Evolution of ideas concerning national distinctness of literature in Russian criticism and history of literature in the 19th – early 20th centuries


The article analyses the evolution of literary reflections among the representatives of the trends and schools in the 19th–early 20th centuries as they generated ideas concerning national distinctness of literature. The study specifies both an invariant of the notions of national literature identity and individual variations that did not find any further development in literary self-awareness. The starting point in the formation of Russian literature uniqueness is attributed to pre-Romanticism. A. Turgenev’s awareness of the necessity for original Russian literature inspired him to claim that Russian originality should firstly manifest itself in the surrounding life, which is free from uncritical borrowings. Following A. Turgenev, the idea of denying truly national literature in Russia became a trend and was continued in the speeches of Küchelbecker, Bestuzhev, Venevitinov, Pushkin, and early Belinsky. A symbolic expression of this idea is the formula “We have no literature”. Most romantic treatises were written in the rhetoric of the expected future. Belinsky's articles occupy a special place in the formation of ideas concerning the originality of our national literature. Besides, his early works resemble the findings of romantic aesthetics. However, after reviewing Russian literature of the 1840s, he linked the history of literature with the worldview of the people. Belinsky was one of the first to note the tendency for emerging literary centrism in Russian culture. Starting with Belinsky, most of the critical, historical and literary discourse about Russian literature was created with the focus on literary centrism. The essays of the 1870s–1880s suggest that an image of the original literature opposed to European literature was being created. The era of the Silver Age gave a new impetus to the problem of national identity in literature. The article highlights two opposing ideologies based on the essays of the critics in the late 19th–early 20th centuries. One of them appealed to literary centrism. However, there increased the number of critics who believed this situation to be artificial. Nevertheless, the ideology of literary centrism remained predominant.

Key words: 

national distinctness, identity, Russian literature, literary centrism.

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