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The big nine in 1855

February 20, 2011

In August 1855 the critic for Отечественные записки listed

7 relatively major poets who had published poems in 1855 (followed by “and others”),

2 relatively major poets who had not published anything in the main journals, and

22 poets who had published something (including 5 of the 7 major ones above).

This comes in an argument against the already common view that Russian poetry had fallen on hard times mid-century. The writer claims that the 1840s were a difficult period, as Russian readers came to terms with the loss of Pushkin and Lermontov, while eagerly anticipating the second volume of Dead Souls, hoping it would either be like part one or like Selected Passages, depending on their inclinations. The 1850s, however, were seeing a poetic renaissance.

Which poets made the lists?

N. V. Gerbel'

The implicitly major poets: “Fet, Maikov, Mei, Nekrasov, Nikitin, Gerbel’, Polonskii, and others.”

The two who hadn’t published recently: “Tiutchev and Ogarev.”

The list of 22, whom the critic divides by sex and lists alphabetically: “Benediktov, Berg, Verderevskii, Gerbel’, Grekov, Danilevskii, M. Dmitriev, Zhemchuzhnikov, V. Zotov, Mei, Mikhailov, Min, Nekrasov, Nikitin, Polonskii, Stakhovich, Fet… and Mesdames Volkova, Zhadovskaia, Pavlova, Countess Rastopchina, and Khvoshchinskaia… (we ask the pardon of those we have inadvertently omitted).”

In many ways it’s surprising how well the hierarchy holds up here, except for this son of a general being among the prominent. On the other hand I also found it surprising not to see A. Tolstoi or Shcherbina here, though Shcherbina is mentioned later in the article.

I wouldn’t have expected that around a fifth of all poets named would be women. Evidently fewer women than men were writing and publishing poems, but the formation of the canon did more to skew the ratio of how many of each were remembered.

See otdel IV, page 103 and the table of contents.

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