Pushkin’s Journey to Erzurum

  • Reuel K. Wilson


Some months after a trip to the Caucasus during which he participated in Paskevich’s summer campaign against Turkey (1829), Pushkin wrote a letter, excusing his abrupt departure from Moscow the previous year, to his future mother-in-law. He writes on April 5, 1830: “Lorsque je la1 vis pour la première fois, sa beauté venait d’être à peine aperçue dans le monde; je l’aimai, la tête me tourna, et je la demandai, votre réponse toute vague qu’elle était, me donna un moment de délire; je partis la même nuit pour l’armée; demandez-moi ce que j’allais y faire, je vous jure que je n’en sais rien, mais une angoisse involontaire me chassait de Moscou; je n’aurais pu soutenir ni votre présence ni la sienne.”2


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  1. 1.
    He is referring to Natalie Goncharova, then a girl of sixteen.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A. S. Pushkin, Sobranie Sočinenij (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel’stvo Xudožest-vennoj Literatury, 1959), IX, 316. All subsequent references will be to this edition.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    David Magarshack, Pushkin: A Biography (London: Chapman & Hall, 1967), p. 219. According to the testimony of one contemporary, A. Ivanovsky (who worked in the Third Section), it was he who suggested to the poet the possibility of going to Paskevich’s Caucasian army. Another contemporary, N. Putyata, relates that, after the tsar’s first refusal, Benken-dorf proposed to the poet that he participate in the campaign as a member of his (Benken-dorf’s) Third Section! See V. Veresaev, Puškin v žizni (6th ed., Moscow: Sovetskij Pisatel’, 1936), pp. 391–393.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Magarshack, p. 222.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Pushkin, IX, 296–297.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    This last somewhat dubious thesis is advanced by one Soviet scholar on the basis of several ambiguous passages in the correspondences of the poet’s friends. I. N. Enikolopov, Puškin na Kavkaze (Tiflis: Zarja Vostoka, 1938), p. 71.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Leonid Grossman, Puškin (Moscow: “Molodaja Gvardija,” 1960), pp. 332, 346.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    This work, Putešestvie v Arzrum, will henceforth be referred to as Arzrum.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Enikolopov, p. 34.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Alexander S. Griboedov (1795–1829). The author of the immortal comedy Woe from Wit (Gore ot uma) had just been assassinated by a mob that stormed the Russian embassy in Tehran. Griboedov’s body was preceded by a high-level delegation sent by the Persian government to apologize for the incident. On the same trip Pushkin had also run into the delegation, as we shall see.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Pushkin, V, 434–435.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., p. 436.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Enikolopov, pp. 30–31. Also see Y. Tynyanov, “O Putešestvii v Arzrum,” in Vremennik puškinskoj komissii, (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademija Nauk SSSR, 1936), Vol. 2, pp. 66–67.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Sometimes he refers to the works of other travelers — describing the Darial Gorge: “Here it is so narrow, so narrow, writes one traveler, that you not only see, but feel, the narrowness.” Pushkin, V, 432.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Pushkin, V, 569–576. The article (original in French) is listed under the heading “Priloženija k Putešestviju v Arzrum.”Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    This passage is expanded into a considerably more outspoken attack on the clergy in an unpublished variant. Pushkin, V, 567.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    D. S. Mirsky, Pushkin (London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1926), p. 186.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Sipovsky, p. 539.Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Victor Fontanier (1796–1857). French diplomat and author whose Voyage en Orient spans the years 1821–1829.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Significantly, on returning to Russia, at the end of Arzrum, the first publication that the author-narrator encounters contains a review violently attacking his works.Google Scholar
  21. 25.
    Pushkin, V, 414.Google Scholar
  22. 26.
    This occurred in 1834, and again in 1835 — the year Pushkin was working on the final version of Arzrum.Google Scholar
  23. 27.
    The author of this popular travelogue written in Karamzinian prose was a Classical scholar and lover of Classical antiquity. His book, full of historical and archaeological information (and misinformation) was read with enthusiasm by Pushkin and Mickiewicz (whose own Crimean Sonnets deal with the same terrain and legends). For an enlightening comparison between Baxčisarajskij Fontan and Sonety krymskie see S. Karlinsky, “Two Pushkin Studies,” II, “The Amber Beads of Crimea,” California Slavic Studies, Vol. II (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), pp. 108–120.Google Scholar
  24. 28.
    Pushkin, VII, 280.Google Scholar
  25. 29.
    Ibid., p. 282.Google Scholar
  26. 30.
    V. L. Komarovich, “K voprosu o žanre Putešestvija v Arzrum,” in Vremennik puškinskoj komissii (Izdaterstvo Akademi Nauk SSSR, Moscow-Leningrad, 1937), vol. 3, pp. 326–338. Karlinsky has also documented Chateaubriand’s influence — directly, and through Byron — on Pushkin. See “Two Pushkin Studies,” I, “Pushkin, Chateaubriand, and the Romantic Pose,” op. cit., pp. 96–107.Google Scholar
  27. 31.
    Karlinsky on the other hand takes this eulogy of the missionary spirit seriously, p. 102.Google Scholar
  28. 32.
    Pushkin, V, 430.Google Scholar
  29. 33.
    Ibid., 430.Google Scholar
  30. 34.
    Pushkin, V, 418.Google Scholar
  31. 36.
    A non-commissioned drill leader in the Imperial Russian Army.Google Scholar
  32. 37.
    Pushkin, V, 424.Google Scholar
  33. 38.
    Grossman, p. 339.Google Scholar
  34. 40.
    Pushkin, V, 445–446.Google Scholar
  35. 41.
    Ibid., p. 448.Google Scholar
  36. 43.
    “Quaerebamus sit ne exsectus? — Deus, respondit, castravit me.”Google Scholar
  37. 45.
    Pushkin, V, 569. Once a not uncommon situation in Russian villages, for which there is a special term snoxačestvo.Google Scholar
  38. 47.
    Pushkin, V, 446.Google Scholar
  39. 48.
    Ibid., p. 449.Google Scholar
  40. 49.
    Ibid., p. 448.Google Scholar
  41. 50.
    Ibid., p. 451.Google Scholar
  42. 51.
    Ibid., p. 450.Google Scholar
  43. 52.
  44. 53.
    Ibid., p. 453.Google Scholar
  45. 54.
    James J. Morier (1780–1849) English novelist and author of travels, who had served as a diplomat in the Near East.Google Scholar
  46. 56.
    Paskevich, whom the author here calls a “shining hero” has been treated with irony throughout. We see him in the seraskir’s apartments “giving away pashaliks and conversing about new novels” (p. 457). Arzrum has, moreover, begun with an account of the author’s metting with Ermolov whom he describes con amove. (Pushkin excluded this from the published version, but subsequent editors have restored it.) During their conversation Ermolov speaks “venomously” about his successor Paskevich, remarking on the easiness of his victories, something Pushkin was to see for himself. Ermolov was retired by Nicholas I on account of his liberal ideas. Pushkin at one time intended to write Ermolov’s biography. See E. Simmons, Pushkin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1937), pp. 301–302. For more on Pushkin’s ironic stance towards the “Graf Erivanskij” see. Tynyanov, “O Putešestvii v Arzrum” in Vremennik Puškinskoj Komissii (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademija Nauk SSSR, 1936), Vol. 2, pp. 66–67.Google Scholar
  47. 60.
    The poet has been identified as Dimitry Tumanishvili (died 1821).Google Scholar
  48. 61.
    Pushkin, V, 456. The mystification — Amin-Olgu is a made-up name (see note on p. 650) — as well as the phrase “satirical poem” indicating the self-effacing and satirical approach of the author to the entire work.Google Scholar
  49. 62.
    Ibid., p. 456.Google Scholar
  50. 63.
    Ibid., p. 459.Google Scholar
  51. 64.
    The poem was written October 17, 1830.Google Scholar
  52. 67.
    Jan Potocki (1761–1815), the Polish novelist and scholar (who wrote in French). The reference concerns his Voyage dans les steps d’Astrakhan et du Caucase (title abbreviated), Paris, 1829, See Tynyanov, p. 70.Google Scholar
  53. 70.
    He also brings irony to bear on travel motifs in the fragmentary Onegin’s Travels which he had originally planned as Part VIII of his “novel in verse.” See Appendix D.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1973

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  • Reuel K. Wilson

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