Myth of Russia in French Culture

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On the whole, it is possible to say that in the late medieval period and the Renaissance Moscovy is viewed in France as a vast, distant, foreign and alien country that is can fiercely fight back if attacked by the Western chivalric orders.

17th – early 19th Centuries: the Evolution of the Myth

The first attempts at understanding Russia as a special world are attributed to Jacques Margeret. He discovered Russia for the French at the beginning of the 17th century by publishing an account of Russia during the rule of Boris Godunov and the Time of Troubles, The Russian Empire and Grand Duchy of Muscovy, in 1606. In his memoirs J. Margeret presents a French view of Russia which is relatively positive. His work is a valuable source that contains information about political events in Russia from 1590 till September of 1606, governmental authorities, the Russian army, the everyday life of the Russian people, wildlife and population of Russia. The author can be regarded as the creator of the stereotype about Russian laziness. Here is an idea set forth in the text: “…having no industry and being very lazy. They do not apply themselves to work; rather, they are given to drunkenness more than to anything else; the ecclesiastics as much or more than the others”.[1]

Economic backwardness, drunkenness and laziness became basic elements of the French myth about Russia; these ideas actively manifest themselves even today. Margeret’s work cannot be considered a piece of literary writing, it is rather an example of an “intermediate” genre that can be referred to as a “chronicle” or “memoirs”.

The Age of Enlightenment (18th century) developed a general approach towards Russia as a powerful, dangerous state and a big country of importance for Europe with two interpretations. In the framework of an optimistic interpretation, Voltaire views Russia as an example of enlightened monarchy, a country which chose to adopt (absolute) values and achievements of the Western European civilization. In line with a sceptical interpretation, J. J. Rousseau depicts Russia as a country deformed by Peter’s reforms – a country with no history, no past and no future.

[1] Margeret J. The State of the Russian Empire. J. Margeret in documents and research: (Texts, commentary, articles). — M.: Languages of the Slavic culture, 2007. P. 124.

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