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The Exotic Prisoner in Russian Romanticism

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Paul M. Austin

Besides new themes of alienation and desires for self-fulfillment, European Romanticism brought to Russian literature the congenial themes of captivity and exotic worlds. Between 1820 and 1840 there developed an enormous literature with hosts of prisoners in exotic locales in the Caucasus. Loneliness and desire for freedom competed with elaborate descriptions of unknown peoples - Chechens, Georgians, Tatars and Circassians - to produce a literature of unparalleled brilliance, brought to a dazzling culmination by Lermontov's «Bela» in 1839. The exotic prisoner theme with its exotic trappings then disappears, leaving as its heritage the powerful themes of loneliness and introspection which other writers were subsequently to give their own unique treatment.