Russian Literary Politics and the Pushkin Celebration of 1880

Russian Literary Politics and the Pushkin Celebration of 1880

In an event acknowledged to be a watershed in modern Russian cultural history, the elite of Russian intellectual life gathered in Moscow in 1880 to celebrate the dedication of a monument to the poet Alexander Pushkin, who had died nearly half a century earlier. Private and government forces joined to celebrate a literary figure, in a country in which monuments were usually dedicated to military or political heroes. In this richly detailed narrative history of the Pushkin Celebration and the developments that led up to it, Marcus C. Levitt explores the unique role of literature in nineteenth-century Russian intellectual life and puts Russian literary criticism, and Pushkin's posthumous reputation, into fresh perspective.

Drawing on Soviet archival materials not readily available in the West, Levitt describes the preparations for the monument and the unfolding of the celebration. His sustained discussions of Turgenev's role and of Dostoevsky's famous "Pushkin Speech" shed new light on what was for both a culminating moment in their careers. In Levitt's view, the Pushkin Celebration represented the articulation of liberal, post-Emancipation hopes for an independent Russian intelligentsia and culture. His analysis of the problems faced by Russian liberalism illuminates the failure of concerted efforts to secure freedom of speech in nineteenth-century Russia.