Myth of Russia in French Culture
Russia has been an object of some certain interest in France since Middle Ages. In French novels of the 16th century Moscovy was describes as a ‘borderline’ of the known, visible world, or even as a mighty ‘other’ world promising its vigour and infinite treasure to the ‘winner’. The epoch of the Enlightenment (18th century) created a new image of Russia – that of a powerful and dangerous state and of a large country, significant for Europe.
In the 19th century – to some extent, under the influence of the book ‘Russie en 1839’ by Astolphe de Kustine – the image of Russia acquired the meanings of ‘a country of facades’ where cruelty and beastly habits were skillfully covered by overt amiability and good will. The 20th century opened new pages in the history of the development of the myth of Russia in France – those of ‘vogue’ for Russian spirituality and culture (at the turn of the 20th century), of a sort of faith in Russian Revolution and later in the USSR (until the 1930s), and then – anti-Soviet sentiment until perestroika.
It seems to be quite characteristic of French everyman nowadays to feel special interest in the country of sudden events and evident inner and outer power, and at the same time, French people can hardly escape some vague feeling of danger when thinking about Russia. There is, probably, nothing more unlike the structured and logically calibrated (in every detail) French cultural area, than the world of the Russian soul aspiring to unlimited freedom.