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Dimitry’s Shade

A Reading of Alexander Pushkin's Boris Godunov

Clayton, J. Douglas

Publication Year: 2004

In an ambitious reinterpretation of the premier work of Russia's national poet, J. Douglas Clayton reads Boris Godunov as the expression of Alexander Pushkin's thinking about the Russian state, especially the Russian state of his own time (some two hundred years distant from the events of the play), and even his own place within that state. Here we see how the play marks a sharp break with the Decembrists and Pushkin's own youthful liberalism, signaling its author's emergence as a Russian conservative. Boris Godunov, Clayton argues, can be best understood as an ideologically conservative defense of autocracy.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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pp. vii

Notes to the Reader

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

This book grew out of a research project into Pushkin’s poetic language that examined the recurrence and function of certain lexical items in the text of Boris Godunov as examples of “poetic etymology.” The research was based on the hypothesis, which is more fully exposed in chapters 6 and 7, that the very shape of Pushkin’s language, the combinations of lexical roots...

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Chapter One: The Genesis and Reception of Boris Godunov

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pp. 3-29

SUCH WAS THE COMMENT of Pushkin’s first biographer, P. V. Annenkov, about Boris Godunov. The contradiction between Pushkin’s (and Annenkov’s) perception of the importance of the work and its complex and often lukewarm reception is a central issue in understanding the role of the play in the history of Pushkin studies. That history reflects in many ways the intellectual...

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Chapter Two: Boris Godunov and the Theater

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pp. 30-53

IT HAS BEEN A COMMONPLACE in Pushkin studies to see in his work a simple evolution from poetry to prose. Pushkin himself seemed to offer confirmation of this: “The years incline me to stern prose,” he writes in Eugene Onegin. As we have seen in discussing Soviet Pushkiniana, the simplicity of this view parallels...

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Chapter Three: Pushkin, Russia, Revolution

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pp. 54-79

THERE WERE TWO EVENTS IN Russian history that took place during Pushkin’s lifetime and became shaping influences in his political philosophy. First, the Napoleonic wars had offered to Russians for the first time a glimpse of national unity, a unity of all the classes around the defense of the motherland.1 Since that time the chimera of national unity...

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Chapter Four: Boris Godunov as Metahistory and Metapoetry

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pp. 80-99

IN THE DRAFT PREFACE OF 1830, written in the form of a letter to N. N. Raevsky, Pushkin insisted that before reading it, he must read “the last tome” (i.e., books X and XI) of Karamzin’s History of the Russian State (Wolff, 1999, p. 245). How are we to understand this request? In making it Pushkin invokes the entire question of the relation between history...

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Chapter Five: The Montage of Genres

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pp. 100-121

THE QUESTION OF GENRE is central both to Pushkin’s conception of his work and to its reception by his contemporaries. It is striking that one of the first critical comments on Pushkin’s Boris Godunov— from none other than Nicholas—should concern the genre of the work: “I consider that Mr Pushkin’s goal would be achieved if he purged his work of its excesses and reworked his comedy as a historical tale...

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Chapter Six: Horse and Rider: The Semantics of Power

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pp. 122-140

THANKS TO THE ambiguous nature of its genre, Boris Godunov, like a number of Pushkin’s works, can be viewed in a variety of ways. It stands at the juncture of three elements in Pushkin’s work—poetry, prose narrative, and dramatic dialogue—that interact and overlap to give the work much of its complexity. At first sight, the fact that the work is composed...

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Chapter Seven: The Codes of Speaking and Seeing

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pp. 141-164

IN THE DRAFT OF his letter to Raevsky of July 1825 Pushkin writes: “You will ask: is your tragedy a tragedy of character or of custom? I have chosen the easier genre, but I have tried to combine them both” (Wolff, 1999, p. 156; my translation from the French). Pushkin was replying to a letter from Raevsky, in which the latter had stressed the need for intensive research...

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Chapter Eight: Poet and Tsar

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pp. 165-176

WRITING ABOUT THE Napoleonic myth in Pushkin and Stendhal, Lidiia Volpert notes the presence in Onegin’s study of a “little column with a cast-iron doll”—referring, of course, to the figurine of Napoleon, a common decoration in the studies of fashionably romantic intellectuals. Vol’pert (1990) writes: “The image of ‘the cast-iron doll’ can be viewed in the light...


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pp. 177-200

Works Cited

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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780810121652
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810119383

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2004

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory