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"Book Review Essay: The Life and World of Nineteenth-Century Russian Author Aleksandr Vasil'evich Druzhinin (1824-1864)"
Note: Originally published inThe Russian Review: An American Quarterly Devoted to Russia Past and Present (Cambridge, Massachusetts), vol. 48 (no. 1, January 1989), pp. 95-96. (#34). RR page numbering is included here.
[RR, p. 95]
Anmartin M. Brojde, author of Aleksandr Vasil'evich Druzhinin (1824-1864): Zhizn' i tvorchestvo. (Copenhagen University Institute of Slavic Studies, No. 12.) Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagges Publishers, 1986. 536 pp.
This study is about the life and works of the mid-nineteenth century Russian author and literary critic, Aleksandr Vasil'evich Druzhinin (1824-1864). It is the culmination of more than ten years of research. Because of its depth and breadth, it is a definitive treatment of its subject. Brojde published a number of earlier pieces on Druzhinin in Soviet Studies in Literature, Scando-Slavica, and Canadian-American Slavic Studies. The present publication ties these together and greatly expands on them.
Druzhinin wrote several novellas, including Polin'ka Saks (Moscow: 1847, republished 1955), which defended the rights and dignity of women. The plot in his story Lola Montez (1848) was used for a movie directed by French director Max Ophuls. Druzhinin's translations of Shakespeare's tragedies, Charles Dickens, James Fenimore Cooper, etc., were admired by Soviet critics like A. V. Lunacharskii (1875-1933) and continue to be popular. His recently published diary, Povesti Dnevnik (ed., B. F. Egorov; Moscow: Nauka, 1986), and collected essays, Literaturnaia Kritika (ed., N. N. Skatova; Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1983), illuminate literary history. The Society for Aid to Needy Writers and Scholars (The Literary Fund), which was organized by his initiative in 1859, still serves.
Brojde emphasizes, however, that Druzhinin's main legacy is his literary criticism. It is characterized by the affirmation of human dignity, the family, and the goodness and purposefulness of life, by its sympathy toward working people like Agafia Matveevna, and by its faith in the future and a new society. Druzhinin defended clean living, self-sacrifice and strong character as exemplified in Oblomov, who preserved moral purity, simplicity, and love of neighbor throughout their lives. From his youth Druzhinin had a passionate contempt for the aristocracy, its lineage, culture, and social injustice. He celebrated and popularized America's democratic society and literature. Many writers of his day owed a debt to Druzhinin: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Goncharov, Nekrasov, Fet, et al. They respected his ideas and, in Brojde's view, were influenced in a positive direction by his criticism.
In politics a pacifist and reformist, Druzhinin's early works (1846-1850) are more concerned with the rights of women than with the other issues of his age. These early works are his most important fiction, most of them written during a long spiritual crisis. In this crisis Druzhinin maintained the necessity to love human beings, while his acute sensitivity enabled him to perceive their dark side with painful clarity.
Brojde shows how Druzhinin's spiritual crisis resulted in a chronic depression that led to a decline in his artistic powers. In his morbid sensitivity to his internal state, he resembled nineteenth-century literary figures such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Lacking their hardness, he attempted to drown his despair in the earthly pleasures: good food, wine, music, art, and feminine beauty. Loving literature above all else, he moved from writing to criticism. This did much to alleviate his depression. Valuing a literary work by how much aesthetic pleasure he could derive from it, he was appalled by Gogol's grotesque portrayal of Russian society, though he did not mind similar portrayals in English writers like Dickens. And there was much in Gogol which he did not find of worth.
[RR, p. 96]
An interesting aspect of Druzhinin's career, which Brojde develops, was his polemic with the anti-tsarist literary critic, N. G. Cheryshevskii (1828- 1889) and N. A. Dobroliubov (1836-1861), whose work Marx admired. Chernyshevskii was representative of those who even for a period in the twentieth century had a limited regard for writers such as Pushkin. Cheryshevskii preferred Gogol and those who tied their art directly to mobilizing the masses in their struggle against social and economic inequality. In the debate between the aesthetic and the publicistic schools of criticism, the public viewed Chemyshevskii as victorious. Druzhinin emerged as the victor in the eyes of the intellectuals. Minimized by those in the Cheryshevskii tradition was the Leninist notion that the political must be personal, just as the personal must be political. The dialectic between the two, along with public needs and Druzhinin's reputation, not to speak of Pushkin's, was restored, in time, with the Revolution. Writers like Derek Offord (Portraits of Early Russian Liberals: A Study in the Thought of T. N. Granovsky, V P Botkin, P V Annenkov, A. V Druzhinin and K. D. Kavelin [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985], p. 145) will appreciate Brojde's clarification of this point.
Since the 1950s a number of Soviet scholars have made studies of the head of the school of aesthetic criticism. Brojde's book, however, is the only comprehensive source for understanding Druzhinin's ideas and works. An English translation is needed.
Dean Richards and Edward Terrar,
University of California at Los Angeles