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Reviewed by:
  • Vokrug trona
  • Lindsey Hughes
Nikolai Pavlenko, Vokrug trona. Moscow: Mysl’, 1999. 862 pp. ISBN 5-244-00904-4.

Establishing the origins of some recently published Russian books is rather like working out the convoy of early Russian manuscripts. On the face of it, Vokrug trona is a new book by the distinguished Moscow-based scholar Professor Nikolai Ivanovich Pavlenko (born 1916). His early work was on economic history1 and he was editor, with Boris Borisovich Kafengauz, of the standard Ocherki istorii SSSR. Period feodalizma. Rossiia v pervoi chetverti XVIII v. (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Akademii Nauk, 1954). Since his Petr Pervyi appeared in 1975 in the series "Zhizn' zamechatel'nykh liudei," he has specialized in the political history of the first half of the 18th century, including an expanded study of Peter's reign, Petr Velikii (Moscow: Mysl', 1990), which has itself made several appearances in different dust jackets over the past few years.

The jacket of this latest weighty tome displays its title in gold letters in a tasteful blue and black design featuring Peter as an Errol Flynn lookalike surrounded by smaller images of Catherine I, Aleksandr Menshikov and a couple of not quite so easily identifiable gentlemen in wigs. Open the book and on the title page in smaller print beneath Vokrug trona are the names of two works of earlier vintage: Ptentsy gnezda Petrova, first published in 1984, and Strasti u trona, which was serialized in the magazine Rodina in 1993–95 and published separately as Strasti u trona. Istoriia dvortsovykh perevorotov (Moscow: Rodina, 1996).2 None of these publishing details appears in Vokrug trona, in which the blurb on the reverse of the title page boasts that "a considerable part (znachitel'naia chast') of the materials in this book are published for the first time." This proves to be an inflated claim.

The introduction to the book as a whole is identical to the one in my own 1989 edition of Ptentsy gnezda Petrova, itself a third edition, until one reaches page eight, at which point the texts diverge. Whereas the original Ptentsy consisted of the biographies of three "fledglings of Peter's nest" (the phrase is from [End Page 783] Pushkin's poem "Poltava") – Petr Alekseevich Tolstoi, Aleksei Vasil'evich Makarov, and Boris Petrovich Sheremetev – in our "new" book they are joined by Menshikov and Savva Raguzinskii. In fact, the Ptentsy contained within Vokrug trona is a reprint of a later expanded edition (Moscow: Mysl', 1994), in which the two newcomers were interpolated into the text of the Introduction with a few necessary additions – for example, a reference to the Raguzinskii archive. But apparently the addition of two did not alter the basic problem, as Pavlenko formulated it back in the 1980s, that "the nature of the surviving sources does not always allow the writing of a full-blooded biography" (Vokrug trona, 9/Ptentsy [1989], 10). Even the list of acknowledgements in Vokrug trona is identical to the one in Ptentsy from 1994, which itself differs in no way from the 1989 edition.

None of the biographies has been updated. The section on Sheremetev is identical to the one in my 1989 Ptentsy, although its opening sentence – "Boris Petrovich Sheremetev is the complete antithesis of Menshikov" – makes more sense in Vokrug trona, where it follows on directly from the biography of Menshikov. It is indeed instructive to compare the career of Menshikov, the man born with nothing (and rumored to be the son of a pie-seller), with the man who inherited wealth and lineage, the newcomer who liked to take risks with the much more cautious old boyar. In terms of Peter I's personal circle, it was Menshikov who became the insider, while Sheremetev remained an outsider, condemned to lead one campaign after another far from home. Vokrug trona provides a convenient package for making such comparisons.

The biography of Tolstoi, who is perhaps best known for being locked up by the Turks in the Seven Towers and for luring tsarevich Aleksei back to Russia in 1718, is the same as in earlier editions, from the opening chapter "A Grandfather among the Volunteers" (Tolstoi was sent abroad to study shipbuilding...


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