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“Medieval” and “Greek” Romanticism

July 12, 2010

Fewer people were saying interesting things about Batiushkov in the 1830s than in the 1820s, according to Fridman, so the next section of “The Historiography of Batiushkov’s Poetry” deals only with Belinskii.

Belinskii had much to say about Batiushkov’s influence on Pushkin (he was really, really important; 27-29). He believed Batiushkov was the product of a transitional period “from Karamzinian classicism to Pushkinian romanticism,” and that this in-betweenness limited him (29-31).

Sometimes Belinskii calls Batiushkov a neoclassicist, but (Fridman insists) only in contrast to Zhukovskii, not in absolute terms (24).  Most interesting for me was Belinskii’s idea of medieval romanticism (Zhukovskii) versus Greek romanticism (Batiushkov):

[…] defining romanticism [in his articles on Pushkin] as “the internal world of a man’s soul,” “the sacred life of his heart” (VII, 145), Belinskii naturally could not help seeing Batiushkov’s psychological lyric poetry as a phenomenon romantic in nature. Describing Pushkin’s teachers, he sketched out two concrete types of romanticism: medieval and Greek. These terms had an extremely arbitrary meaning for Belinskii. Applied to Russian poetry, they did not, of course, specify its national-historical idiosyncrasies, but only different types of worldviews held by writers. In Belinskii’s view, the former type of romanticism had its greatest incarnation in Zhukovskii and the latter type in Batiushkov (in this sense a predecessor of Batiushkov’s was Derzhavin, in whose Anacreontic poems Greek romanticism “showed through,” VII, 224). Belinskii saw the essence of Greek romanticism as a “sensuous striving” that was “endowed with light and spirit by the idea of beauty” (VII, 147) […] For Belinskii, Greek romanticism is filled with a radiant affirmation of life that rules out spiritual dissonances, as well as a faith in the possibility of a harmonious and joyful merging of Man with nature and society (see VII, 204). […] And in the works of Roman literature that attracted Batiushkov’s attention, Belinskii sees nothing other than romanticism. Lamenting that Batiushkov “did not translate all of Tibullus,” he tellingly calls the latter a “Latin romantic” (VII, 228). (23-24)

Last sentence: “And we have every right to consider the verdict on Batiushkov uttered by Belinskii a vivid illustration of the power of his progressive, revolutionary critical method” (31). This sort of nod to orthodoxy evidently arises at the beginning and end of subchapters, not just of books.

My page references are to section 2 of chapter 1 of N. V. Fridman’s Поэзия Батюшкова (Moscow, 1971), pp. 21-31. (Fridman’s are to the 1953-1959 Moscow edition of Belinskii’s collected works.)

Update: I see Sigrid McLaughlin discusses Belinskii’s medieval and Greek romanticisms in a 1972 book chapter, partially available online.

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