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Catalog Archive / Fall 2023

Pushkin, the Decembrists, and Civic Sentimentalism

Publications of the Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies
David M. Bethea, Series Editor

“Emily Wang's concept of ‘civic sentimentalism’ is an exciting and novel interpretative framework for a puzzling period in Russian literature and culture. Her engaging book gives us an entirely new understanding of Decembrism and the literary works associated with it.”
—Joe Peschio, author of The Poetics of Impudence and Intimacy in the Age of Pushkin

In December 1825, a group of liberal aristocrats, officers, and thinkers mounted a coup against the tsarist government of Russia. Inspired partially by the democratic revolutions in the United States and France, the Decembrist revolt was unsuccessful; however, it led Russia’s civil society to new avenues of aspiration and had a lasting impact on Russian culture and politics. Many writers belonged to the conspiracy, while others, including the poet Alexander Pushkin, helped inspire the uprising without directly participating in it. While the activities of the Decembrists and Pushkin’s ambiguous involvement have been well covered by historians, Emily Wang takes a novel approach, examining the emotional and literary motivations behind the movement and its dramatic, unsuccessful denouement.

Through careful readings of the literature of Pushkin and others active in the northern branch of the Decembrist movement, such as Kondraty Ryleev, Wilhelm Küchelbecker, and Fyodor Glinka, Wang traces the development of “emotional communities” among Decembrists and adjacent writers. These communities developed what Wang terms “civic sentimentalism” the belief that cultivating noble sentiments on an individual level was the key to liberal progress for Russian society. The emotional program for Decembrist community members was, in other words, also a civic program for Russia as a whole, one that they strove to enact by any means necessary. Wang argues that civic sentimentalism was a core part of Decembrist ideology, one that constituted a key difference between their pattern of thought and Pushkin’s.


Author. Photo credit, Name. Emily Wang is an assistant professor in the Department of German and Russian Languages at the University of Notre Dame.

Emily Wang's Facebook -




“An engaging exploration of Russian Golden Age poetry that focuses on the emotional communities of Decembrist poets. Wang’s decision to foreground the history of emotions throughout the study generates a range of insightful observations about the period’s literary and cultural history.”
—Bella Grigoryan, author of Noble Subjects: The Russian Novel and the Gentry, 1762-1861

“This welcome book adds greatly to understanding of the multifaceted relationship between Pushkin and the Decembrists. . . . Highly recommended.”
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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Emotional Communities in the Age of Pushkin
Chapter 2: Love and Friendship in Decembrists Lyrics
Chapter 3: Russia’s Radical Baron—Reexamining the “Decembrist Pushkin”
Chapter 4: Ryleev, Pushkin, and the Poeticization of Russian History
Chapter 5: Civic Sentimentalism after Prison and Exile: Glinka and Batenkov
Coda: Civic Sentimentalism and the Decembrist Legacy in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace


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October 2023
224 pp. 6 x 9

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Cloth $99.95 S
ISBN 9780299345808
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