University of Wisconsin Press

Publications of the Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies

David M. Bethea and Alexander Dolinin, General Editors

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Challenging the Bard

Dostoevsky and Pushkin, a Study of Literary Relationship

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A Commentary to Pushkin’s Lyric Poetry, 1826–1836

Michael Wachtel

Alexander Pushkin’s lyric poetry—much of it known to Russians by heart—is the cornerstone of the Russian literary tradition, yet until now there has been no detailed commentary of it in any language.
    Michael Wachtel’s book, designed for those who can read Russian comfortably but not natively, provides the historical, biographical, and cultural context needed to appreciate the work of Russia’s greatest poet. Each entry begins with a concise summary highlighting the key information about the poem’s origin, subtexts, and poetic form (meter, stanzaic structure, and rhyme scheme). In line-by-line fashion, Wachtel then elucidates aspects most likely to challenge non-native readers: archaic language, colloquialisms, and unusual diction or syntax. Where relevant, he addresses political, religious, and folkloric issues.
    Pushkin’s verse has attracted generations of brilliant interpreters. The purpose of this commentary is not to offer a new interpretation, but to give sufficient linguistic and cultural contextualization to make informed interpretation possible.

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Derzhavin

A Biography

Vladislav Khodasevich, Translated and with an introduction by Angela Brintlinger

Russian poet, soldier, and statesman Gavriil Derzhavin (1743–1816) lived during an epoch of momentous change in Russia—imperial expansion, peasant revolts, war with Turkey, and struggle with Napoleon—and he served three tsars, including Catherine the Great. Here in its first English translation is the masterful biography of Derzhavin by another acclaimed Russian man of letters, Vladislav Khodasevich.
            Derzhavin occupied a position at the center of Russian life, uniting civic service with poetic inspiration and creating an oeuvre that at its essence celebrated the triumphs of Russia and its rulers, particularly Catherine the Great. His biographer Khodasevich, by contrast, left Russia in 1922, unable to abide the increasingly repressive regime of the Soviets. For Khodasevich, whose lyric poems were as commonplace in their focus as Derzhavin’s odes were grand, this biography was in a sense a rediscovery of a lost and idyllic era, a period when it was possible to aspire to the pinnacles of artistic achievement while still occupying a central role in Russian society.
Khodasevich writes with humor, intelligence, and understanding, and his work stands as a monument to the last three centuries of Russian history, lending keen insight into Russia’s past as well as its present and future.


“Khodasevich’s light narrative touch (as translated by Brintlinger) lends a novelistic quality to the biography, making it a genuine tour de force. All students and scholars – of history, literature, poetry, biography – will find something of interest here.”—Choice

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The First Epoch

The Eighteenth Century and the Russian Cultural Imagination

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How Russia Learned to Write

Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks

Irina Reyfman

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The Imperial Sublime

A Russian Poetics of Empire

Harsha Ram

The Imperial Sublime examines the rise of the Russian empire as a literary theme simultaneous with the evolution of Russian poetry between the 1730s and 1840—the century during which poets defined the main questions facing Russian literature and society. Harsha Ram shows how imperial ideology became implicated in an unexpectedly wide range of issues, from formal problems of genre, style, and lyric voice to the vexed relationship between the poet and the ruling monarch.

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The Poetics of Impudence and Intimacy in the Age of Pushkin

Joe Peschio

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.

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The Pushkin Handbook

Edited by David M. Bethea

The Pushkin Handbook, a collection of studies by leading Pushkin scholars from the former Soviet Union, North America, and elsewhere, unites in one volume a multiplicity of voices engaged in a genuinely post-Soviet dialogue. From its beginnings, Pushkin’s oeuvre has accommodated numerous, often competing readings. This book is further testimony to the continuing complexity of Russia’s preeminent writer: his place in the literary and cultural cosmos, his relationship to his Russian predecessors and contemporaries, and his reception and interpretation at various points in history.

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Pushkin’s Rhyming

A Comparative Study

J. Thomas Shaw

The culmination of four decades of work by J. Thomas Shaw, this fully searchable e-book carefully analyzes, both chronologically and by genre, Alexander Pushkin’s use of rhyme to show how meaning shifts in tandem with formal changes. Comparing Pushkin’s poetry with that of Konstantin Nikolaevich Batiushkov (1787–1855) and Evgeny Abramovich Baratynsky (1800–1844), Shaw considers, among other topics, what is exact and inexact in “exact” rhyme, how the grammatical characteristics of rhymewords affect the reader’s percepetion of the poem and its rhyme, and how the repetition of a rhyming word can also change meaning.
    Each of the five chapters analyzes in detail a distinct aspect of rhyme and provides rich resources for future scholars in the accompanying tables of data. The extensive back matter in the book includes a glossary, abbreviations list, bibliography, and indexes of poems cited, names, and rhyme types and analyses.

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Realizing Metaphors

Alexander Pushkin and the Life of the Poet

David M. Bethea

    Readers often have regarded with curiosity the creative life of the poet. In this passionate and authoritative new study, David Bethea illustrates the relation between the art and life of nineteenth-century poet Alexander Pushkin, the central figure in Russian thought and culture. Bethea shows how Pushkin, on the eve of his two-hundredth birthday, still speaks to our time. He indicates how we as modern readers might "realize"— that is, not only grasp cognitively, but feel, experience—the promethean metaphors central to the poet's intensely "sculpted" life. The Pushkin who emerges from Bethea's portrait is one who, long unknown to English-language readers, closely resembles the original both psychologically and artistically.
    Bethea begins by addressing the influential thinkers Freud, Bloom, Jakobson, and Lotman to show that their premises do not, by themselves, adequately account for Pushkin's psychology of creation or his version of the "life of the poet." He then proposes his own versatile model of reading, and goes on to sketches the tangled connections between Pushkin and his great compatriot, the eighteenth-century poet Gavrila Derzhavin. Pushkin simultaneously advanced toward and retreated from the shadow of his predecessor as he created notions of poet-in-history and inspiration new for his time and absolutely determinative for the tradition thereafter.

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