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Love > Friendship

September 21, 2010

Fridman’s section on the early Batiushkov’s major motifs has 2 pages on friendship followed by 15 on love. Friendship in Batiushkov’s poetry is tied up with his theme of enjoying earthly life, which makes his treatment of it somewhat distinctive, but overall his praise of friendship was not that different from that in his sentimentalist predecessors and contemporaries (106-08).

Neledinskii-Meletskii, poet of "emotional monotony" and one-dimensional women

It is his love poetry that sets Batiushkov apart from all others. For him, love is all-consuming and passionate, and unlike, say, Karamzin, he neither subordinates love to friendship nor calls for moderation in love (108-14). And love is concrete and of this world, as are women. Beyond his famous frequent use of сладострастие, he describes the ложе on which lovers recline. Women’s eyes, hair, and shoulders are often mentioned; so are their voices and especially their hands; and some attempts are made, anticipating Pushkin, to poetically depict a female character’s “internal world” (114-23). (In contrast, Fridman claims that Karamzin, Dmitriev, and Neledinskii-Meletskii made no attempt to portray female psychology and in fact reduced Woman to “a kind of sentimentalist symbol,” 114.)

We have had contrasts between the “earthly” Batiushkov and the “fleshless” Zhukovskii in Fridman’s book already, and we have an especially clear one here, with an 1812 polemic between the two in epistles: Мои пенаты and К Батюшкову (117-18).

Again and again we hear that Batiushkov’s approach to love was progressive, for it “most clearly demonstrate[d] his rejection of the moralism and affectation of the nobility’s Russian sentimentalism” (108) and also “proclaimed the lofty value of individual human freedom and the individual’s right to earthly joys and pleasures, which sharply contradicted religious, ascetic morality, one of the chief ideological foundations of the feudal society of serfdom” (123). I suppose that’s a coherent enough position, and it’s understandable why one would highlight it in 1971. But it’s a little confusing how it’s apparently not reactionary when Batiushkov also values “bashfulness” and “downcast eyes” and finds that poets who sink to the openly erotic have gone too far (122-23).

See section 4 of chapter 2 of N. V. Fridman’s Поэзия Батюшкова (Moscow, 1971), pp. 106-123.

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