Myth of Russia in French Culture

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The second main theme of A. Makine’s “Russian” novels is the patriarchal pre-Soviet Russia. The author poeticizes the Russian izba (log house), the Russian Madonna, a woman near the frozen window holding a baby, the imperial family traveling around France. There are plenty of impressionist landscape sketches done in the spirit of Proust and Bunin.

The pinnacle of A. Makine’s literary work is a novel The Life of an Unknown Man (La Vie d’un homme inconnu) containing the concept of all his work. The main character named Shutov, in whom you can easily guess the author, is a famous writer. He sets off to modern Russia to find a way out of life crisis and writer’s block. He cannot but notice the changes that at first fascinate him. But soon enough the author discovers that behind this bright facade there is such a familiar world of Dostoevsky – the world of “humiliated and insulted” embodied in the fate of an old survivor of siege who is trying to stand up to a ruthless game of the “liars”.

The novel The Life of an Unknown Man (La Vie d’un homme inconnu) becomes a sequel to and an illustration of the collection of essays La France qu’on oublie d’aimer. In this collection the term “Russianness” (russité) appears for the first time and a special vision of Russian history and culture takes shape.

The images of the USSR and Russia appear in the book every time the author starts analyzing the French culture code and its present state. He delivers a rather discouraging judgement for his new homeland. The metamorphosis happened when France forfeited its right to be considered a superpower. A. Makine insists that today the French should admit it and this will finally make them realize the causes of the failure in different fields. This is even more difficult to do because in France there is no single national character in place. Makine sees the only true national patrimony of France in the French language and in the centuries-old culture created by this language. And according to Makine, this is where the missions of France and Russia concur. He points out the resilience, flexibility, complexity and musicality of the both languages; he talks about the values that were being created in this language over the ages.

Of course, the two cultural worlds are very different but the historical ties and Russia’s undeniable role in the world’s history make the French turn their mind’s eye to Russia over and over again.

To summarize the reflection on the modern image of Russia in France, it should be noted that it comprises all kinds of visions – starting from the complex of ideas where Russia is “a country of aggressive people prone to all sorts of human weaknesses” and “a country deprived of moral imperatives, a country that lost a positive potential accumulated since the time of the French enlighteners and Romantic writers of the 19th century” and ending with the complex of ideas where Russia is “a savoir country, the residence of power and passion”. It is no less important to say this: during all periods of shaping of the French myth about Russia the basic negative perception of the Russian world as “alien” remained intact. And apparently, the reason for this is the difference in the national systems of values: the main characteristics of the French cultural world which are individualism and personal freedom contrast sharply with such basic values of the Russian world as sobornost (or communal spirit) and duty and obligation coming from within.

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