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Monthly Archives: January 2022

Liza’s Journey. Part 8.

Down the Rabbit Hole

In these internet times, it is so easy to be sucked into the rabbit hole of information with its vast network of enticingly clickable taglines leading to an infinite supply of must-read articles. And so it was with my project. Having translated Poor Liza, and then found a plentiful supply of other stories by Karamzin that I just had to translate, I went on to explore the other writers of the time who influenced Karamzin, or who were influenced by him. As I result, I learned about Gessner, Emin, Rousseau, Locke, Mme de Genlis, Ovid and many others with whose works Karamzin was familiar, and then I proceeded to spot echoes of Karamzin in the writing of Pushkin, Lermontov and other pillars of Russian literature who followed in his wake. Karamzin really did exist at a pivotal time when Russian literature was beginning to emerge in all its glory, and his work had an impact not only on the literary scene, but also on the Russian language itself. Being well-read, having travelled widely, and given his aptitude for languages, Karamzin was clearly attempting to reproduce the Western European Sentimentalist genre in a Russian language that was more accessible to a wider readership.

Intrigued, I began to read some of these Western Sentimentalist works, and found some striking parallels with Karamzin’s stories. Mme de Genlis’ Eugénie et Léonce, for example, has much in common with Karamzin’s Eugene and Julia, while Poor Liza features many of the stylistic elements found in Salomon Gessner’s poetry, and Karamzin also refers directly to the works of other writers in many places. Pushkin’s story The Stationmaster, meanwhile, seems to be written as a response to Poor Liza, with a similar storyline, although its heroine is rather more robust and it is told with Pushkin’s characteristic sophisticated flair. A passage from Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, where the narrator encounters a strange girl singing a mysterious song, bears a striking resemblance to a scene in Karamzin’s Bornholm Island featuring a strange young man singing a mysterious song. Even the title of this novel is blatantly reminiscent of Karamzin’s A Knight of Our Time, published almost forty years earlier. And so the list goes on…

My only problem was where to stop. I had to set myself some kind of limit. So, I chose one story to accompany each of the four Karamzin stories already in my collection (plus a sprinkling of poetry for a little extra flavour!). Consequently, the final(ish) version of my much-larger-than-planned translation project will probably look something like this:

Eugene and Julia by Karamzin and Eugénie et Léonce by Mme de Genlis

Poor Liza by Karamzin and The Stationmaster by Alexander Pushkin

Bornholm Island by Karamzin and an extract from A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov

A Knight of Our Time by Karamzin and an unusual version of a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses

More details of the fate of the finished project to follow in my next post…