In his Crimean travel notes of 25 June 1825, Alexander Griboedov describes an animated, magical landscape where he and his fellow travelers are mere observers:
A pink stripe across gloomy clouds, the play of the evening sun; a pike shows blue in the distance; a ship in Alushta seems to hang in the air; the sea blends into the sky. We find a sheepfold on the eastern heights, facing south. Whey to eat; the air is cold; I warm myself. I lie down on my horse's blanket with the saddle at my head, listening to the bleating of goats and sheep whose pen hangs over the rapids. In the night I rise, the moon swims over the sea between the two capes. A star emerges from behind a black cloud. Another careens above me. What genius has caught it? 1
These romantic descriptions of the Black Sea region in June of the year that will end with the Decembrist Revolt in St. Petersburg include views of Bakhchiserai, of Chatyr-Dag, Sably, and Alupta. Regardless of political rumblings and events in his personal and professional life, Griboedov took the time to sketch these mountains and their people, the valleys, the relationship between sky and water; he strove to capture in words the contrasts of light and color, air and altitude, of physical sensation and the stirrings of imagination.
Like Mickiewicz, who wrote sonnets to "Alushta in the Daytime," "Alushta at Night," and "Aiudag," among others, Griboedov was captivated by the scenery along the coast. It seemed a veritable font of poetic [End Page 97] inspiration. Of Alushta itself Griboedov wrote: "The whole place is surrounded as if by an amphitheater, the spurs of Yail and Chatyr-Dag— whose summits reign over this valley—reach to the sea. 2
Traveling around the Crimea today, one encounters sites, museums, monuments, and memorials to writers from all eras: from Adam Mickiewicz to Anton Chekhov, from Maxim Gorky and Lev Tolstoy to Ivan Shmelev and Sergei Sergeev-Tsensky. But the pride of the peninsula remains the two Alexander Sergeeviches: Griboedov and Pushkin. The central square of Alushta features a bust of the former; a towering tree called "Pushkin's cypress" still graces the garden of a sanatorium in nearby Gurzuf.
The cluster of articles gathered below represent the first installment in a new section for the Pushkin Review: Pushkin's Contemporaries. The parallel travels and shared acquaintances and friendships of many writers from the Pushkin era make for fascinating juxtapositions and comparisons, and we hope that articles in this rubric will complement articles on Pushkin, deepening and broadening our understanding of his era.
I started this essay with Griboedov's notes on Crimea because I recently returned from there: in Alushta at the end of May 2012 scholars gathered from all over the world to explore the topic of "Griboedov and Contemporary Times." Some of the biggest names in Griboedovedenie were there: Sergei Fomichev, who has done more than anyone in the history of Russian literary scholarship to foster the study of Alexander Griboedov; Ludmila Orekhova, who specializes in the role played by Crimean topography in Griboedov's life and work; Nadezhda Tarkhova, who has written on "Griboedov's Homes and Haunts," to use the Library of Congress designation; Vyacheslav Koshelev, whose books on Pushkin and other nineteenth-century poets make him an expert on the "other" Alexander Sergeevich as well; Herbert Lembke, who has explored translations of Woe from Wit into German and whose foundation, Ad Infinitum, funded the recent publications of the Griboedov Encyclopedia 3 and the long-awaited third volume of the authoritative Complete Works of A. S. Griboedov. 4
A refrain that began to sound in the halls and courtyards of the Alushta Ethnographic Museum, where the conference took place, was "a gde molodezh´ ?" (Where are the young scholars who will take Griboedov studies into a new era?) There were, in fact, several young people—two or [End Page 98] three graduate students and recent kandidaty —present, but I submit that the readers of the Pushkin Review are benefitting from that new generation, which appears to be thriving in the United States. The three essays...