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From the Shadow of Empire

Defining the Russian Nation through Cultural Mythology, 1855–1870

Olga Maiorova

Publication Year: 2010

As nationalism spread across nineteenth-century Europe, Russia’s national identity remained murky: there was no clear distinction between the Russian nation and the expanding multiethnic empire that called itself “Russian.” When Tsar Alexander II’s Great Reforms (1855–1870s) allowed some freedom for public debate, Russian nationalist intellectuals embarked on a major project—which they undertook in daily press, popular historiography, and works of fiction—of finding the Russian nation within the empire and rendering the empire in nationalistic terms.
    From the Shadow of Empire traces how these nationalist writers refashioned key historical myths—the legend of the nation’s spiritual birth, the tale of the founding of Russia, stories of Cossack independence—to portray the Russian people as the ruling nationality, whose character would define the empire. In an effort to press the government to alter its traditional imperial policies, writers from across the political spectrum made the cult of military victories into the dominant form of national myth-making: in the absence of popular political participation, wars allowed for the people’s involvement in public affairs and conjured an image of unity between ruler and nation. With their increasing reliance on the war metaphor, Reform-era thinkers prepared the ground for the brutal Russification policies of the late nineteenth century and contributed to the aggressive character of twentieth-century Russian nationalism.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

My book could not have been written without the assistance of several institutions that generously supported my project at its various stages. A grant from the Fulbright Program made it possible for me to spend eight productive months at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. ...

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Note on Transliteration, Translation, and Dates

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pp. xv

In most instances I have followed the Library of Congress system of trans-literation for Slavic languages, but have retained names of well-known authors in their traditional English spelling (Tolstoy, Herzen, Gogol, Dostoevsky). ...

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Introduction: Cultural Myth and National Self-Perception in the Turbulent Reform Era

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pp. 3-25

A preoccupation with national uniqueness pervaded the intellectual landscape of nineteenth-century Russia, as it did in many European countries during the age of rising nationalism fanned by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Russia’s victory over the Grande Armée (1812–15) galvanized its cultural elite, ...

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1. A Shifting Vision of the Nation: Constructs of Russianness in the Aftermath of the Crimean War

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pp. 26-52

The Crimean War (1853 –56) began as yet another round in the protracted struggle between the Romanov and the Ottoman Empire that spanned the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Russians initially called the conflict the Eastern War, but it soon took on a European dimension as, driven by strategic interests, England and France joined forces with Turkey. ...

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2. The Varangian Legend: Defining the Nation through the Foundation Myth

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pp. 53-93

Throughout the imperial period of Russian history, the tale of the summoning of the Varangian princes occupied center stage in the national mythology. Appearing in the Primary Chronicle (compiled in the twelfth century) under the title “Whence the Land of the Rus’Came into Being,” the story tells how in the year 862 ...

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3. War as Peace: The Symbol of Popular War during the Polish Uprising (1863 –64)

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pp. 94-127

In his 1876 Diary of a Writer, Dostoevsky lays out a startling case for war. In the voice of a “paradoxicalist”—a “most peaceful person” who nonetheless advocates armed conflict—he articulates his own responses to the familiar moral dilemmas that accompany the use of force. ....

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4. Literary Representations of a Nation at War: From Apocalyptic Battle to Beehive

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pp. 128-154

During the reform era, war memories proliferated in poetry and prose. This is not to say that authors turned to battle scenes andplots more frequently during the 1860s and 1870s than they had in the past. Rather, the literary works produced during this period tend to conceive of the ongoing reforms ...

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5. The Myth of Spiritual Descent: Remapping the Empire

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pp. 155-182

It is well known—indeed, almost a cliché—that Russia’s national self-image is pervaded by religious motifs. Many nineteenth-century thinkers, above all the Slavophiles, found in Orthodox culture the key to Russian uniqueness.1 What real impact, however, did religion have on reform-era constructs of the nation? ...

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In Place of a Conclusion: The Legacy of Reform-Era Nationalism

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pp. 183-191

Reform-era thinkers recast historical mythology to accommodate a dramatic shift in national self-perception—the growing understanding of the nation as a political construct—that marked the 1850s and 1860s. Under the traumatic impact of the Crimean defeat, writers of divergent ideological persuasions sought to chart Russia’s future ...


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pp. 193-241


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pp. 243-260


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pp. 261-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780299235932
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299235949

Page Count: 277
Publication Year: 2010