The First Epoch
The Eighteenth Century and the Russian Cultural Imagination
Winner, Heldt Prize, Association for Women in Slavic Studies
Winner, Best Book in Literary and Cultural Studies, American Association of Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages
Publications of the Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies
David M. Bethea, Series Editor
“A delight to read. Few people in Russian or English have produced readings of this caliber of the eighteenth-century poets. Luba Golburt brings to life material that has been frozen in a philological vault.”
Modern Russian literature has two “first” epochs: secular literature’s rapid rise in the eighteenth century and Alexander Pushkin’s Golden Age in the early nineteenth. In the shadow of the latter, Russia’s eighteenth-century culture was relegated to an obscurity hardly befitting its actually radical legacy. And yet the eighteenth century maintains an undeniable hold on the Russian historical imagination to this day. Luba Golburt’s book is the first to document this paradox. In formulating its self-image, the culture of the Pushkin era and after wrestled far more with the meaning of the eighteenth century, Golburt argues, than is commonly appreciated.
Why did nineteenth-century Russians put the eighteenth century so quickly behind them? How does a meaningful present become a seemingly meaningless past? Interpreting texts by Lomonosov, Derzhavin, Pushkin, Viazemsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and others, Golburt finds surprising answers, in the process innovatively analyzing the rise of periodization and epochal consciousness, the formation of canon, and the writing of literary history.
Luba Golburt is an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches nineteenth-century Russian literature in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.
“A welcome addition to the literature on a period that is all too frequently overlooked in Russian studies. Recommended.”
“Golburt’s impressively rich and elegantly written book tackles the paradoxes of the status of the eighteenth century in the Russian cultural imagination . . . the beginning of Russian modernity and Russia’s secular literary tradition, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, its perception, already in the early nineteenth century, as an outdated, archaic, and irrelevant era.”
“For Golburt, the eighteenth century is not a stable historical period whose putative terminal point is to be endlessly debated . . . rather, it comes to represent a style, an aesthetic, even an ideology, all of which can be repeatedly discussed, debated, lamented, and/or parodied in the period(s) that followed it. . . . Lucidly and bracingly written, The First Epoch deserves to be widely read—and reread.”
—The Russian Review
“Luba Golburt sets herself a difficult and complex task: to consider the fate of the Russian eighteenth century in the subsequent Russian literary tradition. She succeeds with astonishing ease and analytical subtlety.”
“A remarkable book, both because of the originality of its subject and for the scope of genres, authors and problems involved. . . . Golburt demonstrates extraordinary powers of interpretation, providing many brilliant readings. . . . [She] demonstrates the centrality of the eighteenth century in Russian thought and culture, and in so doing argues strongly for the importance of eighteenth-century studies. A book to be treasured and studied.”
—Eighteenth-Century Russian Studies Association
“Originally conceived and brilliantly executed. The First Epoch is full of incisive observations and exceedingly clever and useful asides.”
—Irina Reyfman, author of Rank and Style: Russians in State Service, Life, and Literature
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