Monthly Archives: February 2018

Review Essay: Frederick Jackson Turner’s Captivity of the American West

By Kaylie Schunk


Brooks, James. Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest

            Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Barr, Juliana. Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas

            Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Rushforth, Brett. Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous & Atlantic Slaveries in New France.

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.


Every work about the American West seemingly begins by presenting its challenge to Frederick Jackson Turner—the historian who created the field itself. Turner’s exclusion of native peoples is certainly incorrect and an oversight.[1] However, it is telling how Turner’s perception of the frontier and its implications continue to influence historical scholarship as historians of the American West continue to struggle to fully shed Turner’s influence. Through the examination of captivity as a form of mutual exchange and diplomacy between Europeans and natives, the works of James F. Brooks, Juliana Barr, and Brett Rushforth demonstrate the importance of native diplomacy as Europeans accommodated to the dominant indigenous groups of New Mexico, Texas, New France, and the Caribbean.

Turner’s grandiose statements about the native-less West were challenged decades later by his own student, Herbert Bolton. Unlike his predecessor, Bolton believed in studying the history of other nations to fully appreciate the American history. Bolton insisted that Turner’s nationalistic approach to studying the United States was the reason for “a nation of chauvinists” because Americans were not destined to settle the West.[2] Rather, the United States’ history was “a thread out of a larger strand” of the world’s past.[3] With Bolton’s specialty being Spanish-America, the American West’s study of multinational borderlands exploded with materials related to the Spanish in the American continent and Mexico.

Brooks, Barr, and Rushforth ascribe to Bolton’s position about the importance of comparative European studies on the American continent to fully gauge American history’s complexities. However, their arguments defy Turner and Bolton they acknowledge natives as key players to European colonialism and that comparative studies of European influence on the American continent should not be limited to areas of Spanish occupation. While Barr and Brooks do frame their studies in Spanish territories, Rushforth combines the approaches of borderlands and transatlantic history by tracing French interactions with the indigenous peoples of Pays d’en Haut and comparing it to the institution of slavery in the Caribbean and France.[4]

Recognizing Turner’s and Bolton’s influence on these works, Rushforth, Barr, and Brooks reject Turner’s reticence to acknowledge native groups by incorporating native peoples within Richard White’s paradigm of mutual accommodation. White argues that indigenous-European relations are rooted in compromises. However, they present an imbalanced version of this model as each monograph demonstrates the natives’ dominance in these power relations. Brooks, Barr, and Rushforth agree that the presence of dominant native groups forced Europeans to accommodate for the sake of diplomacy and survival. Brooks and Barr combat the inevitability of conquest over the indigenous by illustrating that it is actually through the Spanish’s accommodations to the natives’ kinship-based customs, which enables the Europeans to survive and prosper in these otherwise formidable lands. Brooks argues that borderland violence can be explained by mutual economic need as it “kept peoples and resources flowing across the cultural barriers.”[5] Despite Rushforth’s and White’s studies both revolving around the Great Lakes region, Rushforth’s study shows the most nuanced approach to White’s thesis. While Brooks and Barr cited that the indigenous groups were dominated the Spanish, the two groups still make an effort to accommodate one another. This is not the case in Rushworth’s depiction of French-indigenous relations as the natives often used their political stature to manipulate their French allies to prevent them from trading with other indigenous peoples.

Barr cites the Spanish’s inability to fully understand captivity’s importance in indigenous cultures as the main contributor to their inferior power status, which is seen by the differing attitudes of Europeans and natives towards captivity.[6] European misunderstanding was also seen in Rushforth’s depiction of the French. When Father Louis Hennepin was a captive of the Sioux, he wrote that he could never fully understand his place in the society as both a captive and an adopted son of the natives.[7] Hennepin believed that he deserved more respect if he was truly a kinsmen of the Sioux people. The approaches to captivity differed between the Europeans and natives, which is exemplified by Father Hennepin’s confusion. Each work emphasizes the lack of differentiation between slaves and captives in native societies, unlike the dissociation of slaves from members of society in European cultures. Barr addresses Brooks and concurred with his “pointed comparison of [the] Spanish’s more rigid racial codifications of the enslaved Indians” unlike the range of positions for captured natives in an indigenous captor’s society. Rushforth echoes this distinction as he notes that the French’ inflexibility toward slavery contributed to the use of race as a classification of difference. This works engages with the evolution of captivity and slavery in the Americas as it uses comparisons with the Caribbean to argue that Europeans brought the distinction of race into American slavery. Race was not the foundational distinction of difference between native peoples. Instead, indigenous communities welcomed captive incorporation to integrate their culture and language, which strengthened their current society.

Captivity certainly was vital to native-European relations, regardless of whether or not the Europeans understood that at the time. But Barr, Rushforth, and Barr disagree as to why it was actually significant. Rushforth and Brooks acknowledge captivity’s connection to their patriarchal societies’ values. Honor unified these diverse cultures. Brooks argues that the “shared understanding of honor out of traditions both indigenous and European” were shown by the practices of exchange and redemption. Rushforth concurs by stating that “no honor was more important to a young[, native] man than capturing slaves.”[8] This relates to men being the external voices and actors for their communities while women retained the home. Men of the Spanish, French, and native cultures saw their role as protectors of their societies as they acquired honor for themselves and their communities. These shared principles enabled a common ground between natives and Europeans.

Yet, their approach to native women and captivity is vastly different. Brooks and Rishforth perpetuate the traditional female roles within the home. The link between native men’s and women’s interest in captivity was that the women “crafted their halters [so] the warriors [could lead] them home like pets” for the women to domesticate these new slaves.[9] Oddly, Rushforth and Brooks emphasize the importance of men over women in their analyses of two different European societies’ interactions with natives—New France and Spain’s New Mexico. However, Barr disagrees as she studies the Spaniards like Brooks. The importance of native women captives is the focal point of Barr’s work. She posits that women are key to these cross-cultural relations because of their gender role, symbolizing both peace and war, was what enabled more successful relations between the Europeans and the Spanish’s survival in the region.[10] While all three works acknowledge native women’s domestic role, Barr’s monograph stands alone as the only study of native women’s influence on indigenous-European relations outside of the domestic sphere.

While Barr has the most unique argument, Rushforth’s study is the most balanced. His use of linguistics is key to filling the silences of the Algonquian peoples. He incorporates their native language to strip terms of their connotation of Euromerican dominance, and more importantly, he breaks down native dialects to demonstrate the cultural importance of slavery. This contrasts with Brooks where he includes language, mostly Spanish, only so that the reader may understand the work’s general, historical context. Rushforth includes linguistic analysis of French and Algonquian side-by-side to equally assess the two cultures. Language is a means of giving the natives a voice that is separate from European materials. However, it could equally serve as a means of understanding the French’s culturally attitudes toward native peoples and captivity. Barr’s handling of language is the most problematic. Unlike Brooks who attempts to use original Spanish sources, Barr only uses Spanish materials when English translations are unavailable or there’s a discrepancy in the translation. Certainly this technique is more convenient, but it opens up the possibility of misinterpretation—similar to the Spanish subjects Barr is studying.

Rushforth, Barr, and Brooks represent the radical changes of the American West field since the days of Turner, while they represent historians clinging to these past historiographies. Unlike Turner’s frontier, these monographs recognize the existence of Native Americans. Indigenous people were not only present on the American continent but were the dominating forces over their European counterparts. The degree in which these native peoples were dominant over the Spanish and French is not clear, according to Barr, Rushforth, and Brooks. Their different approaches to gender roles explains the lack of consensus. While Brooks and Rushforth emphasize the importance of honor in European and indigenous patriarchal societies, Barr insists that native women had the symbolism of peace and war encoded into their beings due to female gender roles. These works do not resolve the female natives’ role in captivity. However, Barr does state that Europeans inferiority was due to their inability to understand the cultural and political implications of captivity. Brooks and Rushforth provide greater balance to their historical narrative as they utilize statistical data and linguistics, while Barr often avoids the evaluation of original Spanish sources.

Kaylie Schunk is a senior at Miami enrolled in the joint History BA/MA program.

              [1] Frederick Jackson Turner, Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner: “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” and Other Essays (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1994), 32.

              [2] Herbert Eugene Bolton, “The Epic of Greater America.” The American Historical Review 38, No. 3 (April 1933), 448.

              [3]Ibid., 449.

              [4] Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 135.

              [5] James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest

              Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 214.

              [6] Juliana Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 8.

              [7]Rushforth, 17.

              [8] Rushforth, 4.


              [10]Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 2.

Andrea Alciato and the Politics of the Printed Image

Working with Dr. Wietse de Boer as an Undergraduate Summer Scholar, Miami senior Caroline Godard investigated the world of political images in the European Renaissance.  Below is an essay she wrote about this journey into the past.


Our world today is saturated with images. It’s filled with photographs and films, with recording devices on our iPhone cameras, with television commercials and magazine advertisements. Our connection to images is also often symbolic, since we recognize that anything ranging from traffic lights and stop signs to memes and emojis signifies something more than what it represents. The subject of the image remains a popular product of philosophical discourse, and scholars including Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, and Gilles Deleuze have written about the significance of visual representation through cinema, photography, and digital media forms. Although this preoccupation with images may seem a product of modernity, the history of our interaction with images extends far into the past.


During the European Renaissance, the prominence of the symbolic image was connected to another emerging technology form: the printed book. Just as our current relationship to digital images may seem fluid and undefined, the printed book’s combination of image and text was similarly ambiguous. One Italian humanist, Andrea Alciato, embodied this fluidity of image and text due to his involvement in the evolution of the emblem book genre.


Andrea Alciato (1492-1550) was born just outside of Milan, Italy to a wealthy family of noble descent [Fig. 1]. Because of his family’s social and economic status, Alciato received an excellent education, and he spent his early life studying classical Greek and Latin with some of the most renowned humanist scholars in Italy. Alciato then began studying law; he was quickly recognized for his academic acuity and, accordingly, spent the rest of his life employed by universities throughout Italy and France, teaching and writing about law. Today, Alciato’s philological interpretations of Roman law still remain a subject of interest to legal historians.

Fig. 1. Andrea Alciato, portrait included in his Opera omnia (Frankfurt, 1617). (Source: Wikimedia Commons, ).

The period of Alciato’s lifetime is characterized by the high volume and quality of cultural production. Some of the most iconic works of art of the Italian High Renaissance were created during Alciato’s early years: Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper in Milan during the 1490s, Raphael produced the School of Athens between 1509 and 1511, and Michelangelo was at work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel between 1508 and 1512. Additionally, Italian writing flourished during the Italian High Renaissance. Baldassare Castiglione wrote The Book of the Courtier, a philosophical dialogue exploring the concept of the ideal courtier, during the early sixteenth century (the text appeared in print in 1528); Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his political discourse, The Prince, around the same time; and Ludovico Ariosto’s epic comedy, Orlando Furioso, was first printed in 1516.


However, Alciato also lived during a time of immense political instability. Italy was not a unified country during the early 1500s, and the concept of “Italy” instead referred to a loose collection of territorial states including Milan, Florence, Venice, Naples, and the Papal States in Rome. In Alciato’s home of Milan, the Visconti family had controlled the city until the mid-fifteenth century until another powerful family, the Sforza dynasty, assumed control in 1450. In addition to Italy’s internal instability, foreign powers—especially France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire—saw opportunity in Italy’s fractured conditions.  This led to multiple invasions and undermined the independence of the Italian states. The beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517 further added to Europe’s instability and complex political climate.


It is important to understand these cultural and political circumstances under which Alciato composed his emblems. Today, we use the term “emblem” to compare ideas or objects, often with a symbolic or representational intent: the Cleveland Cavaliers mascot serves as an emblem of its basketball team, the combination of stars and stripes on the United States flag forms an emblem of the country, and the image of a white bird with a blue background is an emblem of the social network, Twitter. The word emblem is derived from Ancient Greek and Latin but, thanks to Alciato, it evolved into its modern definition during the Renaissance.


In addition to studying Alciato’s influence on law and historiography, literary and art historians recognize Alciato as the founder—the “pater et princeps”—of the emblem genre. In its Renaissance context, the term emblem refers to a three-part combination of text and image that includes a short title, a longer, descriptive caption, and a picture. Emblems often communicate a didactic, moral, or humorous message to the reader and, just as today, they do so in symbolic or representational manner. For example, an emblem called “In Silentium” [Fig. 2] details in word and image how maintaining silence can make a man seem wiser, and “Concordia” [Fig. 3] suggests how, just as crows are loyal to each other when living together, so, too, should leaders maintain concord among their subjects.

Fig. 2. “In Silentium” emblem in Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata. Printed by Christian Wechel. Paris, 1534. Reproduced by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

Fig. 3. “Concordia” emblem in Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata. Printed by Christian Wechel. Paris, 1534. Reproduced by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.


These text/image forms became extremely popular during the Renaissance, and emblems appeared in printed books as well as in architecture, parades, and celebrations. An emblem book refers to a printed collection of emblems, and Alciato is known as the “father” of the emblem genre since his collection of emblems, the Emblematum liber, was the first emblem book ever published. This first edition, which was printed in Augsburg, Germany in 1531 [Fig. 4], contained one hundred and four emblems.  More were later added to the collection, and the final version contains a total of two hundred and twelve emblems.

Fig. 4.  Titlepage of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber. Printed by Heinrich Steyner. Augsburg, 1531. Source: Wikimedia Commons (available online ).

No manuscript versions of Alciato’s earliest emblems exist today, so it is difficult to reconstruct the details of the Emblemata’s genesis and circulation prior to 1531. However, we know that, although Alciato’s early emblems were visually descriptive, their manuscript versions likely did not include images. Additionally, the emblems circulated among a fairly limited, educated and elite audience, those who were fluent in Latin and understood the allusions to Ancient Greek and Roman mythology. In other words, only members of a small social network could understand or even access the emblems.


However, the Emblemata’s audience changed with the book’s appearance in print in Augsburg, Germany in 1531. Images were added to clarify each emblem’s meaning; in an introduction to the book, printer Heinrich Steyner explains how he hoped that the Emblemata’s images would help the reader understand the text. This first edition of emblems must have been very popular, because other publishers began releasing their own editions of the emblems, first Christian Wechel in Paris (1534) and then printers elsewhere in Europe, including Lyon, France and Venice, Italy.


Beginning in 1536, Alciato’s emblems were also translated into vernacular languages, which caused the book to become accessible to an even larger audience. The reader no longer needed to understand Latin in order to read the emblems, nor did he or she need access to an elite social network in order to procure the book. The Emblemata’s circulation had quickly broadened as the book became available on the open market.


As we study these emblems now, they may seem purely symbolic, abstract, and playful.  Yet Alciato used several of them to comment eloquently on Europe’s unstable political environment. For example, he addressed his “Foedera Italorum” emblem (which, in English, reads “On Italian Alliances”) to Maximilian Sforza, the Duke of Milan between 1512 and 1515 [Fig. 5]. Although this emblem did not appear in print until 1531, its message suggests that Alciato had composed it much earlier. In the text, Alciato compares the abstract concept of political harmony to another, more easily imagined idea: the musical harmony of a lute.  But the caption also contains a direct political reference:

the nobles of Italy are forming federations: there is nothing to fear if there is concord            and they still love you. But if one breaks from the rest, such as we see so often, then all          that harmony dissolves into nothingness.

Fig. 5. “Foedera Italorum” emblem in Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata.  Published by Heinrich Steyner, Augsburg, 1531. Reproduced by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.


In fact, French forces had controlled Milan between 1499 and 1512—just prior to Maximilian’s rule—and the citystate’s independence was precarious when Alciato composed this emblem. Thus he used this playful, literary form of writing to communicate a very serious message to the Duke of Milan: Maximilian Sforza must form alliances with other Italian states in order to protect the peninsula from the threat of foreign rule. Alciato’s emblem referred to a specific political moment in Italian history, so it was not as abstract and symbolic as we might have thought.


Also in subsequent years, this emblem’s political subtext must have remained obvious to its readers, since the political turmoil continued unabated.  In 1515 King François I of France invaded Italy and assumed control of Milan. Italy’s near future would be further marked by violence and foreign rule: in 1527, troops from the Holy Roman Empire invaded the Papal States, instigating one of the most devastating disasters in Italian history.


Over time, however, the “Foedera Italorum” emblem was subject to change.  From 1534 onwards printers removed the adjective “Italorum” from the title, and this decision caused the emblem’s message to become more open and indeterminate. Alciato’s message about alliances was no longer connected to a specific political situation; rather, the text could refer more broadly to all alliances, whether personal or political, whether in Italy or elsewhere. Perhaps the printers intended to make the message more appealing to the emblem book’s growing international audience; and perhaps this caused later readers to engage with the text more personally, as if the emblem communicated a moral lesson applicable to the reader’s own life.


The “Foedera Italorum” therefore originated in Alciato’s desire to protect Italy’s political integrity, but his message was concealed within the emblem’s highly literary and artistic form. This form, moreover, was fluid; emblems texts could change along with the audience who consumed them. As we reflect on how the intersections between politics and culture are defined through text and image, we may notice that Alciato’s rhetorical strategy appears in our culture today, too. For example, we can examine how citizens respond to politics through music and poetry, and how political leaders use social media (another combination of text and image) to maintain their voting base. However, these interactions are never stable—not in the Renaissance, nor today—and we often adapt to new forms of technology as they are released. Just as the Renaissance public’s relationship to technology and politics was fluid and kaleidoscopic, so, too, is our own.



For further reading:


Alciato, Andrea. Emblematum liber. English & Latin. Translated and edited by John F. Moffitt.       Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2004.


Kaborycha, Lisa. A Short History of Renaissance Italy. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson, 2011.


Manning, John. The Emblem. London: Reaktion Books, 2002.


Yates, Frances Amelia. The Art of Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.


Journeys into the Past: New Tevye Tales

Sholem Aleichem’s popular stories of Tevye the Dairyman made the author famous within and putside the Russian Empire.  Published between 1895 and 1916, the stories are mostly known today as the basis for the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Here three students from HST 374–Addison Caruso, Tessa Ralinwosky, and Emily Erdmann–“find” lost stories of this beloved character and his daughters.

  1. “The Sabbath”

Found by Addison Caruso

Shabbat Shalom, Reb Shalom Aleichem. It may not be the Shabbos when you are reading it, but it is the Shabbos at my house and I have had an interesting experience that I think you might enjoy. Now, not too many peculiar things happen in the life of Reb Tevye, but this one is as I received a guest and learned a little more about the city life. Maybe you can write me back and tell me if it’s true Reb Aleichem as I’m sure you know your fair share of city dwellers. It also started this Friday night as we were getting ready for the Shabbos. I had just finished getting ready for the meal as the sun was setting that night, as you know Reb Tevye is always ready for the Sabbath and not a minute late, as it says in our Torah, “thou shalt honor the Sabbath and keep it holy” and Reb Tevye isn’t one to go against the will of God.

As I am getting ready and my wife Golde is putting the last preparations on the beautiful meal she prepared, I hear a knock at the door. “Who could be knocking at this time” I thought, as it is written in our Talmud: those who disturb a man’s peace before Shabbat are destined to get as cold of a welcome as our ancestors did in Canaan. This apparently did not trouble my Golde though as she called over to me, “Answer the door Tevye!” Oy, is it my lot in life to live with this, I love my Golde, but isn’t this what I have children for? As I open the door though, I was surprised to see a man in a suit. He looked like a big macher, with a gold pocket watch, nice suit, no beard, and fairly plump as well. “This must be a rich man” I thought. Tevye is not one to be rude to someone though, and I answered the door with a pleasant hello and asked him his business. “Hello” he said, “my name is Meir Bronstein, I am travelling from Kiev on important business, but due to the Sabbath I feel I must stop for the evening, would I be able to join you on this Shabbos meal, you will be compensated.” “Ah yes, as the Migillah says: to travel on the Sabbath is like riding a horse backwards, it works but it’s not quite the same.” “Right, I will not need lodging for the night but as I mentioned earlier could I join you for a meal tonight.” How could I turn this man away, we were once strangers in the land of Egypt, so I invited him in and quickly tied up his horse outside to not miss the Sabbath. I must mention this horse though, you have heard about my house, but this horse, its coat shone like the Tabernacle and it was so large as well. “This is definitely one big macher” I thought.

“Golde!” “Yes” she called. “We are having a guest for dinner.” “What!? A guest? No warning, no nothing! You invite a man off the street for food, we are not a charity house Tevye, we barely have enough as it is.” “Ahhhh” I said, “but he seems to have more than he needs, fix a nice meal for him, and maybe he’ll take care of Tevye and his Golde.” “Oh, alright” she lamented. I often wonder how Adam dealt when he first saw Eve, I’m sure at first he was smitten by her beauty, but then I wonder how long it took for him to try to get some personal space away from her.

As the Shabbos started, my wife lit the candles, beautiful ones passed down from her grandmother Rachel, we said the prayers and began to eat. “So what are you doing in our little village I asked?” “I have business in a few towns over.” “What kind of business?” “In Kiev I am a manager at a big factory there specializing in textiles, we have a potential client I am meeting with tomorrow morning, I thought I could make it to the town today, but alas due to various circumstances I had to depart from Kiev late.” “Ah, as the Talmud says, it’s not about the journey but about the destination.” “Tevye” my wife said, “stop with your storytelling, can’t we just have a Shabbos meal without your constant sayings?” “Alright Golde, I’ll stop, I’ll stop.”

The meal proceeded in silence for a little while as I enjoyed the delicious Challah, gefilte fish, chicken, and soup my wife had prepared. I would like to say to you Reb Aleichem, if you ever find yourself in need of a good Shabbos meal, my wife Golde makes a delicious one. My daughters help out and of course while not exactly rich, I always manage to provide a nice amount of food for the holiest day of the week. This did not escape our guest either as he commented several times on the meal. Anyway…I am sorry to ramble Reb Aleichem, as I know you have more important things than read about the deliciousness of my wife’s cooking. I will proceed to my story.

As we were enjoying our meal I heard a banging on the door. “Who could that be at this time? On the Shabbos?” my wife Golde said. As I went over to the door to check, I peered through and saw a group of people standing outside. As the man stumbled outside I opened the door. Though I had a few glasses of wine, I was still in a state of mind to conduct business, these men outside on the other hand were almost falling over. As they say in our Megillah, “if man drinks enough he may turn from a donkey to an ass.” “Hello may I help you?” “Ahhhh Reb Tevye, we heardddd you tellllll a good storyyyy spin ussss a tale!” “I am sorry but it is the Shabbos, I must refuse and go back inside, plus I have guests I must entertain.” As I turned to go back into my house I felt something sharp poke and as I turned around I saw one of the men holding a very sharp pitchfork. Slurring his words rather heavily he said, “This wasnnnnn’t a requessssst Reb Tebye.” As I began to panic, I am not good on the spot with stories, Meir walked up to the door. Pulling out a handful of rubles he said, “Leave this man and be on your way.” Ahh money, the best motivator, if only I had a little more.

As we began to walk back Meir turned to me and asked, “Why do those men bother you like this?” “Ehhh it’s just how it is, why should I question what God does.” “Yes, but is this something common here?” “What, our Russian neighbors paying us unwanted visits, the horse does not want a horsefly to pay him a visit, yet he is powerless to stop it. I am surprised you are not aware of this.” “Well in Kiev things are a little different, while I am not exactly best friends with the Russians, some of my good friends and business associates are them and I often attend cocktail parties.”[1] “With the Russians?” “With the Russians. In Kiev this is not so uncommon amongst the upper classes.” Jews mingling with Russians?? In our little village this is almost unheard of, we stay amongst ourselves and they stay amongst themselves. This is just how it is. As our great Rabbi Hillel says, “The best kind of cake is a layered cake, not a marble.”

My wife Golde seemed surprised by this as well as well as my kids. “I have unfortunately heard about the things that go on in the countryside, it’s horrible that you must go through that. I’m ashamed to say I thought they may be a little exaggerated,” Meir said.  “What can a man do, it’s the lords way.”  “You always talk of this lord, but why don’t you do something?” Meir retorted. “What can I do, confront them? Talk to them, you say that there are options to deal with this but unfortunately here it’s life. I don’t know if it’s humiliation, or why they do it, but why does the rooster crow every morning, it’s what they do, why ask questions.” As we sat down and continued our meal, Meir continued to talk this subject of what they call “pogroms” in the city. “I believe it is an environmental factor, mainly motivated by a social hierarchy and humiliation as they feel powerless so you are the people that they take it out on.”[2] “They feel powerless???” I almost fell out of my chair laughing. “Why don’t they try a day in the life of Tevye the dairyman, then we’ll see how powerless they feel.” “But you must look at it in their perspective Tevye.” “Why don’t they see it in my perspective then Meir.” “Understanding is the first sign of forgiveness and reconciliation Reb Tevye, maybe one day this town will be like Kiev, where you will be able to live side by side with them, and maybe even be friends.” “Wishful thinking, but hey we’ve been waiting for the Messiah for 2000 years so what’s hoping for one more miracle going to do.”

It was then that Golde brought out the dessert. I cannot tell you how happy the sight of blintzes makes me. As the Talmud says, “Dessert is stressed spelled backwards” this means that it is important to eat, and I am often stressed so a little dessert helps that good ol Tevye. As we were eating this delicious dessert I asked Meir, “Is this the kind of Shabbos food you have in Kiev?” “I must tell you something Tevye, I often find it hard to find a good Sabbath meal in Kiev, there are not many who still keep the Sabbath on a regular basis.” “Do not keep the Sabbath.” “Yes, I have occasionally missed it for meetings and parties I must admit. It is mainly the young people who do this, this secularization. It is unfortunate, I think of my mother and how she would be rolling over in her grave thinking of these kids. She moved to the city from a little village quite like this, and I am thankful for it, but as much as I’ve tried to keep my Judaism alive, it can be hard, and it’s hard to see younger generations losing their focus on Judaism. My son, for example, he does not cover his head when he goes out and I’ve even seen him sneak pork into our house.”[3]

“That’s awful!” My wife Golde said before turning to our five daughters, Tzeitel was married earlier as you remember, “If I see any treif in this house you will not hear the end of it from me or your father!” “Yes Mama!” they all said in unison. What good daughters I have, but who is surprised that Tevye has good daughters. As I was thinking of my daughters Meir turned to me and said, “Well Tevye, I believe I must be off, I would like to thank you for this good meal, it was delicious.” “It was a pleasure, King Solomon once said, a nice meal with a stranger is one of life’s small luxiries.” “Tevye” Meir said laughing heartily, “I do not know where you learned all of these sayings but it has certainly made this Shabbos that much better. Please take these rubles as a token of appreciation and I hope things keep going well with you.” As he handed over the rubles and left we saw him walk out the door.

As I held the stack of rubles in my hand my wife Golde rushed over, “Great!” she said “Now we can get another cart, you’re last one is nearly broke!” Leave it to your wife to take all the fun out of getting money. As I watched him ride away in the dark into the forest I began to think about the differences of our lives. Yes, as surprising as it might be to you Reb Aleichem, Reb Tevye does think about these things sometimes. Things are changing in the cities, and I wonder how this change will affect our little village. I often wonder how different my life would be if I was born in Kiev. While still a Jew, obviously there were successful Jews there, and friendly Russians. Maybe I would’ve been a banker, Reb Tevye the banker, the most important Jew of Kiev they would call me. I would ride around and I’d be the big macher. This is wishful thinking though, if this is my lot in life, God will deliver it. I’m sure you are getting tired of reading this letter though Reb Aleichem, like Meir you yourself are an important man so I will not take up much more of your time with Reb Tevye’s stories, but send my regards to everyone and I wish you a happy and peaceful Shabbos.

2. “Teibl”

Found by Tessa Ralinowsky

As I walked out of the house to milk the cows in the morning, the last morning I should own them, I found my sweet Teibl behind the barn sitting under a big tree. I had often found her here as a child. It reminded me of happier days, when the family had not yet been pulled apart. She sat curled up like a little bird that had fallen out of the nest. As I neared her, I noticed her distress.

“Ah, Teible! The tears of my child reach God! What brings these tears?”

“Papa, forgive me!” sobbed Teible.

“Child, lighten your heart. Tell me what ails you.”

“Conviction, father. This has always been our home, and now we are told no longer can we live here.”

My heart sank, losing my dairy farm would be a swift blow below the belt from those whom I called friends. Oi, beware of friends, enemies do not deceit.

“Sweet Teibl, do not stress. This would not happen if it was not part of our fate.” I said calmly.
“But papa,” she pleaded, “Your fate is not the same as mine. I feel as though I see my future darkening as we speak.”

“You cannot know the future until it is the present. Such is the way of life.”

“Father, I need to ask something of you. It is of the utmost importance.”

“Ask away my child.”

“Papa, I fear that while we cannot stay here, we cannot stay anywhere else near here. Haven’t you heard what’s going on around us? They are killing us Jews. We are not safe here. I have a plan to help us, but I need money to make it happen. It must happen now if we are to leave.”

“Tell me of this plan you thought up little Teibl.”

“My friend from the market, Gluke, gave me this pamphlet. It talks of a land where we could freely practice, the United States of America. It is only a matter of getting our papers all together, so we can travel there and live without fear.”

Men fear the knife more than God himself! Teibl, what makes you want to leave our homeland? We will find peace somewhere.”

“Some from Gluke’s family have already moved. She has told me that their trip was long and difficult. But that they have made a life for themselves there, and no longer fear the pogroms, or being asked to leave their new home. I dream of a life where I can practice as I please, and not fear because of it. A land of religious freedom is what we need desperately, and if I am bold enough we can live like Gluke’s family too.”

I sat in silence for a moment. After all I had accepted with my elder daughters, I could hardly believe my ears.

“This is the land of our family, are you willing to give that up?” I asked.

“The land of my family is not here, I no longer feel tied to the land that we are not wanted on. It has been said before, ‘get thee gone thence, you must leave your native land.’ ”

She looked stubborn. She sat now with her arms folded in front of her, until she brought out the literature she had mentioned. It was titled “What Every Emigrant Should Know” and it was written in English and Yiddish. I read through it, feeling farther away from my daughter than I ever had before. I knew that my young Teibl would have no problem getting into the United States, but oh, health comes before making a living! I knew that my health would not hold out long enough to make the journey.

“You see papa, we meet all the requirements. We are lucky that you have taught us to read, this will help us get in. And Gluke has offered to help us further, not only will she and her parents travel with us, for they know the way, but she has offered to make arrangement with her family already there to make sure that we get in. She has a cousin there, and he is looking for a wife. We can be guaranteed entry if I marry him.”

This hurt my heart than more than all my previous daughters had. While they may not have conformed to my traditional wishes, they at least had married for love and happiness. This I could stand behind. But a loveless marriage? She hadn’t even met the man before! I felt my temper rising.

“My daughter, I cannot allow for this! There is so much uncertainty in your plan. If you stay with us at least you will be guaranteed happiness with your family.”

“Papa, you have taught me to love my family, and all that family stands for. But I cannot be guaranteed happiness if I stay in a land so hostile to us.”

“I have talked to your sisters. We will not stay in a land like this, we will go to our true home, in Israel. Here we will be safe, all we must do is stay together. Even your sister Chava will join us.” I explained the plan I had decided, how the whole family could move together and start over.

Teibl looked surprised at my last comment, and raised her eyebrows.
“This is where I see a fork in the road for our family. What opportunity lies in Israel for us? I fear about finding work there, and being able to support the family. The United States is a changing land, and full of work and opportunity. The pamphlet talks of Jewish organizations that will help us find work. I believe there is the best place for us to resettle.”

“I have already lost one daughter, I cannot lose another.” I pleaded with her.

I could tell this displeased Teibl. She picked herself up and ran inside the house, crying yet again. I went in to milk my cows for the last time before I sold them. It was bittersweet; all I could see was loss surrounding me. I thought long and hard while milking about what kind of life I wanted for my daughters. I had thought that riches would bring them happiness. But Tzeitl had taught me otherwise. I thought that giving my daughters freedom from my judgments would bring them happiness, but Shprintze taught me otherwise. Yet again, I saw my daughter choosing a path that would break my closely held value of the family, and all that held dear to me. I finished my milking and went inside to talk to Teibl about what I had decided. With curses and laughter, the world does not change. I found her packing up her things in a small suitcase.

“Teibl, my daughter. I have thought about what you said to me. I see now that it is not about the future I see for you, but the future that God sees for you. It is not my place to tell you what your fate should be, therefor I cannot tell you no. It is your life’s duty to follow the path set for you, where ever it may lead you.”

Teibl again began to cry, but this time they were not tears of sorrow. She looked at me with a half smile on her face and threw her arms around my neck for a tight hug.

“My dear father, I fear that this is the path set for me. I have been given a chance and I cannot let it pass by. I have talked to my sisters. They agree that I should do what is best. I thank you deeply for coming to understand the same.”

“I fear that while I have come to accept your choice, my heart tells me that I cannot go with you. I will still go to Israel, with your sisters. I believe this is the best path for me, the one written in my fate. I hope that you too, can accept this as I have done for you.”

“I understand that we are on different paths now papa. If this is truly what you want, then I will meet Gluke and her family at the train station without you.  While I will miss you terribly, this I can accept.

We set out in the evening by cart for Odessa. We had heard this was a good point to leave where we would not be detained. The cows and house had been sold; we carried with us the few possessions and clothes we had left. Oh how I wished my Golde could be here with us for this life-altering journey. I wanted to weep, thinking of all the memories of her I was leaving behind in my house. All the memories of raising our girls, all our years of struggle and strife to keep the farm, for what? I could not bring myself to look behind me at the house, as it grew more and more distant.

I reflected on all that we had done together as a family. I realized that the most valuable thing I had done as a father was prepare my daughters to make their own independent choices, and know what was best for themselves. I had raised them in a proper home, and given them the skills they needed to succeed.

Our journey was a long one, it took us days to reach Odessa. When we finally arrived there was a strange tension between the family. Everyone was apprehensive, waiting for what was to come next. We stopped at the market to sell the horse and carriage to make as much money as we could. I gave the profits to Teibl, for her journey. Somber and quiet, we all headed to the railway station to say our goodbyes. Myself and only four of my seven were starting out on train, while Teibl would head in the opposite direction and head West to catch a boat.  We shared our final tears, hugs, and I love yous. I stared tearfully at my daughter while thinking about her future, and where God would take her. I knew that this was not our final goodbye; for we would be reunited by the good Father himself one day.       “Scholem Aleheiem, Teibl.”

“Scholem Aleheim, Papa, thank you.”

And with that my little dove spread her wings and began to fly, we parted and went on our separate ways, letting fate guide us from here.




3. “A Daughter’s Prayer”

Found and introduced by Emily Erdmann


The following section of text is intended to represent the prayer of one of Tevye’s unnamed daughters, conveying her frustration and desperation with the treatment of Jews in the Russian empire around the turn of the 20th century. Her grievance is directed at the general mistreatment of her fellow Jewish people, but she is confused as to where to direct the blame: is the fault on God or humanity? This confusion is meant to represent the complex and disconcerting emotions felt by late 19th century Jews as they found themselves being “… punished by [their gentile] friends, for no reason at all.”[4] Regardless of the answer, be it God or flawed human nature, the fact of the matter remained that Jews were manipulated and helplessly subjected to the whims of the Russian Orthodox majority.

Forced to live in a specific region entitled the Pale Settlement, and to serve as the majority’s scapegoat, Jews found it difficult, if not altogether impossible, to merit respect in their European environment. According to Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, pogroms consisted of the persecution of the Jews for their alleged practices, meaning that an assumption was considered a sufficient and acceptable rationale for the terrorizing of innocent Jews. In reality, these mob-like outbursts served not as ‘an eye for an eye’ vengeance, but rather “… documentary evidence [showed that] the pogroms were deliberately organized by the czarist government to divert into channels of religious bigotry and ethnic hatred the Russian workers’ and peasants’ discontent with political and economic conditions.”[5] Their character was out of the question, a given Jew could be the nicest or the meanest man in town and either way he would be considered prey to a pogrom. With no control over their fate, the Jews became increasingly despondent, as Tevye’s family did, and so many others alike. Aleichem speaks through the Dairyman to say that “A Jew must [therefore] exist on hope and faith,”[6] because Jews at the time had nothing and no one else in their environment that could support them; the Jews had no one but their God.

Ultimately, history seems to attest to the fact that many Jews arrived at a state of learned helplessness, wherein they anticipated the next hardship, the next pogrom, the next eviction – whatever it was to be – as something that would inevitably befall them. Existing on naught but hope and faith proved to be an arduous request as misfortune followed misfortune. Tevye, exasperated, exclaims, “… if one tragedy happens, another is soon on the way … That’s the way God created His little world, and that’s the way it will always be—a lost cause!”[7] Tevye, despite being a proud Jew who loves scripture and puts his religion first, is still subject to this phenomenon of fading hope.

Aleichem was a religious practicing Jew, thus it is logical that his main character overcomes his brief bout of doubt as he proclaims near the end “… we have a powerful God and … a person, so long as he lives, should never lose heart.”[8] However, this renewed religious vigor was not the only response to the everlasting trials around the turn of the century. As a result of the Jewish Enlightenment (or Haskalah), which lasted from the late 1700s to the late 1800s, there was a gradually growing secular perspective that separated the religious practice of Judaism from its culture. Jewish Historian Shira Schoenberg notes that “The Haskalah was characterized by a scientific approach to religion in which secular culture and philosophy became a central value.” The rationality of this movement aimed to better integrate Jews into European society—a process that therefore encouraged interaction with non-Jews.[9]  This secularization combined with external interactions and, later on, the tribulations of being used as a scapegoat, is likely to have contributed to the growing number of Jews identifying as secular. Data collected by the Pew Research Center suggests that this trend continued on through the 20th century, perhaps even more notably during the Bolsheviks’ years in power. Former Soviet Union Jewish emigrants to Israel were surveyed and found to be 81% secular. It is interesting to note that “Only 60% of second-generation FSU Jews say they are [secular].”[10] This seems to support the idea that experiencing religious persecution and suffering like that which was inflicted by Stalin contributes to a diminished religious inclination; on the other hand, without the same degree of prejudice, a greater number of the children of said emigrants were recorded as believing.

In short, the prayer below can be seen as a sort of alternate ending, one that attempts to show the inner turmoil and doubting perspective that might lead a once-devout Jew down a more laic path.



A Prayer:

O Father, where did we go wrong? Did You not command us to love the strangers living alongside us as if they had been born unto us?[11] Why did you “… create Jews and non-Jews, and why [are] they so set apart from one another, unable to get along, as if one had been created by [You] and the other not?”[12]  You claim that all are equal in Your eyes and yet we are divided, disadvantaged, and persecuted by the very people we set out to love.

These pogroms have been an issue for other Jews recently, but I never would have thought that our neighbors—although they are Christians—who have forever treated us with kindness, could turn on us unanimously and without warning. Has Papa not worked for them long enough? When did he lose their respect?

Forgive me, for I know that You are supposed to know better than I what is best and what is to come. Yet I remain upset. “Why should people be so bad when they can be good? Why should people embitter the lives of others as well as their own when life could be sweet and happy for all? Is it a given that [You] created man in order to have him suffer?”[13] I fail to see how we are created equal and called to love thy neighbor even as said neighbor arrives, as the mayor did, informing Papa that although he is not a “bad person,” he is still a Jew, and because, in the gentile perspective, these two things have apparently nothing to do with another, Papa must be beat up for the latter.

“… [When] there is a rumor of a pogrom, Jews run from one city to another,”[14] so we are like caged mice, trapped in the Pale of Settlement. Father, where do we go from here? We are leaving the home we have lived in and loved, this harsh fact is certain, but is there anywhere You can guide us where neighbors won’t turn on neighbors and enemy is not distinguished from friend by the mere difference of a symbol?

Papa may endure on faith alone, but I don’t know how much longer the rest of us can last. As Jews, our life revolves around the law that is our service to You, acts of loving-kindness, and Your word in the form of the Torah.[15] But my acts and services to You have only brought me to my deplorable present state: evicted and on the brink of obliteration at the hands of a people towards whom my people showed nothing but love. With each new, negative development, I feel the Torah’s roots slowly withdrawing from the foundation of my life.[16]  Papa always says that “… the more troubles you have, the more faith you must have, and the poorer you are, the more hope you must have,”[17] but this is more simply put than practiced…


Addison Caruso is a senior majoring in History.

Tessa Ralinowsky is a senior majoring in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.

Emily Erdmann is a junior majoring in French and Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.


[1] Kenneth B. Moss, “At Home in Late Imperial Russian Modernity-Except When They Weren’t: New Histories of Russian and East European Jews, 1881-1914,” The Journal of Modern History 84, no. 2 (2012) 413.

[2] Stefan Wiese, ““Spit Back With Bullets!” Emotions in Russia’s Jewish Pogroms, 1881-1905,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 39, no. 4 (2013), 477.

[3] Moss, 411.

[4] Page 120 of Aleichem, Sholem. Tevye the Dairyman. Penguin, 2009.

[5] “Pogrom.” Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2017, p. 1p. 1. EBSCOhost,

[6] Aleichem, 14

[7] Aleichem, 117

[8] Aleichem, 132

[9] Schoenberg, Shira. “Modern Jewish History.” The Haskalah, 2017,

[10] Theodorou, Angeina E. “Israeli Jews from the Former Soviet Union Are More Secular, Less Religiously Observant.” Pew Research Center, 30 Mar. 2016,

[11] Paraphrase of Leviticus 19:34: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (NAS, 1977)

[12] Aleichem, 81

[13] Aleichem, 95

[14] Aleichem, 84

[15] Rich, Tracey R. “Love and Brotherhood.” Judaism 101,

[16] Tevye’s daughter is expressing difficulty in holding to her faith and the devout religious component of her Jewish culture. According to Eugene M. Avrutin, a professor of modern European Jewish history at the University of Illinois, Jews “… turned to Christianity as a last resort. [They] chose to convert for strategic reasons—to alleviate the existential burdens of Jewishness” (Jews and the Imperial State, 118). In other words, if Tevye’s daughter were to go through with such a conversion, she would conceivably be able to marry a Christian, thereby opening a door to more opportunities. Converted men in particular could hope to achieve a better education and a better job.

[17] Aleichem, 34-35.

UCLA’s Jewish Newsmagazine, Ha’Am, commented that a substantial portion of the Russian Jews that had once comprised the “Jewish Question” had “… [disappeared] into secularism” (Solovey, Mark, et al. “The Difficult History of Russian Jews.” Ha’Am; UCLA’s Jewish Newsmagazine, 14 May 2015,


Literary Journeys into the Past: Censoring Chernyshevsky

When Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s novel What is to be Done? appeared in the 1863 issues of the popular journal The Contemporary, it caused a sensation.  Written while the author was imprisoned for radicalism, a prison censor approved it for publication and passed it on the journal’s editor.  The novel inspired a passionate response.  Fedor Dostoevsky was so incensed he wrote his own response, Notes from Underground.  Radicals saw the book as a bible of sorts, a how-to manual for how to be a revolutionary.  Vladimir Lenin, who read the novel two decades after its publication, would later borrow the title for his own political treatise.

Here two students from HST 374–Zach Logsdon and Nicole Puglisi–“discover” the “true” censor’s report.


  1. To the Chairman of the St. Petersburg Censorship Board Concerning the Chernyshevsky Novel

Your Most High Born Excellency,

In pursuit of my duty to His Imperial Majesty, may God preserve him and the Empire from evil, I have reviewed the novel What is to be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky to determine if the novel is fit for publication. The novel is about two “new people”, one a man and the other a woman. After illegally marrying, the two of them live a chaste and aesthetic life, with each dedicated to their own personal causes. In the end, the man fakes his own death with the help of a revolutionary agitator in order to enable his “wife” to marry a friend of his, and the woman goes on to have subversive dreams about a future paradise on Earth. The work itself is no great literary triumph, and in comparison to an author such Pushkin, I do wonder if anyone would actually read it. However this is not the reason that I have reviewed it, and I pass judgment on it for reasons far more egregious than that of bad writing. I must recommend that this novel not be published in any form. The novel contains a great deal of revolutionary sentiment, including a likely role model for anarchists that the author attempts to conceal behind a veil of vagueness. His novel also contains an immoral, and arguably blasphemous, depiction of an illegal marriage. Furthermore, Chernyshevsky’s background as an agitator and subversive element, and the simple fact that the State has put him in jail also compel me to not just refuse permission for publication, but to question why we are taking the risk of even letting him continue to write as well. For all of these reasons, I unreservedly reject permission for this novel to be published in this form, or in any other form that the author may try to put it in.

The strongest factor in my decision to recommend refusal for publication is that this book is filled with subversive ideas and content. While Chernyshevsky attempts to hide his support and avocation of revolution and anarchy by being vague and not elaborating on certain beliefs, it is evident enough that this work is, as Inspector Ruud of the Third Directory has referred to it as a “nihilistic attack on traditional values,”[1] Indeed, the novel is so permeated with subversive content that it would not be practical for me to list them all. As such I will focus on the most egregious instance of subversive content in the novel. This is the inclusion of the character Rakhmetov. Rakhmentov’s beliefs are never clearly stated outright, however it is clear he is a revolutionary. Evidence of this can be found in his discussion about the cooperative workshop set up by Vera Pavlovna, as when she considers appointing someone as the new manager, he castigates her, saying, “Now see here. It’s been decided…by whom? By you and her? Without any inquiry as to whether those fifty people would agree to the change, whether they might prefer something else or find something better? Why, that’s despotism, Vera Pavlovna!”[2] This is evidence of his political leanings, as he implies that people have some sort of right to be consulted and even help choose who the new leader would be. This is democracy of the foulest form, as a man who would believe that workers have a say in selecting their boss would almost certainly think that subjects of the Empire have a right to mettle in the affairs of state. While I should avoid too much speculation, I think it easily within the realm of possibility that such a person would even challenge the right of His Imperial Majesty to command our loyalty and rule over us. Rakhmentov’s revolutionary tendencies are also clear, as he has travelled across the world, from Eastern to Western Europe, and even to the United States, only returning to the Empire as he felt that “it [was] ‘necessary’ for him to be in Russia.”[3] Obviously, he would not return from his travels abroad if he did not plan on attempting some sort of insidious plot, such as a revolt, or even God forbid, an attack on the Imperial Family. While there are numerous other individual instances of subversive ideas in the novel, Rakhmetov is the most prominent of them, and he represents the revolutionary ideas that we should be most concerned with suppressing.

I highlight Rakhmetov in part because he is the single-most prominent example of this novel’s bungled attempt at hidden revolutionary content, but also because he is one of the most “inspiring” subversive characters in the novel. While Lopukhov and Vera Pavlovna are certainly not models we want people emulating, the adulation given to Rakhmetov is the most clear and present danger within the novel. The character is lionized for his attitudes, as he being is shown as a noble who surrendered the privileges of his birth to wander and endure the life of the peasantry, even going as far as to deny himself the pleasures that they cannot obtain.[4] His friends even ascribe him as “an extraordinary man”[5] He is intended to be a character that the reader will idolize and aspire to be like him. This is dangerous and not to be encouraged, as too much evil could come about due to someone trying to emulate this character. Perhaps they might simply try to better the lives of the poor, but more likely is that they would try to do the State harm: a reader might even read this and try to assassinate our beloved Tsar. My duty as a censor is to help determine what is safe for publication: that is safe for the State but also safe for Imperial subjects. Indeed, His Imperial Majesty has called “for laws equally just to all, equally protective to all,”[6] If in rejecting this novel for publication, I prevent even one young hothead being inspired to do something foolish against the State and getting his neck stretched as a result, than I will have protected both the State and the hothead. Overall, due to the subversive and revolutionary content within this novel, I feel compelled to refuse leave for publication.

While Rakhmetov is the most striking example of subversive content in the work, he is not the only example of it. The fourth dream of Vera Pavlovna is also incredibly subversive. In it, she imagines a utopia in a new Russia where everyone has work, shelter, and wholesome food, yet all of this is without the Tsar, and an explicit reference is made to the fact there is no Tsar, as the sisters in the dream state that the old Palace is abandoned “The Halls are empty; there’s no one left in the fields or the gardens” and that “for now it’s cold and damp. Why should anyone live [in the Palace]”[7] This is clearly subversive, as it not only implies that a utopia would be possible without the guidance of the Tsar, but it hints that His Imperial Majesty is somehow preventing the subjects of the Empire from achieving a utopia. It also implies that the only way for Russia to have a rebirth and progress would be attack and harm the Tsar himself. That the question of “what is to be done?” is to be answered with bombs and bullets directed at our anointed sovereign and the destruction of our entire political and social system. In combination with the revolutionary ideas represented by Rakhmetov, this has led me to deem this novel unfit for publication.

In addition to the radicalism in the novel, it should also be rejected for publication on grounds of morality, as the novel mocks the institution of marriage, In terms of its attitude towards marriage, the novel insults the institution as it shows Lopukhov and Vera Pavlovna engaging in a marriage that fulfills none of the purposes that God and the Orthodox Church teach. Rather they get married in a simple ploy to enable Vera Pavlovna to leave the house of her parents as she says to Lopukhov when he proposes marriage “You are liberating me, my dear. I’m prepared to be patient, now that I know I’ll be leaving this cellar.”[8] This mocks marriage as it rejects the intent of the sacrament: they do not intend to actually be truly “husband and wife”, a real family, or produce children. It is simply a means to an end to enable Vera Pavlovna to abandon her family, and as such the work borders on blasphemy. Furthermore, their marriage is an affront to God and the Church as it is also an illegal marriage. In marrying without the consent of their parents, both Lopukhov and Vera Pavlovna have broken the law, as our legal advisor Wagner notes that by law “marriage without parental consent [constitutes] a crime for which both the groom and the bride [can] be punished, and so [can] all who [assist] them,”[9] Indeed, Lopukhov and Vera Pavlovna engage in a discussion of this, as Lopukhov ponders “It’ll all be all right if we make it up with her parents, but what if they press a lawsuit?”[10] With malice of forethought, the couple entered into an illegal marriage for the express purpose of preventing Vera Pavlovna’s parents from exercising their lawful rights. I am not a clergyman, but I do feel that such a depiction of the degradation of the sacrament constitutes blasphemy. Such an action shows contempt for the law of God as well as the law of man. Furthermore, such marriages are not valid and can be annulled by the Church.[11] As such, Lopukhov and Vera Pavlovna are effectively living in a state of sin. Due to this blasphemous display of an illegal marriage, I must deem this work to be immoral as well as subversive, and recommend that it be rejected for publication.

Yet I think there is also a more practical reason that I believe that the depiction of the illegal marriage should not be included. Much as I fear that exposing readers to the revolutionary ideas might radicalize them, I don’t think it is a good idea to let a book get published that shows young people how they might enter into marriage without the consent of their parents. As we well know, parents may be able to get an illegal marriage annulled by the Church and everyone involved punished by the State, but we also know that successful lawsuits and annulment suits are very rare indeed, as Wagner states that while the Church can annul illegal marriages “it rarely [does] so” and that “judicial action in such cases [is] lengthy, costly, and generally ineffectual”[12] Chernyshevsky also notes this through the character Marya Aleksevna, as in her thoughts she notes that while a lawsuit might seem ideal, it would ‘require money and more money; such cases, though tempting in their ideal beauty, demanded larger and larger sums and dragged on for a very long time. After consuming a great deal of money, they often came to absolutely nothing in the end.”[13] In effect, all that prevents our young people from marrying without consent is social custom and the hollow threat of lawsuits from aggrieved parents. I do not think that this lack of enforcement is something that should be highlighted to our youth. Such a revelation could have serious consequences in terms of adherence to the requirement of parental consent for marriage. As a result of this, the issue of morality, and the other factors and issues discussed, I feel that permitting this book to be published in any form would be a mistake of the highest order, and must recommend complete refusal.

Finally, I must also recommend that this work be rejected in its entirety due to the author himself. Chernyshevsky has been a thorn in the side of the State for a while now. In 1858, he had the temerity to criticize the Tsar’s plans for emancipation of the Serfs, with the censor who failed to refuse publication being reprimanded.[14] Furthermore, the Third Directorate arrested him on the grounds of “illegal connections with an émigré group,”[15] Chernyshevsky wrote this book while being held in isolation in the Peter and Paul Fortress of St. Petersburg. It is not my place to question why prison authorities have permitted him to have writing materials or to submit his works for publication. However I do feel that I am within my rights to say that this background alone is enough for any of Chernyshevsky’s works to be rejected for publication. He has seen fit to flout even the most basic precepts of our journalism and publication laws, he has been accused of illegal connection with foreign elements, and based on the revolutionaries ideals and immorality in his novel, it is clear that he has not learned anything from his punishment. As a result of all of this, I feel that publication of this book in any form would be a grave error.

Overall, Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? is so dangerous that it should not have even been considered for publication. It is filled with rank revolutionary and subversive ideas, most notably in the form of the anarchist Rakhmetov, which are far too dangerous to risk exposing the people to. In further support of my position, the work’s display of an illegal marriage is immoral, borders on blasphemy, and could potentially help young people figure out methods of getting around the laws concerning parental consent. Finally, a consideration of author himself as being both a subversive known the Third Directorate and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress has made me conclude that it is simply not possible for this novel to ever be considered safe for publication in any form. Having considered all of this, I must unreservedly reject publication of it.

I Remain Your Most High Born Excellency’s Humble and Obedient Servant,

Titular Councillor Zachary Kevinovich


2. What is to be done (about this book)?

Although I wish to make this review of the latest novel I read brief, I am afraid I cannot due to the work’s perplexity. When first analyzing What is to be Done? it is apparent that the author, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, attempts to address what he deems to be societal errors in the context of a love story. The author both directly and indirectly discusses the role of women in society, the “new” generation, ways to live a good life, rational egotism, and a new revolution. I will begin my review by discussing the many edits and removals I believe the work will need in order to be published. These proposed revisions are necessary in order not to alter the political, economic, and societal climate in which we currently reside. First, I shall discuss how to divulge the revolutionary connections from the novel, and then I shall discuss the few reasons why I have decided to publish the work after these revisions are made. While the themes throughout the novel are undoubtedly subversive; I believe that by themselves, they will not inspire radicalism. It would be easier to deny the publication of the book, but I do believe that, even though our job is to censor literary content, it is not in our best interest to infringe upon the creativity of Russian society (Jacobson, p. xvii). Therefore, Your Excellency, I shall begin my report stating why this book should be published with edits, and I only ask that you forgive me for such a lengthy entry.

In regards to purging this book of its revolutionary attitudes, I believe that removing the character Rakhmetov, Vera’s dreams, the last chapter entirely, as well as proposing some minor reforms to the dialogue will suffice in quenching the book’s revolutionary sentiments. First, the character Rakhmetov should be removed from the narrative because his purpose in the novel is to demonstrate what it means to be an outstanding insurgent. Chernyshevsky himself interjects within the novel that the purpose of Rakhmetov’s character is to display what true, radical heroism is: “…it’s not they who stand too high, but you who stand too low…all people should and can stand at the same level as they…if only you wish to work a bit on your own development” (Chernyshevsky, p. 313). In other words, the narrator is stating that because of low societal standards, many individuals praise the three main characters in this novel, Vera, Lopukhov, and Kirsanov, despite the fact that they are not extraordinary like Rakhmetov. To Chernyshevsky, Rakhmetov is the ultimate goal of the “new generation”. He believes that by abandoning worldly desires, individuals can focus and commit themselves to the true cause, which, in his mind, is revolution: “We must show that we are speaking to principals, and not passions, according to our convictions and not personal desires” (Chernyshevsky, p. 281).  To end my discussion about Rakhmetov, I must divulge that Chernyshevsky seems to believe that everyone can achieve liberation if they contribute to their own, personal development. In fact, Rakhmetov’s character is meant to inspire individuals to devote themselves to revolution and seek their own retribution: “Come up out of your godforsaken underworld, my friend, come up. It’s not so difficult. Come out into the light of day, where life is good; the path is easy and inviting. Try it: development, development” (Chernyshevsky, p. 313). All in all, the book utilizes Rakhmetov’s uniqueness to plant the seeds of rebellion within our society. By arguing that the reader has low standards, which can be overcome by development and dedication to change, Chernyshevsky directly states that individuals have the power to spark reform. This idea itself is not only pervasive to the Tsar’s autocracy, and thus should be censored, but I fear that if this novel was published containing these elements, it could urge on any and all social, economic, and political resistance to our current state. Essentially, Chernyshevsky’s character is meant to demonstrate that through growth and devotion to one’s ideas of what society should reflect, a revolutionary change might be realized. Therefore, I opt to remove this character from the work in order to preserve our nation against such insurgency.

Next, Vera’s dreams are utilized as tools in order to demonstrate Chernyshevsky’s disappointment with society. Three out of Vera’s the four dreams pertain to subversive ideations that fully outline a context for rebellion. The first dream demonstrates Vera’s lack of freedom within society. In her dream, she is locked in a cell only to be paralyzed when she is released. This analogy of paralysis and bondage refers to the idea that in today’s Russia, women are held as less equal than men. This analogy becomes truly subversive, however, when Vera is cured of her immobility by another woman and asked to ‘“Remember that there are still many that have not yet been released and not yet cured. Release them. Cure them” (Chernyshevsky, p. 130). This dream instructs Vera to reform Russian society in order to liberate other women, who are less fortunate than her. This dream sparks Vera’s initiative to create a sewing co-operation where the profits are divided equally without the benefit of profits to the owner. Therefore, because this dream showcases to Vera the ability of women to be free, it may also have the same effect on readers who wish to establish their independence in Russian society. Thus, I believe that this dream should be struck from the work because it calls people, especially women, to liberate themselves and others through new Western economic policies. As one might expect, her second dream is even more radical than her first, because it divulges that the socioeconomic conditions in which a person develops directly influences their personality. In other words, people who develop in a low socioeconomic status will be more likely to possess negative traits as a direct result of the society they are forced into: “…it’s only natural that no matter how they might be rearranged, and whatever substances unlike dirt might emerge from these very same elements, they’d still be unhealthy and rotten” (Chernyshevsky, p. 181). Thus, in order to overturn the personality traits that are bequeathed upon the lower classes, there must be a revolutionary transformation in order to reverse these mannerisms by providing equally fertile soil to all. To pursue this further, Vera’s second dream states that revolution is the only option in order to guarantee the rehabilitation and social justice of the lowest socioeconomic classes of Russian society: “…without movement there is no life, that is, no reality…” (Chernyshevsky, p. 182). Finally, Vera’s fourth dream, the most radical of the dreams, is arguably the most militant element to the novel itself. This dream articulates the future of Russia as an agrarian utopia. One in which men and women are considered equals and individuals live in communion with each other so that everyone may reap similar benefits. It is here where Vera is advised to utilize her knowledge of this realm to create a better society:

Tell everyone that the future will be radiant and beautiful. Love it, strive toward it, work         for it, bring it nearer, transfer into the present as much as you can from it. To the extent     that you succeed in doing so, your life will be bright and good, rich in joy and pleasure.             Strive toward it, work for it, bring it nearer, transfer into the present as much as you can

from it. (Chernyshevsky, p. 379)

In other words, this quote directly states that, in order to be part of this utopian community, individuals must strive towards it each and every day, which implies a change to our current political situation and undermines the Tsar’s authority as the absolute ruler of Russia. This dream should be struck from the work as excessively inflammatory material. Subject matters like this tear ideas of nationhood apart in the hopes of better, more radical institutions. As you can see, Vera’s dreams are a problematic element to this novel, for they threaten the very foundation upon which Russian society stands.

Moreover, the last chapter of Chernyshevsky’s work predicts the formation of a revolution occurring in 1865. The last chapter is overwhelmingly vague, which was most likely done on purpose to avoid any censorship of this chapter. However, it is certain that Chernyshevsky is assuming that the readers of this novel, as well as society at large, will be ready for uprising in 1865. Assuming that Chernyshevsky’s revolution has to pertain to the end of the Gilded Age, as he would so misguidedly call it, would certainly mean a revolution of ideas. Based upon the exposed societal dissatisfaction in the author’s work, it can only be presumed that the rebellion of his mind will be one generated by the masses of the new generation in order to enact equality economically, politically, and for women. In other words, the benefits reaped from this action would be those determined by each individual’s rational egotism rather than the will of our Tsar. Thus, this chapter should be removed for it contains blasphemous material meant to escape the judgment of our current censorship code.

My final edit to this lengthy novel pertains to reforms in character dialogue. There are a few instances in the novel where I would urge the author to either remove monologues or to revise their phrasing. One instance of this would be Marya Aleksevna’s speech to her daughter Vera. In the novel, Marya comes into her daughter’s room completely intoxicated in order to explain to Vera the reasons why she treats her the way she does. At the end of her lengthy soliloquy, she states, “…it says that in order not to live like this, everything has to be organized differently; now no one can live any other way. So why don’t they hurry up and set up a new order?” (Chernyshevsky, p. 59). This quote demonstrates the author’s opinion that revolution is necessary in order to alter the morality and personality adopted by those who seek a richer lifestyle. This argument for rebellion in order to spur socioeconomic reform is also an apparent factor in Vera’s second dream, and thus the logic for removing this piece stems from the need for consistency. Any work that is critical of Russian society is not one that needs to be removed automatically, but rather it is pieces like this that suggest insurgency against the autocracy that is dangerous to the very context in which we live.  Next, I would like to propose some minor rephrasing to words such as “the new generation”, “the common cause”, and “the extraordinary man”. Any decent Russian censor can recognize that these are euphemisms meant to bypass our primary censorship system. Therefore, I would like to ask that the author would either remove these words entirely or switch them out for more Tsar appropriate phrases such as “the folly of the young generation”, “a dangerous cause”, or “the anti-Russian man”. You must forgive me, editor, I am only stating these as phrases because I know that no serious author would accept such edits, but as a neutral point, I shall suggest that the phrases and sentences they are in shall be removed completely.

Now with all this in mind, it is easy to understand why it might be easier to deny the publication of this piece of literature entirely. Though is may be the simpler route, it does not mean that it is the best one for this country. It is as you told me when I committed myself to become a censor,

“‘…you [must] not only base your judgments on the censorship code, but also on the   particular set of circumstances with which you are faced and the course of events. Also, you must work in such a way that the public has no cause to conclude that the government is hounding culture”’ (Jacobson, p. xvii).

It is for this reason that I have decided to publish What is to be Done? with my suggested edits. There is no doubt in my mind that it would lead to the revolution for which Chernyshevsky misguidedly yearns. But, by publishing the book with all its subversive elements- such as, his views on women, the new generation, egotism, and ways in which to live a good life- demonstrates to the Russian public a sense of openness. All in all, my job is to “satisfy the government’s demands, the demands of the writer, and the demands of my own inner feelings” (Jacobson, p. 45). Therefore, by publishing this literary piece during this flourishing age of literature, I am not only appeasing the governments wishes to halt social unrest, but I am simultaneous pleasing the writers, their audience, and myself. I must admit that why I am not an insurgent, I do seek to develop Russia. I want to help unify the country, and by establishing a veneer of openness between the Tsar and his people is the first step I can take towards developing a stable Empire. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, our last Tsar, Nicholas I, was seen as a despot towards the people because he believed in the holy trinity: the autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Russianness. In these new times, it is critical for the current Tsar to avoid this pitfall. I am not claiming that he must reshape the Empire, but he must at least set himself apart from those the masses see as a despot. Allowing semi-pervasive literature to be present in society may be a way to quench the thirst of the masses. If we give them the idea that reform is coming and that they have rights, I feel as if they will be satisfied and this will end the need for revolution in this country. Therefore Dr. Norris, I humbly propose that you pass this overly long and repetitive book with edits to the masses so that they might revel in this “freedom of literacy” under our kinder and gentler Tsar.


Nicole Puglisi



Zach Logsdon is a senior majoring in History.

Nicole Puglisi is a junior majoring in History.




[1] Rudd, Charles A. Fighting Words: Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 1804-1906. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. Pg. 138

[2] Chernyshevsky pg. 301

[3] Chernyshevsky pg. 291

[4] Chernyshevsky pg. 281

[5] Chernyshevsky pg. 280

[6] Rudd pg. 100

[7] Chernyshevsky pg. 373

[8] Ibid pg. 143

[9] Wagner, as found in Chernyshevsky pg. 156

[10] Chernyshevsky pg. 156

[11] Wagner, as found in Chernyshevsky pg. 156

[12] Wagner, as found in Chernyshevsky pg. 156

[13] Chernyshevsky pg. 164

[14] Rudd pg. 108

[15] Rudd pg. 108

Literary Journeys into the Past: Empire and Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov, Tiflis.  1837.  Wikimedia Commons.

By Paige Ross

Understanding Russian Imperialism: Conceptions of Empire in Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time

Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time (1838-40) is a remarkable work of fiction that contributed not only to the “golden age” of Russian literature, but that also helped Russians to make sense of a rapidly growing empire. Lermontov came of age in the “spirit of 1812” and helped to bring about a literary work dedicated to the framework of Russia at the time. Through the adventures and conquests of the fictional character Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin, Lermontov examines various conceptions of Russia and Russianness, as well as gives context to the ways that Russia’s expanding empire incorporated the “different-ness” of territories outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow. A Hero of Our Time provides a glimpse of Russia’s complex and expanding empire and helps to illustrate popular sentiments among Russians about the nature of the vast territories, various peoples and ethnicities, and civilization, as well as beliefs about religion and the fluidity of social class. For these reasons, Lermontov’s novel is an indispensable key to understanding the Russian empire and its peoples during the expansion of imperialism.

A crucial element of empire examined in A Hero of Our Time is that of the “civilizing mission” of various peoples and ethnicities on the periphery of imperial Russia. This examination of a “civilizing mission” and the issue of Orthodoxy is first presented in the story of Bela, a beautiful Circassian woman “with black eyes like a mountain goat’s that looked right inside you” (13). In the opening story, Pechorin orchestrates the stealing of a horse for Bela’s brother, Azamat, and in return, he demands to have Bela for himself. Maxim Maximych confides to the unnamed narrator, “I told Pechorin so afterwards, but he only answered that an uncivilized Circassian girl should be glad to have a nice husband like him, since, after all, according to their ways he would be her husband’” (19). Lermontov’s assertion of Bela and the Circassian people in general as in need of civilization illustrates the pervading assumption among Russians that the periphery of the empire contained savage people incapable of being independently civilized. However, Lermontov adds a touch of irony to the story of Bela and the issue of her “civilization” in the fact that it was Russians who ordered her family killed and disappeared.

The second element of empire illustrated in the story of Bela is the issue of Orthodoxy and the bringing of religion to “uncivilized” peoples. After she is brutally stabbed by a vengeful Kazbich, Bela is near death and begins to contemplate the role religion might play for her in the afterlife. Maxim tells the narrator, “She [Bela] said she felt sad that she wasn’t a Christian and that her spirit would never meet Pechorin’s in the next world and some other woman would be his sweetheart in heaven. I thought of getting her baptized before she died and suggested it to her. She looked at me, not sure what to do. She couldn’t speak for a long time, but in the end said she’d die in the faith she’d been born in” (39-40).  Lermontov’s illustration of Maxim’s dilemma as to whether or not to have Bela baptized in order to save her soul depicts the fundamental conflict that many Russians faced when attempting to understand ethnic “others.” This conflict is examined once more after Bela dies and Maxim struggles with whether or not to add a cross to her grave. He tells the narrator, “Early next morning we buried her near the spot where she had last sat, outside the fort by the stream […] I wanted to put up a cross, but didn’t like to somehow. After all, she wasn’t a Christian” (41). Maxim’s discomfort in assigning Bela a religion post-mortem also introduces the possibility that there may very well have been a kind of ambiguity in this conflict of faith, and questions as to what to do about bringing religion to those peoples deemed “uncivilized,” may have had multiple variations.

The second crucial element examined in Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time is that of the geography, the physical scope, of empire in Russia. Using various geographical markers and depictions, Lermontov allows us to garner the general feelings about one place or another in the minds of Russians based on the narrator’s attitudes about the place. The larger context with which these vast territories are examined and explained illustrate the ever-present fascination among Russians about the “periphery” of the empire. The allure of any given geographical location in the novel determines both the behavior of the people involved as well as the “kind” of place it is: welcoming, warm, cold, sunny, vast, bleak, etc. Lermontov allows the reader to gather a sense of Russia, a taste for the “good” and “bad” within the empire, the scenery and the beauty of these new lands, as well as the general complexity of the regions encompassed by imperial Russia during the 19th century.

Beginning with the unnamed narrator in part one, A Hero of Our Time opens with travel in the Caucasus, and more specifically, the valley of Koyshaur. The narrator exclaims, “What a glorious place that valley is! Inaccessible mountains on all sides, red-hued cliffs hung with green ivy and crowned with clumps of plane-trees, yellow precipices streaked with rivulets; high up above lies the golden fringe of the snow, while below the silver thread of the Aragva—joining in embrace with some nameless lesser torrent that roars out of a black, mist-filled gorge—stretches glistening like a scaly snake” (5). From his description, the reader can infer the sheer beauty of the valley and feel a sense of majesty and appreciation about the place. The valley of Koyshaur represents the beauty of the empire as well as the range of physical features possible and present in any given region of the Russian-held territory.

In stark contrast to the valley of Koyshaur, Pechorin presents the story of his time in Taman, “the foulest hole among all the sea-coast towns of Russia” (57). The town is situated on the very western edge of the Russian empire, directly bordered on one side by the Sea of Azov, and the other by the Black Sea. In Taman, Pechorin writes, “We passed through a lot of filthy back-streets, seeing nothing but ramshackle fences” (57). In Taman, Pechorin experiences thievery at the hands of a clever blind boy and is nearly drowned by a girl of eighteen. The scope of the town is described in poor condition, and a majority of Pechorin’s experiences in the town occur during the night, which adds to the mystery, suspicion, and intrigue of the place. Taman is clearly indicative of Russian views of the periphery of the empire, where Lermontov may have exaggerated conditions and stretched details, in order to present the town as a realm outside of the center where uncivilized people with bleak morals dwell.

The final geographical space examined in-depth in Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time is that of the spa town Pyatigorsk, where Pechorin meets and courts Princess Mary. It is in this space that the majority of the novel takes place and where the majority of the plot develops as well as unfolds. The events of Pyatigorsk are told to the reader through Pechorin’s journal, and when he arrives high up at the foot of Mashuk, he describes opening the window of his dwelling and “the room filled with the scent of flowers from the modest garden outside. […] to the west lies Beshtau with its five blue peaks, like ‘the last cloud of the dying storm’; to the north Mashuk towers like a shaggy Persian cap, filling the whole horizon; to the east the view is gayer—below me, in a splash of colour, lies the little town, all neat and new, with the babbling of medicinal springs and the clamour of the multi-lingual throng” (70). The town is presented not only as vibrant and colorful, but also as a space containing many different ethnicities and languages, further illustrating the vastness of the Russian territory in Lermontov’s time. Pechorin writes, “It’s a delight to live in a place like this. Every fibre of my body tingles with joy. The air is pure and fresh, as the kiss of a child, the sun is bright, the sky is blue—what more can one want? What need have we here of passions, desires, regrets?” (70). Once more, Pyatigorsk is illustrated as a clean, fresh, sunny, and overall joyous space, giving the reader a positive picture of life in the town.

The geography of empire in Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time gives context and meaning to the vast territories Russia encompassed during the 19th century, as well as illustrates popular sentiment and attitudes about particular spaces in that vast empire. While Lermontov frames the valley of Koyshaur and the town of Pyatigorsk as beautiful, clean spaces and conveys a sense of deep appreciation for this beauty, Taman exists as the contrast to the former. Lermontov’s decision to illustrate any given place in a positive or negative light allows the reader to garner a greater sense of the scope of Russia, as well as allows for interpretation and bias about any given space within the empire. The framing of geographical spaces in the Russian empire is a critical piece of the importance of the novel and frames how one understands the territorial spaces that the imperial power encompassed.

The final, and perhaps most critical element in Lermontov’s examination of empire in A Hero of Our Time is the plight of minority peoples and the treatment and prejudices these groups experienced as a part of the larger Russian empire. These disparate peoples helped to make up diverse and sprawling territory from the beginning of the empire onwards. Groups such as the Cossacks, Chechens, various Asiatics, Circassians, and Ossestes all appear in one context or another in the novel, providing for the reader an accurate picture of the opinions and sentiments towards these various peoples at the time. Lermontov reveals through dialogue as well as behavioral analysis and inner thoughts how ethnic Russians came to view those peoples considered “different” and “exotic.”

The first group discussed broadly is that of the “Asiatics” in the opening section, Bela. Through a conversation between the unnamed narrator and a fellow traveler in the Caucasus, the latter exclaims: “Fearful rogues, these Asiatics are. Do you really think they’re doing any good with all that shouting? […] You hitch up twenty bullocks if you like, but they won’t budge an inch when they shout at them in that language of theirs. Dreadful scoundrels they are!” (6). Utilizing the conversation above, a reader could come to understand that these “Asiatics” are on the periphery of empire, and that Russians are more civilized and dominant in contrast to the less evolved Asiatic peoples on the edges of the imperial territory. The characterization of these peoples as “fearful rogues” and “dreadful scoundrels” gives a sense of unsophistication and blurred morals. In the passage, the traveler goes on to describe how the Asiatic workers scam and otherwise pressure travelers into giving them tips. The depiction of these peoples as dishonest and rogue furthers the narrative of the “uncivilized” other while associating these people with unstable moral compasses.

As the unnamed narrator continues his travels that day, he has yet another conversation with a traveler and the narrator expresses his obvious disdain of the groups traveling with them. The exchange is telling of the view of various peoples in terms of intelligence, cleanliness, and ability. “They’re a pathetic lot,’ I said, pointing to our filthy hosts, who were watching us in a sort of dumb stupor.” The traveler with him then asserts: “As stupid as they come! Believe it or not, but they’re absolutely useless. Say what you like about our friends the Kabardians or the Chechens—robbers and vagabonds they may be, but they’re plucky devils for all that. Why, this lot don’t even bother about weapons. You’ll never see one of them wearing a decent dagger” (9). In the exchange, the Georgian hosts and others are labeled “stupid” and “absolutely useless” while the Kabardians and Chechens are “robbers and vagabonds.”

In yet another conversation, the subject of the Circassians arises: “Take these Circassians, for instance,’ he went on. ‘Once they get drunk on buza at a wedding or funeral, it’s sheer murder” (10). Lermontov’s choice to describe the Circassians as unruly, lawless drunkards advances the “uncivilized” trope that pertained to the “other” peoples in the empire, further separating them from ethnic Russians. While relatively degrading ethnic minorities in the vast scope of the empire, Lermontov utilizes the unnamed narrator to compare Russians to the others, elevating Russians to a superior position in the grand scheme of empire: “I couldn’t help being struck by this capacity of Russians to adapt themselves to the ways of peoples they happen to live among. I don’t know if this is a praiseworthy quality or not, but it does show wonderful flexibility and that clear common sense that can forgive evil wherever it is seen to be inevitable or ineradicable” (25). This “wonderful flexibility” to adapt to ever-changing circumstances and the benevolent forgiveness of evil paints the ethnic Russian as a superior counterpart in both diplomacy and emotional intelligence to the lesser, uncivilized, savage others. In painting a picture of empire, Lermontov illustrates the inferiority of other ethnicities in the hierarchy of social order in imperial Russia during the 19th century.

Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time is an indispensable piece in the broader understanding of Russia as a nation, Russian identity, and Russian imperialism during the 19th century. Lermontov utilizes fiction as a method to help Russians understand the civilization (or lack thereof) on the periphery of empire, the mission of Orthodoxy, the vast geographical territories, and the ethnic minorities that encompassed this empire. From his novel, one can begin to paint a picture of the broader attitudes, sentiments, and behavior of Russians in relation to civilization, religion, geographical space, and ethnic minorities. Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time situates Russia and Russianness in the context of empire and provides a framework for the mindset of Russians and Russian history that is crucial to understanding the imperial 19th century in Asia.


Literary Journeys into the Past: Lost Stories by Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov, The Georgian Military Highway, 1837.  Wikimedia Commons.


Mikhail Lermontov’s short novel remains a classic account of the nature of the Russian Empire and of the conquest of the Caucasus in the early 19th Century.  Here three students from HST 374–Evan Helchen, Mary Seaman, and Emily Erdmann–“find” lost sections of the work and contextualize them.



Evan Helchen


            In A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, we are let in to the mind of the repulsive, yet endearing mind of the main character, Pechorin, for every part of the story besides the one that perhaps should tell us the most about him. In this essay, I attempt to replicate what I believe would be Pechorin’s journal entries during his time with Bela. Within these, I try to answer why Pechorin did things in a way that Maxim was not able to.



4 Mar

“I had a better opinion of Circassian women” I said to Maxim.

Undoubtedly excited to prove me wrong, he smirked and responded, “You wait.”

I had my doubts. In St. Petersburg, there had been tales of the stunning beauty of these Circassian women. To this point, the only women we had seen were certainly nothing special. They had been kind enough to hide from Maxim and I when we came riding in to town.

We entered the hut of the Tatar king. Maxim insisted on ensuring our horses were put in a place that he was aware of. That man worries too much. Afterwards, we were shown in to the best room of the chief’s hut, where the wedding was to take place.

The wedding was nothing out of the ordinary. I hate to admit, however, that Maxim had been right earlier when he had told me to wait. On the other side of the room, I saw what most men probably think of when they speak of Circassian Beauties. This woman had a slim figure, with eyes as dark as the sea. I was entranced by this beauty, the likes of which I had never seen before.

I captured her eye, and held on to it. I knew then that she would be mine. The thing about these women from these exotic lands is that we Russians are just as mysterious to them. We may technically be of the same empire, but we are far from the same people.

After the ceremony, our gaze turned in to action. She came over and sang to me in a language I did not understand. I displayed my gratitude and made sure that Maxim translated that to her. She went back to where she had been sitting previously.

As she walked away, Maxim turned and asked me “Well, what do you think of her?”

“Charming!” I asked Maxim, “What was her name?”


I made sure to look her way periodically the rest of the night. You see, it is easy for a man like me to play this game with a woman from these parts. They do not interact with men that have the intellect or status of myself. The only thing I needed to find was an opportunity to make her mine.


7 Mar

After we got back from the wedding the other night, Maxim told me about an interaction he had witnessed between Azamat and Kazbich            . He told me of these wild offers that Azamat had been making to Kazbich for Kazbich’s horse. He had even offered up his sister!

I have not been able to stop thinking about Bella. I do not understand why. She is not nearly of my status, and typically I do not get transfixed on women. Her hair is wild, like it is consistently being blown by a gust of wind. Her legs go on farther than the eye can see. She moves with a grace that other women of her ilk do not.

There must be some way for me to get Azamat that horse. One time, I promised that brat that I would give him a ducat if he would steal his father’s best goat. The next day, he came lugging that goat. I thought, surely there must be some way to get him to do the same with his gem of a sister.

The horse! I must get the horse! I am sure Azamat will be here within the next few days, and when he comes I will make him a proposition.


11 Mar

I wonder if it is common for all Tatar boys to be so easily swayed.

When Azamat came in to the fortress today, I gave him sweetmeats, as I typically do, and turned the conversation to horses. We marveled at the joy of riding and the majesty of the creatures. I could tell that his attention was waning a bit, which is when I brought up Kazbich’s horse:

“I have seen a lot of different horses in my time traveling this grand empire, but I have to say there has only been one that I have ever been truly enamored with.”

“What is this horse you speak of?”

“Why, Kazbich’s horse of course. It is so handsome. I have never seen another horse run with such a vigor. That horse is enough to make up for the faults of any man that rides it. Surely, there cannot be another horse of this earth that could even compare!”

Maxim chimed in and changed the conversation. I wonder if he was trying to protect the boy from himself. I guess it does not matter, because I know I have captured the boy’s imagination.


11 Apr

Over the past few weeks, Azamat and I have talked about that horse every time he has visited. I saw how the love for the horse was growing inside of the boy. I decided, finally, that enough was enough, and asked, “I see, Azamat that you have taken a desperate fancy to that horse of Kazbich’s, but you’ve no more hope of getting him than you have of flying. Tell me what you’d give to anyone who got him for you”

“Anything he wanted,” Azamat answered.

After he said that, I promised him that I would get him the horse, provided that he gave me Bela. Maxim told me that this was bad business that I had entered. He is so simple minded. How can he not see that I am helping this beautiful girl? With a man like myself, she is no longer limited and confined to this place. I can lavish her with the finest goods from around the world. I can expose her to thoughts that these people of these lands cannot even begin to dream of.

What is it about this girl that has done this to me? I do not know. The heart grows fonder as my anticipation grows for her to be mine. Typically, I like to play with these women. There is not this yearning to make their life better, I merely enjoy the chase. This will not be the same as those past events.


16 Apr

She is mine now, but she will not open herself up to me. I do not know where this deep caring comes from. I feel compelled to win her over. Every day, I give her a gift. Every day, I try and learn the Tatar language so I can communicate with her. Every smile, every time she acknowledges me a second longer, is a moment I treasure.

Even though she will not submit to my wishes yet and even grant me a kiss, I am still determined. After an exchange today where she referred to herself as my slave I was so frustrated that I ran to my room to pace and think for a bit.

Maxim walked in and I exclaimed to him, “She is a devil – not a woman! But I give you my word of honor that she shall be mine!”

Maxim followed that up with some helpful advice. Telling me that these Circassian women do not need these gifts. These women are not like the women in the lands that I come from. He may be a simple man, but he is certainly not bad to have around sometimes.


20 Apr

Finally, I have accomplished my goal. Once Maxim told me that these Circassian beauties do not respond to physical gifts like the women of Russia, I realized where I had erred. The entirety of our relationship, I had been the one expressing. I was the one giving. Bela has never had to face the prospect of me leaving, which means she can feel safe in her own feeling of being my slave. That is to say she doesn’t have to think of the alternative of not having me in her life. So, I decided to stage a walk out. I told her that if she did not love me, that I would leave. The key to my plan was that I actually committed to leaving if she decided to let me go. That being said, I was certain when I hatched the plan that it would work. As soon as I touched the handle of the door, she threw her arms around me. Oh, what a beautiful day it has been.


31 Aug

            I always get bored. Why did I think this would be different? I remember the immense feeling of joy I had once I had conquered Bela and made her mine. Do I just seek thrills? Is that why I love the hunt? There is always another boar to chase, and once I kill the boar, there is nothing to deal with afterwards. The deed is done. With a woman, they need more past the point of the initial embrace. I seem to just need less and less as the time goes on.

Today, Kazbich visited the fortress, presumably because he had heard of my stealing his horse. In reaction, I have told Bela to remain on the fortress grounds, where she is safe. Telling her to be safe was not out of a deep seeded love like the one she has for me.


8 Sep

The other day, Maxim and I were coming up on the fortress after an unsuccessful boar hunt when we saw Kazbich in the distance. We chased him down and got within gunshot and I fired. I did not want to deal with this savage any longer. The bullet caught his horse on the hind leg and it fell to the ground. It was then that I realized that he was carrying Bela with him on the horse.

We went to shoot at him again, and truthfully, I do not remember where we hit him, but I do know that he stabbed Bela and ran off. The savage didn’t have the curtesy to stab her in the heart either, and it was clear when we came up on her that she was not going to make it.

Over the next days, I was at the bedside of Bela for most hours of the day. I felt nothing. This woman, who I had felt so strongly about, stirred no emotions within me on her deathbed. She needed me more than I needed her, and that makes me feel no guilt.

After she finally gave up on her fight for life, Maxim and I paced together for a while, saying nothing. I started laughing. I could tell from Maxim’s puzzled look that he did not understand where the laugh came from. He cannot understand because he cannot understand me. I am a man who has gone to many different lands, hunted many animals, and pursued many women, and none of them have affected me permanently. The one woman who I thought was different than the others could not evoke anything out of me even in death. Is this what it is to be young and have to want for nothing? I think it is time to go and try something new.





“The Recollections of Princess Mary”: A Review of Mikahil Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time


Discovered and Introduced by Mary Seaman


After reading the fiction so graciously compiled by Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov about my time with his “hero,” I feel it my duty to disclose the truth of Pechorin to any who find the opinion of but one of his endless conquests noteworthy. Please understand that my commentary results not from a long-unspoken bitterness regarding the role Pechorin played in my past; rather, it is simply a correction of facts that Sir Lermontov, after merely stumbling upon Pechorin’s misleading musings, could not possibly have discerned, despite his keen eye for a frivolous tale.

As it so happens, Pechorin was not nearly as clever as he thought himself to be. In fact, Pechorin’s influence did not appear in my diaries until May 16th of that year, when I disclosed the following about the day’s events:

“[…] that insufferable soldier friend of Grushnitsky’s ruined a romantic moment today, when his brash actions created an illusion of a Circassian raid to startle me (91). It is obvious that he wishes to usurp Grushnitsky’s courtship with me. It shall be interesting to see how this plays out, for I believe his description to match Vera’s mystery man who loved her long ago in Petersburg. I shall inform her of my suspicions tomorrow morning before she visits the spa, and I’m sure she’ll confirm the truth as I see it.”

Indeed, the most blaring error of Pechorin’s account was his impression that he exercised complete control over his situation. It may surprise my readers to know that the majority of the events described within his narrative resulted from Vera’s most clever scheme to exact revenge upon her former lover. For, after I confronted her the next day, Vera revealed to me Pechorin’s transgressions from her youth, and proposed that we unite to beat Pechorin at his own game.

Since my beloved Vera was so near the grave, and this plot proved a tremendous distraction from her degenerative illness, I agreed to act as her accomplice, although I must admit that it went much farther than I could have possibly foreseen. For, while the goal of my mission was to cause pain and suffering to Pechorin, it caused me a great deal of pain and suffering as well. Indeed, Pechorin correctly guessed that I loved him – I suppose the naïveté of my youth made such things obvious, especially to men like Pechorin. And the love of one as innocent as I was apparently to him “like a flower that breathes its sweetest scent to the first rays of the sun. You must pluck it at once, breathe your fill of its scent and cast it on the roadway to be picked up, perchance, by another” (103).

As I had no way of knowing how this man would impact me, I threw myself full-heartedly into Vera’s scheme. We decided it would be best for him to work for an invitation into our home. According to Vera’s impressive memory, Pechorin was always more inclined to misread situations whilst participating in a chase than he was when placed within seemingly effortless situations. Thus, Vera gave me strict orders not to give him the invitation she so desperately wanted him to receive until he’d proven himself a gentleman worthy of my attention. This did not happen until his actions at the ball, during which he predictably stepped in so that I might avoid a drunken man’s advances and the subsequent humiliations I’m sure would have befallen me without his intervention (96). Our discussions that evening were lively, and I admit that I was taken with him enough to invite him to our residence the next day. When I told Vera all that had happened however, she appeared sullen and distant. She was pleased that her plan had worked, but I believe it was rather obvious to her that I was following in the footsteps of her childish past. She warned me again about falling in love with Pechorin, and said solemnly that he would never be capable of loving any woman, especially not women like us. Of course, I responded that her concerns were unfounded, for I would sooner love Grushnitsky – the man Pechorin had exposed the night before as a man who lied about his rank – than Pechorin. I remember vividly how strangely Vera looked upon me that night, and I truly believe she knew how the summer would end for me in that moment.

I didn’t understand her actions until the end of May, when I realized that Pechorin’s conversation was entirely more entertaining to me than Grushnitsky’s and admonished him for deferring my company to a man so clearly beneath his entertainment value (102). I admit, such sentiments were childish of me, and the fact that he ignored me during this time, which seemed almost like a punishment for my rudeness to his friend, was enough to remind me that Pechorin could be nothing more than a passing amusement between Vera and myself. He was a scoundrel, but I was rather fond of his charm, and, after reviewing my diaries, it appears I was also rather fond of the loyalty he had towards his friend. It wasn’t until the walk to the Chasm, however, that I truly admitted my love for Pechorin.

How could I not? The brutality his honesty maintained towards his history was inconceivable to me. Men simply don’t acknowledge their weaknesses in such a manner to women. Of course, later, I thought his monologue was a rehearsed effort to seduce me into his arms; especially given the hindsight bestowed upon me by the end of the summer. Nevertheless, after reading his account, I firmly believe that he told me the truth that night. He truly saw himself as someone destined to never love, purely because no one had bothered to love him before he’d conquered his own innocence. Of course, I told Vera all of this when I came home. She, of course, told me he’d spouted lies, and that these were things she’d heard millions of times before from his lips, but I believe she knew that I’d lost my heart to him that night. However, she’d gone too far in her plan to give up so easily. So, she fixed it so the next phase of her plan would occur Kislovodsk, away from my admiring gaze of Pechorin.

This meant I had to make my association with him at the ball last, which meant that my primary objective shifted from playing coyly distant to his flirtation to engaging him for as long as I possibly could. This meant that I could waste no precious time on Grushnitsky and his change of rank, of which he seemed quite excited. However, fate was not on my side, as it seemed the entire ballroom conspired against me to keep Pechorin away from me, Grushnitsky blabbering all the way along about his new position ever so intolerably every time he found me. The only solace of the night came with a kiss to my hand from Pechorin as he helped me into my carriage (112).

That brush of his lips sustained me for a week. I floated on air, and there was no one around to stop me from admitting it to the world. Of course, Grushnitsky endeavored for my affections in the absence of his friend, but even he could tell that I was completely lost to him now. My only thoughts were of Pechorin, my songs held all new meanings now. He was everything to me, and in my youth I seemed to forget my propriety. With Vera too far away to reprimand me properly, I acted truly lovesick for the first time in my life. It was then that the rumors started about the hot spring that Pechorin and I were engaged to be married.

All of these fantasies came crashing down after Pechorin and I rode together when I finally arrived in Kislovodsk, after which I heard from his own lips that he harbored no feelings of love for me (123). When I told Vera of his actions, she became very angry and decided to employ her plan the next day. And, on June 15th after she met with him and confirmed that my words were true, she felt no sorrow in the events that transpired next.

For you see, she had orchestrated such an elaborate trap for Pechorin that even the actions of Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain were orchestrated by her efforts. She’d purposefully made it so that Pechorin could only see her if he could seduce me to affect the favor I’d previously bestowed upon his friend, knowing that after he saw Pechorin as a traitor, he would go to his brigade and seek their sympathy for his cruelties. By isolating Pechorin from his fellow soldiers, Vera believed we could make him truly miserable. And, originally, that was the extent of her plan. However, after seeing how truly broken I’d become after his seduction, Vera endeavored to permanently damage his honor, by informing Grushnitsky that she’d seen Pechorin peering through my window the past night. This meant that he was waiting for Pechorin to come down from Vera’s window after their meeting the 15th, and subsequently made possible all the events that transpired later.

But before you blame a dead woman for the murder of Grushnitsky, please believe me when I say that she meant for no such thing to happen. Her only goal was to provide Pechorin with as much suffering as she could. When her husband informed her about the duel, her face went ashen. She begged him to take her home. She had no desire for the bloodshed. I think she died with the guilt of Grushnitsky’s blood on her hands.

And, after reading the letter she’d left to Pechorin, I cannot believe the obvious concern she felt for me during this time. She was so concerned with the fact that I might marry Pechorin – the man who’d never loved me to begin with, that she allowed her last words to him be about my welfare.

Nevertheless, I will never forget the terror and desperation I saw on Pechorin’s face as he rushed away from his quarters on a horse he’d already tired half to death to chase after Vera. I recalled that Vera had once said Pechorin could never love a woman, that he was incapable of such emotion. But after seeing that display, I believed it was I who was incapable of loving a man, for I could not so much as empathize with what he was feeling at that moment.

When he returned home and my mother confronted him about the rumors floating about concerning his affairs with her daughter, he understandably rejected me with a coldness I’d grown to expect from the man I so admired. I told him that I hated him, for I did. In that moment? After witnessing all the death and destruction he’d caused – I ask you, how could I not hate him?

So you see, the majority of this segment of Mikhail Yuryevich’s novel was inaccurate. Even though the sequencing of events was correct and the characters were the same as my recollections, the way I loved Pechorin developed completely independently from how he inferred. And, after reading all this as an older woman, and one who has felt true love and borne many children from that lasting partnership, I cannot avoid the feeling that this summer with Pechorin was merely a distraction for me.

However, it remains noteworthy that the majority of this novel was written by a man whose opinion I once greatly admired. And, while Pechorin was wrong about me in more ways he could ever fathom, he was right about the lasting impact that summer impressed upon my soul. After reading his thoughts about our time together, I found myself moved to tears from the sheer senselessness of it all. While Lermontov saw heroism in Pechorin’s actions, I can discern nothing noteworthy about them in the slightest, save for an exceptional fear of lasting happiness, which it seems plagued Pechorin his entire life.

Is this what makes a hero in our era? A man so afraid to accept happiness, to accept graciousness and love that he will murder a close friend to presumably protect the honor of a woman he claimed to never love? If this is the ideal for the modern man, then I am quite pleased to be a widow, and will retain no further desire to court any suitors in the future. To those who emulate Pechorin, I feel nothing but sorrow for the chasm that has replaced their hearts. No one deserves emptiness, regardless of their unrelenting fears of unadulterated satisfaction. If you feel yourself relating to the plight of Pechorin, please know that I sincerely pity you, from the bottom of my heart, and that I pray for you to find joy in the dangers behind true vulnerability. As someone who knew Pechorin well, and understands him completely now, I must say that his walls were the strongest facet of his spirit, and the fact that he never allowed anyone entrance to his soul is what made him abhor our society and our time. How could any man such as this be a tribute to his culture, his generation, or his heritage?



“A Hero’s Response”

Found and Introduced by Emily Erdmann



This essay is intended to serve as Pechorin’s defensive response to the critiquing, conservative Russian masses who claimed his story to be “… a slander on Russian society” (Foote, xxvii). The footnotes offer a greater depth to the paper that cannot necessarily be added from Pechorin’s point of view as he conveys the idea that the Russian elite are united not by a productive, national identity, but rather by an alienation that leaves them bored and motivated towards idle manipulation.


Does my title as “hero” offend you?

Hero is the one who leads the many, and by extension, the one who represents all the others. I am less of the former and more of the latter. I am no Scaevola;[1] I stand not for courage, I stand merely as the superfluous man. I am all of you, the only thing setting me apart being my admission to these idiosyncrasies we share. Suffice it to say that I am not the hero who saves, but rather the one who reveals a truth, however bitter it may be.

On the surface, though, I think we all aspire to be the saving type – myself included, although it pains me to admit it. I have forever run against the current of Russian society, flattering myself to be different or special. I thought that an adventure to the Caucuses would prove an exciting and heroic one, defending the Fatherland with Asiatic bullets flying about. And yet, I soon found myself disenchanted with all of it. Along with this disenchantment came the ability to see through the illusion that I myself had suffered from as it played out in other people.

My dear Russians, your concept of hero seems regretfully to align with that of Grushnitsky’s, who, for his part, “knows nothing of people or of the weaker sides of human nature, since the sole preoccupation of his life has been himself. His ambition is to become the hero of a novel” (73). Caught up in his own airs, this variety of hero pretends to understand and overcome humanity’s weaknesses, but in reality, he perpetuates them.

You are all naïve to think that this could be the image of a hero in our time. Your characters belong in a fairy tale, whereas the only fictional hero meant for reality is the like of the Vampire: a leader who is not macho, but sinister, and not virtuous but a destroyer of the lofty yet shallow beliefs we deign to hold up as “virtues” (168). The only heroes of the real world are born and bred upon the vices of this génération pitoyable.[2]

I will not save Princess Mary from a fiery fate, but I will relentlessly draw attention to the charades and illusions of everyday society life that keep us entrenched and held back from a system that would put our existence to effective use.


Do you perceive me to be callous?

I must be a psychopath for I have no emotions. You are inclined to tell yourself this, because you wish it to be true. And yet, my fellow Russians, I am not devoid of emotions – I am simply educated beyond requiring them. I pride myself on the supremacy of my intellect over my own feelings,[3] but this does not imply that such feelings have ceased to exist altogether. My personality is not black and white as you are wont to believe, but rather gray and fluid as is yours. I am not an impenetrable wall of apathy.

I gave Grushnitsky a chance to repent, telling him honestly that I would forgive his slander. It is not my fault that he chose death over degrading deliverance. Murder did not come easily to me. The finger may move quick on the trigger, but the mind is slower to accept. The turmoil in my mind made me physically ill. I am sickened by society, but I do not pretend to be anything but a product of it.

You are so quick to judge me because you have read my thoughts. Yet, did not Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain also play manipulative games? Did they not pray on my sanity and cause me to cry out “Why do they all hate me?” (122) as my entire being filled with sorrow and spite? This goes not only to show that I am capable of being moved to a point of rational feeling, but additionally that nefarious and malignant actions are not limited to me alone. Would you be disappointed to find out that there is trivial difference between myself and the others? What about between me and you? I suspect you will find that the deviation is little.


Do you think I’m a cynic?

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I wander through life “T’ward good and evil shamefully uncaring”[4] – too many times has life provoked me to try and left me without fruit. Why shouldn’t I seek enjoyment in what I already know to have a bitter end? I sought adventure and found boredom, I loved and I was abandoned.

As the narrator puts it, “It is sad to see a young man’s fondest hopes and dreams shattered when the rose-coloured veil through which he has viewed the actions and feelings of men is plucked away. But still he has the hope of replacing his old illusions with others, just as fleeting, but also just as sweet” (53). I am only labeled a cynic because I see the illusions where you see happiness. It is senseless to live in ignorance of the fact that we are ever in pursuit of the next happiest moment. Boredom is the only enduring sentiment when there is no cause for anything more permanent.

Russian society is as flat and static as its geography.

In idleness stagnating, growing old.
We have received, when barely finished weaning,
The errors of our sires, their tardiness of mind,
And life oppresses us, a flat road without meaning.4

In our own boredom, we reach for the diversity and variance of the Caucuses only to find that we don’t belong there either. Yes, at first I was attracted to the foreign element of Bela’s existence but it didn’t take long to realize that we were too different. With the disparity between the cliffs and the chasms of the rural mountains, there is also the discrepancy between hierarchical strata: for all our mediocrity, we remain superior to the uncivilized masses of the Caucuses. I do indeed regret the way Bela left this world, but there was no sense in painting illusions for her in those final days. “I’m just as much to be pitied as she is, perhaps even more. My soul’s been corrupted by society” (35).

I had loved Vera in days passed, and in talking myself out of the regret I felt as she left me, married to another man, it would seem that I talked myself into the idea of marrying someone else. I should have known life would leave me disappointed as ever it has and ever it will. I noted the disdain in Maxim’s face, but I cannot change the way of things. I come from an education that forces me to reason through what he cannot seem to see. I cannot enjoy the trifles of life, the monotony of societal “sophistication;” there is naught but mindless platitudes and illusions.

Even if you all join me in this point of view — seeing Russia for what it is — I fear there will still be no solution to the “vices of our whole generation” (4). Because we lack connection to a semblance of Russian identity, we guide ourselves by intellect, not feeling. Educated and well-off, those of us from society know not where to direct our efforts and intelligence. We are not European, we are not Caucasian. What can we do from here but entertain ourselves in the boring blip between birth and obliteration?

Hélas, finita la tragedia.[5]


[1] Allusion to the legend of Gaius Mucius Scaevola, a Russian soldier who was considered a hero for having burned himself to prove Russian courage and loyalty (Kivelson & Suny, 150).

[2] “pitiful generation”

[3] “He scorns emotions and prides himself on the supremacy of his intellect over his feelings” (Foote, xviii)

[4] Verses “Meditation” (1838)

[5] This is a reference to the ironic statement “finita la commedia” (141) that Pechorin says after murdering Grushnitsky. The inherent irony is that the story is, in fact, a tragedy (denoted by the fact that the main characters die). Because Pechorin offers no solution to the Russian condition, the only ending to the “flat road without meaning” (“Meditation,” v. 7) is death.


Evan Helchen is a junior majoring in Business Analytics and Economics with a minor in History.

Mary Seaman is a sophomore majoring in History.

Emily Erdmann is a junior majoring in French and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

Literary Journeys Into the Past

Ilya Repin, They Did Not Expect Him.  1884-88.  Wikimedia Commons.

Students in the Fall 2017 class, A History of the Russian Empire, wrote creative papers that asked them to step into the past by writing fiction.  The class read famous works of literature such as Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What is to be Done?, and Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye the Dairyman Tales.”  Many students opted for creative papers when completing their assignments, including “lost” stories by Lermontov and Aleichem.  When writing about Chernyshevsky’s novel, which famously was allowed to be published by an imperial censor only to inspire would-be revolutionaries, students wrote their own versions of the censorship report.  Taking these fictional journeys, as you will see, allowed the students to think about the past in innovative ways.