Early Modern Russian Letters: Texts and Contexts

Early Modern Russian Letters: Texts and Contexts

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Marcus C. Levitt

Series: Studies in Russian and Slavic Literatures, Cultures, and History
ISBN: 9781934843680 (hardcover), 9781618118080 (paperback)
Pages: 440 pp.
Publication Date: October 2009

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This volume brings together twenty essays by Marcus C. Levitt, a leading scholar of eighteenth-century Russian literature. The essays address a spectrum of works and issues that shaped the development of modern Russian literature, from authorship and philosophy to gender and religion in Russian Enlightenment culture. The first part of the collection explores the career and works of Alexander Sumarokov, who played a formative role in literary life of his day. In the essays of the second part, Levitt argues that the Enlightenment’s privileging of vision played an especially important role in eighteenth-century Russian self-image, and that its 'occularcentrism' was profoundly shaped by Orthodox religious views. Early Modern Russian Letters offers a series of original and provocative explorations of a vital but little-studied period.

Marcus C.  Levitt  (PhD Columbia University) is a professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Southern California. Dr. Levitt is known for both his work on eighteenth-century Russian culture and on Pushkin. Major publications include: Russian Literary Politics and the Pushkin Celebration of 1880 (1989), Early Modern Russian Letters: Texts and Contexts. Selected Essays (2009), and The Visual Dominant in Eighteenth-Century Russia (2011). Among his many translations from Russian are the works by Viktor Zhivov and Boris Uspenskij.

Professor Marcus Levitt, a leading scholar of eighteenth-century Russian literature, crowns years spent studying poet and playwright Alexander Sumarokov with a new collection of articles, some now made available in English for the first time. Containing a series of engaging essays on various aspects of Sumarokov’s oeuvre together with a variety of other studies concerning Russian culture, literature, history and philosophy, this volume will serve as an indispensable guide to all those studying eighteenth-century Russia for many years to come.
— Mark Altshuller, Professor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh
The volume of articles by Marcus Levitt, a well-known expert of early modern Russian literature, embodies his pioneering work in this field. Levitt closes a glaring gap in the history of eighteenth-century Russian literature by providing a wealth of material and ideas about playwright and poet Alexander Sumarkov. Levitt goes on to offer an innovative approach to some of the most important questions of Russian eighteenth-century literature and culture. It is a pleasure to see the works by an admired colleague so handsomely presented in this thoroughly put together collection.
— Irina Reyfman, Columbia University
This volume will become indispensable to scholars specializing in eighteenth-century Russia. Further afield, specialists in the European Enlightenment will discover a wealth of scholarship about the Russian side of that story, much of it available for the first time in English. Levitt’s collection weaves a rich tale about eighteenth-century Russia’s linguistic development, the rise of its literary institution, and the complex interplay of Orthodoxy, westernizing secularization, and the heretofore overlooked dominance of the visual. Levitt writes lucidly and without jargon, making his ideas accessible and engaging for specialists and newcomers alike.
— Amanda Ewington, Davidson College, in The Russian Review
Supported by an immense body of quotations and passages, all well-translated from the Russian originals, the essays offer Levitt’s novel ideas on traditional and progressive trends in mid- to late- 18th-century Russian culture. Marked by the author’s sometimes-sarcastic commentaries on the literary epoch and its concerns, the book reflects Levitt’s meticulous scholarship. The essays provide a wealth of information on topics, texts, and contexts. . . . Fascinating arguments on the source of Sumarokov’s transposition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet shed new light on the intellectual tenets of Russian classicism. . . . A valuable resource for students of Russian and comparative literature of this epoch. Recommended.
— D. Hutchins, Buena Vista University, in CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June 2010

Table of Contents


Part One

1. Sumarokov: Life and Works
2. Sumarokov’s Reading at the Academy of Sciences Library
3. Censorship and Provocation: The Publishing History of Sumarokov’s “Two Epistles” 
4. Slander, Polemic, Criticism: Trediakovskii’s “Letter from a Friend to a Friend” of 1750 and the Problem of Creating Russian Literary Criticism
5. Sumarokov’s Russianized “Hamlet”: Texts and Contexts
6. Sumarokov’s Drama “Th e Hermit”: On the Generic and Intellectual Sources of Russian Classicism
7. “The First Russian Ballet”: Sumarokov’s “Sanctuary of Virtue” (1759) Defining a New Dance
8. Was Sumarokov a Lockean Sensualist? On Locke’s Reception in Eighteenth-Century Russia
9. Barkoviana and Russian Classicism
10. The Illegal Staging of Sumarokov’s Sinav and Truvor in 1770 and the Problem of Authorial Status in Eighteenth-Century Russia
11. Sumarokov and the Unifi ed Poetry Book: His Triumphal Odes and Love Elegies Th rough the Prism of Tradition
12. The Barbarians Among Us, or Sumarokov’s Views on Orthography

Part Two

13. The Rapprochement Between “Secular” and “Religious” in Mid to Late Eighteenth-Century Russian Culture
14. The “Obviousness” of the Truth in Eighteenth-Century Russian Thought
15. The Theological Context of Lomonosov’s “Evening” and “Morning Meditations on God’s Majesty” 
16. The Ode as Revelation: On the Orthodox Theological Context of Lomonosov’s Odes
17. An Antidote to Nervous Juice: Catherine the Great’s Debate with Chappe d’Auteroche over Russian Culture
18. The Polemic with Rousseau over Gender and Sociability in E. S. Urusova’s Polion (1774)
19. Virtue Must Advertise: Self Presentation in Dashkova’s Memoirs
20. The Dialectic of Vision in Radishchev’s Journey from Petersburg to Moscow