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Eighteenth-Century Studies 34.2 (2001) 318-321



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Book Review

Frantsuzskie prosvetiteli i Rossiia: issledovaniia i novye materialy po istorii russko-frantsuzskikh kul turnykh sviazei vtoroi poloviny XVIII veka (French Philosophes and Russia: Studies and New Materials Relating to the History of Franco-Russian Cultural Ties in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century)

"Te kto popravliaiut fortunu": avantuiristy Prosveshcheniia (Those Who Correct Fortune. Adventurers of the Age of the Enlightenment)

Inventing Eastern Europe. The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment


S. Ya. Karp. Frantsuzskie prosvetiteli i Rossiia: issledovaniia i novye materialy po istorii russko-frantsuzskikh kul turnykh sviazei vtoroi poloviny XVIII veka (French Philosophes and Russia: Studies and New Materials Relating to the History of Franco-Russian Cultural Ties in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century) (Moskva: Rossiiskaia akademiia nauk, In-t vseobshchei istorii, 1998). Pp. 444.

Aleksandr Stroev. "Te kto popravliaiut fortunu": avantuiristy Prosveshcheniia (Those Who Correct Fortune. Adventurers of the Age of the Enlightenment). (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe obozrenie, c.1998). Pp. 398.

Larry Wolff. Inventing Eastern Europe. The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994). Pp. 424. $18.95 paper.

Eighteenth-century Russia and Eastern Europe are often considered in terms of their relationship to Western Europe. These discussions tend to focus on the "Westernization" of these countries or on the West's perception of "the other." Studies of eighteenth-century Eastern Europe are usually classified, at least in English language scholarship, as Eastern European or Slavic, rather than eighteenth-century studies. In the wake of the Cold War, it would be tempting to seek the source of this peculiar division in the contour of the Iron Curtain.

However, as Larry Wolff demonstrates in his exhaustive, thoroughly researched and lucidly written study, this remarkably viable concept was born long before Churchill's Fulton speech. The old Renaissance alignment of Europe along the north and south was replaced with the east-west division during the Enlightenment. Wolff studies the idea of Eastern Europe as "an intellectual object under construction" created by travelers and philosophers of the Enlightenment who were striving to grasp the true meaning of their own civilization and Enlightenment. The secret of the remarkable vitality of this old concept lies in the fact that East and West are "complementary concepts, defining each other by opposition and adjacency" ( 5). Drawing on the extensive corpus of memoirs, travelogues, historical and political treatises, works of cartography, linguistics and anthropology, Wolff explores different aspects of the way Eastern Europe was viewed by a variety of Western European observers. The profusion of diverse voices--French, English, German, Italian, male and female paints a picture that is remarkably common to all.

Travelers crossing the border between Prussia and Poland or Austria and Hungary were convinced that they were passing from a mature civilization to its frontier, from Occident to the threshold of Orient, the kingdom of ignorance and backwardness, where the very superficial façade of European civilization barely covered an ugly landscape of medieval savageness. The first reaction was puzzlement. Eastern Europe appeared to the bewildered gaze of the Western observer as a chaotic agglomeration of peoples, languages, creeds, cultures, borders, and customs. Eastern Europe was primarily defined as "a problem of paradox, defying conventions of resemblance and relation" (358). But more often than not the gaze of bewilderment would give way to the analytical gaze designed to unscramble this gigantic mélange and master this barbarian land, thus extending the light of Western civilization to the Crimean steppes and Polish villages. [End Page 318]

Observers hastened to diagnose this seemingly incomprehensible jumble as barbarism, remnant of the dark ages. Determined to discover...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 318-321
Launched on MUSE
2001-01-01
Open Access
No
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