Creating the Empress: Politics and Poetry in the Age of Catherine II

Creating the Empress: Politics and Poetry in the Age of Catherine II

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Vera Proskurina

Series: Ars Rossica
ISBN: 9781936235506 (hardcover), 9781618118059 (paperback)
Pages: 312 pp.
Publication Date: January 2011

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In Creating the Empress, Vera Proskurina examines the interaction between power and poetry in creating the imperial image of Catherine the Great, providing a detailed analysis of a wide range of Russian literary works from this period, particularly the main Classical myths associated with Catherine (Amazon, Astraea, Pallas Athena, Felicitas, Fortune, etc.), as well as how these Classical subjects affirmed imperial ideology and the monarch’s power. Each chapter of the book revolves around the major events of Catherine’s reign (and some major literary works) that give a broad framework to discuss the evolution of important recurring motifs and images.

Vera Proskurina (PhD Moscow State University) is a professor at Emory University, the author of two books and numerous articles on Russian literature and the intellectual history of Russia. Her first book, Mikhail Gershenzon: His Life and Myth (1998) was devoted to the Jewish Russian writer and thinker of the first decades of the 20th century. Her second book, Myths of Empire: Politics and Literature in the Time of Catherine II, first appeared in Moscow in 2006.

The volume includes careful analyses of contemporary sources as well as of the poetry, prose, and journalism of the 18th century. Highly recommended.
— A. J. DeBlasio, Dickinson College, in CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, July 2011
Vera Proskurina’s Creating the Empress: Politics and Poetry in the Age of Catherine II offers a striking and sophisticated demonstration of the ways literary works served and shaped imperial ideology. It joins other recent path breaking works like those of Andrei Zorin, Cynthia Whittaker and Elise Wirtschafter that read eighteenth-century Russian literature back into the political and cultural landscape of the day. Dr. Proskurina offers brilliant new close readings of many familiar works establishing their rich meanings by reconstructing the Russian and European cultural context. She demonstrates the vital political functions of this literature as it expressed and shaped imperial Russian culture. These functions include establishing various myths that supported Catherine’s power as a woman ruler and that shaped cultural, literary and political aspects of court culture. Dr. Proskurina bring to her subject an impressive grasp not only of the literary texts and written sources, but also of the cultural specifics of the era, viewing the works under investigation through the prism of contemporary literary institutions and the complexities of reigning cultural mythology they helped foster.
— Marcus C. Levitt, University of Southern California
Vera Proskurina’s Creating the Empress: Politics and Poetry in the Age of Catherine II is an erudite and imaginative examination of Catherine the Great’s reign through the double lens of politics and poetry. The author, who is known for her expert and graceful interpretation of cultural symbols, brings this approach to perfection in the new volume. She traces different aspects of Catherine’s age symbolic representation beginning with a brilliant deconstruction of the gender dynamic in the 1762 coup d’etat and ending with a masterful analysis of the Empress’s dubious reputation as an ageing coquette in the last years of her reign. Theoretically sound and well-written, the book will be a welcome addition to the library of every Catherine scholar. The book’s handsome appearance makes it a pleasure to read.
— Irina Reyfman, Department of Slavic Languages, Columbia University
The strength of Proskurina’s work lies in its detailed analysis of a wide range of Russian literary works from this period, particularly in highlighting the frequent use of Classical subjects or genres by authors to discuss the symbolic or analogous content of their writings. Similarly, she draws on an impressive range of English and Russian language scholarship to emphasize the need to view these Classical themes and motifs in the context of wider European symbolic traditions, as well as the immediate historical context of Catherine II’s reign.
— Paul Keenan, Department of International History, London School of Economics and Political Science, in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, Volume 10, Number 1, 2009, 179-182

Table of Contents


Chapter One
Coup d’état as Cross-dressing
Chapter Two
Astraea’s coming to the Russian Throne
Chapter Three
Catherine the Healer
Chapter Four
Toppling the Bronze Horseman
Chapter Five
The War in Greek Garb
Chapter Six
The Birth of Felitsa
Chapter Seven
Politics as Carnival in Derzhavin’s Ode to Fortune
Chapter Eight
Ridiculing the Monarch