Arts & Living

Paradise or purgatory?

April 29, 2009 RBTH, John Glad, academic

Historically, there have been three Russian cultures, each alien to the other two: the pagan tradition of the East Slavs, systematically rooted out over the centuries by the Orthodox religion; an imported Byzantine culture of icons and religious texts, largely abandoned by a secularised intelligentsia; and modern secular culture itself. Although the heartland of Russia is part of Europe, modern Russian secular literature came into its own very late - 500 years after Chaucer and 200 after Shakespeare. On the backdrop of derivative and secondary 18th-century Russian literature, the Golden Age of Russian letters - the early 19th century - blazed up with a sudden brilliance that would have been unthinkable if Russia had not already been so deeply immersed in European culture. (Aleksandr Pushkin's Tatyana in Evgeny Onegin felt more at home in French than in her native Russian.)

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