Irrelevance

The most pervasive theme in Rostopchina criticism, however, is the depiction of her work as time- and space-bound, therefore as irrelevant to the present:

An evaluation of this first volume [of Rostopchina's collected works] will show you what social importance the poetry must have had in its own time. . . . Let's give full due ... to this talent that was respected by our teachers and our predecessors. (Druzhinin, "Stikhotvoreniia grafini E. P. Rostopchinoi," [1856], 7: 157, 159, 160)

It is not surprising that in former days Rostopchina's verses created something of a furor—those were other times. (Bykov, "Russkie zhenshchiny-pisatel'nitsy" [1878], 242)

Rostopchina outlived herself, outlived her glory as a (woman) writer. . . . Her works are forgotten by posterity and will not be read. (Nekrasova, "Grafinia E. P. Rostopchina" [1885], 42, 81)

On the whole, the work of Countess Rostopchina is for us a rich monument to its time, and its creator one of the best representa-

tives of the vieux regime. (Ernst, "Karolina Pavlova i gr. Evdokiia Rastopchina" [1876], 34)

Once famous, now forgotten. (Khodasevich, "Grafinia E. P. Rostopchina" [1916], 35)

It's understandable that she could not avoid all the conditions of the society in which she was brought up. ... to our current taste Rostopchina's verses . . . sometimes are somewhat mannered . . . full of conventions, even prejudices. . . . Rostopchina occupies perhaps a modest, but special place in the poetry of the 1830s and 1840s. (Romanov, introduction [1986], 13, 26)

Circumstances facilitate or constrain, but every oeuvre has its own internal limits. In her lyric productions of the '30s and '40s . . . Rostopchina attained it. Her attainments, when repeated, threaten to turn into clichés. (Ranchin, editor's introduction [1991], 6)

Criticism of canonical writers, in contrast, always asserts the time-lessness of their work, and its inevitable, eternal relevance to the present:

The consciousness of Pushkin's supremacy and centralness in Russian literature and civilization grew apace, unostentatiously, but irrevocably. The twentieth century received it full grown. (D. S. Mirsky History of Russian Literature [1926], 102)

[Baratynsky's] poetry is, as it were, a short cut from the wit of the eighteenth-century poets to the metaphysical ambitions of the twentieth (in terms of English poetry from Pope to T. S. Eliot). (D. S. Mirsky History of Russian Literature [1926], 106)

A modern reader is involuntarily struck by the immediate importance of this poetry. . . . He [Baratynsky] posed questions that will never cease to occupy thinking and feeling people. . . . "It is high time that Baratynsky finally get the place on the Russian Parnassus that has long belonged to him." Today this wish of Pushkin has come true. (George Kline, 1985)48

Lermontov managed to create a fictional person whose romantic dash . . . [is] of lasting appeal to readers of all countries and centuries. (Vladimir Nabokov, translator's foreword to A Hero of Our Time [1958], xvii)

The creative spirit of a person revealing the world and its beauty, the subtlety of the perception of the word and the exactness of its reproduction, these qualities of the poet [Fet] have become more and more noticeable. Now this lyric poetry is our intellectual heritage, rightly considered the wealth and pride of our na-

tional literature. (L. A. Ozerov, introduction to Stikhotvoreniia

Frank Kermode's interesting study, Forms of Attention, illuminates this contrast between the irrelevance that critics attribute to Rostopchina and the eternal relevance they bestow on canonical writers. Kermode writes that in literary, as in religious, canons "permanent modernity is conferred on chosen works," while "others are allowed to become merely historical." "To be inside the canon," he continues, "is to be protected from wear and tear, to be credited with indefinitely large numbers of internal relations and secrets, to be treated as a heterocosm, a miniature Torah." Kermode observes that works can only become and remain canonical through "continuity of attention and interpretation."49

In considering the history of Rostopchina criticism, one is struck by the continuity of negative attention and disparaging interpretations of her work—the sustained effort over time to show that Rostopchina does not belong in the canon. But if she is truly irrelevant and merely historical, one might ask, why do these critics pay her so much attention?

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