Fact and fiction in the memoirs of Catherine II

Abstract: 

The article considers the ratio of fact and fiction in Catherine II’s memoirs, which is investigated in terms of genre strategy. The memoirs of the empress are based on three genres, functioning in Catherine’s literary repertoire: a comedy genre, the genre of a joke and the genre of a proverb (aphorism). From the comedy she borrows a theatrical chronotope with its classical three-storied division into higher, middle and lower being of the characters; the emphasis on the negative character – Grand Duke Pyotr Fedorovich; the accentuation of the raisonneur’s speech – Grand Duchess Yekaterina Alekseevna. The internal speech of the main character is made out as a rule of conduct – a proverb designed to educate the public in the spirit of gallant palace etiquette. In Catherine’s memoirs the genre of a joke is used to enhance a fictional component in the narration: compressing time, providing a sudden outcome and an unexpected event. Historians failed to prove that the author used documentary materials to write her memoirs while the jokes about the time of Catherine’s accession to the throne are given within the framework of her autobiographical notes together with various versions of memoirs. The author’s informal point of view on the heroes of her time, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna and Grand Duke Pyotr Fedorovich, gives Catherine II’s memoirs the status of historical evidence, which is closer to the genre of a historical novel or, according to V. D. Altashina's definition, a genre regarded as a “novel-memoir”.

Key words: 

memoirs of Empress Catherine II, ego document, genre strategies, comedy, aphorism, joke, novel-memoir.

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