Text: J. Lasley Dameron and Tamara Miller, “Poe’s Reception in Russia ,” Poe Studies, June 1975, Vol. VIII, No. 1, 8:27-28


[page 27, column 2, continued:]

Poe’s Reception in Russia

Joan Delaney Grossman. Edgar Allan Poe in Russia: A Study in Legend and Literary Influence. Colloquium Slavicum 3. Wurzburg: Jal-Werlag, 1973. 245 pp. 30 DM.

Professor Grossman’s study of Poe in Russia is at best an introductory essay on a very complex subject. She deals with this complexity by focusing largely on parallels in the works of Poe and Russian artists who were, she argues, to a degree influenced by Poe. The reader frequently finds himself confused by discussions of “types” of influences in the light of the rise of the Poe legend in Russia and his emerging lirtrary reputation. Her definition of literary influence “as the action of one writer’s works on the literary production of others, on the level of technical device, of plot, of theme, of character, of atmosphere, or some combination of such elements” (p. 19) C although perhaps theoretically workable — is seldom applied with precision.

The author’s apparent enthusiasm for her subject, unfortunately, does little to clarify her critical observations or to enliven her direct, narrative approach. She specifically outlines how Poe came to Russia, focusing on Russian [column 2:] translations of Poe’s works, some of which owe much to French translations by Charles Baudelaire. Throughout Europe during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, Poe “was a poet who was known almost exclusively through his prose” (p. 20). But with the coming of the twentieth century, notes Professor Grossman, Russian writers had ample opportunities to read his poetry.

The first evidence of any noteworthy attention to Poe in Russia appeared in 1861. Aside from Dostoevsky’s preface to three translated Bales and a general essay on Poe signed “E. Lopusinskij,” both published in 1861, Russian attention to Poe was scanty until 1885. From 1861-1885, Poe was generally associated with the movement of symbolism throughout Europe. Professor Grossman argues, moreover, that Poe contributed to non-realistic fiction in Europe before 1880, but presents little evidence to substantiate her observation.

Not until the fourth chapter entitled “Growth of a Reputation: 1885-1910” do we find convincing evidence of Poe’s presence in Russia. In 1885, for example, a collected edition of Poe tales in Russian translation was published for the first time. As in the United States, Russian critics, largely inspired by French commentary on Poe, began to focus most of their attention on Poe’s life. In 1895, two significant Russian translations of Poe’s poetry and prose appeared. Konstantin Bal’mont, one of the translators, embraced the “image of Poe as half-mad, half-genius,” thereby the “Baudelairean Poe became naturalized at last in Bal’mont and his circle . . .” (p. 73 t. After the 1890’s when the Poe cult reached its height in Russia, some Russian critics, like the poet Aleksandr Blok in 1906, began to assess the quality of Russian translations of Poe and to judge his work largely on aesthetic grounds. During the nineties, moreover, some of Poe’s bizarre stories were available to the public at little cost.

Chapter V entitled “The Imp of the Perverse” is in many ways Professor Grossman’s weakest chapter. Here she ateempes eo ferret out Poe’s possible influence upon three symbolists — Valerij Brjusov, Leonid Andreev, and Fedor Sologub. Pursuing possible parallels between Poe’s works and the writings of these symbolises, she says very little about external evidence thee would support her contentions. In “The Poet’s Poet,” Chapter VI, she seems to be more circumspect. Except for “The Raven,” Poe’s Poetry was not admired in Russia as extensively as his prose. A truly accurate Russian translation of Poe’s poetry did not appear until 1924. In her eighth and final chapter “Poe as Classic,” the author presents evidence thee Poe’s literary position was secure in Russia after 1924. Boeh Blok and Brjusov acknowledged Poe’s impact, and some Russian critics noted Poe’s influence on Aleksandr Grin (pseudonym Grinevskij), a fictionist whose exotic stories treat psychological horror. In spite of the fact that after 1920 Poe’s works were “all but proscribed,” Poe’s presence is to a degree discernible in the writings of Poplavskij, Kaeaev, Olesa, and in Nabakov whose Lolita was first sketched in Russian.

This study is perhaps most useful in outlining the various ways Poe has been received in Russia. Unfortunarely, in most instances, there is little attention to external evidence linking Poe to Russian artists. Professor Grossman, for example, declines to elaborate on Maxim [page 28:] Gor’kij’s statement that Andreev, whose stories she compares to Poe’s, had read and admired Poe (p. 150) . Nikolai Leskov, one of the great Russian storytellers who like Poe touches upon the bizarre, is not mentioned, and the symbolist poems of Sologub are neglected in the author’s discussion of possible parallels between Sologub and Poe. She should, moreover, devote detailed attention to Poe’s legendary visit to Russia and his reported meeting with Puskin in St. Petersburg. According eo Puskin’s biographers, Puskin was not in St. Petersburg at the time of Poe’s supposed visit.

Finally, there is brief attention to the cultural milieu in Russia; hence the reader hardly has the background to perceive how Poe “became assimilated into the culture on numerous levels” (p. 190). Russian translations of Poe are not specifically evaluated, and one can only guess to what extent the Russians were exposed to accurate translations. But Professor Grossman offers a concise but mundane discussion of her subject. Along with some suggestive observations on Poe’s possible effect on Russian writers, she concludes her study with a very useful and comprehensive bibliography.

J. Lasley Dameron and Tamara Miller, Memphis State University





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