Russian Literature of XVIII Century
(a brief essay)
Russian literature of XVIII century has come a great way in its development: from classicism to sentimentalism, from an ideal of enlightened monarch to intimate feelings of a nobleman.
The beginning of XVIII century was violent for Russia. Such events as the creation of own navy, the wars for outlets to the sea, the development of industry and trade, building of new cities affected on national consciousness growth. People of Peter times felt their implication to historical events. Boyar Russia fell into the past, imitation to European customs and European ideals came to Russia together with Peter the First. A flow of foreign specialists poured into the country. A Russian classicism came and began its development under the influence of the Age of Enlightenment.
As a cult of science, enlightenment and intellect prospered in Russia, the main hero in literature became educated monarch or ideal citizen who shared Peter's ideas. Classicism ideals were a strong order and harmony personified in certain hierarchy. Poets of classicism glorified a liberty, a sense of civic duty and patriotism. They extolled a superiority of public over private, an intellect over feelings, an order over chaos, and a civilization over nature. A hierarchy developed in literature too. Classicism divided its genres harshly. A public theme was vested with a form of solemn ode, but a description of private life belonged to more "low" genres.
Naturally each genre had its own "set" of stylistic means. Such division into genres had a large progressive significance as since this division gave the opportunity to reflect various occurrences of life. Odes were written with the help of Old Slavonic vocabulary, elegies were written in Old Slavonic and spoken vocabulary, fables and comedies were written with using of language of the uneducated people (according Lomonosov's theory of "three styles".
The reform of native versification was of great importance for Russian language. This reform moved Russian verse near to spoken language. ( In details about this reform you can read in materials about V.K. Trediyakovsky and M.V. Lomonosov)
Times have passed. Regents were changed. Peter times went away and by the middle of XVIII century many people understood that a figure of ideal educated regent is far from real life.
Under Ekaterina II a Russian classicism reached an unprecedented power. Gentry received great liberties. Russia became one of the first world powers. But a peasant war of 1773-1775 years leaded by E. Pugachev showed those uncompromising contradictions that were between ruling class and powerless people. A basic principle of enlighten ideology about absolutism as the only rational power failed.
A new literary current sentimentalism (M. Kheraskov, M. Muraviev, N. Karamzin, I. Dmitriev) came into world. This literary current was characterized by increased interest to inward life of human being. Sentimentalists thought that human beings from birth are kind, without detestation, treachery and cruelty. Social and public instincts uniting people into society were formed (to their mind) on a basis of inborn virtue.
Sentimentalists believed that just innate sensitivity and kind inclinations of people were a pledge of ideal society. The main topics in literary works of those times were upbringing of soul and moral perfection. Sensitivity was considered to be a firstprimary source of virtue, that is why all verses were full of compassion, melancholy and sorrow. The first places in genres took elegies, songs and romances.
A main hero was a usual human being who aspired to join (to merge) with nature, to find silence and happiness. Both classicism and sentimentalism suffered from narrow-mindedness and had week sides. In a literary works of this current sensitivity grows into melancholy accompanied by tears and deep breaths.
And again Russian reality intruded into poetry world and showed that citizen and human being can be formed only with combining of individual and public interests. Gavriil Derzhavin, "Father of Russian Poets", proved this idea and showed in his works that all sides of life are worthy of poetry.
In poetry of XVIII century the conception of "Russian man" was identified with "Russian nobleman". Derzhavin made only a first step towards understanding of Russian national character. But the integrity and entirety of individual's inward life was not exposed yet.