Myth of Russia in French Culture

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Some spoke about a fashion for all things Russian even before the publication of The Russian Novel. An article on the subject by an emerging French writer Maurice Barrès (published in Revue Illustre, December 1885) served as a catalyst for the trend. The article contained an invective against Russia, Russian literature and the works of Dostoevsky. What lies behind it is the reaction to the growing admiration for Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev among the French intellectual elite. Young writers united by the literary magazine La Nouvelle Revue Française (“The New French Review”) vigorously defended their stance on the genius of the Russian author. On of the prominent figures was André Suarès who made a series of literary portraits including Russian novelists: his book Tolstoy was published in 1899, two – Tolstoy Himself and Dostoevsky – appeared in 1911 and his work entitled Three Men: Pascal, Ibsen, Dostoevsky was published in 1913. To Suarès, Dostoevsky seems a faded mirror in which he looks trying to understand himself, his time and human nature. To A. Gide, Dostoevsky later became a herald of true values that should be present in literature: the values of an individual’s attitude towards oneself and towards God. For the first time in France the thesis of how significant Dostoevsky’s works are not only for France, but also for Europe is expressed in a thorough article by A. Gide, Dostoevsky in His Correspondence (1908): “It is he, a half-concealed summit, a mysterious link in the chain. It is here that a number of full rivers that can satisfy the thirst of new Europeans are born”.

As it is known, Leo Tolstoy greatly influenced French literature on the verge of the centuries, including the works of R. Rolland. Rolland wrote a profound essay on him and the Russian people in 1911, titled Life of Tolstoy. The French author views Tolstoy as a “great Russian soul”, “a star of consolation” and a haven in “the gloomy twilight of the later nineteenth century”. At the same time, stereotypes about Russian barbarians continue working inside the culture, including Vogue’s ponderings concerning Russian novelists’ unsophisticated taste.

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