Russia 1855-1881
Intellectual Life

Russia, 1815-1855 : Intellectual Life

Note : Many of the various national minorities developed a culture (mostly literature) of their own; here, the intellectual life of ethnic Russia is dealt with, not that of the Russian Empire as a whole.

Russian society and the Russian state have survived the years of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Years without a major reform. AUTOCRACY was still the prevalent system; although Czars since Catherine the Great have recognized continued BONDAGE (serfdom) as an obstacle to progress, they did not dare to touch the institution regarded a pillar of Russia's political system.
CENSORSHIP was in place, as the regime mistrusted intellectuals (many of whom had studied in the west and were thus 'infected' with liberal ideas, and the powerful secret police made arrests.
In the early 19th century, in Russia NOVELS thrived, ALEXANDER PUSHKIN and NICHOLAS GOGOL establishing a tradition that would be continued by FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY, LEO TOLSTOY and IVAN TURGENEV. Trying to avoid confrontation with the censors, they described life in various places and social strata of Russian society in a language so vivid that Russian novels claimed a prominent place in world literature - novels which provided ample material for the reader to form his own opinion (critical of the system). Russia's literature was intensely nationalistic (a trend appearing in Russia later than in central Europe, triggered by the French invasion of 1812 and inspired by ROMANTICIST novels, among others by Friedrich Schiller).
Other writers, such as VISSARION BELINSKY, in his open letter to Gogol (1847) were rather outspoken in their criticism of political conditions, and a prime subject of state attention. He wrote the letter in question from Prussia; publication of the letter was not permitted until 1905 - 57 years after his death, and Belinsky died at age 37 while the secret police was on her way to arrest him. Despite being banned by censorship, the 'letter to Gogol' circulated in form of manuscript copies or illegal prints.
Another government critic, ALEXANDER HERZEN, chose exile in order to gain freedom to write as he wanted. In England he published "Kolokol", a newspaper the title of which translates to "The Bell". Both Belinsky and Herzen advocated political emancipation and social revolution. The DECEMBRISTS, who openly refused loyalty to Nicholas I. in 1825 in what was probably an attempt to force political reform, were influenced by intellectuals such as these.

After the Petrovski Theatre, built in 1780, burnt down in 1805, in its place, the new BOLSHOY THEATRE, the stage to opera performances, orchestra synfonies, ballet etc., was opened in 1825, providing the stage for official culture. It soon was to achieve world fame.

Vissarion Grigorevich Belinskii (1811-1848), from Books and Writers
Nikolay Vasilevich Gogol (1809-1852), from Books and Writers
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881), from Books and Writers
Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828-1910), from Books and Writers
Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883), from Books and Writers
Mihail Yurevich Lermontov (1814-1841), from Books and Writers
Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), from Books and Writers
The Bolshoy Theatre : History
DOCUMENTS Petr Chaadaev, Philosophical Letters Addressed to a Lady (1829), from Documents in Russian History at Seton Hall
V. G. Belinskii, [Open] Letter to N. V. GogolĄŻ (1847), from Documents in Russian History at Seton Hall

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on August 24th 2006

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