Reception of Noncanonical Men Poets

While none of these poets is considered "first rank," their reputations range considerably. I would suggest that as sexual politics has influenced the reception of the women poets, so literary and class politics have influenced the reception of the noncanonical men. Let us take, for example, the contrasting literary receptions of two nonaristocratic poets from the provinces, Kol'tsov and Mil'keev.

Kol'tsov was discovered in Voronezh by the philosopher and poet

Nikolai Stankevich (1813-40) and mentored by Vissarion Belinsky. Be-linsky read Kol'tsov's poems and made suggestions for revising them before they were submitted to journals, helped publish and favorably reviewed Kol'tsov's first book of poetry, and wrote a long introduction to the second, posthumous edition. According to one Soviet critic, Be-linsky, as a Westernizer, saw in Kol'tsov's work a way to refute the Slavophiles' idealization of traditional Russian family life. Other radical critics such as Dobroliubov and Saltykov-Shchedrin followed Belin-sky's lead in praising Kol'tsov, as did Soviet literary critics. Kol'tsov's works were reprinted in numerous Soviet scholarly and popular editions—no fewer than thirty-two between 1921 and 1989.12

Mil'keev, the second poet, was discovered when he brought some of his poems to Zhukovsky, who was visiting Tobol'sk in western Siberia. Zhukovsky was so impressed by the poems that he took Mil'keev back to Saint Petersburg. In Moscow a few months later Mil'keev gained the sponsorship of writers identified with Slavophilism and the journal Moskvitianin: Stepan Shevyrev (1806-64), who wrote literary criticism for Moskvitianin, A. S. Khomiakov, Karolina Pavlova, and her husband, Nikolai Pavlov. But while Belinsky warmly praised Kol'tsov's poetry in reviews, he harshly criticized Mil'keev's. Belinsky may have been affected by his ideological differences with Mil'keev's Slavophile sponsors as well as by his dislike of the poetry of Vladimir Benediktov (1807-73), a strong influence on Mil'keev.13 No doubt, Belinsky's canonical position in Soviet literary scholarship affected Mil'keev's reputation. During the Soviet period only a few of Mil'keev's poems appeared in anthologies, while criticism about him was confined almost entirely to local Siberian publications. It might be concluded that Kol'tsov simply wrote better poetry than Mil'keev, but such is not necessarily the case. The prerevolu-tionary scholar Mark Azadovsky points out that Vasilii Zhukovsky, Karolina Pavlova, and Petr Pletnev (1702-1865, Saint Petersburg University professor and critic) all thought highly of Mil'keev's poetry and that surely their judgment must be given as much credence as Belin-sky's.14 More work on Mil'keev—as well as on the other noncanonical men and on the influence of literary politics on reputation—needs to be done.

What, if any, conclusions about canonicity may we draw from this study? I suggest that just as a national history can be seen as a story told about a people, so a literary canon may be seen as a story told about a literature—a story that keeps changing. However, until now, all stories about the Golden Age of Russian literature and Russian Romanticism have been recounted from the point of view of upper-class men. Because this is the only viewpoint we have, we have not recognized its inherent assumptions about art and life, much less questioned them. Other perspectives and a rethinking of definitions of "good" poetry would allow us to conceive of alternatives to these assumptions, enriching our understanding of Russian poetry of this period and of the society it reflects.

Appendix Notes

Bibliography Index

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