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The Poetics of Impudence and Intimacy in the Age of Pushkin

Joe Peschio

Publication Year: 2013

In early nineteenth-century Russia, members of jocular literary societies gathered to recite works written in the lightest of genres: the friendly verse epistle, the burlesque, the epigram, the comic narrative poem, the prose parody. In a period marked by the Decembrist Uprising and heightened state scrutiny into private life, these activities were hardly considered frivolous; such works and the domestic, insular spaces within which they were created could be seen by the Russian state as rebellious, at times even treasonous.
    Joe Peschio offers the first comprehensive history of a set of associated behaviors known in Russian as “shalosti,” a word which at the time could refer to provocative behaviors like practical joking, insubordination, ritual humiliation, or vandalism, among other things, but also to literary manifestations of these behaviors such as the use of obscenities in poems, impenetrably obscure allusions, and all manner of literary inside jokes. One of the period’s most fashionable literary and social poses became this complex of behaviors taken together. Peschio explains the importance of literary shalosti as a form of challenge to the legitimacy of existing literary institutions and sometimes the Russian regime itself. Working with a wide variety of primary texts—from verse epistles to denunciations, etiquette manuals, and previously unknown archival materials—Peschio argues that the formal innovations fueled by such “prankish” types of literary behavior posed a greater threat to the watchful Russian government and the literary institutions it fostered than did ordinary civic verse or overtly polemical prose.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. c-c

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been in the works for a long time, and I owe a debt of gratitude to more family, friends, colleagues, administrators, and students than I can possibly list here. However, I would fi rst like to thank the Milwaukee thieves who spirited away the computers and all the backup DVDs containing the fi rst, almost complete draft of this book when they burglarized our home in June 2009. There is no doubt ...

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Note on Transliteration and Translation

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pp. xi-2

Russian words and names in this book have been transliterated using a simplifi ed version (without ligatures and diacritics) of the Library of Congress Romanization table. All translations are my own except where otherwise indicated....

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pp. 3-8

According to legend, it was around three in the morning when the knock came at the door.1 Outside, in the Russian expression, June of 1826 was standing in the yard. These were tough times. Six months had passed since the Decembrist Uprising, and over three thousand people had already been arrested on suspicion of sedi-tion.2 The new tsar, Nicholas I, had created an Investigatory Commission, and his ...

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1. Roots and Contexts

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pp. 9-33

In 1825, soon before her marriage to the poet Anton Del’vig, Sofi a Mikhailovna Saltykova wrote to one of her girlfriends: “A propos, le cher Pouchkin a été ren-voyé au village chez son père pour de nouvelles folies.” If we cut off Saltykova’s letter here, it would be unclear in early nineteenth- century usage what kind of behavior had warranted Pushkin’s latest bout of trouble with the authorities. He ...

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2. Arzamas: Rudeness

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pp. 34-59

The Arzamas Society of Obscure Men (1815–18), or simply “Arzamas,” as it is usu-ally called, has been the subject of so much excellent scholarship that it requires little introduction.1 In short, though, Arzamas was a jocular, familiar literary soci-ety, which sprang out of the foreign policy and literary language debates of the early nineteenth century. It was conceived in large part as a polemical counterpoint ...

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3. The Green Lamp: Sexual Banter

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pp. 60-93

The Semenovskii Regiment mutiny in October 1820 spurred a general crackdown on unsanctioned assembly of all sorts, and the familiar literary societies that had begun to multiply rapidly in the late 1810s were among the targets. One tale of this crackdown comes to us from Filipp Lialikov’s memoir of his student days. Lialikov, later a prominent education offi cial, recalls a literary society that he and ...

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4. Ruslan and Liudmila: Rudeness and Sexual Banter

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pp. 94-114

It would be diffi cult to overstate the signifi cance of Pushkin’s Ruslan i Liudmila (Ruslan and Liudmila, 1820; hereafter RL) in the history of Russian literature. For nearly 170 years, it has been almost universally recognized as one of the most important works of the Russian Golden Age. It is no coincidence that Pushkin opens his masterwork, Eugene Onegin, with an appeal to “the friends of Liudmila ...

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Epilogue: Pushkin the Pornographer, Two Hundred Years Later

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pp. 115-124

The ballad Ten’ Barkova (The Shade of Barkov, composed circa 1815, hereafter TB) has stirred more controversy in the past decade than any other issue in Push-kin studies. This is mostly due to its single most remarkable feature: its lexicon, roughly 30 percent of which is obscene (mat). Otherwise, TB is a narrative poem that consists of twenty- four twelve- line stanzas and that is unremarkable in every ...


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pp. 125-150


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pp. 151-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780299290436
E-ISBN-10: 0299290433
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299290443
Print-ISBN-10: 0299290441

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2013