attitudes are seen in his
text represents a talk given at the
Ахматова, А.А. Сочинения
в двух томах,
т.2. Проза и переводы. М.: Панорама, 1990, с. 129-136,
Вяч.Вс. Еще раз об “Уединенном домике на
Васильевском” Пушкина.- “Звезда”,
2001, № 6, с. 129-143.
Вяч.Вс. О принципах и
методах реконструкции недошедшего до нас
произведения («Влюбленный бес» Пушкина).- first
М., 2002, an
труды по семиотике и истории культуры».
Т. I I I. М. : Языки русской культуры, 2004, c.11-68.
В.Ф. Петербургские повести Пушкина.-
Ходасевич. В.Ф. Колеблемый треножник.
Избранное. М.: Советский писатель, 1991, с. 172-185.
Шульц, Р. Пушкин
и Книдский миф.München,
Шульц, Р. Пушкин
Jakobson, Roman The Statue in Pushkin’s Poetic Mythology.-In: R.Jakobson. Selected
vol.V (On Verse,its Masters and Explorers).