From Orientalism to Cultural Capital

The Myth of Russia in British Literature of the 1920s

by Olga Soboleva (Author) Angus Wrenn (Author)
Monographs XIV, 338 Pages
Open Access

Table Of Content

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← viii | ix →


How does the marginal become mainstream? And how does the recherché become démodé? These questions run through the chapters of this book like a red thread, structuring its arguments and provoking the reader to examine some familiar names and some familiar works, as well as a host of more unusual and overlooked material. And they are pertinent and productive questions, too, because they point to the dizzying rapidity with which Russian culture became known (if not always understood) in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain, as well as the way in which that culture soon became reduced to cliché and myth. Said and Bourdieu structure the argument, as announced in the book’s title, but their work is never read reductively. Said’s ‘Orientalism’ is the explicit productive of ‘Orientalists’, writers and critics keen to paint a picture of Russia as barbaric and ‘other’. And Bourdieu’s ‘literary field’ (a concept that has proved as productive as that of ‘cultural capital’) is one that is populated by agents and actors who are conscious of their choices, if not always of their expertise (or lack thereof). In many ways, however, the ideas presented here are already implicit in Russian culture itself, which has long been aware of both its belatedness and its precocity, and how these seemingly contradictory features structure its relationship with the rest of the world. In his famous Lettres philosophiques, written (in French, no less) in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Pyotr Chaadaev announced both Russia’s lack of history and its negligible contribution to world culture: ‘Alone in the world, we have given it nothing, we have taught it nothing; we have added not a single idea to the multitude of man’s ideas; we have contributed nothing to the progress of the human mind and we have disfigured everything we have gained from this process.’ Alexander Herzen described Chaadaev’s writings as ‘a shot that rang out in the dark night’, and indeed the mid-century saw a remarkable oscillation between those who defended Russia’s place in Europe, and those who sought to situate its riches elsewhere. The idea that self-definition was the product of a dialogue was, moreover, implicit ← ix | x → in Herzen’s writings, and in words that might have served – in inverted form – as an alternative subtitle to this volume, he claimed that ‘we need Europe as an ideal, as a reproach, as a virtuous example; if Europe were not these things, then we should have to invent it.’ Both Chaadaev and Herzen might have been surprised to see their diagnoses wholly inverted by the fin de siècle, when it was Russia that found itself playing the role of the West’s own subconscious, unruly and disruptive, yet also libidinal and highly creative. The interplay between stasis and regeneration, ossification and renewal is also central to the work of the Russian formalists, whose revolutionary ideas on literary theory and history were coterminous with Freud’s archaeology of the mind. The language and metaphors employed by the formalists bespeak rupture and revolution. Not for them a direct and unbroken lineage of literary development, but a series of ‘knight’s moves’, of quasi-Oedipal rejections of paternal influence, and the search for alternative genealogies, whether in the form of marginal genres, unfamiliar cultures, or inventive new devices that disrupt the hold of the past over the values of the present. Yet as the formalists were only too aware, one generation’s radical innovation becomes the next generation’s ossified platitude, and their model of artistic evolution is one that can be applied to patterns of transcultural reception too. The seeming ubiquity of Russian culture in early twentieth-century Britain was an enterprise (and the word is advisedly chosen for its economic associations) that carried with it a highly durable form of canonisation that has proved hard to overcome. Between October 2016 and February 2017, the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris staged an exhibition – Icons of Modern Art – which reunited the collection of the merchant and patron, Sergei Shchukin. The exhibition attests, of course, to Shchukin’s farsightedness (as well as his financial ease), but equally, it shows how the once radical inventive has become part of the cultural heritage of the homme moyen culturel. Or consider the incorporation of the scores of Stravinsky, the choreographies of Balanchine, Fokine and Nijinsky, and the designs of Bakst and Benois into the repertoire of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, at once effacing both the Soviet avant garde and the legacy of socialist realism, and projecting a continuous tradition that runs from Marius Petipa to the present day, as well as a Russian version of Diaghilev’s carefully marketed global brand. So how ← x | xi → are we to regain a sense of the dynamism that first brought Russian culture to Britain, and create a modern version of the processes described by Olga Soboleva and Angus Wrenn? It may be that Russian culture has an answer. Writing in the wake of the October Revolution, and anxious that the orthodoxy of one age would simply be replaced by conventions of a new one, the Soviet writer and essayist Evgeny Zamyatin proposed a model of permanent and dialectical revolution in which heresy was the guarantee of artistic originality: ‘Today is doomed to die, because yesterday has died and because tomorrow shall be born. Such is the cruel and wise law. Cruel, because it dooms to eternal dissatisfaction those who today already see the distant heights of tomorrow; wise, because only eternal dissatisfaction is the guarantee of unending movement forward, of unending creativity.’ We may read From Orientalism to Cultural Capital: The Myth of Russia in British Literature of the 1920s as an analytical account of a historical phenomenon, yet the dynamic model of literary reception and cultural appropriation that it proposes is one that remains acutely contemporary.

Professor Philip Ross Bullock ← xi | xii →

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We are grateful to a large number of colleagues and friends with whom we have had the chance to discuss informally the themes of this book. First and foremost we are immensely grateful to Professor Philip Ross Bullock of Wadham College, Oxford for the benefit of his expertise in this field over many years and especially for kindly agreeing to write the preface to this volume. Professor Rebecca Beasley of Queen’s College, Oxford and Dr Matthew Taunton (University of East Anglia), very much the driving forces behind the Russia Research Network which has been meeting regularly in London, deserve special thanks for providing encouragement and direction throughout the past two years. Professor Patrick Parrinder, doyen of Wells scholars, very kindly spoke at LSE at our invitation, and gave invaluable help in relating the period of Wells’ life covered in this book to the writer’s career overall. We would like to thank Professor Leonee Ormond for her expertise and encouragement in the fields of Barrie and Galsworthy. Dr Alexandra Smith provided very helpful suggestions on D. H. Lawrence. We also thank: Victoria and Albert Museum Collections; Punch archives, Tate Britain and Press Association collection for assistance with images. Christabel Scaife, our editor at Peter Lang, has been patient and helpful in equal measure in seeing the project through to completion. ← xiii | xiv →

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Part I: ‘They, if anything, can redeem our civilisation’1

Knowledge of Russian culture in Britain grew slowly in the nineteenth century, then rapidly in the first decades of the twentieth; this period has, therefore, always been a popular topic of research, conducted largely from a chronological and historical perspective and with regard to its most prominent practitioners. So far little (if any) attention has been paid to the analysis of the deeper structural changes in the reception of Russian culture in Britain brought forth by this wave of Russophilia in the pre-World War I years. Still less effort has been made to reflect upon whether this quantitative growth of interest in and exposure to Russian literature and art facilitated a qualitative shift in the framework of perception, affecting the mode of thinking of the contemporary British cultural elite, as well as the emerging notion of modernist art.

This book moves into that underexplored territory of research, suggesting an interdisciplinary approach to the critical appraisal of the reception of Russia in Britain by examining it through the structural framework of modern socio-political theories of Edward Said and Pierre Bourdieu. The idea of Russia or the Russian myth projected by the British constitutes the main focus of our examination. It will be argued that all the way through to the turn of the twentieth century, the representation of Russia in Britain largely falls within the framework of Orientalism – the concept developed by Edward Said in his eponymous work of 1978, in which he exposes the depiction of non-Western cultures as politically charged fabrications of the ← 1 | 2 → European imagination, characterised by an essentially Eurocentric, imperialistic, or civilisatory (in the case of Russia) approach. Following Said’s thesis on the significance of literary scholarship in the formation of the Orientalistic viewpoint, we shall look more closely at the post-1910 years with the objective of establishing whether the unprecedented burgeoning of translations from Russian literature in these decades, as well as the exceptional interest in this subject among the British cultural elite, had a crucial impact on and led to a radical change in the configuration of the paradigm of Russian reception. One of the potential effects of this change could be the major shift in the signifying function of the icon: from Russia as the Orientalistic epitome of ‘barbaric splendour’ towards an emblem deployed to connote British intellectual prestige, a valuable artistic commodity translated into the foreign context, or a fashionable contribution to cultural capital, understood in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense of the term.2

Some attempt should be made to specify our approach to interpreting this signifying function of the icon, which effectively sheds more light on the way in which the notion of the Russian myth is employed for the purposes of our examination. This approach is rooted in imagology, or representation studies, concerning structural analysis of discursive articulation of national stereotyping – the form of ‘literary sociology’ in the domain of image making.3 Recent advances in this area are focused on the so-called constructivist perspective, considering any image of national character as culturally constructed within the framework of the given socio-historical context. This ties in well with modern social studies of national identity that have moved away from the ‘realness’ of national character as explanatory model, and towards an increasingly pluralistic and culturally mediated projection – a state of mind rather than a deterministic expression ← 2 | 3 → of the given.4 The latter includes self-image, as well as the image of the other, which suggests yet another inference to be reviewed. In the light of this constructivist perspective, the representation of ‘the other’ should be effectively treated as a particular type of ‘intertext’ – a dynamic product of cultural interference between the ‘auto’ and ‘hetero’ image, shaped by the proclivities of a specific historical context. Considering this, as well as the fact that the impact of the context can never be discarded, the very notion of the discursive image turns out to be intrinsically linked to the semantics of a myth (see Oxford Dictionary’s definition of myth as a ‘widely held but false belief or idea’5) – hence, the use of this term adopted in the course of our discussion, which essentially concerns the projection of the myth of Russia constructed by the British.

This work builds on a rich field of previous (albeit in some cases now dated) research which was effective in highlighting a historiographic approach to Anglo-Russian cultural interaction; the reception of canonical Russian authors in Britain; and the distinctive body of relatively recent scholarship which has expanded the study of literary influence on specific modernist authors.6 It also draws on two newly published interdisciplinary ← 3 | 4 → volumes, A People Passing Rude: British Responses to Russian Culture, edited by Anthony Cross (Open Book Publishers, 2012) and Russia in Britain, 18801940: From Melodrama to Modernism, edited by Rebecca Beasley and Philip Ross Bullock (Oxford University Press, 2013), which shifted attention to the contribution of institutions (libraries, publishing houses, theatre) in the promoting and disseminating of Russian literature and art.

This book aims at taking the discussion a step further. Given that the process of cultural representation is determined not by empirical reality (how people ‘really are’), but rather by the way in which the discourse regarding it is constructed – on the basis of vraisemblance rather than vérité, to evoke the neo-Aristotelian juxtaposition, then the ease with which the audience can reciprocate the purport of the projected image should be called into play. In other words, the audience’s acceptance of representation as valid plays a cardinal role in the process of image formation; and in this sense, the reputation of the so-called promoters of the image must not be overlooked. This aspect constitutes one of the key points of our study, which focuses attention on those representatives of the British cultural elite whose talent, though not explicitly and consistently devoted to the complex task of doctrinal formulation, nonetheless gained a significant mastery over the minds of their readers, and attained such a degree of public recognition as to turn institutional practices into effective mediators of their personal aesthetics, their cultural theories and artistic points of view.

The reputational currents of the 1920s – the leanings and opinions of contemporary readers were central for the rationale of our literary selection. In 1929, the readers of the Manchester Guardian were asked to opine on the ‘Novelists Who May Be Read in A. D. 2029’ (see Figure 1).7 Coming out on top in this century hence popularity contest was John Galsworthy, who defeated H. G. Wells (the runner up), Arnold Bennett and Rudyard ← 4 | 5 → Kipling by a large margin. J. M. Barrie was in fifth position, followed by a curious for the modern eye medley of authors, which included G. B. Shaw (in eighth place), D. H. Lawrence (twelfth) and Virginia Woolf just about managing to get in ‘the first thirty’.


Figure 1. ‘Novelists Who May Be Read in A. D. 2029’, Manchester Guardian, 3 April 1929.

History does not seem to have been on the side of many of these writers, and certain nominations may now be largely regarded as a sheer whim of ← 5 | 6 → literary fashion. This opinion poll, however, did give us a clearer idea for comprising a quintessential (though by no means comprehensive) list of trend-makers in Russian reception. Bearing in mind the evolution of the canon, as well as the authors’ impact on the modern cultural perspective, we tried to highlight the individuals who were instrumental for the issues of institutional transmission of Russian culture, who, having secured their position as major socio-cultural opinion-makers, became pivotal for configuring a particular type of the Russian image, shifting attitudes and paving new ways towards canon formation.

The selection includes John Galsworthy and H. G. Wells – two consecutive presidents of the British P. E. N. Club, the oldest human rights and literary organisation, known for its active agitation for freedom of expression; J. M. Barrie, a leading dramatist at the time, whose contribution to the configuration of the institution of the contemporary British theatre of the early twentieth century is difficult to overestimate (today known exclusively for Peter Pan, but at the time equally famous for plays addressing class – The Admirable Crichton, or gender – The Twelve-Pound Look); D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf (one of the key-members of the Bloomsbury group) and T. S. Eliot (in this period editor of The Criterion) – pioneers of British modernism, who, being united by an abiding belief in the enlightening mission of arts and culture, exerted a seminal influence on literature and aesthetics, as well as on modern attitudes towards pacifism, sexuality and women’s rights. This, of course, is not to say that these writers have ever had a direct impact on or brought about social and political transformation; but it was not uncommon for their contemporaries to see them as the consciousness and spirit of the age: ‘The England of today is in part a Shaw-made and a Wells-made democracy’, as Lady Rhondda put it in 1930.8

Further to the point, the use of the term cultural capital in the title is of considerable significance for the objectives and outcomes of our examination. We aspire to evoke explicitly Pierre Bourdieu’s concept, as it provides a crucial mode of understanding not only the general mechanisms of cultural ← 6 | 7 → reception, but also the differential, and in certain respects modernising, function of the Russian paradigm in the cultural space of early twentieth-century Britain. When analysing the configuration of this paradigm within the framework of the British cultural context, we try to go deeper than the simple binaries of the literary and artistic impact, and focus on the conceptual avenues through which the idea of ‘the exotic other’ was appropriated and internalised in the artistic world of the British authors. The intention is to go into such areas of fictional and poetic creation that may generate other configurations of and perspectives on the notion of ‘the real’, and to expand the boundaries of one’s own familiar self. By taking such a multi-faceted analytical approach to the study of Russian reception in Britain, the book aims not only at placing it in line with the current state of pan-European debate on early twentieth-century culture, but also at casting new light on the British perceptions of modernism, as a transcultural artistic movement, and the ways in which the literary interaction with the myth of Russia shaped and deepened these cultural views.

Olga Soboleva ← 7 | 8 →


Part II: ‘Prose and verse have been regulated by the same caprice that cuts our coats and cocks our hats’9

This study began with reference to Edward Said’s seminal work of 1978, Orientalism, and it is perhaps appropriate, therefore, to make further reference to this writer, as much in his capacity as editor and literary scholar as cultural theorist. It is fitting that Said, so much associated with the concept of Orientalism, made his name with research on a Slav writer exiled to the West, Joseph Conrad, who then went on to write memorably of the Far East, and especially with the work of Rudyard Kipling. For, although he does not examine the novel in depth in Orientalism, Kipling’s novel Kim (1901) features at length and crucially in Said’s later work Culture and Imperialism (1993), and in between Said wrote a preface to and edited the same novel in 1987. This work, from the beginning of the twentieth century, conveniently foregrounds a number of the themes covered in the present study. For of course Kim not only deals with the coming of age of a white Briton in the Raj, but also culminates in the young hero’s involvement in the so-called Great Game, outwitting the agents of Tsarist Russia in their attempts to undermine the British presence in the Indian subcontinent, and in consequence the image of Russia entertained by the West at the turn of the twentieth century comes into play. Moreover, although a Briton, the novel’s hero is not English. Christened Kimball O’Hara he is in fact of Irish descent, and furthermore not just Irish but Irish Catholic. As such, just as Conrad was both a victim of Tsarist Russian expansionism in Poland (the reason for his exile in Western Europe) and yet an exponent of British colonialism in Africa and the Far East, Kim likewise has a double identity, as both an instrument of triumphal British imperialism and yet equally a member of the Celtic diaspora, those Irish who were marginalised in Britain after the putting down of the 1798 attempted rebellion led to the ← 8 | 9 → Act of Union and the imposition of direct rule from Westminster. Said is notable among commentators in emphasising the precise origins of his colonialist: ‘Kim, after all, is both Irish and of an inferior social caste; in Kipling’s eyes this enhances his candidacy for service.’10 In Said’s work the British Empire is not simply the ‘English Empire’. As Said says,

That Kim himself is both an Irish outcast boy and later an essential player in the British Secret Service Great Game suggests Kipling’s uncanny understanding of the workings and managing control of societies. According to Turner […] societies can be neither rigidly run by ‘structures’ nor completely overrun by marginal, prophetic, and alienated figures, hippies or millenarians; there has to be an alternation, so that the sway of one is enhanced or tempered by the inspiration of the other. The liminal figure helps to maintain societies, and it is this procedure that Kipling enacts in the climactic moment of the plot and the transformation of Kim’s character.11

The situation which evolves in Kim does not simply involve a distinction between white British colonialists and the ‘Oriental’ Indians they are ruling. The British themselves are motley, recalling Defoe’s reference to a ‘mongrel race’.12 And a fourth force enters the equation. As Said observes,

The French-speaking Russian agents admit that in India ‘we have nowhere left our mark yet’, but the British know they have, so much so that Hurree, that self-confessed ‘Oriental’ is agitated by the Russians’ conspiracy on behalf of the Raj, not his own people. When the Russians attack the lama and rip apart his map, the defilement is metaphorically of India itself, and Kim corrects this defilement later.13

In terms of the Orientalist categorisation which Said was to bring to such prominence in literary scholarship, here, at the very beginning of the twentieth century Russia is still being depicted as bogeyman, and it is still possible to talk of Russophobia. It is a measure of how prevalent the Russophilia vogue was to become later during the same decade that in a bestseller from 1901 such a depiction could still be offered. ← 9 | 10 →

The Irish were, of course, not the only participants in the Celtic diaspora under way during the great age of Empire. The Welsh were dispersed by economic forces during the Industrial Revolution (those in the former British Empire today claiming Welsh descent exceed the population of present day Wales.) Scots too were marginalised and dispersed after the Act of Proscription of 1746. In 1745 the Scotch military uprising under Bonnie Prince Charlie against English rule not only rallied the clans against the English presence in Scotland but resulted in an invasion of England itself, repulsed only as far south as Derby before eventual defeat at Culloden the following year. The Scotch threat had been taken so seriously that many of the leaders were executed or sent to the penal colonies overseas, and the wearing of tartan, and even the playing of bagpipes was banned by law. The local Gaelic language used by the clans was marginalised, sent into a decline from which it never recovered. Settlements were given English names, such as Fort Augustus and Fort William. Scotland was even widely referred to in England (and by some Scots) as ‘North Britain’. Yet, having been anathematised as a threat within living memory, by the late eighteenth century features of Celtic identity were allowed to reappear, and even became fashionable. The Prince Regent wore tartan at an official visit to Scotland in 1822 stage managed by Sir Walter Scott, whose Waverley novels such as Rob Roy (1817) had been sentimentalising and glamourising Scotch identity. By the end of the 1820s Felix Mendelssohn, to become Queen Victoria’s favourite among composers of the day, was at work on his Scottish Symphony, similarly inspired by a romantic vision of Scotland, and by 1852 Balmoral Castle had been built and become the British Royal Family’s preferred holiday residence, though they were arguably just as German as Mendelssohn. In the 1850s one of the first tea plantations to be established in India by the British was the Darjeeling Bannockburn Estate. That it should be named after the most famous battle where the Scots defeated the English, in 1314, and not Culloden, is a measure of the degree to which Scottishness had become something which could be flirted with safely in the realm of image-making, a threat long since neutralised in the real world.

Sir Walter Scott to a large extent was instrumental in bringing to the fore the idea of Scottishness in fiction written in English, and this persisted ← 10 | 11 → at a later date in much of the work of Robert Louis Stevenson. In his The Master of Ballantrae (1889), the elder of two sons of the laird, a Jacobite, is forced to flee after Culloden, yet subsequently becomes active in India as part of the British Empire. One of the authors in this survey, J. M. Barrie, was writing in the same vein as Stevenson (who reacted to his work), when he produced his novel The Little Minister in 1891, and still harking back to it in 1931 with Farewell Miss Julie Logan. For that matter, Lydia Lopokova, inspiration for Barrie’s The Truth about the Russian Dancers, was descended on her maternal side from a Scotch engineer who had several generations before emigrated to St Petersburg.

This trajectory from genuine sense of threat and wild, uncultured otherness in Celtic identity, in the mid-eighteenth century, to ‘safe’ and ‘tamed’ yet still thrilling glamour in the early nineteenth century in many ways parallels the transformation of the image enjoyed by Russia in the West in the period from the Crimean War through to the early decades of the twentieth century. Within just a few decades Russia went from being a military enemy of Britain (whether in 1854 in the Crimea, or at the turn of the twentieth century in north-west India) to a country whose literature, music, folk dress and above all ballet caught the British imagination, and became a distinct style, perhaps even the national style to be affected in fashionable British society. Tennyson, in The Charge of the Heavy Brigade, inspired by Balaklava, referred to the Russian army as ‘the dark-muffled Russian crowd’, which ‘Folded its wings from the left and the right, / And roll’d them around like a cloud’ and is described, using a tellingly Oriental word, redolent of the Mongol legacy, as the ‘Russian hordes’. Yet even at this date in the Epilogue to the same poem Tennyson anticipated the later change in attitude towards Russia:

Slav, Teuton, Kelt, I count them all
My friends and brother souls,
With all the peoples, great and small,
That wheel between the poles.
14 ← 11 | 12 →

That transformation was subsequently helped (but not enabled in the first instance) by political rapprochement. In 1874 Tennyson could make the following declaration, celebrating the marriage of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh to the Tsar’s daughter Maria Alexandrovna:

The son of him with whom we strove for power
Whose will is lord thro’ all his world-domain –
Who made the serf a man, and burst his chain –
Has given our Prince his own imperial Flower,
And welcome, Russian flower, a people’s pride,
To Britain, when her flowers begin to blow!

Russian culture was in vogue in Britain and in Western Europe considerably before the signing of the Triple Entente in 1908 made the enemies of the Crimean War, Russia, France and Britain allies against contemporary German expansionism. Indeed, this political rapprochement with the absolutist Tsarist regime caused difficulties for many on the radical end of the political spectrum (strongly represented in British artistic circles). Russophobia persisted, and surfaced in episodes such as the Dogger Bank Incident of 1904, when the Russian Baltic fleet, en route for Vladivostok, fired on and killed British trawler men, having mistaken them for the Japanese navy. A diplomatic crisis occurred, which briefly threatened to escalate, before being successfully averted.

At times Russophilia could become superficial and lend itself to parody. In Woolf’s Night And Day Mary is ‘dressed more or less like a Russian peasant girl’.16 And Evelyn Murgatroyd allows her enthusiasm for Garibaldi and the Risorgimento to be transposed onto contemporary Russia in the last years of Tsarism after the 1905 failed revolution (of which she knows next to nothing).17 In terms of Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis, Russian culture, just as had happened with Celtic culture in the previous century, nonetheless became a synecdoche of cultural prestige within literary and other artistic ← 12 | 13 → circles, and a component of cultural capital. As demonstrated by the ironic reference in Woolf’s Jacob’s Room to the need to come up with an opinion on Chekhov purely for the purposes of polite English society conversation, Russophilia could also become a cliché and an onerous imposition by this period (see Chapter 6).

Was there a significant distinction between the Celtic and the Russian cases? And can the latter be seen as something more than a whim of cultural fashion? On reflection the Celtic vogue concerned fashions in dress and in prose and poetry (Walter Scott and Burns), to a lesser extent music (Beethoven’s settings of Burns, Berlioz’s works inspired by Scott; Rossini’s La Donna del Lago; Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor) or the admittedly synthetic works of the spurious Gaelic bard Ossian. Russophilia in this survey’s period, by contrast, involved mainly the novel (Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy) and ballet (Diaghilev’s company above all), as well as drama (Gorky and Chekhov). Russian poetry was largely absent (Pushkin’s influence in Britain is separate and earlier, as well as being on a smaller scale). Neither Scotch nor Russian painters (apart from those who designed for the Ballets Russes) can be said to have played a major part in the vogue abroad for either culture, and there was never really any movement in Scotch drama which was emulated abroad. Nonetheless, as the following chapters will demonstrate, the myth of Russia did prompt sustained and fundamental changes in the type and range of literary work produced by the British writers studied here. But the chief distinction between the Celtic and Russian cases, and of great relevance to the authors considered in this study, is the role played by political ideology.

During the last decades of Tsarism, while the Russophilia vogue was at its height, many authors in Britain were associated with the Friends of Russian Freedom (which expressed solidarity with Russian dissident radicals resident in Britain as well as criticising the perceived excesses of the Tsarist regime at the time of the pogroms), or subsequently with the 1917 Club, set up in London that year by Virginia Woolf’s husband Leonard, Ramsay MacDonald and others, to express hopes for a democratic Russian future following Nicholas II’s abdication and the coming to power of Kerensky’s Provisional Government. The very existence of this institution both confirms the intensity of feelings among British artistic circles and ← 13 | 14 → perhaps also indicates an element of what Tom Wolfe was to christen (at the height of the Permissive Sixties later in the twentieth century) ‘radical chic’.18 Yet ultimately the second, Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in October 1917 proved one of the important checks upon the vogue for Russophilia. The 1917 Club continued throughout the 1920s, but the establishment of the Bolshevik regime subsequently formalised as the Soviet Union complicated matters for those otherwise enamoured of Russia. T. S. Eliot did not frequent the 1917 Club, and his right-wing-leaning politics and increasing espousal of Anglo-Catholicism (which dismayed Woolf and others within Bloomsbury) shifted the emphasis as regards his alignment with things Russian. D. H. Lawrence unequivocally rejected the Bolshevik Revolution (after some short-lived flirtation), and so his interest in Russian literature and culture became divorced from contemporary Russia. From the 1920s onwards Virginia Woolf was associated with the Society for Cultural Relations between Peoples of the British Commonwealth and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (SCR)19 chaired by her relative Margaret Llewelyn-Davies (who would also have known J. M. Barrie). Woolf, however, declined the opportunity offered by the Bolshevik authorities in 1927, with Leonard Woolf to visit the USSR as guests of the regime in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, even while she was inspired to bring Russia into her novel Orlando. This would indicate that by this period Russia was becoming something of a conventionalised reference and allusion, in effect a purely literary exercise, a Russia of the mind, which might be made by a contemporary novelist, rather than arising from ← 14 | 15 → a genuine connexion with Russia in real life. Woolf’s diary reveals that she was under no illusions about the repressive realities of Stalin’s Russia (at a time when Shaw and the Webbs were busy making light of them) in her remarks when Prince Dmitrii Mirsky, the exiled aristocrat and critic, elected to return to Soviet Russia: ‘Has been in England, in boarding houses, “forever”. I thought, as I watched his eye brighten and fade – soon there’ll be a bullet through your head.’20

In such circumstances, continued allusion to the myth of Russia became just that – allusion to a lingering myth very much at odds with the realities of a Stalinist regime of anti-formalism, anti-cosmopolitanism, and enforced conformity with the reactionary tenets of socialist realism now the norm in the Russia of the day. The process by which the Russia craze in the arts ensued upon a period of distrust of and outright enmity towards Russia in Britain, flourished during the first three decades of the twentieth century and then became anachronistic, in the very different conditions which came to apply after 1917, will be outlined in the following chapters.

Angus Wrenn ← 15 | 16 →

1 Edward Marsh, ‘Memoir’, in The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke: with a Memoir (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1918), pp. xi–clix (p. lxxvii).

2 Pierre Bourdieu offers the concept of cultural capital to describe how, within a given socio-economic setting, the knowledge of certain literary texts (or art, music and so forth) can be used to assert and communicate one’s social and cultural distinctions (Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (London: Routledge, 1984)).

3 Manfred Beller and Joseph Theodoor Leerssen, Introduction to Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National, ed. Manfred Beller and Joseph Theodoor Leerssen (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007), pp. xii–xvi (p. xiii).

4 Joep Leerssen, ‘Imagology: History and method’, in Manfred Beller and Joseph Theodoor Leerssen, eds, Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007), pp. 17–32 (p. 25); Hans Manfred Bock, ‘Nation als vorgegebene oder vorgestellte Wirklichkeit? Anmerkungen zur Analyse fremdnationaler Identitätszuschreibung’, in Ruth Florack, ed., Nation als Stereotyp: Fremdwahrnehmung und Identität in deutscher und französischer Literatur (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2001), pp. 11–36 (p. 34).

5 Oxford Dictionary of English <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/myth> [accessed 2 September 2016].

6 Among others, the first category includes Dorothy Brewer, East West Passage: A Study in Literary Relationship (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954); Gilbert Phelps, The Russian Novel in English Fiction (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1956); Lynn Garafola, Diaghilev, Ballets Russes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); the second – Royal Gettmann, Turgenev in England and America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1941); Glyn Turton, Turgenev and the Context of English Literature 18501900 (London: Routledge, 1992); Peter Kaye, Dostoevsky and English Modernism, 19001930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); John Burt Foster (Jr), Transnational Tolstoy: Between the West and the World (London: Bloomsbury, 2013); and the third – George J. Zytaruk, D. H. Lawrence’s response to Russian Literature (The Hague: Mouton, 1971); Joanna Woods, Katerina: The Russian World of Katherine Mansfield (London: Penguin, 2001); Roberta Rubenstein, Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View (London: Palgrave, 2009).

7 ‘Novelists Who May Be Read in A. D. 2029’, Manchester Guardian, 3 April 1929, p. 16.

8 Margaret Rhondda, ‘Shaw’s Women’, Time and Tide, 7 March 1930, pp. 300–1.

9 Isaac Disraeli, ‘Literary Fashions’ (1791), in Isaac Disraeli, ed., Curiosities of Literature (Boston, MA: Lilly, Wait, Colman and Holden, 1833), III, 35–8 (p. 35).

10 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1994), p. 166.

11 Said, Culture and Imperialism, p. 170.

12 Daniel Defoe, The True Born Englishman (London: A. Cleugh, 1810), p. 1.

13 Said, Culture and Imperialism, p. 193.

14 Alfred Tennyson, Poems and Plays (London, New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 529.

15 Tennyson, p. 529.

16 Virginia Woolf, Night And Day (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), p. 302.

17 Woolf, Night And Day, p. 132.

18 Tom Wolfe’s ‘Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s’ (1970) describes ‘how culture’s patrician classes – the wealthy, fashionable intimates of high society – have sought to luxuriate in both a vicarious glamour and a monopoly on virtue through their public espousal of street politics: a politics, moreover, of minorities so removed from their sphere of experience and so absurdly, diametrically, opposed to the islands of privilege on which the cultural aristocracy maintain their isolation, that the whole basis of their relationship is wildly out of kilter from the start’ (Michael Bracewell, ‘Molotov Cocktails’, Frieze Magazine, November–December 2004 <http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/molotov_cocktails> [accessed 20 September 2016]).

19 Maggie Humm, The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), pp. 276–7.

20 Quoted in Virginia Woolf, ed. Robin Majumdar and Allen McLaurin (London: Routledge 2003), p. 346.

← 16 | 17 →


The East Wind of Russianness

There is an east wind coming, Watson […] such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.1

By the time the creator of Sherlock Holmes was writing these words (1917), the East wind had already been tormenting Europe for several years. It was not new, but this time it was indeed much stronger; as Somerset Maugham famously claimed, the Russian virus spread through Europe like a disease:

Everyone was reading the Russian novelists, the Russian dancers captivated the civilised world, and the Russian composers set shivering the sensibility of persons who were beginning to want a change from Wagner. Russian art seized upon Europe with the virulence of an epidemic of influenza. New phrases became the fashion, new colours, new emotions, and the highbrows described themselves without a moment’s hesitation as members of the intelligentsia.2

The big stores (Heal’s and Harvey Nichols) changed their shop window styles in imitation of Bakst’s designs for Diaghilev seasons. Fashionable middle-class ladies acquired fur-trimmed outfit and learned to glide like Russian peasants; while the wife of the British Ambassador sent dresses over from St Petersburg, for the dignitaries to shine at the opulent Slavic theme parties that were spawning all over London.3 ← 17 | 18 →

Much has been written recently about the British response to Russian culture during these pre-World War I years, covering a variety of angles and a wide range of areas, including literature, music, craft industries, visual arts and religion. It is difficult to overestimate the degree of insight and the critical value of these thematically orientated studies, which, nonetheless, rarely channel the debate into the field of social theories of cultural reception, aimed at analysing the paradigms of intercultural representation and their re-contextualising and re-shaping in the process of cultural reproduction and transmission. Such an approach seems to be most promising when applied to the analysis of the Russian ‘craze’ in early twentieth-century Britain, which apart from offering an inexhaustible source of taxonomy and thematic surveys can be equally discussed in terms of the critical mass perspective. The latter draws upon the cumulative effect generated by the almost unprecedented tide of interest in the Russian subject and, consequently, on the potentiality of the so-called ‘quantity-to-quality’ transition. In other words, the question to ask here is whether a radical shift occurred in the paradigm of stereotyping and representation or, more specifically, in the configuration of the myth of Russia projected by the British. As regards our understanding of this process, the objective is to focus primarily on the issue of the repositioning of the Russian idiom within the British cultural landscape, assuming that, when affected by the dual process of accumulation and recognition, it may acquire a stronger status with a specific differential function, analogous to that of a symbolic artistic cachet or cultural capital, to use the term coined in the social theories of Pierre Bourdieu.4

The notion of the Russian myth here constitutes the focal point of our discussion. As explained in the Introduction, it is viewed in the light of the constructivist perspective offered by contemporary theories of representation – the science of ‘imagology’ or image studies.5 There is a ← 18 | 19 → distinctive emphasis on the input of pragmatics in the modern imagological approach, which increasingly sees the dynamics of cultural representation in terms of its audience function. Based on the awareness that the cultural sources used in this domain of scholarly research are not merely a record of representation, but rather an artefact of a certain cultural praxis, articulating and even constructing the very notion of the record itself, such an approach aims at problematising the subjectivity of the source-material or historiographic record, and addressing the ways in which the foreign culture is manipulated or distorted in the course of cultural mimesis. It follows that there is always an element of subjective falseness in the very process of cultural representation, which lends a certain mythological quality to the notion of any discursive image.

Within the framework of this modern constructivist perspective, which allows one to move from thematising the constituent elements of representational paradigms to the analysis of their structural makeup, Edward Said’s socio-cultural theory of Orientalism (1978), essentially based on the idea of the constructed image of the East, provides an appropriate starting platform for conceptualising various manifestations of the Russian myth projected by the British. The relationship between these two once great colonial Empires has never been perfectly straightforward whether one looks at its political, economic or socio-cultural dimensions. Their opposition has always been predominantly indirect and their geo-political expansion was so widely divergent that such a consummate politician as Bismarck deftly remarked that the confrontation between Russia and England would be impossible in the same way as it was impossible to imagine a war between ‘elephants and whales’.6 Russia has never been treated by Britain as an object of potential colonisation; at the same time neither was it regarded as an equal.

In his seminal work of 1978, Edward Said proposed that the Orient was constructed by the Occident ‘as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience’.7 It was an image of otherness, which served as ‘a Western style ← 19 | 20 → for dominating, structuring, and having authority over the Orient’.8 And although Russia did not feature in Said’s work as one of the major contextual case studies, its image in the European consciousness has been for a long while entangled with the evolving notion of ‘the Oriental’. As Larry Wolff points out in his discussion of the emerging idea of ‘the European’, even in the eighteenth century, ‘the geographical border between Europe and Asia was not unanimously fixed, […] located sometimes at the Don, sometimes further East at the Volga, and sometimes, as today, at the Urals’.9 Such uncertainty encouraged the construction of the image of Russia as ‘a paradox of simultaneously inclusion and exclusion, Europe but not Europe’,10 to the extent that as late as the eve of World War I the Russian territory was still associated (in French scholarship) with what was alternatively termed l’Europe oriental and l’Orient européen.11

Our analysis, therefore, will proceed in a two-fold fashion. Having discussed the British outlook on Russia in view of the Orientalistic perspective, characterised by the West’s politically charged, Eurocentric or, in the case of Russia, civilisatory (implicitly condescending) approach, we shall then reflect on the proliferation of Russomania in early twentieth-century Britain to see whether the unparalleled interest in all things Russian among the British cultural milieu resulted in its transformation into a major resource and an essential means for middle class intellectuals in asserting and communicating their cultural distinction.

According to Said’s analysis, the backbone of the Orientalistic perspective can be summarised briefly in terms of three quintessential key points, each of which, as will be shown, has a noticeable presence in the British outlook on the Russian image: (1) the tendency towards generalised, non-specific, representation, when the nuanced richness of empirical reality is replaced by a simplified and reductive model; (2) the absence of any ← 20 | 21 → temporal dynamics in these schematic representations; and (3) the politically coloured or politically dependent nature of the discourse. Below we attempt to look at the myth of Russia through the prism of these main characteristics, proceeding from the standpoint of analysis of content and its ‘grammar’, that is, looking at tendencies and defining patterns rather than performing a qualitative survey of the ‘vocabulary’, or the full body of literary examples which, when taken in their individual manifestations, may present a counter-case to the dominant trend.

In its very essence, Orientalism is a way of seeing that imagines, underscores, exaggerates and distorts the differences of non-Western cultures as compared to those found in the European tradition. One of the main features of the Orientalistic discourse is the tendency towards generalisations and the use of all-purpose descriptors of ‘the other’ as an effective means of self-definition (by contrast with the apparently inferior model): there is ‘the culturally sanctioned habit’, Said claims,

of deploying large generalisations by which reality is divided into various collectives: languages, races, types, colours, mentalities, each category being not so much a neutral designation as an evaluative interpretation. Underlying these categories is the rigidly binomial opposition of ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’, with the former always encroaching upon the latter (even to the point of making ‘theirs’ exclusively a function of ‘ours’).12

As a result of this long-term opposition and distortion, some stereotypical generic attributes became firmly associated with the notion of the East, and whatever the Occidentals were not, the Orientals infallibly were. This set of attributes can be formulated in terms variously historical (barbarism, primitivism, backwardness), psychological (Asiatic cunningness, cruelty), political (Oriental despotism, servitude, inability of self-governing), and involving gender (femininity, submissiveness) – the entire spectrum of which is traceable in the representation of Russia in English culture from the early accounts of the Elizabethan travellers to the late nineteenth-century writings.

The fact that the first end-of-the-sixteenth-century reports of English visitors from Russia (those of George Turberville, Giles Fletcher, and Sir ← 21 | 22 → Jerome Horsey) were skewed towards hyperbole and generalisation is, perhaps, not entirely surprising. Considering the long distance and the relatively restricted travelling at the time, the visitors were inevitably struck by the contrast between Muscovites and Europeans; and the image of Russia projected through their impressions was configured almost entirely along the lines of accumulated superlatives and extremes. The country is not just big, but enormous, its wealth is uncountable, the people are gigantic with their bellies so huge ‘that [they] overhang the waist’;13 poverty – unspeakable; slavery – all-embracing; and the cruelty of the rulers’ ‘heavy hand of displeasure’ is so unthinkable that one forbears ‘to trouble the modest ears and Christian patience of such as shall read it’.14 The grotesqueness of the portrait was so striking that the first publication of Giles Fletcher’s account (1591) was suppressed upon the intervention of Muscovite negotiators, ‘fearful of possible Russian reaction and reduction of trade’:15 ← 22 | 23 →

And it may be said truly […] that from the great to the small (except some few that will scarcely be found) the Russe neither believeth anything that an other man speaketh, nor speaketh anything himself worthie to be believed.16

In Turberville’s report the mythological series of rudeness, wildness and godless idolatry (‘The house that hath no god or painted Saint within / Is not to be resorted to, that roof is full of sin’) culminated with the portrayal of the most overwhelming drunkenness, which for years to come would become a canonical stereotype, associated with the image of Russia in Western discourse.

A people passing rude, to vices vile inclin’d,
Folk fit to be of Bacchus’ train, so quaffing in their kind.
Drinke is their whole desire, the pot is all their pride,
The sob’rest head doth once a day stand needful of a guide.17

As a semantic element of maximal intensity, superlatives or hyperbole correspond to a clear form of cognitive abstraction, offering a distorted (exaggerating certain parts, while blurring the rest) and, therefore, simplified and reductive modality of representation.18 Such a framework, characteristic of the projected outlook on Russia at the time, ties in well with Said’s definition of the Orientalistic perspective, which, according to the scholar, tends to replace ‘empiricity’ with a set of generalised and schematic constructs.

Moreover, very much in line with Said’s analysis of the Orientalistic approach, the established pattern of national stereotyping proved to be remarkably persistent in terms of its temporal and historical manifestations; and for almost three hundred years Russia was inscribed into the construct of Western knowledge as dangerously uncontrolled or weak and ← 23 | 24 → exotic, cunningly malicious or uncivilised and backward, overwhelmingly rich or dreadfully poor. This could be considered exactly what Said had in mind when he defined Orientalism as a static system of ‘synchronic essentialism’,19 implying that the Orient as a place and its reception in the discourse of Orientalism becomes an invariably fixed object – the eternal unchanging reality that remains chiefly the same in any moment of its history and cultural progression.

Here are but a few illustrative examples. The idea of Russia as an embodiment of rough extremes, introduced in the early sixteenth-century accounts,20 became a formative matrix for all further modifications of its literary portrait, from which the crudeness and savageness of the national character were typically derived – hence the image of the Russian bear as a codifying icon of the country, featuring in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Henry V, or in James Thomson’s later poem The Seasons (1726–30).21 ← 24 | 25 → Another stock trope firmly associated with the idea of extreme Russian roughness was that of mortifying cold and life-threatening frost. One can find it in Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella (1591), where the notion of ‘cold Muscovy’22 is employed as a metaphor for the enslaving and tyrannous love ignited in Astrophel by Stella:

Now even that foot-steppe of lost libertie
Is gone, and now like slave borne Muscovite:
I call it praise to suffer tyrannie;23

or in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which, according to the insightful analysis of Daryl Palmer,24 sends the minds of the audience to Russia more often than through Hermione’s famous reference to her Russian extraction (‘The Emperor of Russia was my father’25). Shakespeare, Palmer argues, modified Greene’s Pandosto – his original source – to increase the Russian elements in his tale. Following the fashion of the time, it is the whole kingdom of Sicilia that recalls the Northern Empire of Snow, and Leontes appears as an emblem of its ruler, Ivan the Terrible, carrying symbolic cultural associations of ‘winter and tyranny’.26

Under the reign of Peter the Great (1682–1725) an ambitious programme of Westernisation was embarked upon. Despite that, English literary portrayals of the country still conjured the picture of a backward, sparsely populated territory of nobles and serfs;27 and the binary of extreme ← 25 | 26 → despotism versus mindless submission to power was retained all the way through seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Russian discourse (as set in George Turberville’s story: ‘In such a savage soil, where laws do bear no sway / But all is at the king his will to save or else to slay’28). Most of the literary sources were centred, unsurprisingly, on the extraordinary figure of Peter the Great. The accounts to mention include Aaron Hill’s long narrative poem of 1718 The Northern Star (typically based on the rhetoric of eternal winter: ‘Eternal Hills of Frost’, bounding ‘Ambition up in freezing Blood’29), Richard Steele’s Letters to The Spectator (19 April and 9 August 171130), or Daniel Defoe’s An Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Peter Alexowitz, Czar of Muscovy (1723). Defoe’s work was presented as a report by a British officer in the service of the Czar, describing among other deeds Peter’s visit to England. The report ends with Peter’s Swedish campaign, leaving it to others to continue the story of this Emperor, characterised as the most distinguished of rulers, provided one looks at the Eastern part of the world:

May some other Pen be honoured with the Narration that the Glories of our August Emperor of Russia may be handed to Posterity in a manner suitable to his Fame and to the Merit of the greatest Prince in all the Eastern Part of the World.31 ← 26 | 27 →

As regards the ‘bottom’ part of the spectrum (the people), in the second part of Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1717), the famous traveller ventures through Siberia, reporting that the degree of savagery in this land exceeds the wildest expectations of a hard-bitten viewer:

the inhabitants were mere pagans; sacrificing to idols, and worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, or all the host of heaven; and not only so, but were, of all the heathens and pagans that ever I met with, the most barbarous, except only that they did not eat men’s flesh, as our savages of America did.32

This, of course, is combined with the slavish devotion to the authority of the Czar, irrefutable even among the ‘criminals’ in exile, who, despite their misfortune of being banished from the Court, were still ‘telling me abundance of fine things of the greatness, the magnificence, the dominions, and the absolute power of the Emperor of the Russians’.33 In the same vein, the portrayal of Siberia was covered in Oliver Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World (1762), in which his fictional Chinese correspondents exchanged views on the Russians, highlighting their unchangeable savageness, darkness and ‘brutal excess’:

From your accounts of Russia I learn that this nation is again relaxing into pristine barbarity; that its great emperor wanted a life of an hundred years more to bring about his vast design. A savage people may be resembled to their own forests; a few years are sufficient to clear away the obstructions to agriculture; but it requires many, ere the ground acquires a proper degree of fertility: the Russians, attached to their ancient prejudices, again renew their hatred to strangers, and indulge every former brutal excess.34 ← 27 | 28 →

The latter, according Goldsmith, had a particularly dreadful effect on those who tried to bring a civilising touch to this country of the savage, but instead only found themselves drowned in the barbarous swamp:

The great law-giver of Russia attempted to improve the desolate inhabitants of Siberia, by sending among them some of the politest men of Europe. The consequence has shown, that the country was as yet unfit to receive them; they languished for a time with a sort of exotic malady; every day degenerated from themselves, and at last, instead of rendering the country more polite, they conformed to the soil, and put on barbarity.35

The ascent to power of Catherine the Great (1762–96) played into the current European ideal of enlightened despotism. This raised some doubts among European onlookers considering whether Russia was ruled by the Oriental despotism of a dictatorial autocrat, or by the progressive regime of a civilised monarch. Russian modernisation was regarded with a mixture of approval and (predominantly) apprehension, and projected the greatly hyped-up prospect of a Russian invasion, as, for instance, in Goldsmith’s ‘Letters’:

The Russians are now at that period between refinement and barbarity, which seems most adapted to military achievement; and if once they happen to get footing in the western parts of Europe, it is not the feeble efforts of the sons of effeminacy and dissension that can serve to remove them. The fertile valley and soft climate will ever be sufficient inducements to draw whole myriads from their native deserts, the trackless wild, or snowy mountain.36

As the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe left Russia behind, the country’s backwardness was turned into a prevalent trope. Considering nineteenth-century literary sources, it is sufficient to look at Edward Bulwer Lytton’s novel Devereux (1829), which contains every single core element of the earlier sixteenth-century model. In this work, Russia, and more precisely its capital St Petersburg, is presented as a land of ‘the most terrible climate ← 28 | 29 → in which a civilised creature was ever frozen to death’,37 inhabited by the most savage people, who are colossal in size, filthy, and inhumanly ferocious:

But never, I believe, was there a place which there was so much trouble in arriving at: such winds – such climate – such police arrangements – arranged, too, by such fellows! six feet high, with nothing human about them, but their uncleanness and ferocity! […] ‘It is just the city a nation of bears would build, if bears ever became architects’, said I to myself.38

Later in the novel, this scheme is complemented by the notion of barbaric subservience in relation to the rulers, which, typically, identifies the Russians as a weak and biddable nation of slaves: ‘A Russian […] bore it [the fearful punishment of the battaog] patiently, and in silence; he only spoke once, and it was to say, “God bless the czar!”’39

Six years earlier Byron used a similar axis of mythopoetic superlatives, and employed the metaphor of ‘ice’ and ‘fire’ (extreme cold – extreme heat), to contrast Russia with Western civilisation. His poem The Age of Bronze (1823) offers a romanticised projection of this binary juxtaposition: the ‘ice’ of Russian savageness and despotic darkness (evoking such a connotational array as ‘stern’, ‘frozen’, ‘dense’ and ‘hard’) is seen to be melted by the ‘fire’ of freedom brought by the advances of the French troops:

The half barbaric Moscow’s minarets
Gleam in the sun, but ’tis a sun that sets!
[…] and Moscow was no more!
Sublimest of volcanos! Etna’s flame
Pales before thine, and quenchless Hecla’s tame.40

Not much changed in the late Victorian era. Ivan Ivanovich (1879), a narrative dramatic idyll of Robert Browning, who had first-hand experience of Russia (where he spent a year of 1834 as a nominal secretary of the Russian ← 29 | 30 → Consul General, Mr Benckhausen41), tells a terrifying story of a peasant woman. On her long sledge-ride through the winter forest she was chased by a pack of wolves. Frantic with despair, she threw her children one-by-one to the hungry beasts, trusting to gain a little time by which those remaining on the sledge might be saved. And although the poet devotes much attention to creating a strong sense of character and historic detail, his narrative largely falls into the same generalised mixture of stereotypes and stock popular clichés. The main female protagonist infallibly manifests all the characteristic traits of a barbaric slave woman, submissive to the absolutism of authority (being brutally executed in the name of God), accustomed to shamanism (performing sacrifices to wolves), and familiar with witchcraft:

Who knows but old bad Màrpha – she always owed me spite
And envied me my births – skulks out of doors at night
And turns into a wolf, and joins the sisterhood.42

As regards the narrative and its culturally specific aspects, the action is framed within the outlandishly brutal and hostile setting, concerning both, natural environment (freezing and wild forest) and the barbarism of social habits: as, for instance, the graphic scene of the character’s public lynching (by a ‘lightning-swift thunder-strong one blow’ of an axe43), and the crowd’s contemplation of her ‘dripping’ with blood headless body.

Written a decade later, Swinburne’s poem Russia: An Ode (1890) uses an even darker palette of imagery and tones, comparing the country to an unspeakable hell on Earth that would eclipse the horrors of Dante’s infernal journey: ← 30 | 31 →

Out of hell a word comes hissing, dark as doom,
Fierce as fire, and foul as plague-polluted gloom;
Ears have heard not, tongues have told not things like these.
Dante, led by love’s and hate’s accordant spell
Down the deepest and the loathliest ways of hell.

It is, of course, worth bearing in mind that all these rhapsodic artistic sketches came to refer to the image of Russia not as mimetic empirical records, but as shorthand markers for collective literary characterisation, or, to use Foucault’s terminology, as the mere objets discursifs.45 And yet, these largely generalised, but colourful and snappy pictures happen to be remarkably effective in projecting the stock of cliché-tropes and associations, which became a synecdoche of the accepted portrait of the nation, configured along the lines of barbarism, despotism and extreme cold.

One must admit that this was not without a certain sense of ambiguity attached to Russia’s liminal position. Situated (geographically, as well as in terms of its cultural affiliation) between civilised Europe and the vast stagnation of Asian states, it did baffle the majority of Western observers, whose track of thinking was traditionally streamlined according to the so-called ‘cultured West – barbaric East’ juxtaposition. The problem was that throughout many decades the idea of Russia was consistently skewed in the direction of the latter; as Rudyard Kipling put it in one of his tales, the biggest British mistake was to treat the Russians as the most Eastern of the European peoples instead of seeing them as the most Western of the Orientals:

Let it be clearly understood that the Russian is a delightful person till he tucks his shirt in. As an Oriental he is charming. It is only when he insists upon being treated as the most easterly of Western peoples, instead of the most westerly of Easterns, ← 31 | 32 → that he becomes a racial anomaly extremely difficult to handle. The host never knows which side of his nature is going to turn up next.46

The great English writer was certainly not alone with regard to this type of interpretative viewpoint. Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace, one of the major Russian specialists of the 1890s, made a similar remark by saying that the character of the Russians ‘corresponds to their geographical position: they stand midway between the laborious, painstaking, industrious population of Western Europe and the indolent, undisciplined, spasmodically energetic populations of Central Asia.’ As a result, everything depends on the angle of observation, and to the traveller who comes from the Western side of the globe, the Russians would indeed seem as ‘an indolent and apathetic race’ akin to the Asian peoples.47 A much more radical statement was put forward by Emile Dillon, who expressed his views in a series of journalistic essays called ‘The Russian Characteristics’ and published by the Fortnightly Review in 1889 (reprinted as a separate edition later in 1891). A standard set of stereotypical attributes associated with the country was distilled and highlighted in the titles, defining the national character along the lines of ‘lying’, ‘fatalism’, ‘dishonesty’, and ‘sloth’. Dillon emphasised a deep rift between Russia and European civilisation, pointing out that its political, social and religious conditions were so barbarically undeveloped that they

render their possessors as impersonal as the Egyptians that raised Cheops, or the coral-reef builders of the Pacific. In result we have a good-natured, lying, thievish, shiftless, ignorant mass whom one is at times tempted to connect in the same isocultural line with the Weddas of India or the Bangala of the Upper Congo, and who differ from West European nations much as Sir Thomas Browne’s vegetating ‘creatures of mere existence’ differ from ‘things of life.’48 ← 32 | 33 →

The author’s radicalised attitude towards the Russians becomes, perhaps, more explicable considering the circumstances of this publication. The political atmosphere of the late 1880s was aggravated by the Great Eastern Crisis, which concerned the Anglo–Russian dispute over territories in Afghanistan. Both countries were on the verge of military conflict; and in such an unsettling situation one could hardly be expected to conjure up a laudatory image of a potential foe. Two decades later, however, this condescending attitude was still widespread all over Britain, to the extent that in 1914 Maurice Baring drew attention to the fact that if one set a question about the Russians to English undergraduates and schoolchildren, the most prevalent answer would be:

that the Russian was a man got up like a European except in winter, but that if you scratched him you would find a Tartar, and that a Tartar was a man with a yellow skin and a snub nose. I think you might also often get the answer that Russians were Slavs; but that if you asked what a Slav is, you would be told he was a kind of Tartar.49

To sum up, just like the idea of the Great Orient, configured within much the same temporal bounds, the image of Russia was contained within and represented by a set of descriptors, typically attached to extra-European peripheral nations, viewed as ‘timeless’, ‘backward’, bypassed by progress ← 33 | 34 → and historical transformation.50 This view took Europe as a norm and a referential landmark, from which ‘exotic’ Russia (the term applied condescendingly) deviated. Within the limits of this top-down approach, rooted in a position of Western cultural strength and aimed at affirming a certain distance from the object, nothing but a general panoptical picture of the country was usually required. But to obtain a panoramic view of such a colossal country as Russia, the distance to the vantage point should be sufficiently large. The resulting image turned out to be appropriately reductive. Its topical spectrum was based effectively on a binary two-point model, contrasting ‘the power and the people’, which corresponded to a qualitative dichotomy involving Oriental ferocity, despotism and violence (also applied to other Eastern empires from Turkey to China, and often coloured by the dazzling luxury of the Imperial court-life) versus submissiveness, massive endurance and compassion.51 The question of when and in what circumstances each of the binaries was activated and highlighted requires further, more in-depth consideration, for it is linked to the third of the defining features associated with Said’s concept of the Orientalistic discourse.

This third important issue, which Said outlines in his study, and which is fully applicable to the British projection of the Russian image, draws a distinction between pure and political interest in, and knowledge of, the subject-matter of the literary discourse.52 It is important to point out that the term ‘political’, in Said’s work,

is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power, shaped to a degree by the exchange with power political (as with a colonial or imperial establishment), power intellectual (as with reigning sciences like comparative ← 34 | 35 → linguistics or anatomy, or any of the modern policy sciences), power cultural (as with orthodoxies and canons of taste, texts, values), power moral (as with ideas about what ‘we’ do and what ‘they’ cannot do or understand as ‘we’ do).53

In other words, what one means here is that the so-called politically coloured discourse is not something related overtly to the ideologically charged politically orientated writing, but rather ‘a distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts’,54 streamed along certain distinct and intellectually predictable lines. Below we shall show that it was this type of politically coloured discourse that effectively shaped the myth of Russia in its British representation.

The graph in Figure 2 presents the number of literary texts related to Russian subject-matter based on the extremely valuable and detailed bibliography compiled by Anthony Cross in his survey of The Russian Theme in English Literature (1985).55

The temporal boundaries (1820–1920) comprise the period of over a hundred years, leading up to the decade that will constitute the further focus of our examination – the 1920s. In line with Said’s thesis, the graph shows a strong correlation between the number of works published on the Russian theme during these years and the changes in the Anglo–Russian political ← 35 | 36 → rapport. The first peak coincided with the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856; the second – with the Great Eastern Crisis related to the Anglo–Russian dispute in Central Asia; and the third – with the pre-World War I years and the formation of the Triple Entente, which in 1907 asserted an alliance between Great Britain, the Russian Empire and France. Unsurprisingly, the interest in the Russian theme started to peak after the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks’ signing of the separatist Brest-Litovsk treaty with Germany in 1918.


Figure 2. The number of texts (fiction) related to Russian subject-matter based on the bibliography in Anthony Cross, The Russian Theme in English Literature from the Sixteenth Century to 1980: An introductory survey and bibliography (1985).

Given that the peak affiliated with the Crimean War was relatively brief, and the reasons for the influx of interest in Russia were fairly uncomplicated and straightforward, we shall move straight on to the discussion of ← 36 | 37 →


Figure 3. The number of texts (fiction and first-hand travel accounts) related to Russian subject-matter based on collated sources (see List of Figures, p. vii).

the context of the late 1880s. The second peak of interest in the Russian subject came in the wave of the Great Eastern Crisis and in the aftermath of the Russo–Turkish war (1877–8). The conflict brought to a head the rivalry between England and Russia for dominance in Central Asia. By spring 1885 it was descending into a serious threat of Anglo–Russian war, when after the clash of interests on the Afghanistan borders, the British press raised a cry of danger to India. By July 1887 the Boundary Commission was still negotiating the frontiers, the Russians were still advancing into Asian lands; and the closer they came to British India the more attention was given to the study of the threatening northern opponent. A rapid and appreciable interest in Russian culture spread across British society, and people avidly seized at any book that could throw light on the life and customs of the country. Written and published within a week, Charles Marvin’s The Russians at the Gate of Herat (1885) had sales of 65,000 copies; Smith, Elder, & Co ← 37 | 38 → (London) reprinted Armin Vámbéry’s Central Asia and the Anglo-Russian Frontier Question (1874), as well as his Travels in Central Asia (1864); and other titles during this period included All the Russians (1885) by E. C. Phillips, History of Russia (1885) by W. K. Kelly, and The Russian Storm-cloud or Russia in Her Relations to Neighbouring Countries (1886) written by Sergei (‘Sergius’) Stepniak, one of the leaders of the Russian anarchist movement.

The title of Stepniak’s monograph was most telling and revealing with regard to the general vector of contemporary rhetoric on the Russian subject. Russia was seen as a potential threat; consequently, the discourse was focused on the narrative associated with power (emblematised as a ‘storm-cloud’ in Stepniak’s title), ruthlessness and uncontrollable passions, while the opposite polarity, related to compliance and some sort of sympathetic nonchalance, appeared to be blurred. The trend can be further exemplified by the spectrum of proliferating literary translations, including, curiously in such circumstances, the rise to prominence of Lev Tolstoy.

It was only natural that at a time when interest in Russian affairs ran at a very high pitch, the editors started looking for suitable translations from Russian authors. In 1887 the Fortnightly Review announced the vogue of ‘the Russian novel’, which, in the words of the critic, was fully justified and ‘well deserved’.56 Though the new interest embraced Russian literature as a whole, Tolstoy was one of the main attractions. Up until 1885 his name was barely known to the British readership (familiar mainly with the writings of Turgenev) to the extent that The Contemporary Review could refer freely to Dmitrii Tolstoy, the Russian Minister of Home Affairs, simply as Count Tolstoy, without any fear that his identity might be mistaken.57 Henry James’ notable essay on Turgenev’s literary legacy as well as his Art of Fiction of ← 38 | 39 → 1884,58 also make no mention of Tolstoy’s writings, but by 1887 his books were everywhere in the British book-stores: six translations of his works were published between 1885 and 1888, not to mention nineteen American editions which were on sale in Britain. In a short period in the mid-80s, practically everything Tolstoy had written in the preceding thirty-five years was translated and published in English (including W. S. Gottesberger’s edition of War and Peace, translated from French by Clara Bell in 1886).59 He was hailed as incomparably the greatest writer who had ever existed, occupying in fiction the same position that Shakespeare occupied with all drama60 (a highly ironic statement, as some ten years later Tolstoy would become known for his vociferous hatred of Shakespeare).

When viewed in the light of the reception accorded to Tolstoy’s writings during the preceding three decades, this sudden tide of interest and fascination appears as an unpredictable, almost capricious whim of literary fashion. And yet, considering the change of the context in the late eighties, one can chart out clearly the undercurrents of this radical turn. From 1860 to 1880, only two of Tolstoy’s stories (Childhood and Youth in England and Cossacks in America61) were translated; and only a couple of critical essays (apart from reviews) presented the novelist to the reading public. The critics found Tolstoy’s writings ‘crudely joined’; the events and settings were ← 39 | 40 → ‘tolerably life-like’, but ‘how wild, how primitive and lawless, how ante […] human’, though not ‘wholly unpleasant or unclean’.62 As compared with Turgenev, Tolstoy had more of ‘original force’, but was not so subtle an artist; he was seen as possessing ‘fiercer and freer poetry’ than the elder author, but less of the ‘contemptuous ennui and arid sophistication’.63 As a writer, he was certainly out of tune with the mellow, well-tempered aesthetics of these years; so that his stories were met only with indifference, not to say neglect, by readers.64 Everything changed in less than a decade, and Tolstoy’s ‘fiercer and freer’ tones resonated with the context of the late eighties when the notes of the formidable and wild were foregrounded in the Russian image.

Some sort of comparable context-dependent dynamics can also be traced in the level of activity of the Russian anarchist circle in England. Led by such eminent revolutionaries as Prince Peter Kropotkin, Nikolai Chaikovsky, Felix Volkhovsky and Sergei Stepniak, the initiatives of this circle played a major role in shaping the image of Russia in the eyes of the Western viewers. By the beginning of the 1880s Prince Kropotkin had already become regarded as highly influential in the international political and cultural arena: he worked for the Arbeiter Zeitung, L’Avant-Garde, La Justice, and started his own paper Le Revolte. The topics of his articles ← 40 | 41 → ranged from ideological positions on economics to the debate over the propaganda of the deed.65 Kropotkin’s first attempt to bring about some basic awareness of Russian affairs in London was a dramatic and painful fiasco, forcing him to leave England in October 1882. As he put it in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist: ‘Better a French prison than this grave.’66 Not unlike the case of Tolstoy’s translations, the context of the late 1880s worked in favour of the anarchists’ undertakings. When Kropotkin arrived in London for a second time in March 1886, he was astonished by the complete change of scene: the ‘life in London was no longer the dull, vegetating existence that it had been for me four years before’, he wrote.67 Promoted by the tide of political tension and the growing interest in the Russian subject, the anarchists managed to form a pressure group the ‘Friends of Russian Freedom’ (in 1890 it was turned into the ‘Society of Friends of Russian Freedom’), and started publishing Free Russia – a monthly newspaper, edited initially by Stepniak and later on by Felix Volkhovsky (till his death in 1914).

Both Volkhovsky and Stepniak paid serious attention to the popularisation and interpretation of Russian literature, which they saw as the most effective way of acquainting foreign audiences with the problems of Russian society. Thomas Hardy attended one of Stepniak’s lectures in 1893 and had some vivid recollections of the meeting.68 It is also worth noting that Constance Garnett, one of the most eminent translators of the Russian classics (seventy-one volumes of the literary works, including Gogol, Turgenev, Goncharov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov), gained her command of the Russian language in the Russian anarchist circle. She started her lessons under the guidance of Volkhovsky, who was often reproached by his peers (particularly by Nikolai Chaikovsky) for this kind of excessive ← 41 | 42 → overtures made towards the members of the English literary ‘elite’ (as they were known among the Russian revolutionary activists in exile). Generally speaking, Volkhovsky, as well as Kropotkin and Stepniak, were very keen on such links with the educated and cultural circles. Through their extensive activities in Britain – numerous press articles and public lectures – they aspired to spread information about Russia, its culture and its problems;69 and their efforts, carried all the way through the pre-World War I years, made a strong impact on the new wave of interest in Russian affairs.

The pre-World War I decade was marked by widespread and relatively long-lasting attraction to the Russian subject, which yet again was not devoid of the underlying political implications. Following a radical ‘u-turn’ in Anglo–Russian relations, it resonated with the national propaganda campaign, which now had to justify the alliance of democratic England with autocratic Russia in World War I. The task was uneasy, but not impossible; John Mackail summarised it in one sentence: ‘The Russians are different from us, but they are like us, and we have a great deal in common.’70

The brief period of Russophobia engendered by the Russo–Japanese War gave way to a new tide of affection for the Russians (especially after the abortive 1905 revolution). The old vision of the country as a ‘shapeless mass of barbarism, tyrannised over by a small governing class which itself is half barbarous’,71 was replaced by an encouragingly positive attitude to the newly acquired ally. Far from a clog on or menace to general progress, Russia was now seen as working actively with others towards the needs and ideals of human civilisation. Several factors that contributed to this noticeable reshaping of the Russian image should be outlined. ← 42 | 43 →

The first is related to the extensive imports of Russian culture that marked the turn-of-the-century decades. These years are most often associated with the Diaghilev seasons (1911–14). Leonard Woolf recalls in his autobiography that the British audience was completely enthralled by the performance: ‘Night after night we flocked to Covent Garden’, he maintains, ‘entranced by a new art, a revelation to us benighted British, the Russian Ballet in the greater days of Diaghilev and Nijinsky.’72 The newspapers and fashionable magazines were full of superlatives and praising comments; and the fact that Diaghilev’s premiere in London was scheduled during George V’s coronation festivities speaks for itself.

In 1912 the second post-impressionist exhibition, ‘British French and Russian Painters’ (curated by Roger Fry and Clive Bell73), featured two highly successful contemporary artists, Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova. The latter was to make an unforgettable impression on an even wider audience with her designs for Le Coq d’or – Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera performed by Diaghilev’s company in 1914 (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane). These magnificent productions of Russian opera during the 1913 and 1914 seasons, which appeared as a real celebration of performance art, captured the imagination of the most refined viewers. According to Sir Osbert Sitwell, they raised the standard of music drama to an unprecedented level:

the Russian operas never before performed in London until these years relieved one suddenly from the Viking world of bearded warriors drinking blood out of skulls, that had been for so long imposed by Germany. They pleased the eye at last, as well as the ear;74

while in the words of Rosa Newmarch, these spectacles simply ‘rescued’ the city’s social life in the days just before the assassination of the Archduke: ← 43 | 44 →

Russian opera, perhaps is the only topic of the hour on which educated people can meet on a common ground of admiration. Ulster, the suffrage, Lloyd-Georgian finance, Mr Winston Churchill, are all dangerous subjects which divide house against house and estrange life-long friends.75

In 1916 Macmillan published a very handsome book with an impressive list of British and Russian contributors, entitled precisely The Soul of Russia. ‘The Soul’ was presented in a variety of aspects, covering a wide range of subjects from early icons, peasant crafts and popular folk-songs to the music of Stravinsky and the paintings of Goncharova. There were poems by Briusov and Balmont, and some prose pieces by Sologub, Chekhov and Kuprin – all in an attempt, according to the editor Winifred Stephens, to embrace Russia’s ‘noble but sometimes unfathomable soul’.76

A decade into the twentieth century Britain once again experienced an influx of Russian literary translations; and the general influence of Russian literature during these years can hardly be taken too seriously. Constance Garnett’s version of The Brothers Karamazov, which appeared in 1912, caused an enormous sensation. John Middleton Murry referred to it as the ‘most epoch-making translation of the past’, comparable only with Sir Thomas North’s Plutarch.77 In the next eight years Garnett followed this work with eleven more volumes of Dostoevsky, triggering a real cult of the author in Britain.78 First translations of Dostoevsky’s novels had been available since the early 1880s, but he was not particularly in favour with the intellectuals during the nineteenth-century decades; and in 1903 the publishers still felt ← 44 | 45 → that ‘there was no real market for Dostoevsky in England’.79 Arnold Bennett found The Brothers Karamazov very impressive when he read it for the first time in French in 1909, as well as D. H. Lawrence, who was impressed by the French version of Crime and Punishment around the same time.80 In 1910 Crime and Punishment (an old translation) was adapted for the stage by Lawrence Irving as The Unwritten Law. And although the text underwent some most peculiar alterations (the pawnbroker was replaced by an evil landlord who makes unwelcome advances to Sonia, an innocent maiden; Raskolnikov, a revolutionary student, kills the landlord to protect Sonia’s honour81), this production, together with a new Everyman edition of the same translation, increased the public recognition of Dostoevsky’s name and paved the way for further translations.

The overwhelming interest in reading ‘the Russians’ was not limited to Dostoevsky’s novels. Publishers were quick to reissue old works of the established writers and commissioned new ones. Tolstoy and Turgenev continued to be reprinted (in Constance Garnett’s and Louise and Aylmer Maude’s translations). Two new versions of Gogol’s Dead Souls (by Stephen Graham and Charles J. Hogarth), which had long been out of print in English, were relaunched in 1915, followed a year later by the new translation of Aksakov’s memoirs.82 An increasing number of Chekhov’s stories had been appearing in the press since 1897. In July 1902 they were thoroughly reviewed by R. E. C. Long for the Fortnightly Review;83 and as soon as the ← 45 | 46 → Dostoevsky craze started to abate (by 1920), a passion for Chekhov steadily took over, inspired yet again by a stream of Garnett’s publications (sixteen volumes between 1916 and 1923). Literary journals in England (and in the United States) clamoured for translations and critical articles on Russian literary masters; and the book reviews of the pre-War decades spoke with an informed air of Goncharov, Chekhov, Gogol and Turgenev, presenting it as a matter of particular ‘importance that Englishmen should understand the Russian mind’.84 Russia had become to the young intellectuals ‘of today’, wrote Rebecca West in 1915, what Italy was to the Victorians:

as their imaginations, directed by Turner and the Brownings, dreamed of the crumbling richness of Rome and Venice, so we to-day think of that plain of brown earth patterned with delicate spring grass and steel-grey patches of half-melted snow and cupped in a round unbroken sky-line, which is Russia. We are deeply and affectionately familiar with Russian life.85

The assertiveness of this and similar statements, which came to be regarded as something tantamount to ‘bon ton’ among the socialites of the middle-class milieu, was, in fact, profoundly ironic, given that contemporary Russian literature, with the exception of Gorky and, to a certain extent, Leonid Andreev,86 remained far less known to English readers than the nineteenth-century classics of the past. ← 46 | 47 →

A somewhat more up-to-date outlook on Russia was offered by a different set of writings, which should not be overlooked when discussing the pre-War configuration of the Russian image. This is the endeavour of the young British ‘intermediaries’ – journalists and literary scholars, whose active enthusiasm for the Russian subject-matter was buoyed up by the Anglo–Russian political tide. In their numerous articles and analytical surveys, Bernard Pares, Maurice Baring, Harold Williams, Stephen Graham and others, who were all fascinated with Russia in their own special way, tried to create a positive image of the country in the eyes of their readers, and to facilitate the study of Russia in England. One of the platforms for their aspirations was the Russian Review journal, founded in 1912 under the initiative of Bernard Pares and intended as ‘a centre for the growing movement towards a better understanding between Britain and Russia’.87 Bernard Pares was one of the founding fathers of Russian studies in Britain, being associated with both the first School of Russian Studies at Liverpool University inaugurated in 1907, and the School of Slavonic Studies, set up in 1915 at King’s College London. He also made a considerable contribution to raising the profile of Anglo–Russian political relations by organising the 1909 visit to Britain of a Duma delegation, as well as the reciprocal visit to Russia of British politicians in 1912.88

Along with Pares, Maurice Baring was one of several ‘ambassadors’ for Russia, who were highly acclaimed by the British public. Baring covered the Russo–Japanese War as a correspondent for the Morning Post, and had several long stays in the country between 1900 and 1917. Three of his books on the Russian subject, Landmarks in Russian Literature (1910), The Russian People (1911) and The Mainsprings of Russia (1914), ← 47 | 48 → were very popular among contemporary readers for their picturesque and colourful descriptions, their vivid examples drawn from the life of ordinary people; for the author’s gripping enthusiasm concerning the cause of Anglo–Russian understanding, and his astonishing ability to subvert the stereotyped patterns of thinking, so that, for instance, most clichéd Russian vices looked almost like incontestable national virtues. ‘The charm of Russian life’, wrote Baring,

lies in its essential goodness of heart, and in its absence of hypocrisy, and it is owing to this absence of hypocrisy that the faults of the Russian character are so easy to detect. It is for this reason that in Gogol’s realistic and satirical work, as in The Inspector and Dead Souls, the characters startle the foreign observer by their frank and almost universal dishonesty. The truth is that they do not take the trouble to conceal their shortcomings; they are indulgent to the failings of others, and not only expect but know that they will find their own faults treated with similar indulgence. Faults, failings, and vices which in Western Europe would be regarded with uncompromising censure and merciless blame, meet in Russia either with pity or good-humoured indulgence.89

In this context, some words should also be said about the works of Stephen Graham, whose main interest lay in the domain of pilgrimages and peasants. For Graham, as for Baring and Pares, Russia was a life-long commitment; and he tried to bring it closer to the English-speaking readers through the framework of John Ruskin’s ideals (a strong sense of community and the dignity of labour). ‘The Russians are an agricultural nation, bred to the soil’; it is not the land of ‘bomb-throwers’90 and ‘intolerable ← 48 | 49 → unhappiness’, he argued. The Russians ‘are strong as giants, simple as children, mystically superstitious by reason of their unexplained mystery. They live as Ruskin wished the English to live.’91 Through a series of books, produced before and during World War I (Undiscovered Russia, Changing Russia, The Way of Marpha and the Way of Mary, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem), Graham affirmed his reputation as a knowledgeable and thorough researcher, who, in the words of Russian Review,

understands Russia and the Russian people. He writes from the standpoint of modest sympathy, and not from that of patronising superiority. He understands the soul of the Russian. He understands how deeply the Russian is rooted in reality.92

Speaking about the vast volume of Russia-related literature circulated in England during these pre-War years, one cannot possibly miss the aura of affectionate sympathy which was prevalent in the majority of these editions. Neither can one characterise the tone of these works as exploitive or authoritatively imperialistic. Moreover, due to the positive vector of the socio-political context, the expression of sympathy projected by the authors sometimes took the form of the most obvious overstatement. The examples were manifold and could be drawn from various domains, including national character, history, psychology, culture and even language. Thus, for instance, Charles Sarolea, a reputable specialist on the Russian subject and the author of a sound study Europe’s Debt to Russia that was published in 1916, put forward an idea of Russian racial superiority, deduced on the basis of Darwin’s teachings. According to Sarolea’s thesis, the Russians should occupy the top position on the survival of the fittest scale, because, as a nation, they have been thoroughly tempered by the ruthless severity of the country’s geographic and social conditions:

They have survived a struggle for life of ruthless severity. They have resisted the continued pressure of hunger, war, plague, of a cruel climate, and a more cruel Government. ← 49 | 50 → The Russians have got a splendid physique, they have a capacity of endurance which is surpassed by no other race.93

The distinguishing grandeur, spirituality and superiority of the Russian soul was highlighted by several English scholars. William Phelps related it to the extreme vastness of the Russian spaces:

The immense size of the country produces an element of largeness in the Russian character that one feels not only in their novels, but almost invariably in personal contact and conversation with a more or less educated Russian […] Bigness in early environment often produces a certain comfortable largeness of mental vision.94

In the same vein, Maurice Baring, who took it upon himself to examine the main traits of the national character, opined, apparently without irony, that the Russians were the most naturally humane, as compared to all other inferior, in this sense, European peoples:

the Russians are more broadly and widely human than the people of other European or Eastern countries, and being more human their capacity of understanding is greater, for their extraordinary quickness of apprehension comes from the heart rather than the head. They are the most humane and the most naturally kind of all the peoples of Europe.95

Amusingly, some pages later in the same book Baring cautions against the risk of rushing into ‘broad generalisations’, which, he affirms, ‘bring with them a certain element of exaggeration’ to be discounted in a serious analytical survey.96 It seems, perhaps unsurprisingly, that these exceedingly bold postulations, though born out of sheer enthusiasm, interest and even affection, were characteristic of those who happened to be most closely involved in the area of Russian Studies. Thus, Edward Garnett, husband of the translator Constance Garnett and himself the author of several ← 50 | 51 → books on Russian subjects, also argued for the exclusive pre-eminence of the Russian mind. ‘Every reader of Russian literature, from Gogol to our day’, he maintained,

cannot fail to recognise that the Russian mind is superior to the English in its emotional breadth and flexibility, its eager responsiveness to new ideas, its spontaneous warmth of nature. With all their faults the Russian people are more permeated with humane love and living tenderness, in their social practice, than those of other nations.97

It is worth giving credit to the vivid expressiveness of Garnett’s explorations, which, flattering as they were, suggested yet another example of a supererogatory motion. The pendulum swung to the opposite side of the spectrum: one extremity was replaced by another; and the array of pejorative epithets, associated with all things Russian in the 1890s, was eclipsed by another set of superlatives with a markedly positive slant. This did not mean that the old descriptors were immediately abrogated and forgotten, but rather ‘relieved’ from their operational function pro tem. They remained subliminally present in the ‘vocabulary range’ connected to the Russian discourse, to be reactivated later, should the chance or opportunity arise. This, in fact, was the case when in 1918 the Bolsheviks signed the separate Brest-Litovsk treaty with the Germans, thus deserting the Allied Forces on the World War I Eastern Front. After two decades of centring the Russian imagery on the spiritual and the refined, the rhetoric of 1917 to 1918 (after the Bolshevik Revolution) effortlessly reactivated the notion of the ‘cruel barbarians’ of the eighteenth-century vintage. The latter was exemplified by Emile Dillon’s new publication, which was released in 1918. One of the leading figures of the earlier anti-Russian campaign (all the way through the 1890s), he came up with another monograph on the subject, asserting (straight in the opening statement) the profound ethnic incompatibility between Saxons and Slavs: ← 51 | 52 →

Between Slav and Saxon, in particular, there yawns a psychological abyss wide enough in places to sunder two different species of beings, not merely two separate races. And of all Slav peoples the Russian is by far the most complex and puzzling.98

Having gone through the full variety of these stages of hostility, sympathy, and benevolent condescension, the lexical spectrum of the Russian discourse became noticeably wider by the early 1920s. It was certainly more nuanced and less schematic. The question of whether the years of extensive Russophilia resulted in dismantling the Orientalistic dichotomy of ‘the civilised’ and the ‘savage’ – ‘us’ and ‘them’ – is a slightly different matter, which requires further scrutiny and examination. True, the crude image of ‘the barbarians’ was no longer dominating the palette; however, it gave way to the myth of an ‘admirably exotic other’, which, when analysed within the framework of the Orientalistic perspective, may prove to be nothing but a somewhat subtler variation on the old tune (a subtle form of condescension); as D. H. Lawrence put it in one of his letters: ‘It amazes me that we have bowed down and worshipped these foreigners as we have […] But it is characteristic of a highly developed nation to bow down to that which is more gross and raw and affected.’99

In representing exotic others, Orientalism works as a conceptual and metaphoric ‘grid’ of interpretation, which helps the mind to intensify its own sense of self, and guarantees a ‘positional superiority’ for the European (not necessarily political and imperialistic).100 Even if this grid is flexible, Said argues, the encounter with an exotic other cannot but affirm the

sovereign Western consciousness out of whose unchallenged centrality an Oriental world emerged, first according to general ideas about who or what was an Oriental, then according to a detailed logic governed not simply by empirical reality but by a battery of desires, repressions, investments, and projections.101 ← 52 | 53 →

It follows that the representation of non-Western ‘others’ has necessarily made an implicit contribution to their ‘exploitation’, defined in terms of complicit affirmation of the desired perspective on the constructed identity of this group:

The construction of identity […] involves establishing opposites and ‘others’ whose actuality is always subject to the continuous interpretation and reinterpretation of their differences from ‘us’. Far from a static thing then, identity of self or of other is a much worked-over historical, social, intellectual, and political process […] What makes [this] difficult to accept is that most people resist the underlying notion: that human identity is not only natural and stable, but constructed, and occasionally even invented outright.102

One may still argue that representation as such is always exterior. The author always takes up a position of control vis-à-vis his objet discursif, and therefore is immune to any kind of dialogical influence from this object. In the Orientalist mode of reproduction, however, this exteriority acquires a very specific nuance of gradation, for it concerns precisely the degree to which the referent is eclipsed or even obliterated by the productive power of the discourse. In other words, the question is to what extent the autonomous reality is replaced by a purposeful abstraction, by a construct of the Western imagination – a generalised and virtual scheme.

To give an example of this Western aberration with regard to the myth of Russia configured over the pre-War years, one can look at the practices and trends in literary translations that continued to shape the viewpoint of British readers. As already mentioned, Constance Garnett acquired her knowledge of Russian in the anarchist revolutionary circles. Volkhovsky was her first Russian tutor and later on she took up translating Russian literature under the direction of Stepniak. This explains Garnett’s noticeable emphasis on social and political undertones that coloured her interpretations of the Russian classics.103 Similarly, one has to bear in mind that it was not just a cult of Dostoevsky that seized Britain after the launch of The Brothers Karamazov (1912) translation, but the cult of Dostoevsky in Garnett’s ← 53 | 54 → rendition. As pointed out by Rachel May in her analysis of contemporary tendencies in translation, Garnett, undoubtedly, was a highly competent and talented translator: her works were not only by far the best available at the time, but also able to stand comparison with a number of modern translations. Without disregarding the remarkable value of her work, May, nonetheless, draws attention to the fact that Garnett’s success lay partly in domesticating the originals and adapting them to the receptive consciousness of the English reader.104 ‘Dostoevsky is so obscure’, she wrote, ‘and so careless a writer that one can scarcely help clarifying him–sometimes it needs some penetration to see what he is trying to say.’105

Such clarification was, perhaps, not unwelcome at the time, and according to The Times Literary Supplement: ‘English readers, embarking on the huge tract of Dostoevsky’s fiction’, needed all the help they could get ‘in the way of clarity and comfort’.106 On the other hand, one main result of Garnett’s ‘clarification’ was smoothing the narrative voice of the author, which in this way happened to be passed through the filter of the translator’s perception. Often abrupt, subjectively uncertain, with a number of formal imperfections these ‘deliberate prevarications and mutterings on the part of the narrator’ were, nonetheless, characteristic of Dostoevsky’s style; they gave an air of intrigue and rumour and were organic to the contextual aspects of the work.107 The difference from the original was highlighted by some notorious bilingual experts, including Vladimir Nabokov or Josef Brodsky; both were quite critical of Garnett’s translations for her inattentive and even reductive approach to the refined qualities of the authors’ narration: ‘The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.’108 ← 54 | 55 →

The selection of translations available at the time also made its mark on the ‘constructed’ image of the Russians. When making their choices, translators had to think about the marketable value of the editions. Group psychology and collective expectations were a significant consideration in these matters. On the one hand, the work should not grate on the eye in terms of the established canon of literary reception (the main reason for all Garnett’s alterations). At the same time, it would be desirable for the piece of fiction to produce a stronger (or at least memorable) impact on its readers through, perhaps, arresting imagery, haunting characters and bewildering plot. All of this imposed a certain restriction on the process of filtering and selection, resulting in a tendentious, often grotesquely lopsided image of the Russians, configured largely in response to, and mediated by, the feedback from the marketing prescriptions. Gerald Gould, who published a considerable volume of literary criticism on the Russian subject, commented on this flagrant distortion in one of his articles written for the New Statesman. ‘I am constantly puzzled by a discrepancy between Russian fiction and what little I know of Russian fact’, he maintained,

I do not like the personal note in criticism, which, like any other art should be objective; but I am bound to use it here to illustrate my objective point. My Russian friends are, if they will allow me to say so, without exception perfectly sane; yet almost all the Russians that I read about in the books are as mad as hatters. Whence the discrepancy? Does Russian literature specialise in insanity, or is it merely that only the madder books are translated?109

Gould’s comment, apparently, had some wider implications than those related to the domain of literary reception. The impact of Russian fiction happened to be so manifestly pronounced at the time that the audience was inclined to perceive ordinary Russians as no different from those portrayed in Tolstoy’s and Dostoevsky’s writings. Given that this generalised perception often remained on the surface level of the plot-line, the impression persisted that Russia was populated by Raskolnikov-type neurotic killers, emancipated Turgenev women and sinful, but enticingly charming, transgressors à-la Mme Karenin. Even those who happened to have first-hand ← 55 | 56 → knowledge of the field did not seem to be fully immune from this sort of ‘suspension of disbelief’ syndrome. On the one hand, Maurice Baring tried to warn his readers against falling into a trap of representational conventionalities and artistic distortions, pointing out that all these famous literary figures looked like ordinary Russians no more than Goethe’s Faust embodied a German, and a common Englishman could be equated with King Lear.110 On the other hand, he himself used these literary archetypes as landmark references for his socio-anthropological postulations. His ideal model of the Russian character, for instance, was presented as a basic combination of Peter the Great, Prince Myshkin (from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot), and Khlestakov (from Gogol’s Inspector General):

What three Russian types, in history and fiction, would […] sum up the Russian character? I for one would answer Peter the Great, Prince Myshkin, and Khlestakov. And I would add that in almost every Russian you will find an element of all these three types.111

For the sake of poetic justice, it is worth pointing out that when stereotyping the English national character, Baring chose a similar politico-mythological combination, made up of John Milton, Mr Pickwick and Henry VIII.

Further to the point, one should say that alongside all the praiseworthy factors related to the import of Russian culture, which at the time overwhelmed the minds of the British educated and cultural circles, the side-effect of this rapid cultural propagation consisted in widening the gap between the referent and its imaginary construct. Russia was seen largely through the prism of its cultural achievements; and its ‘empiricity’ found a substitute in the generalised archetypes of literary models. The ← 56 | 57 → outcome was similar to that produced by the Diaghilev Ballets’ seasons when Bakst’s artistic experiment with the sets for Schéhérazade became linked to what was widely regarded as a typical à-la-Russe style; and the Russian theme-parties in London appeared to be frequented by women in huri garb, turbans and ropes of massive pearls à-la Nijinsky.112 (This offers a telling example of an inadvertent Orientalisation of the Russian image – profoundly ironic in the context of our examination.)

Considering the general atmosphere of critical, or more precisely uncritical overstatement in response to Russian literature and art during these culturally dynamic decades, one imagines that it must have exerted unavoidable pressure on the formation of the artistic world of British authors, whose literary careers were developing in this newly changed cultural context, when exaggerated praise for things Russian was the rule rather than the exception. The point of interest here is to see whether the cumulative effect of Russophilia resulted in an overall paradigmatic shift in the projection of the Russian image, moving away, if at all, from the deep-seated Orientalistic perspective. When proceeding with such an examination, however, it is worth taking into account that apart from the impact of the socio-political climate, the overall cultural landscape of the time was strongly affected by the changes in the metaphysical angle, which had a significant bearing on the modus operandi of creative minds, and which was explored and approached through the adoption of innovative, often termed modernist, aesthetic techniques.

As a movement, modernism was brought about by a widespread realisation that Western civilisation was entering an era of bewildering change. New modes of communication, new technologies, and new scientific discoveries combined to challenge perceptions of reality and to generate dramatic new forms of artistic expression. What once were perceived as astounding absolutes relating to the physical universe dissolved under the pressure of scientific advances; and the very solidity of the real vanished in a mist of doubt about the truth of the objective. This led to the deep crisis of consciousness, as Husserl defined it later in the thirties in his Vienna lecture ← 57 | 58 → on the crisis of European existence.113 Commonly linked to its radical aesthetic innovations, modernism, no doubt, subjected artistic competence to minute scrutiny and reflective examination. However, one misses the point of the modern by interpreting it only as a novel style and an avant-garde form. Behind the apparently formal strategies in the poetics of the movement, behind its proclamation of a historical licence for the new, lay a stimulating sense of existential crisis, which resulted in a new cultural phenomenology and revaluation of the projected image of the self. The former and the latter were, evidently, interconnected. But what is more important in this context is that both used the myth of Russia (at least partly) as one of their structural standpoints, thus endowing it with the dimension of a valuable resource or ‘cultural asset’, understood and employed in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense of the term.114

Regarding the first aspect, the crisis of consciousness, as mentioned, was intimately related to the collapse of Cartesian rationalism and the overall materialistic frame of causal thinking. Superimposed on this was the proliferation of interest in the Russian viewpoint, much of which was considered to reflect a temperamental disposition towards the anti-pragmatic, meditative and even mystical mode. This, in a way, filled in the expanding metaphysical void, providing a referential source and a model for self-reflexivity and artistic engagement; and in terms of Western interest in and appropriation of this new perspective it was certainly different from the time-honoured cult of the exotic.

When reflecting on the European crisis of consciousness, Husserl saw ‘the reason for the failure of a rational culture’ not so much in the essence of rationalism itself, but in its schematic exteriorisation, and its entanglement with ‘naturalism’ and ‘objectivism’.115 According to the philosopher, the latter should be understood only as a primitive modality of intellectual endeavour – a ‘naive external orientation [of the mind]’, which, he asserts, lacks ← 58 | 59 → ‘the ultimate, true rationality made possible by the spiritual world-view’.116 Genuine rationality, in contrast, can be achieved only through inward-orientated self-reflexive thinking, capable of resolving ‘man’s now unbearable lack of clarity about his own existence and his infinite tasks’.117 Given that, as Husserl put it,

there are only two escapes from the crisis of European existence: the downfall of Europe in its estrangement from its own rational sense of life, its fall into hostility towards the spirit and into barbarity; or the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy […] that overcomes naturalism once and for all.118

A ready-made platform for this spiritual rebirth was provided by the Russian tradition, which promoted (through its cultural legacy, for instance) a distinctly anti-naturalistic, intuitive and inward-orientated epistemological path. For many in the West, cognition was commonly associated with knowledge in the intellectual or Cartesian sense of the term. Russian culture offered a somewhat different projection of the concept, within which knowledge had an extra dimension of spiritual connection, something akin to the familiarity with a person, rather than with a series of empirical facts. One might say that the Russians had not so much a specific perception of aesthetics as an aesthetic perception of the reality of life – a perception with several important inferences for the Russian mode of cognition. As Leonid Uspensky, an eminent Orthodox philosopher, put it, ‘beauty, as it is understood by the Orthodox church […] is a part of the life to come, when God will be all in all’, and this beauty ‘can be a path or a means of bringing us closer to God’.119 Charting a diagram of such a path, dissecting it in parts and analysing its progress through the mysteries of life would be, in the Russian cultural tradition, not merely futile, but potentially detrimental. The end does not justify the means in such a process, for when insisting ← 59 | 60 → on the analytical examination of an object one does not come to a greater knowledge of its essence, but rather loses sight of this deeper essence altogether. In other words, the chief intention of the Russian approach was not to plunge into the complex analysis of the objective, not to explain or to theorise, but rather to render it more accessible, more immediate, and thereby more real.

Unsurprisingly, in their attempt to respond to the changing metaphysical matrix, to move away from the rational and the objective, and to escape the confinement of the mimetic, the new generation of British authors was keen on translating this Russian idiom into their artistic approach. Accordingly, one can read the key strategy of their aesthetics in transferring the emphasis onto the intuitive and the suggestive, and in regarding self-reflexivity as the main attribute of creative engagement, or, to coin Husserl’s expression, as ‘the phoenix of a new life-inwardness and spiritualisation’.120 Examples are manifold;121 the best one, perhaps, refers to Virginia Woolf’s well-known statement in ‘Modern Fiction’ (written in 1919, published in 1921), in which the Russian cultural oeuvre was presented as a signifier of the new literary aesthetics, as well as the best means of grasping its conceptual ← 60 | 61 → difference from the established canonical mode (as Woolf puts it: the contrast between ‘spiritual’ and ‘materialistic’ fiction122):

Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide […] The most elementary remarks upon modern English fiction can hardly avoid some mention of the Russian influence, and if the Russians are mentioned one runs the risk of feeling that to write of any fiction save theirs is waste of time. If we want understanding of the soul and heart where else shall we find it of comparable profundity? If we are sick of our own materialism the least considerable of their novelists has by right of birth a natural reverence for the human spirit.123

By suggesting the Russian as an exponent of the modern (in Woolf’s words: ‘no one but a modern, no one perhaps but a Russian, could have written a story like “Gusev”’124), the Russian ideal was lodged, or translated, at the very centre of the English tradition as both a symbolic and phenomenological asset – a sort of cachet that expedites a meaningful artistic progression. Moreover, an implied added value to this asset consisted in triggering the cultural process of auto-reflection, for the very course of this aesthetic transposition exposed the struggle to make the English idiom fit the patterns of the Russian ideal. One can say that this Russian paradigm was yet again employed mainly as an effective means of self-definition by contrast, for everything that the Russian irrationality was the Western analytical mentality was not. However, this was no longer a merely Orientalistic binary of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and a juxtaposition with the apparently inferior model, but a privileged point of reference and reflection, and a means of configuring a new artistic and phenomenological stance:

It is the saint in them [Russian writers] which confounds us with a feeling of our own irreligious triviality, and turns so many of our famous novels to tinsel and trickery ← 61 | 62 → [..] They are right perhaps; unquestionably they see further than we do and without our gross impediments of vision.125

The revaluation of self-image was also an integral part of the process. In this context it is worth recalling that the modernist self was an entity constructed with an inscribed will to differ in itself. Strictly speaking, the modernist revolt against the burden of convention was largely based on the rejection of the notion of Englishness, shaped and solidified in the Victorian era. It can be best illustrated by Virginia Woolf’s drawing the line between the ‘Georgian’ and ‘Edwardian’ authors,126 and thus describing the incipient shift in fiction by invoking specifically English dynastic-historical terms. Consequently, there was nothing the English modernists were more anxious about than the insufficient sense of and aptitude for the modern, which, in their view, was fully missing in the aesthetics of the established national tradition. It is not incidental, therefore, that through its conceptual engagement with the idea of the modern, the English literary branch often seemed to question the very notion of ‘Englishness’, and vice versa.

A process of image making rarely takes place without a reference to the external marker. This also includes the representation of the self; and the process of national auto-characterisation commonly draws on the juxtaposition with the ‘other’ – on the dynamic tension that the ‘auto-image’ and ‘hetero-image’ tend to put on display in the course of this reflective process.127 Similarly, the tension between modernity and national traditionalism is rarely resolved without a third element – a conduit that serves to channel much of the anxiety onto the third external ‘other’, through which contemporary cultural unease can be more easily expressed. In the early decades of the twentieth century, that third term, arguably, was provided by the Russian discourse, which happened to perform a dual function of problematising the validity of the self-image, as well as serving as an ← 62 | 63 → ‘objective correlative’ (to use T. S. Eliot’s term128) for the new artistic and socio-philosophical concerns.

Some mention in this regard should be made concerning terminology and periodisation. Although modernism continues to be used as a descriptive label defining a specific historical period of literary innovation, between the 1890s and 1930s (with high modernism being associated mainly with the early inter-War years), this period, as already mentioned, was intrinsically connected with the authors’ existential involvement – their often disregarded artistic commitment to respond to the major crisis of consciousness rooted in rationality and the logic of causal thinking. This response had a much broader cultural scope than the high modernist avant-garde aesthetics, and concerned a wider spectrum of authors, who were sensitive enough to feel the phenomenological impasse of the realist canonical mode and to look for the new resources, or certain new cultural assets, to effectuate this artistic and cultural change.

For many, this response was successfully negotiated through the impact of the proliferating Russian tradition. The examples include John Galsworthy internalising Turgenev’s method for his own modality of artistic expression, or D. H. Lawrence rooting his socio-cultural concepts in the theories of Lev Shestov, or J. M. Barrie problematising the notion of Englishness by refracting it through the aesthetics of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. In all these cases, discussed in the following chapters, Russian literature and art performed a modernising function within the framework of the English artistic canon, and were put on display as a form of cultural capital for those engaged in the area of aesthetic production.

The fact that not all authors in question are commonly affiliated with the high modernist avant-garde culture is, arguably, not of great significance in this context. Within the framework of Bourdieu’s theories (of cultural capital and canon formation), their contribution to raising the profile of the Russian paradigm should be connected to their status as the major opinion makers of the day. Bourdieu underlines that the formation of cultural capital is inseparable from the issues of its circulation and transmission, which ← 63 | 64 → makes the reception of the new idiom highly dependent on the reputation of the authors, who turn out to be the agents and the promulgators of these emerging cultural views. As John Guillory (who based his study of canonicity on the theories of Bourdieu) points out: ‘canonicity is not a property of the work itself, but of its transmission, its relation to other works in a collocation of works;’129 and a failure to recognise the narrative of reputations as a major factor in image formation would be a lapse in any examination of this cultural process.

We are therefore reluctant to make a definitive link between the reconfiguration of the Russian myth (from Orientalism to cultural capital) and the modernist formal innovations. The process, as will be shown, started quite a bit earlier and was refracted through the prism of the whole variety of artistic modes of expression. The heterogeneity of the latter is yet another factor that complicates the projection of the Russian image; for as Bourdieu put it, ‘the ways in which symbolic capital circulates are rarely the same;’ but ‘thereby the imported text acquires its new mark;’ and ‘often the importance lies not in what foreign authors are saying, but in what one actually urges them to say.’130 An attempt to account for the configuration of the image of Russia in the hands of multiple and artistically diverse literary agents is evidently a more challenging, but also a more rewarding undertaking, for it lends a surplus value of multifacetedness and depth to the projection, thus getting closer to a hologram rather than a flat imprint of the myth of Russia constructed by the British.

1 Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1917), p. 308.

2 Somerset Maugham, Ashenden (New York: Doubleday, Doran, Incorporated, 1928), p. 279.

3 Martin Green and John Swan, The Triumph of Pierrot (University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1993), p. 65; Garafola, p. 303.

4 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction, pp. 13–14; Pierre Bourdieu, ‘Les conditions sociales de la circulation internationale des idées’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 145.1 (2002), 3–8 (p. 10).

5 Manfred Beller, ‘Perception, Image, Imagology’, in Manfred Beller and Joseph Theodoor, eds, Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007), pp. 3–16 (p. 13).

6 Winston Churchill, A History of the English Speaking Peoples (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), IV, 178.

7 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), p. 2.

8 Ibid. p. 3.

9 Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994), p. 7.

10 Ibid. p. 7.

11 Abel Mansuy, Le Monde slave et les classiques français aux XVIeXVIIe siècles (Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1912), pp. 8, 10.

12 Said, Orientalism, p. 227.

13 ‘The Account of George Turberville’, in Lloyd E. Berry and Robert O. Crummey, eds, Rude and Barbarous Kingdom: Russia in the Accounts of Sixteenth-Century English Voyagers (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), pp. 71–86 (p. 81); first published in Tragicall Tales (1587), and then in Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1589). For the account of the first cultural contacts between English traveller and Russia see Anthony Cross, ‘By Way of Introduction: British Perception, Reception and Recognition of Russian Culture’, in Anthony Cross, ed., A People Passing Rude (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012), pp. 1–36 (pp. 1–3); Daryl W. Palmer, Writing Russia in the Age of Shakespeare (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004); Anthony Cross, Peter the Great through British Eyes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 1–4; M. P. Alekseev, ‘Shekspir i russkoe gosudarstvo XVI–XVII vv’, in M. P. Alekseev, ed., Shekspir i russkaia kul’tura (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademia nauk, 1965), pp. 784–805; Felicity Stout, Exploring Russia in the Elizabethan Commonwealth (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015).

14 Sir Jerome Horsey, ‘Travels’, in Rude and Barbarous Kingdom, pp. 262–72 (p. 279); first published in Russia at the Close of the Sixteenth Century, ed. Edward A. Bond (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1856).

15 Cross, Peter the Great through British Eyes, p. 2.

16 Giles Fletcher, ‘Of the Russe Commonwealth’, in Rude and Barbarous Kingdom, pp. 109–248 (p. 245); first published (an abridged version) in Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1599).

17 ‘The Account of George Turberville’, p. 75.

18 Mikhalskaia points out that such a modality corresponds to the early stages of cognitive representation, closely associated with folklore and mythological thinking (N. P. Mikhalskaia, Obraz Rossii v angliiskoi khudozhestvennoi literature IXIXX vv (Moscow: Moskovskii Gosudarstvennyi, Pedagogicheskii universitet, 1995), p. 147).

19 Said, Orientalism, p. 241.

20 ‘Thus remaining in this haven the space of a weeke, seeing the yeare farre spent, & also very evill wether, as frost, snow, and haile, as though it had beene the deepe of winter, we thought best to winter there’, from Richard Chancellor’s account of 1553; quoted in Daryl Palmer, ‘Jacobean Muscovites: Winter, Tyranny, and Knowledge in The Winter’s Tale’, Shakespeare Quarterly 46.3 (1995), 323–39 (p. 323).

21 ‘Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear’ (William Shakespeare, Macbeth, in The Plays of Shakespeare, 9 vols (London: William Pickering, 1825), IV, 83); and ‘Foolish curs, that run winking into the mouth of a Russian bear and have their heads crushed like rotten apples’ (William Shakespeare, King Henry V, in The Plays of Shakespeare, V, 129).
In James Thomson’s four-part poem, The Seasons, ‘Winter’ (1726) is emblematised by the Russian landscape:

Hard by these shores, where scarce his freezing stream
Rolls the wild Oby, live the last of Men;
And half enlivened by the distant sun,
That rears and ripens Man, as well as plants,
Here human Nature wears its rudest form.

Deep from the piercing season sunk in caves,
Here by dull fires, and with unjoyous cheer,
They waste the tedious gloom. Immers’d in furs,
Doze the gross race. Nor sprightly jest, nor song,
Nor tenderness they know; nor aught of life,
Beyond the kindred bears that stalk without.
(James Thomson, The Seasons (London: A. Hamilton, 1793), p. 210).

22 Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella, in Sir Philip Sidney, The Last Part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia: Astrophel & Stella and Other Poems, ed. Albert Feuillerat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), pp. 241–300 (p. 254); quoted in Stout, p. 3.

23 Sidney, p. 243.

24 Palmer, pp. 323–39.

25 William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, in The Plays of Shakespeare, III, 244.

26 Palmer, p. 324, 332.

27 It is worth highlighting that we are talking about the configuration of Russia’s image within the framework of literary sources, which was a much slower process as compared to that presented in the first-hand English travellers’ stories; the latter, according to Anthony Cross, had been offering a more varied picture of the country by 1725 (Cross, Peter the Great Through British Eyes, p. 40). For more detailed accounts see Cross, ‘British Awareness of Russian Culture (1698–1801)’, pp. 212–35; Anderson, British Discovery of Russia.
In this context, one should also mention that the Russian grammar of Henry William Ludolf was published (Oxford University Press) just two years before Peter the Great visited Oxford in 1698, thus marking the start of learning about the country through its literature and language.

28 ‘The Account of George Turberville’, p. 83.

29 Aaron Hill, The Northern-star: A poem (London: E. Berington, and J. Morphew, 1718), p. 14.

30 For more detail see Cross, Peter the Great through British Eyes, pp. 45–6.

31 Daniel Defoe, An Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Peter Alexowitz, Czar of Muscovy (London: W. Chetwood, 1723), p. 420.
As Macaulay suggested in his History of England, Peter’s ‘singular character, and what was rumoured of his threat designs, excited much curiosity here, but nothing more than curiosity. England had as yet nothing to hope or fear from his vast empire’ (Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, in The Works of Lord Macaulay, ed. Lady Trevelyan, 8 vols (New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1897), IV, 388).

32 Daniel Defoe, The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1908), p. 130.

33 Ibid. p. 153.

34 Oliver Goldsmith, Citizen of the World, in The Works of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Peter Cunningham, 4 vols (London: John Murray, 1854), II, 75–487 (pp. 273–74).

35 Ibid. p. 363.

36 Ibid. p. 378.

37 Edward Bulwer Lytton, Devereux A Tale (Chicago and New York: Belford Clarke & Company, 1887), p. 300.

38 Ibid. p. 300.

39 Ibid. p. 311.

40 George Gordon Byron, The Works (London: John Murray, 1837), p. 528.

41 Unfortunately, Browning’s letters from Russia to his sister were destroyed, and there are only a few sparse reminiscences of this experience. He was ‘strangely’ impressed by the endless monotony of snow covered pine forests through which they drove for days and nights, and his ear was so good that fifty years later he was still able to hum the Russian tunes to the old prince Gagarin, whom he met in Venice (quoted in Brewster, p. 35).

42 Robert Browning, ‘Ivan Ivanovich’, in The Poems of Robert Browning (Ware: Wordsworth Classics, 1994), pp. 590–5 (p. 593).

43 Ibid. p. 594.

44 Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Poems, 6 vols (London: Chatto & Windus, 1911), VI, 366.

45 Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 34.

46 Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Man Who Was’, in Life’s Handicap (London: MacMillan and Co, 1891), pp. 84–101 (p. 84). The story first appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in April of 1890, and in Harper’s Weekly in April of 1891.

47 Donald Mackenzie Wallace, Russia, 2 vols (London and New York: Cassell and Co, 1905), II, 210.

48 Emile J. Dillon (E. B. Lanin), Russian Traits and Terrors (Boston, MA: Benj. R. Tucker, 1891), p. 3; first published in Fortnightly Review 52 (1889), pp. 410–32; 573–88; 722–36; 854–68.

49 Maurice Baring, The Mainsprings of Russia (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1914), p. 17.
Such a perception can be associated with the saying, popular at the time, attributed either to Napoleon or Mme de Staël: ‘Grattez le Russe, vous trouverez un Tartare’, also quoted in Dictionnaire de la langue verte of 1907, where in the article on the Russians one finds the following citation: ‘Grattez le Russe, vous trouverez un Cosaque, grattez le Cosaque, vous trouverez l’ours’ with a comment from the author ‘fait allusion au vernis de civilisation des Russes, relativement sortie de l’état barbare, s’applique aux gens dont de beaux dehors masquent les vices’ (Hector France, Dictionnaire de la langue verte (Etoile-sur-Rhône: N. Gauvin, 1990, reprint of the original edn, Paris: Librairie du progrès, 1907), p. 384); quoted in Galina Kabakova, ‘Mangeur de Chandelles. L’image du cosaque au XIX siècle’, in Katia Dmitrieva and Michel Espagne, eds, Transferts culturels triangulaires: France-Allemagne-Russie (Paris: Editions de la maison des sciences de l’homme, 1996), pp. 207–31 (p. 208).

50 Leerssen, p. 29.

51 Among other literary works that bear witness to this type of dual perception one can mention M. Ropes, Prince and Page: A Story of Russia, 1884; F. Barrett, The Sin of Olga Zassoulich, 1891; A. E. Barr, Michael and Theodora. A Russian Story, 1892; George Gissing’s novel The Crown of Life (1899); or Michel Strogoff, a novel by Jules Verne (1875), widely popular at the time.

52 Said, Orientalism, p. 9.

53 Ibid. p. 12.

54 Ibid. p. 12.

55 Anthony Cross, The Russian Theme in English Literature from the Sixteenth Century to 1980: An introductory survey and bibliography (Oxford: W. A. Meeuws, 1985), pp. 84–159.
The trend ties in well with the combined publication statistics (see Figure 3) concerning fiction and first-hand Russia-related travel accounts (1856–1916); the latter is based on a compilation of three sources: Anthony Cross, In the Land of the Romanovs: An Annotated Bibliography of First-hand English-language Accounts of the Russian Empire (1613–1917) (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2014); Andrei N. Zashikhin, Britanskaia rossika vtoroi poloviny XIX-nachala XX veka (Archangel: Pomorskii pedagogicheskii universitet, 1995) p. 13; and Harry W. Nerhood, To Russia and Return: An Annotated Bibliography of Travellers’ English-Language Accounts of Russia from the Ninth Century to the Present (Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1968).

56 Matthew Arnold, ‘Count Leo Tolstoi’, Fortnightly Review 42 (1887), pp. 783–99 (p. 783).

57 ‘Contemporary Life and Thought in Russia’, The Contemporary Review 47 (1885), pp. 727–36. At the end of the 70s there appeared a couple of publications that tried to attract attention to Tolstoy’s writings, but they were very sparse: see, for instance, W. E. Henley, ‘New Novels’, The Academy 329 (1878), 186–7; W. R. S. Ralston, ‘Novels of Count Leo Tolstoy’, Nineteenth Century 5 (1879), 650–69; or C. E. Turner, Studies in Russian Literature (London: Kessinger Publishing Company, 1882).

58 Henry James, ‘Ivan Turgénieff’, Atlantic Monthly 53 (1884), pp. 42–55; Walter Besant and Henry James, ‘Art of Fiction’, Longman’s Magazine 4 (1884), pp. 502–21.

59 The influx of Tolstoy translations was partly facilitated by the availability of the general body of his works unprotected by intellectual copyright. In 1884 Tolstoy assigned the rights to all of works published before 1881 to his wife, being very generous with the remaining part of his intellectual property, and in 1891 he publicly renounced the copyrights of all he had written after 1881. Free of copyright restriction and royalties, publishing houses around the world issued impressive runs of Tolstoy’s works almost immediately upon their official publication in Russia.

60 W. Sharp, ‘New Novels’, The Academy 871 (1889), p. 22. Among the major articles on Tolstoy at the time one should also mention Matthew Arnold’s publication ‘Count Leo Tolstoi’; W. E. Henley, ‘Count Tolstoi’s Novels’, Saturday Review, 1 January 1887; ‘Count Tolstoi’s Life and Works’, Westminster Review 130 (1888), pp. 278–93.

61 Leo Tolstoy, Childhood and Youth (London: Bell and Dalby, 1862); Leo Tolstoy, Cossacks, trans. Eugene Schuyler (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1878 and London: Sampson Low and Co, 1878).

62 ‘Colonel Dunwoddie, and Other Novels’, Atlantic Monthly 42 (1878), pp. 697–706 (p. 702).

63 Ibid. p. 702.

64 See, for instance, ‘Colonel Dunwoddie, and Other Novels’, p. 702; ‘The Cossacks’, The Observer, 15 September 1878. The Times had literally two lines advertising Childhood and Youth, as ‘fresh and faithful to a degree that has never been surpassed’ (‘Count Tolstoi’s Childhood and Youth’, The Times, 20 June 1862, p. 12). The Saturday Review found Tolstoy’s writing morally corrupt: ‘It makes no difference whether a writer is a Russian, or a German, or an Englishman – whether he is or is not like a spring morning, or what may be his noble tendencies. He is not, we think, justified in telling his family history in this way, and in probing the failings of parents in order that he may have the satisfaction of sketching his own childhood’ (‘Childhood and Youth’, The Saturday Review, 29 March 1862, pp. 361–2 (p. 362)). Unsigned reviews were published in The Athenaeum (‘Childhood and Youth: A Tale’, 16 August 1862, p. 209), The Critic (‘The Education of a Russian Noble’, 8 March 1862, p. 240) and The Spectator (‘Childhood and Youth’, 8 February 1862, p. 160).

65 Later on Kropotkin became highly acclaimed for his major social studies: a comparative analysis of Russian and French prisons (1887), Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899) and The Great French Revolution, 1789–1793 (1909).

66 Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist (London: Smith, Elder and Co, 1899), II, 254.

67 Ibid. p. 306.

68 F. E. Hardy, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 18921928 (London: Macmillan, 1930), p. 22.

69 Kropotkin was known for his persuasive and scholarly essays on Russian fiction, collected in the 1915 edition of Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature. He also wrote of Tolstoy in the article on anarchism in The Encyclopaedia Britannica, naming him one of the prominent representatives of the movement, who based his position on ‘the teachings of Jesus and […] the necessary dictates of reason’ (Peter Kropotkin, ‘Anarchism’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), p. 918).

70 John William Mackail, Russia’s Gift to the World (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), p. 7.

71 Ibid. p. 6.

72 Leonard Woolf, Beginning Again: An Autobiography of the Years 1911 to 1918 (London: Hogarth Press, 1964), p. 37.

73 Christopher Reed, A Roger Fry Reader (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 290–6.

74 Osbert Sitwell, Great Morning (London: Little and Brown, 1947), p. 263.

75 ‘The Russian Invasion’ (a review of Rosa Newmarch’s book The Russian Opera), Spectator, 27 June 1914, p. 1089.

76 Winifred Stephens, preface to The Soul of Russia (London: Macmillan, 1916), pp. v–viii (p. vi).

77 Charles A. Moser, ‘The Achievement of Constance Garnett’, American Scholar 57 (1988), 431–8 (p. 435).

78 Harold Orel, ‘English Critics and the Russian Novel 1860–1917’, Slavonic and East European Review 33 (1954), 457–69 (p. 469). ‘Constance Garnett’s translation of Dostoevsky’s major works’, her biographer wrote, ‘was at least in its immediate effects, one of the most important literary events in modern English literature’ (Carolyn G. Heilbrun, The Garnett Family (London: Allen and Unwin, 1961), p. 188).

79 Phelps, p. 156. The first English translation of Dostoevsky’s major novels (Notes from The House of the Dead) was published in 1881; followed in a couple of years by Crime and Punishment and The Insulted and Injured (Moser, p. 435).

80 For more detail see Chapter 5 in this book.

81 Walter Neuschäffer, Dostojewskijs Einfluss auf englischen Roman Anglistische Forschungen (Heidelberg: Carl Withers Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1935), p. 6.

82 For a detailed account of Russian literary translations see Rachel May, The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1994), pp. 27–36.

83 R. E. C. Long, ‘Anton Tchekhoff’, Fortnightly Review 72 (1902), 103–18. For the review of the first English translations of Chekhov see also Victor Emeljanow, Introduction to Chekhov: The Critical Heritage, ed. Victor Emeljanow (London: Routledge and Paul Kegan, 1981), pp. 1–56 (pp. 1–4).

84 ‘An Impertinent Substitution’, New Statesman 5 (1915), 628–9 (p. 629).
According to certain observers, the proliferation of Russian translations owed much to a completely different factor. Julius West linked it to the sheer pragmatism of the publishing industry and its economic considerations – a typical ‘catch-as-catch-can’ process: ‘International copyright does not apply to Russia’, he claimed, ‘therefore it is unnecessary either to obtain permission to translate or to pay the Russian author a royalty’ (Julius West, ‘Translated from the Russian’, New Statesman 5 (1915), 447–8 (p. 447)).

85 Harold Orel, ‘The Victorian View of Russian Literature’, Victorian Newsletter 51 (1977), 1–5 (p. 5).

86 By 1910 Gorky was much better known among the English public than Chekhov (the situation has since been reversed), and surveys of British (and French) magazines put him first in their list of Tolstoy’s younger successors, followed by Korolenko, Potapenko and only then, in fourth position, by Chekhov (Anton Chekhov’s Life and Thought: Selected Letters and Commentary, ed. Simon Karlinsky, trans. Michael Henry Heim (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997), p. 334).
Leonid Andreev’s plays were quite popular at this time: fourteen of his plays came out in translation between 1907 and 1923; and Bunin’s stories also went through several printings.

87 Charlotte Alston, Russia’s Greatest Enemy?: Harold Williams and the Russian Revolutions (New York: Tauris, 2007), p. 80.

88 Ibid. p. 80.

89 Maurice Baring, Landmarks in Russian Literature (London: Methuen and Co, 1910), pp. 70–1.

90 Such an attitude was widespread after the Greenwich Observatory bombing in 1894. The Greenwich Observatory was the target of an attempted bombing on 15 February 1894. This was possibly the first international terrorist incident in Britain. The bomb was accidentally detonated while being held by twenty-six-year-old French anarchist Martial Bourdin in Greenwich Park, near the Observatory building. Joseph Conrad used the incident in his novel The Secret Agent (1907): the plot line turns around an agent-provocateur, who acts within an anarchist cell in London on behalf of a foreign embassy, the latter evidently meant to be Russia, though it is never actually named.

91 Stephen Graham, Undiscovered Russia (London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1912), p. ix.

92 ‘Notes on Current Books: Undiscovered Russia by Stephen Graham’, Russian Review 1.1 (1912), 98.

93 Charles Sarolea, Europe’s Debt to Russia (London: Heinemann, 1916), p. 7.

94 William Lyon Phelps, Essay on Russian Novelists (New York: Macmillan Co, 1911, reprinted New York: Snova Books, 2004), p. 5.

95 Baring, p. 2.

96 Ibid. p. 51.

97 Edward Garnett, Turgenev. A Study (London: W. Collins Sons and Co, 1917), p. 157.

98 Emile J. Dillon, The Eclipse of Russia (New York, George B. Doran, 1918), p. 1.

99 D. H. Lawrence, Letter to Catherine Carswell, 27 November 1916, in James T. Boulton et al., eds, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, 8 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979–2001), III (1984), 41.

100 Said, Orientalism, p. 7.

101 Ibid. p. 8.

102 Ibid. p. 332.

103 Edward Garnett, The Golden Echo (London: Chatto & Windus 1953), p. 10.

104 May, p. 32.

105 Constance Garnett, ‘Russian Literature in English’, The Listener, 30 January 1947, p. 195.

106 The Times Literary Supplement, 4 July 1912, p. 269; quoted in May, p. 32.

107 May, p. 32.

108 David Remnick, ‘The Translation Wars’, The New Yorker, 7 November 2005.

109 Gerald Gould, ‘New Novels’, New Statesman 7 (1916), 17–18 (p. 17).

110 Baring, The Mainsprings of Russia, pp. 157–8.

111 Maurice Baring, The Russian People (London: Methuen and Co, 1911), p. 55.
In his explorations of identity issues, Baring divided all Russians into two types: Lucifer and Ivan the Fool (Baring, Landmarks in Russian Literature, p. 80, 95); the latter, characteristically, was largely drawn from Dostoevsky’s novels and related to the prime ideal of Tolstoy’s teachings. (On the figure of a holy fool in Dostoevsky see Sarah Hudspith, Dostoevsky and the Idea of Russianness (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 147).

112 Green and Swan, p. 65.

113 Edmund Husserl, ‘The Vienna Lecture. Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity’ (10 May 1935), in Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), pp. 269–300.

114 Bourdieu, Distinction, pp. 13–14.

115 Husserl, p. 299.

116 Ibid. p. 297.

117 Ibid. p. 297.

118 Ibid. p. 299.

119 Leonid Uspensky, ‘The Meaning and Content of the Icon’, in Daniel B. Clendenin, ed., Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), pp. 33–63 (p. 42).

120 Husserl, p. 299.

121 The scope of this book does not allow us to present the large volume of contemporary polemics regarding the mystery of the Russian soul (see Catherine Brown, ‘The Russian Soul Englished’, Journal of Modern Literature 36.1 (2012), 132–49). It is worth, however, saying some words about the original theories of Ellen Jane Harrison, whose contribution to the psychology of the Russian people caused a real sensation at the time. The scholar saw the origin of Russian spirituality in the dominance of imperfective structures in the Russian language, arguing that this implies the psychological emphasis on how (the quality of action) rather than on when (the temporal limits): ‘Time is order; the Latin languages love order and are precise as to time. To the Russian quality of action is of higher importance, so he specialises in aspects’ (Jane Ellen Harrison, Russia and the Russian Verbs: A Contribution to the Psychology of the Russian People (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1915), p. 10). For a more detailed account see Alexandra Smith, ‘Jane Harrison as an Interpreter of Russian Culture in the 1910s–1920s’, in Anthony Cross, ed., A People Passing Rude (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012), pp. 175–88.

122 Virginia Woolf, ‘Modern Fiction’, in Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader (London: Vintage Classics, 2003), I, 146–54 (p. 149, 151).

123 Ibid. pp. 149–53.

124 Ibid. p. 152.

125 Ibid. p. 153.

126 Virginia Woolf, Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown (London: Hogarth Press, 1924).

127 Leerssen, p. 27.

128 T. S. Eliot, ‘Hamlet and His Problems’, in T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921), pp. 87–94 (p. 92).

129 John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 54.

130 Bourdieu, ‘Les conditions sociales de la circulation internationale des idées’, pp. 3–8 (p. 6, 5) (translated by the authors).

← 64 | 65 →


John Galsworthy: Is It Possible to ‘De-Anglicise the Englishman’?

It is still for us to borrow from Russian literary art, and learn, if we can, to sink ourselves in life and reproduce it without obtrusion of our points of view.1

Galsworthy’s contribution to shaping the image of Russia in British culture is difficult to overrate. In his 1927 essay ‘Twelve Books – and Why?’, he named Anna Karenina and War and Peace among the best pieces in the world’s fiction and quoted the observation of Arnold Bennett, who was convinced that ‘the twelve best novels of the world were all written by Russians’.2 Given Galsworthy’s unrivalled influence and fame at the time, such a statement was of certain significance for the British public, who for more than two decades were willing to absorb almost everything that Galsworthy published and said. By the time of Galsworthy’s death in 1933, general opinion had accorded him first place among British novelists, and his most memorable creations, the Forsytes, were as warmly considered and discussed as if they had been people of flesh and blood.3 In 1929, the readers of the Manchester Guardian were asked to opine on the ‘Novelists Who May Be Read in A. D. 2029’. Sitting at the top of this century-hence ← 65 | 66 → summit of popularity was John Galsworthy (defeating Wells, Bennett and Kipling by a large margin).4

After the resounding success of The Man of Property in 1906, followed by the even higher acclaim given to the premiere of The Silver Box (at the Court Theatre in September 1906) Galsworthy was regarded as an embodiment of the wintry conscience of the Edwardian age and ‘there was a ready market for anything he wrote’.5 Numerous public lectures that he gave struck exactly the right chord and were delivered to large and enthusiastic audiences in England and abroad: as Ada Galsworthy described their trip to the USA in 1919, ‘there was, nineteen times in twenty, an immense overflow audience to whatever sized hall had been taken for him.’6 As his fame and popularity grew, he became an eminent and highly influential man of letters. He declined a knighthood, but accepted the highest British honour, the Order of Merit, in 1929, as well as honorary doctorates from many universities. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932, and characteristically he donated the award money to the P. E. N. Club, the international fellowship of writers of which he was the first President (and one of the founders in 1921), remaining in post for more than a decade. Apart from fiction, Galsworthy wrote twenty full-length plays and a number of short ones, and published numerous volumes of verse, essays and lectures. His narrative art, according to the Presentation Speech of the Nobel Committee, ‘has always gently influenced contemporary notions of life and habits of thought’, while his dramas showed ‘an unusual richness of ideas combined with great ingenuity and technical skill in the working out of scenic effect’.7

This mention of gentle influence was, perhaps, a bit of an understatement, particularly with regard to the British reception of Russian authors. Due to his considerable influence on the reading public of the ← 66 | 67 → time, Galsworthy played a key role in the formation of the contemporary literary canon, in opening and expanding it to include the best examples of Russian writing and, thus, shaping the attitude to and the contours of what was widely looked upon as the Russian myth.

His contribution to this task can be best described as two-fold. In his extensive commentaries on the works of Turgenev and Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Kuprin and Chekhov, he not only praised the merits of the Russian authors, but emphasised their specific impact on the evolution of Western fiction, thus creating a wave of close interest in and scrutiny of the Russian approach and according it the notion of an artistic cachet for those who aspired to excel in the field. ‘Just as one cannot see or paint like Whistler by merely wishing to’, he argued,

so one cannot feel or write like Tchehov, because one thinks his is a nice new way […] Tchehov appeared to be that desirable thing, the ‘short cut,’ and it is hardly too much to say that most of those who have taken him have never arrived […] Writers may think they have just to put down faithfully the daily run of feeling and event and they will have a story as marvellous as those of Tchehov. Alas! Things are not made ‘marvellous’ by being called so, or there would be a good many ‘marvellous’ things to-day.8

Concerning his own writing, Galsworthy found inspiration in the Russian mode of literary expression; and as he had always been very open about his creative process and his narrative techniques, the Russian method gained a firm reputation on the strength of the popularity of Galsworthy’s writings. Moreover, by merging the Russian aesthetics with the British literary canon, he thereby solicited certain shifts in the culturally embedded patterns of perception, preparing grounds for better understanding and aesthetic reciprocity, and paving the way for more elaborate and wider cultural interactions.

Galsworthy’s attraction to Russian literature and culture predated, and was much deeper than that of many, who, as Maugham famously remarked, were ‘infected’ by the Russomania virus, ‘hung an icon on the wall, read ← 67 | 68 → Chekhov and went to the ballet’.9 Ironically, a fair example of this type of ‘infected fiction’ can be found in Maugham’s own writings of the time. Following his trip to St Petersburg in the summer of 1917, where he was introduced to political circles through Princess Alexandra (Sasha) Kropotkin, a sequence of mystically enthralling Russian duchesses proliferated in his Ashenden papers: ‘that illusive spirit of romance … fine eyes and a good … voluptuous figure, high cheek bones and a snub nose … In her dark melancholy eyes Ashenden saw the boundless steppes of Russia.’10 Galsworthy’s response to the Russian theme was in all respects different from this sentimentalised compliment to the exotic.

Galsworthy also made a trip to Russia in his mid-twenties, arranged by his father to exert a settling influence on his son’s failing legal career.11 In 1917, he produced a rather unremarkable poem, Russia-America, infused by the war-time patriotic spirit:

A wind in the world! O Company
Of darkened Russia, watching long in vain,
Now shall you see the cloud of Russia’s pain
Go shrinking out across a summer sky.

A wind in the world! And we have come
Together, sea by sea; in all the lands
Vision doth move at last, and Freedom stands
With brightened wings, and smiles and beckons home!12 ← 68 | 69 →

Apart from that, neither Russia nor the Russians as such ever featured in his writings. Russian fiction was a different matter altogether. Galsworthy’s engagement with it spans more than three decades; and the Russian cultural perspective, seen through the prism of the works of the Russian authors, became a persistent subject of his critical essays and reviews: ‘Vague Thoughts on Art’ (1911), ‘A Note on Edward Garnett’ (1914), ‘Englishman and Russian’ (1919), ‘Six Novelists in Profile’ (1924), and quite a few others. Offering his incisive judgement of style, narrative techniques and literary methods, he frequently invoked and interpreted the works of the Russian authors in a broader cosmopolitan cultural context, thereby highlighting the links with the European tradition and assisting in translating the Russian idiom into Western literary art. When analysing the impact of the Russian narrative on the British discourse, Galsworthy saw its contribution primarily in terms of bringing in ‘the fullness of sensation’ and ‘intellectual honesty’13 characteristic of the Russian approach: ‘those great Russian novelists in whom I have delighted’, he wrote,

possess, before all other gifts, so deep a talent for the revelation of truth […] The Englishman has what I would call a passion for the forms of truth […] but has little or no regard for the spirit of truth. Quite unconsciously he [the Englishman] revels in self-deception and flies from knowledge of anything which will injure his intention to ‘make good’, as Americans say.14

It is in this deep-seated spirituality, and in this fearless sincerity that he saw the main distinction between the English and the Russian realist modes (‘to the Russian it is vital to realise at all costs the fullness of sensation and reach the limits of comprehension’15), The latter, in his view, was more powerful in terms of its engagement with the real, revealing a broader panorama of the human condition: ← 69 | 70 →

It is still for us to borrow from Russian literary art, and learn, if we can, to sink ourselves in life and reproduce it without obtrusion of our points of view, except in that subtle way which gives to each creative work its essential individuality. Our boisterousness in art is too self-conscious to be real, and our restraint is only a superficial legacy from Puritanism.16

Galsworthy himself was a keen reader of the Russian authors and helped to shape his contemporaries’ taste and responses to their oeuvre. For some reason, he was of the belief that Chekhov’s plays were ‘never adequately performed on the English stage’, and their inimitable atmosphere (‘which makes the work of Tchehov memorable’) could never be appropriately rendered.17 With regard to Chekhov’s prose, however, he referred to him as ‘the most potent magnet to young writers’ characterised by ‘intense and melancholy emotionalism’, and a lucid understanding of human nature.18 Over the years Galsworthy changed his vision of Dostoevsky. In 1911, in his ‘Vague Thoughts on Art’, he praised his works by saying: ‘no more deeply fantastic writer can I conceive than Dostoevsky’.19 However, three years later in ‘A Note on Edward Garnett’, he already rated him lower than Tolstoy,20 affirming the change of opinion in his private correspondence with Garnett (5 April 1914): ← 70 | 71 →

I am reading The Brothers Karamazov a second time; and […] I’m bound to say it doesn’t wash. Amazing in places, of course; but my God! – what incoherence and what verbiage, and what starting of monsters to make you shudder.21

In 1932, shortly before his death, there came another cold note on the Russian author. Galsworthy remarked that he kept reading Dostoevsky, finding him ‘an interesting (and in some sort irritating) writer’, inferior to Tolstoy both as a philosopher and an artist. He doubted Dostoevsky’s universality and importance, but acknowledged his overall contribution to the development of literary endeavour: ‘His insight was deep and his fecundity remarkable. I think he will live.’22

Among the group of Russian realists, to whom Galsworthy lent particular significance, Tolstoy and Turgenev stood out: the former as a major subject of Galsworthy’s critical commentaries; the latter – as a prime inspiration of his own artistic method.

The first reference to Tolstoy is in Galsworthy’s debut novel Jocelyn (1898). When the main character, Giles Legard, enters his wife’s bedroom, his sight falls on ‘the little table by the couch’: there ‘were the books she had been reading – Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You – three roses, a medicine glass and a bottle’.23 Galsworthy must have read The Kingdom of God before 1898, in French translation, or probably in Constance Garnett’s version from 1893. His knowledge of and esteem for the Russian author are apparent from his letters. To give but a few examples, it is worth noting the letter to Constance Garnett (10 May 1902) concerning her translation of Anna Karenina (Heinemann 1901), in which he remarks: ‘I’m inclined to think that Tolstoy will go down to posterity on the same mark ← 71 | 72 → as Shakespeare’, and quotes Edward Garnett as saying that Tolstoy’s art ‘touches a new and deeper degree of self-consciousness and therefore of analysis’.24 In the same letter, as well as in his subsequent correspondence (6 April 1903, 18 July 1908, 3 April 1914), he conveys his keen interest in Tolstoy’s works (The Cossacks, War and Peace, the open ‘Letter on Executions’), emphasising the depth of Russian spirituality, especially as compared to the Naturalist mode: ‘The body’s never worthwhile […] the men we swear by, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov […] knew that great truth; they only use the body, and that sparingly, to reveal the soul.’25

As regards his critical essays, Tolstoy is often presented as the utmost embodiment of the Russian tradition – ‘the greatest of the Russians’.26 Galsworthy saw in him a unique mixture of a philosopher and an artist – a fascinating (and even puzzling) amalgamation of a strictly defined ideological platform and intense sincerity unequalled in the British canon:

Tolstoy is a fascinating puzzle. So singular an instance of artist and reformer rolled into one frame is not, I think, elsewhere to be found […] About his work, in fact, is an ever present sense of spiritual duality. It is a battlefield on which we watch the ebb and flow of unending conflict, the throb and stress of a gigantic disharmony.27

This combination resulted in the striking breadth and depth of social analysis, on the one hand, and in the unparalleled intimacy and freshness of expression – on the other: ← 72 | 73 →

Tolstoy a stylist; for no author, in his story-telling, produces a more intimate feeling of actual life. He is free, in fact, from the literary self-consciousness which so often spoils the work of polished writers. Tolstoy was carried away by his impulses, whether creative or reformative.28

This is not to say that Galsworthy always agreed with Tolstoy’s track of thinking and ideas. He was very dismissive of Tolstoy’s interpretation of the value and raison d’être of art (‘What is Art?’, 1898) as something drawn exclusively from popular appreciation, ‘raising up the masses of mankind’, as Galsworthy put it, ‘to be a definite new Judge’. ‘This, at all events’, he argued, ‘is as far as I dare go in defining what Art is.’29 He also failed to relate to Tolstoy’s later works, impregnated with ‘religious fanaticism’ and moral preaching,30 observing regretfully that ‘the preacher in him [Tolstoy], who took such charge of his later years, was already casting a shadow over the artist-writer of Anna Karenina’.31

Despite these differences, however, Tolstoy’s works always featured in Galsworthy’s critique as the best examples of realist writing, which, he believed, were particularly close to the sensibility of British readers, due to their similarities with the novels of Dickens. Among others, Galsworthy clearly viewed Tolstoy as the most ‘English’ of the Russian authors, and the parallels with Dickens, regarding captivating plotlines, psychological insights and the depth of social analysis, were persistently underscored in his reviews. Thus, in the 1912 ‘Introduction to Bleak House’, Galsworthy remarked that ‘the sort of passion that Dickens inspired in him was matched by only seven other novelists’, among whom Tolstoy was listed;32 and later, in ‘Six Novelists in Profile’, he claimed that Tolstoy’s ← 73 | 74 →

native force is proved by the simple fact that, taking up again one of his stories after the lapse of many years, one will remember almost every paragraph. Dickens and Dumas are perhaps the only other writers who compare with him in this respect.’33

Tolstoy’s War and Peace was described by Galsworthy as the ‘greatest novel ever written’:

The secret of his triumph lies in the sheer interest with which his creative energy has invested every passage. The book is six times as long as an ordinary novel, but it never flags, never wearies the reader, and the ground – of human interest, and historical event, of social life and national life – covered in it, is prodigious.34

Such a choice, as well as such an accolade are, perhaps, not entirely surprising, for there are major typological and thematic parallels between Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga and Tolstoy’s epic novel. Both works are largely conceived as tantamount to an ‘Iliad’ of their time, exploring the questions of national and personal identity, as well as those related to the deeper insights in human nature put to the test in trying circumstances of man’s own making: war-torn Russia in War and Peace, and the pragmatic world of property in The Forsyte Saga. As Galsworthy put it in his preface to the first complete edition of the novel, ‘the Forsytean tenacity’ with possessive instincts and the sense of property ‘is still in all of us’.35 Moreover, curious as it may seem, both works, commonly attributed to realist prose, essentially put forward the notion of the irrational as the only way to withstand the dehumanising pressure of the practical and the collective (through such characters as Pierre Bezukhov and Natasha in Tolstoy; and Irene and young Jolyon Forsyte in Galsworthy). Could this, to a certain extent, be seen as an attempt to conduct a dialogue with the Russian author? This is hard to answer without indulging in speculation, but one can certainly refer to Galsworthy’s keen interest in and affiliation with the Russian cultural tradition of privileging the security of subconscious knowledge and the ← 74 | 75 → comfort of intuitive perception (a cornerstone in the philosophical writings of Tolstoy).

A number of other typological similarities that spring to mind when comparing Tolstoy’s and Galsworthy’s writings include an attempt to depict the panoramic socio-historical layers through the microcosm of a family saga (such as the Rostovs and the Bolkonskies in War and Peace), and to show social degradation and corruption by means of generational juxtapositions. The latter can be best exemplified by Tolstoy’s story Two Hussars (1856), portraying the old Count Turbin and his son. Twenty years apart, they enact the same sequence of card playing, drinking, and philandering in the same small town. Their characters, however, differ drastically: the father is gallant, generous, honourable and charming; the son is mean, cold, cowardly and scheming. The father’s temperament is natural and open (giving his last pennies to the coachman, saving the life of the young cornet Il’in); the son’s is devious and pragmatic (‘You must look on life in a practical way, or else you will always be a fool’36). In Galsworthy’s saga, the same juxtaposition is reflected in the figures of old Jolyon and Soames Forsyte; and in the same vein, the author’s allegiance lies with the hopelessly generous and the awkwardly authentic.

From a thematic angle, it is worth highlighting such intertextual echoes as the failed marriage of Irene to Soames Forsyte, and her difficulties in obtaining a divorce, which refer to the circumstances of Anna and Karenin.37 Shelton’s ‘moral conversion’ in The Island Pharisees invites a comparison with Nekhludov’s epiphany after Katiusha’s trial in Resurrection: in both cases a powerful inner protest against the falseness of the middle-class world is triggered by a seemingly incidental, but extremely high-pitched emotive encounter. Finally, one ought to mention the big oak tree at the Robin Hill house – a spiritual compass for its inhabitants: ← 75 | 76 →

Trees take little account of Time, and the old oak on the upper lawn at Robin Hill looked no day older than when Bosinney sprawled under it and said to Soames: ‘Forsyte, I’ve found the very place for your house’,38

bringing to mind the iconic oak tree of the Bolkonskies’ family estate – a symbolic mouthpiece for Prince Andrei’s inner commotions:

As he passed through the forest Prince Andrew turned several times to look at that oak, as if expecting something from it […] ‘Yes, the oak is right, a thousand times right’, thought Prince Andrew. ‘Let others – the young – yield afresh to that fraud, but we know life, our life is finished!’39

Given all these parallels and thematic echoes, Galsworthy’s later attempt to distance himself from the influence of the Russian author sounds somewhat disingenuous, not to say odd. ‘I still do read Tolstoy’, he wrote not long before his death in 1932, ‘and I wish I had more time to do so. But I read him as a master novelist, not as a preacher. I do not think his art or his ethics have ever influenced me.’40 Such a remark grates on the ear as a blatant understatement, some sort of self-deception or even a pose; and yet there was a lot of penetrating truth in Galsworthy’s confession. As much as he admired Tolstoy’s achievement and guided British readers to absorb this new type of fiction into their reading experience and their literary world, Tolstoy’s artistry per se hardly produced any formative effect on Galsworthy’s aesthetics, either on his creative pursuits or on his mode of expression. Tolstoy’s method, as Galsworthy described it,

is cumulative – the method of an infinity of facts and pictorial detail: the opposite to Turgenev’s, who relied on selection and concentration on atmosphere and poetic balance. Tolstoy fills in all the space and leaves little to the imagination; but with such vigour; such freshness, that it is all interesting.41 ← 76 | 77 →

This method, largely based on intimacy and directness, and on breaking the barriers of self-consciousness in the flow of the writer’s thought, had, in Galsworthy’s opinion, a revitalising impact on the development of Western prose. However, being an example of work that ‘bears the impress of a mind more concerned with the thing said than with the way to say it’,42 it did not offer much in terms of new narrative paradigms and aesthetic innovation, and in this sense did not present a radical enough departure from the established realist literature of fact. In his formative years as an emerging literary figure, Galsworthy was looking for a more suggestive and intuitive approach.

The author who did become the major building stone of Galsworthy’s own development as a writer was Ivan Turgenev, whose artistic viewpoint, style and poetics found their deepest reflection in Galsworthy’s creativity and literary explorations. To describe this as mapping the Russian paradigm onto British writing would be, perhaps, too plain an expression, for it was a truly appropriated and internalised concept of Turgenev’s aesthetics that was transmitted to the British readership through Galsworthy’s work.

In order to look into this in more detail, it is worth going back to Galsworthy’s early years – to the time when no-one could possibly have seen in him a world-famous writer or indeed any kind of writer at all.

Late nineteenth-century Britain was a culture transformed by mass production, sweeping waves of immigration and scientific theories that rent asunder the stasis and security of older beliefs.43 The phenomenal rise in England’s national income, expansion of its trade, emergence of a capital class, and a widespread growth of the towns – were some of the visible effects of the industrial revolution. At the same time simmering anger and resentment ← 77 | 78 → stirred up gradually in people’s minds concerned with the pragmatic rationalism and dehumanisation of the age. With the loss of monolithic certainty formerly derived from such sources as the myth of national unity, religion and art, the expansion of historical and progressive knowledge (the so-called march of the mind) led to the crisis in faith.44 As William James observed in 1909, looking back at these turn-of-the-century years:

‘The same returns not, save to bring the different.’ Time keeps budding into new moments, every one of which presents a content which in its individuality never was before and will never be again. Of no concrete bit of experience was an exact duplicate ever framed.45

The emerging conflict between humanistic aesthetics and the force of an ascendant materialism in ideology and science brought to light the crisis of the traditional realist literature of fact and the morality of action, which could no longer reflect the developments in contemporary thinking, the changing ethos and the shifts in the socio-cultural field. The realist approach found its most defiant opponents in the aesthetic decadence of Oscar Wilde. As keen explorers of the human spirit, the Aesthetes, grouping around the Rhymers’ Club (1890–5)46 and The Yellow Book journal (1894–7), saw nineteenth-century progress, pragmatism and prosperity as forces destructive to humanism and imagination; and even indulgence in the abominable and the forbidden became a proof of man’s superiority to the natural condition. In the words of Karl Beckson, who traced the history of the movement: ‘The courage to do this was considerable […] and the danger of failure made life a perilous, though extraordinary, adventure.’47 ← 78 | 79 → And although the turn of the century saw the movement fading away, its attempt ‘to resist a civilisation intent on debasing the imagination’ made a strong impact on the new emerging cohort of literary authors.48

By the time Galsworthy’s generation made their entrance on the literary scene (the end of the 1890s), Wilde’s interest in the mysterious uncertainty of the visible, the phenomenal and the real was considerably heightened by the progress of theoretical and quantum physics which questioned the causal model of the world. Developments in medical and social psychology, especially the work of Freud, and Jung and Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890), stressed the active role of the unconscious, turning it into thematic material for literature and art.

The framework of the traditional realist novel appeared to be considerably disrupted. The relationship between the internal and external gained in complexity, blurring the ways in which realist literature used to project its general idea of the moral. The notion of morality as related to and expressed through one’s actions – in its straightforward Aristotelian sense:49 the person is defined by what he does – had lost its clarity, as well as its relevance to the late nineteenth-century ethos. As one of Thomas Hardy’s characters claimed (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, 1891): ‘The beauty or ← 79 | 80 → ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.’50

Inaction – both frustrated external action (with its considerable potential for character building), and heightened mental aspiration – fascinated the new generation of realist authors, who, being more interested in the internal psychological experience rather than in the outward surrounding reality, were trying to find their way in exploring the notion and the mechanisms of consciousness as the morality of thought. What exactly constitutes the sense of self, if action has lost its ability to be the prime signifier of one’s ethos? Does a literary work have the means to articulate and to connect to this inner thinking; and what indeed would a narrative shaped by such concerns look like?

This increased emphasis on the human psyche, on the importance of the irrational and the subconscious, drew attention to the avenues of the Russian realist tradition, which was characteristically embedded in the idea of the so-called emotional ‘inner knowledge’, in the juxtaposition of desire and ethos, and in the analysis of internalisation, sensation, and repression (prominent in the works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy). As Lev Shestov, an eminent Russian philosopher of the time, argued in his essay on Dostoevsky (1903), ‘knowledge and reason had not brought man to freedom, but had only succeeded in delivering man to his fate; after all, ‘hope had not been supported by doctrine, but vice versa, doctrine, by hope’.51

No single case in the 1890s represents a stronger predilection for this Russian viewpoint than that of Galsworthy. In his attempt to go deeper beyond the visible and the external, to develop a more suggestive and ← 80 | 81 → evocative approach, Galsworthy saw the examples of the Russian authors as a catalysing stimulus for the evolution of Western prose. ‘Under Jane Austen, Dickens, Balzac, Stendhal, Scott, Dumas, Thackeray and Hugo’, he wrote,

the novel attained a certain relation of part to whole; but it was left for one of more poetic feeling and greater sensibility than any of these to perfect its proportions, and introduce the principle of selection, until there was that complete relation of part to whole which goes to the making of what we call a work of art. This writer was Turgenev, as supreme in the art of the novel as Dickens was artless.52

Not unlike Henry James, who called Turgenev ‘the novelists’ novelist’,53 Galsworthy found his true inspiration in Turgenev’s writings, which were instrumental for his formation as a writer and remained central for his lifelong literary pursuits. As Ford Madox Ford colourfully described it,

I must have asked myself a hundred times in my life, if there had been no Turgenev, what would have become of Galsworthy? […] Or, though that is the way the question was always put to me, it might be truer to the thought I want to express to say: What would Galsworthy have become?54


XIV, 338
ISBN (Book)
Open Access
Publication date
2017 (April)
British literature Russophilia Modernism Anglo-Russian connections
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XIV, 338 pp., 8 b/w ill., 2 fig.

Biographical notes

Olga Soboleva (Author) Angus Wrenn (Author)

Olga Soboleva teaches Comparative Literature at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research interests are in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian and European culture. Her recent publications include The Only Hope of the World: George Bernard Shaw and Russia (2012), The Silver Mask: Harlequinade in the Symbolist Poetry of Blok and Belyi (2008) and articles on Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Chekhov, Boris Akunin and Victor Pelevin. Angus Wrenn has taught Comparative Literature at the London School of Economics and Political Science since 1997. His most recent publications include The Only Hope of the World: George Bernard Shaw and Russia (2012), Henry James and the Second Empire (2009) and articles on the reception of Ford Madox Ford and Henry James in Europe.


Title: From Orientalism to Cultural Capital