Writing the Time of Troubles: False Dmitry in Russian Literature

Writing the Time of Troubles: False Dmitry in Russian Literature


Marcia A. Morris

Series: The Unknown Nineteenth Century
ISBN: 9781618118639 (hardcover)
Pages: 192 pp.
Publication Date: August 2018

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Is each moment in history unique, or do essential situations repeat themselves? The traumatic events associated with the man who reigned as Tsar Dmitry have haunted the Russian imagination for four hundred years. Was Dmitry legitimate, the last scion of the House of Rurik, or was he an upstart pretender? A harbinger of Russia’s doom or a herald of progress? Writing the Time of Troubles traces the proliferation of fictional representations of Dmitry in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia, showing how playwrights and novelists reshaped and appropriated his brief and equivocal career as a means of drawing attention to and negotiating the social anxieties of their own times.

Marcia A. Morris is Professor of Slavic Languages at Georgetown University. She is the author of Saints and Revolutionaries: The Ascetic Hero in Russian Literature, The Literature of Roguery in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Russia, and Russian Tales of Demonic Possession: Translations of Savva Grudtsyn and Solomonia.


In this well-wrought book, Marcia Morris discusses the ways Russian writers have used the figure of False Dmitry to pose political, existential, and literary questions. … Morris argues that each writer’s approach to these questions expresses his relation to contemporaneous events as well as his view of the distant past. The argument is framed by narrative theory and trauma studies, and firmly grounded in studies of Russian history and literature—the footnotes alone provide a detailed map of the book’s argument. … We owe Marcia Morris a debt of gratitude for reading, contextualizing, and analyzing these works, including some that most of us would never encounter otherwise. This book is well worth reading.
— Sarah Pratt, University of Southern California, Russian Review Vol. 78, No. 2
Dr. Morris proves that a scholarly book can be a page-turner! This tour de force, beginning with Dmitry’s ascension to Moscow’s throne in 1605, lets lucky readers time-travel through multiple centuries to explore the attraction this historical actor has exercised over Russian novelists and dramatists. Readers will share the epiphany that Dmitry literature features two moments in time, recurrence and transference, appreciate the protagonist’s liminality, and parse the creative process whereby political issues are transposed into literary discourse. When the finale, ‘re-resurrection,’ delves into the twenty-first century’s renewed interest in the Time of Troubles, readers will beg for a sequel.
— Amy D. Ronner, PhD, JD, Professor Emerita, St. Thomas University School of Law
In this riveting account, Morris explains why ‘Dmitry haunts Russian culture.’ A major actor during Russia’s Time of Troubles, Dmitry became a critical indicator of Russian national identity, particularly during periods of historical transition. Was he a pretender, who threatened Russia with destruction, or a true tsarevich, who promised to secure a freer future? Morris incisively examines how Russian writers (from the late eighteenth century to the fin-de-siècle) used Dmitry in histories, tragedies, and fictions to comment on their own times as they explored ‘Dmitry’s capacity to epitomize either legitimacy or falsehood, heroism or villainy, patriotism or treachery.’
— Deborah A. Martinsen, Columbia University
When has a scholarly study of the literary and cultural ramifications of the Time of Troubles elicited words like ‘riveting,’ ‘compelling,’ ‘fast-paced’? Marcia Morris, in Writing the Time of Troubles: False Dmitry in Russian Literature, discovers an original way of understanding Russia’s centuries-long search for its identity. Dmitry’s liminal figure embodies infinite potentials to be filled by fiction. Morris’s impressive critical knowledge combines with sharply observed close readings. She broadens the scope of trauma studies through readings of the Dmitry texts, simultaneously injecting her analyses with a welcome, trenchant wit and irony. Soviet Russia’s official focus on the future abruptly forced the obsolescence of the Dmitry fictions, but, given Morris’s intriguing paradigm, one cannot but suspect future sequels.
— Robin Feuer Miller, Brandeis University
Beautifully written, meticulously researched, and theoretically sophisticated, Morris’s erudite study examines the ever-evolving relationship between our interpretations of the past and our concerns for the present and future. Situated within a richly detailed survey of over three centuries of Russian culture, her in-depth readings of the Dmitry legend illuminate the complex interplay of literature, history, politics, and religion in the Russians’ quest for self-definition. Writing the Time of Troubles will appeal to anyone interested in Russian literature and history, Russia’s uncertain relationship with the West, trauma studies, and the boundaries between history, literature, and hagiography.
— David Gasperetti, University of Notre Dame

Table of Contents

A Note on Translation, Transliteration, Names, and Abbreviations

Introduction: Recurrence, Transference, and Dmitry
Chapter 1. Prelude
Chapter 2. Two Visions of Tyranny: The Late Eighteenth Century
Chapter 3. Verbal Self-Fashioning: The Early Nineteenth Century
Chapter 4. Two Visions of Reform: 1866
Chapter 5. Contingent Self-Fashioning: The Fin de Siècle
Dmitry: Re-resurrection and Conclusions
Sources Cited