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62Rocky Mountain Review LEWIS BAGBY. Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky and Russian Byronism. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. 372 p. In his new book Lewis Bagby seeks to rediscover for the contemporary reader an important but now lesser-known figure of early nineteenthcentury Russian Romanticism, namely Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky. "Marlinsky" was not just Bestuzhev's pseudonym, but also his alter ego, a Byronic mask that he could don at will. Bagby has two important goals for this study. He wants to demask Bestuzhev-Marlinsky, i. e., to remove Bestuzhev's Byronic mask and thereby separate the Bestuzhev personality from the Marlinsky one. He also wishes to restore Bestuzhev to his proper place in Russian cultural history. Both of these goals have been achieved in this study. Bagby very closely identifies Bestuzhev with his cultural milieu and vice versa. Thus, Bestuzhev is characterized as a product of his environment, both his immediate familial one and the larger societal context. The death of his father while Bestuzhev was still a boy of thirteen helped to create in him, according to Bagby, a fascination with death and the perspective that life is fleeting. Yet at the same time there was the contradictory input of the culture as it had been defined by men like Alexander Radishchev: life was a serious pursuit and a struggle for social justice. The result was a young man who cherished the idea of a glorious, heroic death, especially if in defense of a worthy cause. What emerges is a portrait of Bestuzhev as not just a romantic, but even an ultra-romantic; the best example of the conflicting impulses of the age. Pervading Bagby's analysis is his reliance upon Bakhtin's concept of the carnival and the romantic predilection for merging one's literary and lifetexts . Both the literary society Bestuzhev was a member of and the Decembrist rebellion he participated in are characterized by Bagby as being imbued with a carnival spirit. The literary society evenings were revels aimed at demoting the high and raising the low. The behavior of the insurrectionaries and the public that gathered to watch the Decembrist rebellion leads Bagby to claim that it was far more like a ritual than it was a true rebellion. It is precisely where Bestuzhev desires to meld life and literary texts that his Marlinsky persona comes into play. In chapter five, the central chapter of the book both literally and figuratively, Bagby recounts the period in Bestuzhev's life when he makes the discovery that life should be like literature. During the years 1821-1825 Bestuzhev wrote six historical tales, thereby making his initial mark in Russian literature. It was in the course of writing these tales that Bestuzhev, according to Bagby, came to discard reality and prefer fantasy. The preeminent contemporary example of an individual who had replaced the real with the ideal in his life was, of course, Byron. With Byron as his inspiration and model, Bestuzhev came to the conclusion that life should be like literature, indeed that life was only Book Reviews63 meaningful in as much as it resembled literature. Thus, Bestuzhev's very active participation in the Decembrist rebellion is explained by Bagby as an opportunity to encode the Marlinsky persona, a romantic literary hero par excellence, into Bestuzhev's life-text no matter what the cost to others or himself. Participation in the short-lived rebellion came with a price, namely exile to Siberia. Even in exile, Bagby notes, Bestuzhev continued to play the role of Marlinsky. The Marlinsky persona was identical to the romantic heroes in Bestuzhev's prose stories, i.e., jocose, extravagant, promiscuous and daring . In Siberia Bestuzhev dressed as if he were visiting the fashionable salons of St. Petersburg and maintained, as well as he was able under the local conditions, his reputation as a lady's man. He was eventually allowed to leave Siberia and to join the army as a common soldier and serve in the Caucasus. The Caucasus have long been an exotic locale in the Russian imagination and, as Bagby informs us, Bestuzhev was able to play out the role of a Byronic figure even more fully in the Caucasus than...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 62-64
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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