The Rational versus the Irrational: Historical Conflict in Alexander Pushkin's Boris Godunov and Mednyi Vsadnik

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Abstract

Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) deals with crucial turning-points in the rise of the Russian state in his two historical masterpieces, Boris Godunov (1825) and The Bronze Horseman/ Mednyi vsadnik (1833). In the former he was influenced not only by Shakespearian drama, but also by N. M. Karamzin’s monolithic History of the Russian State/ Istoriya gosudarstva Rossiiskogo (1816-26). However, he does not simply recreate Russia’s past, but adds a new dimension. Flawing the ideas both of the Enlightenment and also of the Romantic Movement, he polarizes the historico-literary argument, permitting neither the rational, nor the irrational to dominate the world to the exclusion of the other. Conscious of the inner links between past and the present, he uses historicisms to achieve unity. A dual approach towards conflict is also found in The Bronze Horseman which reflects the two separate, contradictory traditions of the founding of St Petersburg in 1703 and unites three different eras. Its linguistic and stylistic contrasts offer a dialogue with the eighteenth-century odic tradition from which Pushkin desired to liberate modern Russian literature. As in Boris Godunov, a measured blend both of church slavonicisms and of colloquial terminology provides a parallel linguistic contrast, mirroring the thematic socio-political and moral one. The dynamic conflict between the rational and the irrational is inherent in historical events and in the forces of nature. In The Bronze Horseman it is symbolized by the clash between the “hard” and “soft” elements of St Petersburg and the River Neva, respectively. The guilt-ridden Boris Godunov and the visionary Peter the Great, a man of Napoleonic volition, are both unable to impose order and reason on a world of disorder without unleashing those very same unpredictable, irrational, elemental forces which they are attempting to quell. In the ensuing struggle for survival either one loses one’s way and goes mad, like Evgeny in The Bronze Horseman, or one conquers, like the rather paranoid Boris Godunov, the imaginative Peter the Great, and, indeed, the resourceful Pushkin himself.
Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Slavica Iaponica
Volume39
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2018

Keywords

  • Rational
  • irrational
  • historical conflict
  • Alexander Pushkin
  • Pushkin
  • A. S. Pushkin
  • Boris Godunov
  • The Bronze Horseman
  • Mednyi vsadnik
  • Russian state
  • Shakespeare
  • N. K. Karamzin
  • Karamzin
  • History of the Russian State
  • Istoriya gosudarstva Rossiiskogo
  • Enlightenment
  • Romantic Movement
  • Romanticism
  • past and present
  • historicisms
  • St Petersburg
  • eighteenth-century ode
  • ode
  • literature
  • English literature
  • Russian literature
  • church slavonic
  • church slavonicism
  • linguistic
  • nature
  • hard and soft elements
  • River Neva
  • Neva
  • Peter the Great
  • Napoleon
  • Napoleonic
  • order and disorder
  • Evgeny.

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