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Pushkin: literature and social ideas. by Sam…

Pushkin: literature and social ideas. (1998)

by Sam N. Driver

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Sam Driver worked many years on this subject, publishing selected parts as articles along the way; now we have the fine result in book form...

Driver devotes attention to Pushkin's major œuvre, including Eugene Onegin and The Bronze Horseman, but one remarkable feature of his work is that he has gleaned the manuscript fragments, parts of letters, undeveloped drafts, and testimonies of contemporaries for a considerable portion of his evidence. To this sifting and winnowing he adds complete command of the scholarship on these minute texts. This approach was dictated in part by the fact that it is precisely in out-of-the-way, fragmented places that Pushkin, who could not hope to publish his most acute political views, lodged his ideas about literature and society. This kind of scholarship—a synthesis of bits and pieces—is painstaking but, in result, well worth the effort.
This is a short, clear, competent, readable account of the manner in which Pushkin's sense of social provenance played an important part in molding his view of Russia and Russian society, in molding too, his public conduct, and much of his writing. Not too much meaningful work has been done along these lines, in the Soviet Union, presumably for fear of tarnishing the Pushkin image, and outside the Soviet Union because-with a few notable exceptions-the main focus has been on his work. All the more welcome, therefore, is this book by Sam Driver.

The main themes the book covers are as follows: existing scholarship on Pushkin's political ideas; the origins of his aristocratic ethics and his related dandyism; the close connection between these two and his political-social ideas; and the reflection of those ideas in Pushkin's works, especially in his later works, "Genealogy of My Hero," Ezerskii, The Bronze Horseman, and most of his prose works, finished and unfinished. Driver demonstrates admirably how consistently at work is Pushkin's class awareness. He felt himself to be a member of the aristocratic, enlightened, impoverished nobility. And this allegiance makes itself felt in one work after another.
Sam Driver's new book is an excellent and timely addition to Pushkin scholarship for several reasons, chiefly because it restores, without embarrassment and with a lucidity and good sense rare in any work, the poet to his aristocratic milieu and the values and "inner bearing" of that milieu to the poet...

Sam Driver has given us a first-rate and much needed study of Pushkin's social ideas, most particularly his aristocratism. The book dovetails nicely with Lotman's and Mikkelson's earlier treatments of Pushkin's understanding of the historical relationship between the nobility and the peasantry, and with Mikkelson's and Sergei Davydov's recent articles on Pushkin's religious views. If the book qua book has a flaw, it is its lack of narrative thread and integrating unity: it reads more like a series of individual articles than a book, with the later chapters in particular ending, as it were, in mid-air. Even so, the quality of Driver's mind and the lucidity of his prose win the day. This is a work that every Pushkinist will want on his shelf.
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