Monday, April 26, 2010

A "Russian-American Romance" to End Our Journey

As soon as I read the poem "Russian-American Romance," I knew that it would be a perfect conclusion to my blog on Russian literature. Andrei Voznesensky has been called one of the "most controversial poets of post-Stalinist Russia" (Pushkin). He wrote during the midst of the Cold War - he was first published in the 1950s - after being mentored by Pasternak. He continues to write and speak today at 77 years of age and lives in Moscow.

Russian-American Romance

In my land and yours they do hit the hay
and sleep the whole night in a similar way.

There's the golden Moon with a double shine.
It lightens your land and it lightens mine.

At the same low price, that is for free,
there's the sunrise for you and the sunset for me.

The wind is cool at the break of day,
it's neither your fault nor mine, anyway.

Behind your lies and behind my lies
there is pain and love for our Motherlands.

I wish in your land and mine some day
we'd put all idiots out of the way.

This poem hits at the heart of the Cold War attitude. The speaker points out similarities between the people of the Soviet Union and the people of the United States. Both groups of people experience sunrises and sunsets, moonlight and wind, peaceful slumber. And, most importantly, the "lies" that the governments of each country tell each other, and their own people, are in defense of and becuase of love for the motherland - be it Russia or America. Voznesensky sees the conflict between the two world superpowers as caused by a bunch of "idiots" whom he would like to see "put out of the way." He knows that, deep down, the people are cut from the same cloth. The enemies are more similar than they believe they are. In those similarities, they may find peace.

What really strikes me about this poem is its title. Instead of referring to the conflict as a war, Voznesensky calls it a "romance." And this romance continues today. I am currently taking a History of Russia course. Americans are still fascinated with this country, arguaby more so than with any other country in the world. We want to know who the people are, why the Cold War happened, and what the future holds for Russian-American relations. Russia holds an air of romance that will likely never fade. It will live on in its customs and, especially, in its literature, which even today continues to capture the essence of Russian belief and tradition. America will forever be tied to Russia. It is time we started noticing the similarities instead of the differences; for only when we can relate to a culture can we fully appreciate it.

Pushkin, Michael. "Andrei Voznesensky". The Literary Encyclopedia. 01 Nov 2005. Web. 26 April 2010

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky is yet another controversial figure in Russian literature. He was sentenced to a five-year term in exile by the Soviet government, but he only served a year and a half of his term. In 1972, he was exiled permanantly and lived in London and Vienna before coming to live in the United States where he died in 1996. In 1987, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Brodsky, like other Russian poets, also translated the works of others, and his own works have been translated into at least ten languages. Follow this link to see his biography on the official Nobel Prize website.

Part Of Speech

...and when "the future" is uttered, swarms of mice
rush out of the Russian language and gnaw a piece
of ripened memory which is twice
as hole-ridden as real cheese.
After all these years it hardly matters who
or what stands in the corner, hidden by heavy drapes,
and your mind resounds not with a seraphic "doh",
only their rustle. Life, that no one dares
to appraise, like that gift horse's mouth,
bares its teeth in a grin at each
encounter. What gets left of a man amounts
to a part. To his spoken part. To a part of speech.

The first few lines of this poem remind me of the Chekhov quotation from the video we watched in class that said, "The Russian people adore their past, hate their present, and fear their future." When Brodsky writes that when the future is mentioned, "mice rush out of the Russian language and gnaw a piece of ripened memory which is twice as hole-ridden as real cheese," I cannot help but think how closely Russia's past ties in with its present and its future. Memory fades over time. This seems to be the real meaning behind "Part of Speech" When memory fades, people tend to remember only the best of times. The bad things get blocked out. Russians adore the past because they remember only the good times. The present is hated because it is filled with daily issues and problems to solve. The future is feared because it is uncertain, unlike the past which has already occurred and is concretely etched. When man dies, as the speaker points out, "What gets left of a man amounts to a part. To his spoken part. To a part of speech." Chekhov's words prove exactly this. He is remembered for what he said. We are all remembered for what we do and say, not for who we are.

Regina Derieva

Regina Derieva has already lived a fascinating life, and she is still just 60 years old, so she likely has time left to fascinate fans and biographers and even critics. She was born in the USSR but her official website describes how she and her family (all of whom had converted to Catholicism) moved to Isreal in 1990 but were refused citizenship because of their religion. Still, they were unable to leave the country. In 1999, the state finally allowed them to leave for the United States and Sweden. Derieva's son went to college in the U.S., and Derieva currently resides in Sweden where she continues to publish her own poerty and translate the work of others.
(Photo taken from Regina Derieva's official website.)

"It Was Not Necessary To Study"

It was not necessary to study
the language
of a strange country;
anyway, it would be of no help.
It was not necessary to know
where Italy or England
is located;
travel was obviously
out of question.
It was not necessary to live
among the wild beasts
of Noah's ark,
which had just devoured
the last dove of peace,
along with Noah
and his virtuous family.
It was not necessary to strive
for some holy land
awash in milk and honey,
according to rumor.

I cannot help but think that this poem describes Derieva's time as an alien in Israel. It was published in 2000, a year after she was granted permission to leave the country. I am especially drawn to the lines "It was not necessary to strive for some holy land awash in milk and honey, according to rumor." She was in the Holy Land. She experienced discrimination for being a non-Jew in the land of God's chosen people. She knew that Israel was the supposed Promised Land of milk and honey, and yet experienced nothing of the sort when she lived there. Also, I am sure that living in Isreal during the time of turmoil between the Jewish homeland and the Arab states surrounding it brought about the middle lines which talk about the "wild beasts of Noah's ark" that "devoured the last dove of peace along with Noah an dhis virtuous family." I doubt her time there was peaceful in any sense. She was a stranger in a country filled with terror and confusion, unable to leave, and unable to become a part of it. She wanted to leave and knew she would never be accepted there, so she thought it unnecessary to learn the language of the people or know where any other country was located because she could not leave and she could not stay.

It is usually taboo to label the speaker of the poem as the poet herself, but, in this case, I feel that the poem fits all too well with Derieva's biography, leaving me to judge as I did what the poem means from my viewpoint.

Here is the link to Derieva's official site which provides more of her biography and links to more of her fascinating poetry:

Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak was another poet born in Moscow. He did not originally set out to be a writer. He initially wanted to compose music and study philosophy. Pasternak's adult life in the Stalin era of the Soviet Union turned him away from writing his own poetry. He translated the works of famous poets and playwrights, including Shakespeare, for much of his adulthood. Pasternak wrote other things besides poetry such as short stories and a novel, Doctor Zhivago, his most popular and well-known work. In 1958, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but declined to accept it, supposedly under pressure from the Soviet government. Pasternak died in 1960 at the age of 70.


The sun is hotter than the top ledge in a steam bath;
The ravine, crazed, is rampaging below.
Spring -- that corn-fed, husky milkmaid --
Is busy at her chores with never a letup.

The snow is wasting (pernicious anemia --
See those branching veinlets of impotent blue?)
Yet in the cowbarn life is burbling, steaming,
And the tines of pitchforks simply glow with health.

These days -- these days, and these nights also!
With eavesdrop thrumming its tattoos at noon,
With icicles (cachectic!) hanging on to gables,
And with the chattering of rills that never sleep!

All doors are flung open -- in stable and in cowbarn;
Pigeons peck at oats fallen in the snow;
And the culprit of all this and its life-begetter--
The pile of manure -- is pungent with ozone.

"March" caught my attention because of its descriptive quality - the imagery in conjures. Spring is always a time of rebirth and growth. Winter is leaving behind a trace of cold and snow, but, for the most part, the sun dominates the day. Pasternak makes it seem that Spring itself is coming alive on the page. Personifying it as a milkmaid helps to show such an idea, especially since she is "busy at her chores." In a farming community, spring is the time for planting, for getting the fields ready and wiping the dust off the machinery. Pasternak grew up as agriculture changed in Russia. Serfs were free, famine struck on and off again, farming communes developed and gave way in favor of insustry, new machinery and advances in technique came into being. The Soviet Union itself (Russia included) experienced Spring for decades. Gone was the winter of Tsarist Russia. Here was the rebrith of the Russian people and identity, the springtime of the country. Pasternak captures both a literal and a figurative spring in his poem "March," a spring that is new and exciting with its "rampaging" ravine of animals and plants, people and ideas. 


Marina Tsvetaeva

Marina Tsetaeva was born and raised in Moscow, but later traveled to Koktebel, a common retreat for Russian poets near the Blak Sea. Her father was a professor, and her mother was a concert pianist. She had a fascinating love life including affairs with two poets - one male, and one female - which she chronicles in many of her poems. Her fmaily, consisting of her husband and two daughters, was hit hard by the famine that struck Moscow in the late 1910s and early '20s. One daughter died, and the family moved to Prague, where Tsetaeva continued to run wild with society's elite, this time a former military officer. Tsetaeva and her family lived abraod for years, returning to the Soviet Union in 1939 where they were viewed with much suspiscion for having chosen to live away for decades. The suspiscion ultimately took its toll. After two years of struggling to live in the paranoid USSR, Tsetaeva hanged herself in 1941. She was not yet fifty.

Much Like Me

Much like me, you make your way forward,
Walking with downturned eyes.
Well, I too kept mine lowered.
Passer-by, stop here, please.

Read, when you've picked your nosegay
Of henbane and poppy flowers,
That I was once called Marina,
And discover how old I was.

Don't think that there's any grave here,
Or that I'll come and throw you out ...
I myself was too much given
To laughing when one ought not.

The blood hurtled to my complexion,
My curls wound in flourishes ...
I was, passer-by, I existed!
Passer-by, stop here, please.

And take, pluck a stem of wildness,
The fruit that comes with its fall --
It's true that graveyard strawberries
Are the biggest and sweetest of all.

All I care is that you don't stand there,
Dolefully hanging your head.
Easily about me remember,
Easily about me forget.

How rays of pure light suffuse you!
A golden dust wraps you round ...
And don't let it confuse you,
My voice from under the ground.

This poem surprised me with its honesty. All of the other poems I read of hers were more metaphorical and harder to decipher. This one, though, was so heartfelt that I could not help but think that this is how she must have felt when she returned to her homeland to closed doors and whispers about her goings on abroad. "Much Like Me" is written from the perspective of Marina after death. But, instead of it being from a ghost's point of view, it seems to be spoken by the corpse itself who misses being remembered and having life in her face and her curly hair. Marina wants to be remembered for something. Anything. She does not want to be someone who is mourned and forgotten. She is asking the passerby to feel something for her other than sadness. I belive that, if the reader is to believe that Marina is indeed Marina Tsvetaeva, that this poem goes as far as to say that Tsvetaeva was wrong to mourn over the loss of her daughter. She writes, "I too kept [my eyes] lowered" as she walked through graveyards; but, now, she seems what it is like to be feared and pitied after death. I feel that the honesty in this poem shows Tsvetaeva's power to connect events in her life, past, present, and future. She discussed her death in straight-forward terms, and learned from writing about it, just as she learned from what actually occurred in her life on a daily basis.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam was born in 1891 and died in a Soviet labor camp in the year 1938. The picture at left is of public record, taken after Mandelstam's first arrest. He once said, "Only in Russia is poetry respected — it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?" In Mandelstam's case, this concept could not have been more accurate. His poetry, as well as his political views, made him a political enemy of the state. He was arrested, exiled, and sent to a work camp where he ultimately died of illness. The poem I liked best out of the ones I read is as follows:

"What shall I do with this body they gave me"

What shall I do with this body they gave me,
so much my own, so intimate with me?

For being alive, for the joy of calm breath,
tell me, who should I bless?

I am the flower, and the gardener as well,
and am not solitary, in earth’s cell.

My living warmth, exhaled, you can see,
on the clear glass of eternity.

A pattern set down,
until now, unknown.

Breath evaporates without trace,
but form no one can deface.

Mandelstam's speaker is questioning the meaning of his life. The last three stanzas get to the very heart of the poem's meaning. Like fog on a glass, the trace of this man will disappear shortly after his breath stops unless he does something that will cement him permenatly into the minds of humanity. In this case, the very poem is that cement. If "form no one can deface," but "breath evaporates without trace," then the only way to make words permanent is to write them down. If Mandelstam is indeed the speaker, then he is questioning the direction his life has taken. As mentioned above, Osip feels that poetry, especially in Russia, is a force to be reckoned with. If he can immortalize himself in his poetry, then his life will have meaning.

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova was born in the Ukraine in 1889. She began writing poetry as an adolescent, but wrote under the pen name that she became known by because her father did not want his good name spoiled by having a poet in the family. She was married three times and had one son, Lev. She died at the age of 76 after ahving her poetry loved by the people, forbidden by the government, and ultimately celebrated in her older years and after her death.

Lot's Wife

And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.

This poem caught my attention my sophomore year of high school. The poety anthology that we were using only included one of Akhmatova's poems, but it was such a different take on an old story that I could not put it out of my mind. That same year, in my class on the Old Testament, Lot's wife was a figure of shame. She had disobeyed God's orders and paid the price for it. Akhmatova takes a totally different approach. She sees Lot's wife as just another human being who had difficulty leaving her past behind without a longing look back. I feel that this poem goes much deeper than the recounting of a Bible story, especially in those last two lines. The speaker refuses to judge Lot's wife because of her weakness because it is a weakness that all humans share. No one can ever truly move on without a backwards glance to the past. In fact, if we never looked back, we would never know how to move forward.


Do not cry for me, Mother, seeing me in the grave.
This greatest hour was hallowed and thandered
By angel's choirs; fire melted sky.
He asked his Father:"Why am I abandoned...?"
And told his Mother: "Mother, do not cry..."
Magdalena struggled, cried and moaned.
Peter sank into the stone trance...
Only there, where Mother stood alone,
None has dared cast a single glance.

Anna Akhmatova was, herself, a mother. However, her only child was raised mostly by her mother-in-law from her first marriage. Akhmatova always wished she was more of a mother than she was. She even wrote, "Motherhood is a bright torture. I was not worthy of it." And, while it is not customary to impose the poet's life on her poems, I feel that such a break of criticism etiquette is necessary. That very first line does not fit with the theme or tone of the rest of the poem. It is directed at all mothers, from all children. Children usually have tight bonds with their mothers, especially in childhood. Akhmatova was denied such a bond with Lev because of the circumstances surrounding his upbringing. Lev's father, Nikolay Gumilyov, left both is son and his wife for adventures in Africa, France, and the Great War. After learning all this about Akhmatova's background, I cannot help but see the implied character of Christ in this poem as Lev, whose father abandoned him and whose Mother wished she could have been a bigger part of his life.  

For Osip Mandelstam

And the town is frozen solid in a vice,

Trees, walls, snow, beneath a glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
the painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peter’s there are poplars, crows
there’s a pale green dome there that glows,
dim in the sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovo’s barbarian battleground.
The frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though it was our wedding, and the crowd
were drinking to our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to guard
the room where the exiled poet is banished,
and the night, marching at full pace,
of the coming dawn, has no knowledge.

This poem got me interested in the next Russian poet that I will feature: Osip Mandelstam. Akhmatova and Mendalstam were romantically linked even though Mandelstam was married at the time of their relationship. Both poets, Mandelstam and Akhmatova respected each other's work. Mandelstam's life will be discussed in more detail in the next post, but it seems likely that this poem was written after Mandelstam's sentence of exile for his anti-Soviet views. Akhamatova's speaker (likely herself) expresses a wish for marriage that will never happen with an exiled poet. She seems to be writing a letter to him, describing the landscape of their beloved city, from which Mandelstam was banished. She suggests a foreboding event in the near future of which no one knows. She may have known that Mandelstam was doomed to die soon, but her heart would not let her give up on him just yet.

Another Change of Plans

I could not have predicted the speed at which my schedule has been filled the past few weeks. That said, reading a novel of the length that I thought I could undertake has proven to be too ambitious. But, as in any research project, setbacks are always kept in mind and alternate routes planned out before the project gets underway. Therefore, in honor of April as National Poetry Month, I am switching tracks to bring you some of Russia's most famous poets and the poems that I find to be most interesting from each of them.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Anna Karenina Chapters 6-10

New characters have emerged. Levin, Stepan's brother, has come to town with the hope of proposing to Dolly's youngest sister, Kitty. The pivotal scene that sets up Levin and Kitty's relationship for the reader takes place at an ice rink, leading me to explore the significance of ice skating in Russian culture...

Tourists and locals skating at the outdoor rink in St. Petersburg's Palace Square 

Follow this link for information about outdoor skating rinks in Moscow

This website provides information on Russia's professional figure skaters.

All I could think about when I read Tolstoy's descriptions of the skaters in the novel was the Olympics that just took place in February. Skating has come so far since the days of outdoor rinks and skates made of bone. In the novel, the ice rink is an easy place for families to go out and about together and for men to search for eligible debutantes without any reputations at stake or social akwardness. Kitty's mother is able to keep a close eye on the goings on of her daughter and Levin, Kitty's would-be suitor. When the mother wants a word with her daughter, all Kitty has to do is skate over to the women's only pavilion where the women and girls change into and out of their skates. It is just outside of the rink that Kitty's mother reluctantly invites Levin to join them at their home that evening, setting up what should be an interesting gathering.

Anna Karenina Chapters 1-5

Tolstoy's novel starts out with a rather shocking opening line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (3). In the Oblonsky household, there is an obvious reason for unhappiness. Stepan, the head of the household, has been having an affair with his children's French governess. His wife, Dolly, found out, and is now threatening to leave the house and take their children with her until she decides what she is going to do with this new knowledge. Stepan is remorseful when he goes to see his wife, but he is such a genial man that he has difficulty showing his sorrow. I would be fairly happy, too, if I lived the life of riches that the Oblonsky's do! They live in a mansion, have servants to wait on them hand and foot, have the most exotic women to care for and educate their children, and dine at the fanciest resaurants or stay in and eat the same quality food prepared for them. And yet, their marriage suffers because of a lack of communication and infidelity.

While the story does not start off on a positive note, I became quite fascinated with the references to French culture and ended up forgetting about the marriage in turmoil as I read. Prior to taking this History of Russia class, I would have probably ignored the multitude of references; but, after studying the Decembrists and realizing how un-Russian the people of Russia have been throughout their history, I picked up on the French influence and decided to find out more about the affects of Western Europe on Russian culture...

Architecture in St. Petersburg:


This article, originally in Russian, discusses the history of governessees in Russian history. This link is to the original, but I have included the translation - done by Goolge Translator - which is rough but readable, below.

"History guvernerstva in Russia"

In recent years become an emerging trend towards individualization of learning. But why they say that
new - it is well forgotten old. At the turn of the eras we turn back, bring back the old traditions.
In this article we try to trace the history guvernerstva in Russia - both Russian and foreign.
Translated from the French "tutor" means "teacher of children, welcome to the bourgeois family."
Dictionary of Russian language explains the meaning of the governess: "teacher of children, welcome to
the family, often a foreigner."
How the work was organized tutors in pre-revolutionary Russia? Let's start with the Ancient Rus.
Traditional church upbringing as a whole did not provide for the presence of tutors, and much less
foreign, domestic rearing of children. This is not surprising, as the class teacher as such, absent. The
priests at the school and the oversight of the children "Uncle" and "nurse" in the family set themselves a
"salutary" task, pushing the upbringing and education in the background.
Home caregivers of the time did not have any special education. Lesson rearing for these people was not
their main profession, they usually combine it with any other - spiritual, agricultural, etc. Especially since
they have close contact with the clergy.
Thus, non-formal education of our ancestors before Peter was of the same character as the school, ie, it
was noted churchliness. The basis of all the additional knowledge is apocryphal Biblical narratives, they
finally all came down. But over time the situation changes. In intercession to the throne of Peter I, the
state begins a more serious concern about education.
It should be noted that the decree of Peter in 1725, was the behavioral learning in the Academy of
geometry and trigonometry, vsyakago ranks of people who will, in all sorts of needs - in a church service
in the civil, voinstvovati, elite structure, and doctoral vrachevskoe Art "1. However, with the establishment
of the Academy were forbidden to study at home, without the permission of the Custodian and teachers
academy, Greek, Polish and Latin and other foreign languages, goblins rule the teachers did not hold and
children, except in the academy does not teach out of fear, as if home teachers, especially foreign and
heretics, not made any opposition to the faith of our Orthodox Church, that there was no disagreement.
Those who violate this order, were subjected to confiscation of property 2.
Gradually, the ratio of home carers is changing. We turn to the liberal era of Catherine the Great,
removable hard reformation Peter.
Widespread in noble families received education at home with the help of teachers, tutors and
governesses, are invited to teach young children.
Assessing the role of home education and its importance is consistent with the spirit of Catherine's era:
"The first rule of the teacher must put himself what-would advance the ability to explore a foster child,
watching him entrusted, and according to the forces and talents to the young man's measure off the
works of him and he could do. Internal inclination always ready to reveal in us must TOKM successfully
touch her "- and individuality is not unique to individuals, but nations. In the load on the mind and the
memory should follow a reasonable middle. The most important exercise of memory - the study of
languages (protest against the principle of ignorance era). The mind is enriched by, above all, history. But
apart from reason and memory, there is the imagination, and develop to his: "The history of nature for
children is much more useful than it was commonly thought. Young people are then more likely to
understand that the closer to the feelings and more acts on the imagination."
On the other foreign domestic education of that era can be read as follows: ": to have: from foreigners and
Russians, who know foreign languages and guards. They are, living with them in some quarters
and has always been with them all the time, by example, every hour and a reminder of prudence in all
cases, try to inculcate in them behaved behavior, almost priobuchayut them to talk in foreign languages,
making them every day, repeating the lessons and guidance to them in learning all that is given to them
by the teachers: "3
At the same time a decree was issued, punishing tutors and teachers, foreigners have certificates
Academy of Sciences or the Moscow University (since 1804 certificates issued and gymnasium). Not
having a certificate threatened expulsion from the country, and their owners - a fine of 100 rubles - very
considerable at the time money. From the examinations were released only graduates of universities and
theological academies, as well as girls who have graduated from schools in the department of the
Ministry of Education.
As you can see, in those early years governesses specially prepared, and since childhood. For women
with an inquisitive mind and good heart, forced to make, this was perhaps the only possible source of
However, it should be said that the only source, but it is "bread". The nobility of the time generously
remunerate tutors. But, as a rule, imported. S. Masson, himself the teacher in the family Saltykov, in his
memoirs tells of a very imposing fees received for the education of aristocratic young men: "Mr.
Brueckner has received thirty five thousand rubles for fourteen years on the education of young princes
Kurakins and Granmon - Twenty-five per education of princes Dolgorukys. Another example: the scholar
Mikhail Lermontov Viskovatov notes that Vindson Englishman, a former tutor in the family Uvarov and
then receives a Lermontov, had a salary of 3000 rubles per annum, and a separate wing for himself and
his wife.
All home educators, teachers, mentors were announced officials of the Ministry of Education. This title
was considered a mentor higher than tutor. Tutors could pass additional tests and obtain the title of
mentor. Rank mentor was equal to the senior high school teacher, took into account seniority, which gave
the right to raise wages. Since 1853 mentors and tutors began to receive pensions, although quite
Especially for the preparation of governesses was founded Institute for young ladies, better known as the
current generation of Smolny. Female Seminary (Smolny Institute) provided the means of the Empress.
The girls were taught history, geography, Russian, French, English, Italian, German, as well as music and
drawing. Girls from the middle class is also taught cooking (baking cakes, churn, etc.).
Literature and movies have brought us the image of a typical governess at the time. Elegant and
educated, good and defenseless dowry, which is trying to seduce the host and hostess hysterical insults.
At the Pushkin read: ": Au were bearable tutors: They were good women who sincerely loved their pets:"
4. Frequently governess treated their pupils warmer and better than their parents, what was manifested
the need for single women to love and care about children. Stories about the hard life governesses
occupy an important place in the memoir, and especially literature. Let us recall the story of Anton
Chekhov "Turmoil" with a description of how the governess in vain suspected of stealing a brooch that her
immensely offended.
What, then, and how to teach tutors and governesses, tutors and mentors assigned to them pets? From
the works of Russian classics, we are well aware of the important, if not decisive role that teachers,
foreigners, and especially the French, played at home schooled children of the nobility in Russia XVIIIXIX
centuries. However, it is fiction in the public mind has formed an extremely one-sided view of this
phenomenon. Although the figure of a French tutor is often present in works of Russian writers, usually a
secondary character, devoid of pronounced individuality and depicted, there is rather marked by several
cursory, stereotypical strokes. About how, in fact the case, we, unfortunately, little can be learned from
scientific studies.
Children tried to give home education, as a result of this affluent parents seek out not just a man in
command of some of my knowledge, and experienced teacher. Originally among home educators
dominated by the French and Germans. First, they tried to isolate their pets from the outside world. This
trend was typical for teachers XVIII-XIX centuries. It manifested itself both in the prevalence of private
schools and tutors in an attempt to establish a (not always successfully) the immaculate atmosphere for
education in families, so nothing prevented implement certain teaching methods. Despite the undoubted
evils, the idea of partial isolation of children from the society seems to be quite reasonable. For a child,
they find themselves in the adult world, a world incomprehensible to him the facts and talk, or undertakes
to imitate, trying to become little adults, and thereby losing their identity, or gives a completely false
judgments about the adult world. Include children in the adult world should be gradually and very
Basic, which sought to teach their pets tutors - is the ability to work. They wanted to make sure that their
students not covered cobwebs laziness on the nature of their bright little head "to a child not received
bolfan" like the main character "ignoramus.
Tutors are almost always paid much attention to physical development of their pets. But not so much in
order to enhance their health, how to teach patiently endure difficulties.
End of XVIII century. - The period of intensive development of natural science. In Russia, the study of
"natural history" actively engaged in not only professional scientists, but also many representatives of the
highest aristocracy. Tutors took an active part in these surveys. While in correspondence with foreign
scholars and maintaining close ties with Russian naturalists, they serve as one of the channels of
promotion in the Russian society of advanced achievements of Western science.
Here we should mention the beautiful. Most foreign tutors are highly educated people, often of noble birth.
Not far to seek - who developed the great Russian classics of Pushkin's love of art, namely, to draw? Yes
none other than his first tutor! It is known that long before entering the Tsarskoselsky Lyceum, where he
taught painting, this art interest in the child awakened French emigre Count Montfort. He was a very
educated man, a good musician and a painter. About him a great poet wrote: ": I can not put on a par with
those eccentrics educator of children, a French emigrant, the Count de Montfort, educated,
humane: to educate and teach the French language took the Count of Montfort. The Frenchman liked to
draw, was musician. And here the same: we Montfort walked all over Moscow. I knew her inside out: the
Kremlin, the embankment, stone bridge, a monument to Minin and Pozharsky, Foundling Hospital,
Petrovsky Theatre, University: "5
 Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov was also a tutor. His name was Jean Capet. It was a French officer was
 wounded during the retreat of Napoleon's army, taken prisoner and vyhozhenny good people. Jean Capet
said with a small Lermontov in French, the nurse - in German, and a small Lermontov fluent in those
languages from early childhood. A few years Russia was reading "The Death of a Poet. This was the birth
of another great klassika.6
A more differentiated approach to the problem outlined in the writings Kluchevsky. He believed it
necessary to distinguish between the French-tutors of the first "importation" of what happened in the reign
of Elizabeth, and second - by Catherine II. First, according Kliuchevskii, "were very nemudrenye teachers.
Second, he said, differed from those for the better: "Some of them, standing at the height of their calling,
were acquainted with the last words of the then French literature, and even belonged to the extreme
tendencies of the then political movement." The most recent historian attributed tutor of Grand Duke
Alexander - de la Harpe. Count Stroganoff, a prominent figure in the beginning of the reign of Alexander I,
was brought up a Frenchman Romm. Children brought up under the leadership of Saltykov's brother
Marat (brother of the revolutionary), D'Alembert almost became a tutor the heir to the Russian throne.
"These high means of education, as educated tutors, use only higher nobility, but also to read the mass of
the nobility was not without means assimilable new ideas" .7
But surely the grotesque master French trained the then generation? Surely a classic fully reflect the truth
of life? We can assure you - no. The French Ambassador, Count de Segur wrote that on their education
and culture of the brilliant Russian aristocracy in no way inferior to the most enlightened people in
Western Europe. The fact may also serve as a work of F. Tasteven 8, studied the life of the French colony
in Moscow, who came to the conclusion that foreign coaches were not at all deserters, thieves and
scammers, but a high level of education.
At the end of the historical excursion say that in the post-revolutionary period to the factor that reduces
the interest of researchers to study home education in tsarist Russia, added the class approach. In
keeping with his Soviet historians of pedagogy consciously focused their attention on those forms of
education that are available "working classes", and on projects vnesoslovnoy School 9. The quality of
home schooling children of the nobility is given explicitly negative assessment: "Among the teachers of
foreigners, there are many random people who do not have the necessary education and experience in
educating children. Even the noble government themselves infected worship inostranschinoy were forced
to pay attention to this:" 10 .
For the post-Soviet decade of new research on the topic did not appear. The authors also study the
literature on the history of education or remain silent on the role of foreign teachers, or uncritically repeat
traditionally negative assessments of their activities.
What gave foreign tutors? How can a whole to evaluate their contribution to the history of Russian
First, under the influence of tutors appeared in Russia a few generations of aristocrats, who were actually
bilingual - perceived and used as a native language is not only Russian but also French, and usually
English or German. In contrast to the sad helplessness in the field of foreign languages of the Russian
elite in the Soviet era (on the basis of the communist nomenclature is generally very difficult to be called
"elite"), a Russian aristocratic intelligentsia of the last century has received since childhood to follow the
innovations of Western European thought expressed in the primary, active and equal to communicate
with foreigners at every level. Is not this lie the secrets of the special achievements of classical Russian
literature, Russian science, medicine and technology in pre-revolutionary era? And not in a cultural
isolation from the advanced countries lies one of the causes of stagnation and backwardness of Soviet
Russia in the last decades of XX century?
But foreign tutors gave Russian culture, not only linguistic freedom in communication and reading foreign
literature. Foreign tutors - it is also learned good manners. As a result, children - students, tutors with
izmalstva mastered certain skills and etiquette of behavior, behavior, trains the individual to control the
expression of emotions in a form acceptable to others. When today we suffer from rudeness of our fellow
citizens - those women smugly ignorant, it means that in Russia: it is time to restore the Institute of
Foreign tutors.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Next Project

Hi everyone, it's been quite a while since my last post, but things got a little crazy for me for a while there. I returned most of the folk tales to the library, so I will be taking a break from them and beginning my study of a single novel: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace seemed a bit too ambitious for a project that spans just a few weeks, so I chose a smaller, but no less significant, work of Russian literature to focus on. My plan is to read two chapters at a time and then fill you in on the plot, the characterization, and some history surrounding the time period of the novel. For a preview of the novel, take a look at Wikipedia's page that offers the basics: Thanks!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Babushka and the Three Wise Men

The Christmas season is a celebratory one across much of  the globe. In the picture above, copyright Setarles, courtesy of Wikipedia, New Year is depicted in Revolution Square. The tradition of the Christmas tree came to Russia through Peter the Great who brought it back from his excursions in Western Europe. Although Christmas usually constitutes a religious celebration, secular themes have combined with the spiritual aspects to create a holiday of gift-giving, often done by kind, elderly figures. In the United States, Santa Claus comes down the chimney. In Germany, St. Nicholas leaves presents in shoes on December 6. In Mexico, the Three Wise Men visit children in January. In Russia, Babushka puts sweets and small toys and other gifts in childrens' stockings for them to find on Christmas morning.

Babushka means "grandma" in Russian, but is often used in the English language to describe scarves like the ones seen in the picture at left. In the tale of "Babushka and the Three Wise Men," children can learn an important lesson about taking life's opportunities when they come and not putting trivial things first instead. According to the tale, Babushka had the chance to go see the baby Jesus when the Wise Men stopped by her house on their journey to Bethlehem. She made them dinner and let them stay at her house for the evening. They invited her to join them on this special trip, but Babushka decided to clean the house, find gifts for the baby, and get herself prettied up before she left. By the time she finished all her chores, the star that the Wise Men were following had moved away. Babushka tried to find Jesus anyway, but wandered aimlessly and never found him.

Russian children wake up on Christmas morning excited to see what Babushka has left for them. Legend has it that Babushka wanders around Russia on Christmas Eve, looking for the baby King at whatever house has children. Just to be sure she does not miss Him, she leaves gifts for every child.

While this story is a nice way to explain Christmas traditions, it is also a fable. The moral of the story is to not let life pass you by. Babushka let the opportunity of a lifetime pass by her because she wanted to be completely prepared for it. Life does not let people be as prepared as they would like to be for chances that arrive. Babushka shows us that we should take opportunities as they come, not sit and wait for them when we have finally prepared ourselves to our liking.

Montgomerie, Norah. "Babushka and the Three Wise Men." Christmas Fairy Tales. By Neil Philip. Illus. Isabelle Brent. New York: Viking, 1996. 89-91. Print.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Painted Balalaika

The English have Cinderella, the Vietnamese have the story of the Brocade Slipper, the Canadian natives have The Indian Cinderella, and the Chinese have Yeh-Shen. Russians have Mashenka whose "glass slipper" is a painted balalaika, a three-stringed guitar (an example of which can be seen to the left in a photo found in the public domain on Wikipedia.)

The story of Mashenka and her painted Balalaika goes as follows: Mashenka was the youngest of three daughters of an elderly couple. The elder daughters were lazy, but Mashenka was a hard worker. She did all the chores and her sisters ordered her around on a daily basis. When their father left for the market one day, he asked the daughters what each would like him to bring back from his trip. The oldest daughter wanted an expensive necklace, the middle daughter wanted red velvet to make clothes, and Mashenka asked for a balalaika with paintings of "the flowers and animals, people and houses of [her] beloved Russia" (Adler 73). At first, the sisters laughed at Mashenka for such a silly choice, but then, when the family learned that the balalaika was magic and could show Mashenka whatever she asked for in song, her sisters became jealous and plotted against her. They tricked Mashenka into travelling deep into the forest with them where they beat her to death in a jealous rage. They buried her under a grove of birch trees and took the balalaika home with a lie that Mashenka had gotten lost in the forest. When her parents tried to use the magic balalaika to find her, the pictures did not move to reveal the location of their missing daughter.

A shepherd boy saved the day when he happened upon the tree under which Mashenka was buried. When he started to blow on a pipe he had made from the reeds growing from the mound of dirt under which Mashenka was buried, the pipe began to play on its own. The pipe took on the voice of Mashenka and scared the poor boy who told the entire village what had happened. Mashenka's parents heard of what had taken place and the shepherd boy took them to the place where Mashenka spoke to him. The pipe then told them to "fetch some healing water from the Tsar of Russia's well" (Adler 76). The sisters then confessed what they had done and were locked up. When their father went to the well, the Tsar talked with him and asked to meet Mashenka when she was returned to life. When Mashenka was resurrected, she brought her balalaika to the Tsar and begged him to take that instead of her sisters' lives. The Tsar, touched by her forgiveness, spared her sisters and asked Mashenka to marry him.

This story shows the value of forgiveness and the power of love. Mashenka obviously had a love of her country, but the love for her family was even greater. Even after her sisters had killed her, she still found it in her heart to show them mercy, and her show of forgiveness inspired the ruler of the land. That is powerful, and, even though this is a fairytale, the strength of benevolence is a lesson that resonates throughout Russian literature.

Further Exploration...

Mashenka means "Maria" in Russian. Check out what significance this character's name has on this site:

"Mashenka"'s Meaning in Russian Naming

There is an orchestra that uses traditional Russian instruments in Washington D.C. Their next major concerts will take place the first weekend in June. See what different balalaikas and other instruments look like here:

Washington Balalaika Society

This clip features a trio playing a song from Dr. Zhivago. If you would like to know what a balalaika sounds like, take a look at this link:

Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago YouTube Video

Adler, Naomi. Play Me a Story: Nine Tales about Musical Instruments. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1997. 72-79. Print.

Baba Yaga

The first folktale that I have chosen to bring to you is the story of Baba Yaga. In Slavic languages, "Baba" means "grandmother" and is often used to refer to elderly women. "Yaga," however, is a bit harder to put an exact translation on and is considered to be derived from any of several languages and can mean anything from "lazybones" to "pain."

Regardless, Baba Yaga is considered to be an elderly witch who most often causes more trouble than she provides aid. According to Katya Arnold, illustrator and re-teller of the Baba Yaga tale, "Baba Yage is one of the most important figures in Russian folklore. She appears, in one form or another, in hundreds of folktlaes. Sometimes she is the fearsome witch, as in this story, but sometimes she is kind and even helpful. She is so familiar to Russian children that she's almost a member of the family - like an elderly aunt who is either mean or nice, depending on her mood" (Arnold).

The picture to the right is an illustration of Baba Yaga drawn by Russian artist Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin that is in the public domain in Russia. It depicts her riding a mortar with the companion pestle as her rudder or oar to steer her through the air. Other versions of the story have her riding a broom that sweeps away evidence of her trail across the sky.

This particular retelling traces the story of Tishka, a young boy who is tricked by Baba Yaga into coming home with her. Traditionally, Baba Yaga lives in a hut perched upon chicken legs. In Tishka's story, Baba Yaga plans on eating him, but leaves her daughter in charge of cooking him. Tishka refuses to get into the oven, and asks the daughter to show him how to climb on the spatula. When she shows him, Tishka pushes her into the oven and cooks her as he runs away. Baba Yaga returns and unknowingly eats her own daughter. Tishka has hidden himself in a tree outside the hut, but is in major trouble when Baba Yaga comes outside with an ax, furious with Tishka for tricking her. Tishka is ultimately saved by an ugly gosling by promising the goose all the food he can eat when he returns Tishka safely home. The story ends with the goose becoming the most admired gosling around, and Tishka and his family living happily ever after.

The tale of Baba Yaga shows that good deeds never go unnoticed, and that wit, no matter what a person's age, is something to be admired. Tishka used his cleverness to escape, but he had a little luck to help him secure his ultimate freedom. The gosling was an unlikely hero since he was the scrawniest goose in the land, but he paused in his flight to save the young boy and was rewarded for his kindness. This story shows that Russians value kindness and cleverness, two qualities that would be instilled from childhood through stories like Baba Yaga.

Arnold, Katya. Baba Yaga: A Russian Folktale Retold and Illustrated. New York: North-South Books, 1993. Print.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Welcome to My Overview of Russian Literature

Hello, everyone, my name is Natalie, and this is my blog for my college class on Russian History. As a double major in English and History, I wanted to find a project that would encompass both of my passions into a single piece of work. I fell in love with Russian literature during a course on World Literature over the winter because of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Illyich, both of which will be covered as I attempt to provide you with a comprehensive survey of Russian Literatue over the next few months. My plan is to start with folk- and fairytales from centuries-old Russian culture and to travel through the time periods that followed covering Tsarist Russia, the Revolutionary era, the time of the Soviet Union, and the decade immediately following the collapse of the USSR. My hope is to include all types of literature including poetry, novels, short stories, and plays.

It is also my hope that you will join me on this ambitious adventure through time, and that you learn, as I predict I will, more about a culture that is still a mystery to much of the world.

Oh, and I should mention that I will always give credit where credit is due. You will find each of the works that I read and comment on listed in MLA format at the end of each post so that you, too, can read them if you so choose. That said, I must tell you that my amusing title for this blog is not my own. My witty friend Nick came up with it almost instantaneously when I told him my project idea. Thanks, Nick.

And thank YOU (the reader) for being brave enough to come along for the ride.