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Suvorin and Nadson

February 21, 2012

Anyone who, like me, is glad to read about nineteenth-century poets besides Pushkin will want to read Tat’iana Men’shchikova on “Suvorin and Nadson” from late 2011.

The short piece has much about Aleksei Suvorin and the literary scene in the 1880s. Suvorin, who published Nadson’s first collection of poems in 1885, was also the editor of New Times (Новое время). He considered Russian decadents derivative, but was Nadson’s publisher nonetheless. He believed in talent and wanted to assemble the best writers at his newspaper, then let them write whatever they wanted. One of his contributors, M. Men’shikov, praised this method as “the absence of censorship, of that internal, domestic censorship whose tyranny is so much worse, in journals belonging to a certain group or adopting a certain line, than any policeman’s watching eye.”

It turns out that Suvorin’s tastes were inclusive enough for him to like some of the French decadents – but only the ones who were seeking new forms, new ways of saying things, out of youthful “naïveté” and “sincerity.” He didn’t like the ones who went to great effort to concoct new forms just to get attention. Men’shchikova suggests that Suvorin liked Nadson’s poetry because he found it sincere and naïve; these qualities were important to critics of the time, such as the poet Andreevskii, who also saw them in Nadson.

The passages about Nadson are surpisingly compressed. Evidently he wrote to Suvorin that he was very grateful the publisher had taken a chance on him. But he supposedly also told his friends that he had no reason to be grateful to Suvorin, since if he hadn’t published his poems, someone else would have; and Suvorin made plenty of money off Nadson’s popular book. Men’shchikova suggests that Nadson had joined the liberal “party” and needed to distance himself from Suvorin, which may well be true, but even without that reason, I’m not sure there’s much to explain here. It seems natural for a young writer to be overcome with gratitude toward a publisher at one moment, and at another to confidently claim not to have needed any help. And that’s before you take the different audiences into account: a letter to the publisher himself versus remarks to friends.

Apparently Nadson felt that poets were divinely chosen teachers of the mob, rather than, as Suvorin felt, sincere writers with talent.

Most of what I knew about Suvorin (apart from a story or two about him and Dostoevskii) was scholarly references to New Times. I feel like half the time I read that someone was published “in the reactionary New Times,” while the other half it was “in New Times, which in year XXXX was much less reactionary than its reputation.” It’s good to have my picture of him fleshed out. He seems to be a more complicated figure than, say, Katkov or Kraevskii.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2012 8:24 am

    Oddly enough, XIX vek, I was just thinking this morning that I hadn’t read a post of yours in a while, when this latest one bounced into my inbox. Many thanks… It was an interesting read, and it made me wonder whether you’re familiar with the Russian language edition of Suvorin’s diary (Dnevnik Suvorina) edited by Donald Rayfield and Olga Makarova (Garnett Press/Nezavisimaia gazeta, 1999). I recommend it if you want to find out more about the personal life of Chekhov’s publisher.

  2. February 21, 2012 9:39 am

    I haven’t read Suvorin’s diary and certainly should – thanks for the suggestion! And it’s lovely to find a comment from you this morning, not 8 hours after I was catching up on your blog and browsing a bit in your archive. Somehow I’d missed your excellent post on the Tory politician’s view of Dostoevskii!

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