Exiled from Siberia: The Construction of Siberian Experience by Early-Nineteenth-Century Irkutsk Writers

  • Galya Diment

Abstract

Early in the nineteenth century the rapidly developing Eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk acquired the reputation of being “Siberia’s St. Petersburg.” To several Irkutsk writers who eventually made their way to the real St. Petersburg, the comparison was hardly apt. They felt that St. Petersburg’s damp winter climate compared unfavorably with the bright sunniness and dryness of Siberian frosts, while the density of Petersburg’s population as well as the frantic tempo of the urban existence prevented one from enjoying the same high quality of life as the Russians did in Irkutsk. In an ironic reversal of cultural symbols, people such as Nikolai Polevoi, Ivan Kalashnikov, and Nikolai Shchukin often viewed their native Siberia as a joyful, enchanting, and hospitable paradise while considering the Russian capital as a gloomy, bleak, and uninviting nether world. To some of them Petersburg also represented what to many Siberians was the sole largest bane of Siberia’s existence—the Russian government’s mismanagement and even abuse of the region.

Keywords

Europe Nether World Income Assure Resi 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Quoted in N. N. Ianovskii, ed. Literaturnoe nasledstvo Sibiri (Novosibirsk: Zapadno-Sibirskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1983), vol. 6, p. 12. Unless stated otherwise, all translations from Russian are mine.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See O. N. Vilkov, ed., Goroda Sibiri: Epokha feodalizma i kapitalizma (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1978), pp. 127–128.Google Scholar
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    See O. N. Vilkov, ed., Goroda Sibiri: Ekonomika, upravlenie i kul’tura gorodov Sibiri v dosovetskii period (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1974), p. 241.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    The statement belongs to A. P. Shchapov. Quoted in M. K. Azadovskii, Sibirskie stranitsy (Irkutsk: Vostochno-sibirskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1988), p. 29.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    E. Avdeeva, Zapiski i zamechaniia o Sibiri (Moscow: Tipografiia Nikolaia Stepanova, 1837), p. 72.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Iu. S. Postnov, ed., Ocherki russkoi literatury Sibiri (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1982), vol. 1, p.201.Google Scholar
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    V. E. Evgen’ev-Maksimov and V. G. Berezina, N. A. Polevoi: Ocherk zhizni i deiatel’nosti. 1846–1946 (Irkutsk: Vostochno-sibirskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1947), p. 5.Google Scholar
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    F. F. Vigel’, Zapiski Filipa Filipovicha Vigelia (Moscow: Russkii Arkhiv, 1891), vol. 2, p.165.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Nikolai Polevoi always blamed his father for not giving him any formal education, either in Irkutsk or anywhere else (see, for example, his introduction to Nikolai Polevoi, Ocherki russkoi litteratury, vol. 1, pp. 24–43), but Ksenofont Polevoi, in his memoirs, defends their father by saying that “[i]n Irkutsk at the time there were no teachers who could have been… of much use.” Zapiski Ksenofonta Alekseevicha Polevogo (St. Petersburg: Izdanie A.S. Suvorina, 1888), p. 22. In view of the existence of the Irkutsk gymnasium, however, Ksenofont’s statement cannot be fully trusted. For more on education in Siberia, see, for example, A. N. Kopylov, Ocherki kul’turnoi zhizni Sibiri XVII-nachala XIX v. (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1974), or Vilkov, ed., Goroda Sibiri: Ekonomika, upravlenie, where the Irkutsk gymnasium at the time of the Polevois’ residence there is characterized as the “most advanced in Siberia” (p. 255).Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    One tends, of course, to idealize a place of his or her childhood, and this idealization has as much to do with a longing to be young again as with nostalgia for a particular place. For more on that, see Richard N. Coe, When the Grass Was Taller: Autobiography and the Experience of Childhood (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    Quoted in V. Orlov, ed., Nikolai Polevoi: Materialy po istorii russkoi literatury i zhurnalistiki tridtsatykh godov (Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo pisatelei, 1934), p. 30. For more on Polevoi’s feelings about the merchants and their role in Russia’s future, see Orlov’s excellent introduction to the volume, pp. 11–90.Google Scholar
  12. 30.
    In Azadovskii, Sibirskie stranitsy, pp. 26–27. Polevoi is most likely talking only about the so-called common criminals here, but given the fact that many Decembrists were being transported to Siberia around the time “Sokhatyi” was written (1829–30), his phrase “tletvornye prestupleniia” (“pernicious crimes”) is somewhat odd coming from a liberal journalist. (While Polevoi later in his life moved to the right, during his tenure at Moskovskii Telegrafile was still considered liberal.) Several of the Decembrists, among them Aleksandr Bestuzhev-Marlinskii (1797–1837), who spent several years in exile in Iakutsk, were at one point friends of Polevoi. See Polevoi’s letters to Bestuzhev in Nikolai Polevoi, Izbrannye proizvedeniia i pis’ma (Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1986), pp. 502–513.Google Scholar
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    Kalashnikov, “Zapiski irkutskago zhitelia,” p. 202. For more on crime in Siberia, see Alan Wood, “Russia’s ‘Wild East’: Exile, Vagrancy and Crime in Nineteenth-Century Siberia,” in Alan Wood ed., The History of Siberia: From Russian Conquest to Revolution (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 117–137.Google Scholar
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    For more on the convention of “happy childhood” in Russian literature, see Andrew Wachtel, The Battle for Childhood: Creation of a Russian Myth (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
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    I. T. Kalashnikov, Doch’ kuptsa Zholobova (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia Konrada Vingebera, 1842), vol. 2, p. 106.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Vissarion Belinskii’s “Literaturnye mechtaniia” (1834), where he states that compared to the real Walter Scott, “our Siberian Walter Scotts” are nothing more than “golden mediocrity.” R. V. Ivanov-Razumnik, ed., Sobranie sochinenii V. G. Belinskogo (St. Petersburg: Biblioteka russkikh kritikov, 1911), vol. 1, p. 100.Google Scholar
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    N. Shchukin, Poezdka v Iakutsk (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia Departamenta Voennykh Poselenii, 1844), p. 14.Google Scholar
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    N. M. Iadrintsev, “Sud’ba sibirskoi poezii,” in N. M. Iadrintsev, ed., Literaturnyi sbornik (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia I. N. Skorokhodova, 1885), p. 421.Google Scholar

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© Galya Diment and Yuri Slezkine 1993

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