Tag Archives: Russian literature

Ode to Pushkin’s Tatyana, from ‘Eugene Onegin’

17 Apr

If you were given a chance to travel through time, and if you decided upon visiting the countryside Russia of the late 1820s, you might be lucky and, whilst walking through a peaceful forest enjoying the delight which a birdsong can bestow upon one’s ears, you might stumble upon a peculiar young lady who finds tranquillity in the woods and serenity by the lake; a solitary maiden whose friends are books, flowers and birds, and who feels more at home surrounded by tall soulful trees than in the candlelit salons full of people; a lady who is introverted and timid on the outside, but is full of warmth, passions and feelings on the inside; this creature delicate as a fawn is Tatyana Larina – Pushkin’s wonderful literary creation and the love interest of Eugene Onegin, the Byronic Hero of Russian literature.

Lidia Timoshenko (1903-1976), Tatyana and Onegin Years Later

“Eugene Onegin” is Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse, first published in 1833, although the current version is that of 1837. It is representative of Russian literature of Romanticism and Pushkin spent ten years writing this lyrical masterpiece which has been called by V.G. Belinsky as ‘the encyclopedia of Russian life’, and indeed it covers a broad scale of topics; pointlessness of life, love and passion, death, provincial life, superficiality of the upper classes, rigidity of etiquette, conventions and ennui. The main character is the ‘mad and bad’ or rather cynical and bored Eugene Onegin, a cold and world-weary nobleman who had, at the beginning of the novel, inherited an estate after his uncle’s death and arrives at the countryside. He is bored with his social life in St Petersburg, filled with superficial chatter, games, flirtations, balls and dinner parties; he finds this cycle tedious and repetitive and therefore hopes to find something fresh and interesting in the countryside. Onegin is exactly the kind of person who will shit all over things you love just because he feels no passion for living at all, and mock things you adore because he finds value in nothing.

He is a ‘superfluous man’, which is Pushkin’s literary creation based on the demonic Byronic hero. A Superfluous man is full of contradictions, he feels superior to his surroundings and yet he does nothing to use his potentials and talents but chooses to walk aimlessly through life, prone to self-destruction, haunted by a strong sense of the boredom of life. Lermontov’s character Pechorin in ‘A Hero of Our Time’ is another example of a superflous man and was directly inspired by Pushkin’s Onegin. May I add that in the film Onegin (1999), Onegin is played by the wonderful Ralph Fiennes and I think he played him perfectly, you can feel the cynicism and ennui in his voice. So, if you’re not inclined on reading the novel, you can spare two hours of your life and watch the film which happens to be on Youtube. In the film, Tatyana is played by the gorgeous Liv Tyler.

Caspar David Friedrich, Elbschiff in Early Morning Fog, 1821

Second character to be introduced in the novel is Vladimir Lensky; a hopeless romantic and an idealist, a proud and polite young man, carried away by the romantic spirit of the times, but his character, I feel, is adorned with more sentimentality than deep feelings, his poetry and his love for Olga are as shallow as a puddle after rain which dries with the first rays of sun, and he is so naive, but forgive him, he is only 18 years old! This is how the narrator (or Pushkin) describes him:

Vladimir Lensky, is the man

Handsome, young, a Kantian.

Whose soul was formed in Gottingen,

A friend of truth: a poet then.

From misty Germany he brought

The fruits of learning’s golden tree

His fervant dreams of liberty

Ardent and eccentric thought,

Eloquence to inspire the bolder,

And dark hair hanging to his shoulder.

And here’s a description of his poetry, I can’t help but being amused by Lensky. You should see him in the film, singing Schubert in the forest, giving his heart and soul to it, although the effect is pathetic and Onegin mocks him later on, saying that ‘Poor Schubert, his body barely in the grave and and his work is being butchered by amateurs’ and stating that Lensky is ‘desecrating Schubert’:

He sang of love, to love subjected,

Clear and serene his tune…

He sang of parting and of sorrows,

Misty climes, and vague tomorrows,

Of roses in some high romance;

Sang of all the far-off lands

Where on quiet desert strands,

His living tears obscured his glance;

At eighteen years he had the power,

To sing of life’s dry withered flower.

Mikhail Nesterov, Girls on the Banks of the River

Lensky is madly in love with Olga Larina, a charming and pretty younger sister of Tatyana. She is frivolous and coquettish, blonde and fair, with an ability to charm with her looks and singing, but inside she is empty, her feelings are superficial and calculated; her mad love seems fleeting for after Lensky died in a duel, it did not take her long to forget him and marry another man. She is like a porcelain doll; if you break her, you’ll find nothing inside.

Always humble, always truthful,

Always smiling as the dawn,

Like the poet’s life as simple,

Sweet as the kiss of love, that’s born

Of sky-blue eyes, a heavenly blue,

Flaxen hair, all gleaming, too,

Voice, manner, slender waist,

Such was Olga…you can paste

Her description here from any

Novel that you choose to read,

A charming portrait, yes, indeed,

One I adored, but now it bores me.

Reader, I’ll enhance the vista,

Let me describe her elder sister.

Fired by longing, circumstance,

In solitude her heart was burning,

Crushed by adolescent gloom,

Her soul was waiting…but for whom?

And now let’s finally talk about the elder sister, my dearest and sweetest Tatyana Larina, a character for whom I felt affection immediately, and re-read parts about her many times, and found I can relate. Wistful, melancholic and dreamy, forever lost in her thoughts, you will find her wandering the forest, picking flowers, or sitting by the window daydreaming while others are chatting and laughing, and a book is always in her hands. This is how Pushkin describes his heroine:

So, she is called Tatyana.

Not a beauty like her sister,

Lacking rosy cheeks, the manner,

To attract a passing lover.

Melancholy, wild, retiring,

Like a doe seen in a clearing,

Fleeing at the sign of danger,

To her family a stranger.

She never took to caressing

Her father, mother, not her way

To delight in childish play,

With the others, sweetly dancing.

But often to the window glued

She’d sit all day in solitude.

Alexander Brullov, Portrait of Pushkin’s wife Natalia, 1831

Tatyana was withdrawn and shy even as a child. When her sister Olga and other children played tag or sang, she would wander the meadows on her own, preferring the company of her thought to the loudness of the crowd. Unlike other girls, she had interest in dolls. Taking care of dolls was meant to prepare girls for their future roles of mothers, but Tatyana was a stranger to all childhood’s silliness and playfulness, and daydreams seem to fill her days from very early on:

Her dearest friend was reverie,

From the cradle, the slow stream

Of placid dull rusticity

Enriched by meditative dream.

Her tender fingers never held

A needle, never once excelled,

Her head above the silk inclined,

In working something she’d designed.

Now with greater concentration,

She reads the sweet romances,

Finds a deeper fascination,

In those soft seductive glances!…”

Instead, books and nature were her friends. I’ve known it from experience that a book can be a source of delight and inspiration more than a human being can, and a sight of flowers or a tree can fill one’s soul with more kindness than a common person can. And daydreams, I assure you, can fill you with as much feelings as real events can, but they never leave the bitter taste in your mind like cruel reality does. Tatyana knows that too! And literature, novels about romances in particular (just like those read by Emma Bovary) proved an amusement and a diversion for her already vivid imagination:

From the first she craved romances,
Her great delight, she loved them so,
Whatever chapter most entrances,
In Richardson or in Rousseau.

Naturally, soaked in those novels for days, Tatyana begins to see herself as a heroine and lives through the books for a person who reads lives not one but many lives. And when she closes the book, a reality check; a quiet birdsong, a soft breeze through the birch trees, smell of grass, distant murmur of a river, yes, she is still in the countryside, not in a Medieval castle in Switzerland or a beautiful mansion in England:

And sees herself the heroine

Of all the authors she admires,

Clarissa, Julie, or Delphine;

Wanders among forest choirs

With some dangerous volume roams,

Through its pages swiftly combs,

To find her passion, and her dream,

Her overflowing heart, love’s gleam.

She sighs and in herself possesses

Another’s joy, another’s sorrow…

Source: here. Could this be the way Onegin’s mansion looked from afar, in a frozen Russian fairytale landscape?

Pushkin even writes about the types of heroes Tatyana daydreams about. Never ever, underestimate the power a book can have a on a person who is lonely or has a wild imagination:

All the British Muse’s lumber

Now disturbs a young girl’s slumber,

Her idol, someone to admire,

Is the blood-sucking Vampire,

Melmoth, Maturin’s traveller,

The Corsair or the Wandering Jew,

Nodier’s Jean Sbogar too.

Lord Byron with a shrewd despair,

Displays a hopeless egotism

As saturnine romanticism.

Isaac Levitan, Autumn Landscape, 1880

Pushkin tells us that Tatyana finds refuge in long walks, seeking comfort in nature which soothes the torment of love:

Haunted by love’s pain, Tatyana,
Takes to the garden, walking
Eyes downcast, till her languor,
Prevents her from even moving.
Her breast heaves, her cheeks aflame,
Burning suddenly with shame,
The breath on her lips is glazed,
A roaring in her ears, eyes dazed…
Night falls, and the moon patrols
The vault of heaven. Near her room,
A nightingale, from woodland gloom
Its rich sonorous cadence rolls.
Tatyana, in the darkness lying,
To her nurse is softly sighing.

I am in love’ Tatyana sighs,
In a soft whisper, gives a moan.
‘Dear, you can’t be well,’ replies,
The nurse. ‘It’s love. Leave me alone.
Meanwhile, the sad moon dreams,
On the girl’s pale beauty gleams,
Shines above, its tranquil light….
And all the world lies still, below,
Bathed in the moon’s enchanted glow.

Speaking to no one, confiding in no one, only the moon and the nurse know her secrets. But Tatyana decides to act upon her dreams and confess her love in a letter. This is how it starts, the famous “Tatyana’s letter”:

I write to you – is more required?

How can I possibly explain?

It’s in your power, if desired,

To crush me with a cold disdain.

But if this longing you’ve inspired

Awakes the slightest sympathy,

I know you won’t abandon me…

Although she had barely talked to him, and he showed no particular interest or affection towards her, Tatyana found herself over night besotted by this strange, brooding aristocrat with a flair of St Petersburg around him. In his figure and the few words they’re exchanged, she saw all the heroes that she’d spent her short life fantasising about; “Werther – born to be a martyr”, Grandinson, Cottin’s Malek-Adhel, de Krudener’s de Linar, and the lover too of Rousseau’s Julie Womar:

“A single image as it were:

The foolish dreamer sees them whole

In Onegin’s form, and soul.

Gustave Leonarde de Jonghe, Girl With a Rose, 1878

It’s easy to understand why she felt about Onegin the way she did, if you think of her lonely and boring existence in the countryside, with a mother and a sister who neither understand her nor try to do so because they are of entirely different natures. Vain, selfish and coquettish Olga can never dream of experiencing the depth of Tatyana’s feelings, and likewise Tatyana can never even dream of indulging in light amusements and flirtations which seem to fill Olga’s days. Pushkin warns us that, while Olga’s love is more a fleeting coquetry, Tatyana loves with all seriousness:

Tatyana is no cool coquette,
She loves in all seriousness,
Yields to it like a child, as yet
Full of innocence and sweetness.

Up to meeting Onegin, Tatyana has spent her life wandering around, reading about romances and exciting adventures, yet never experiencing anything of the sort, and now, all of a sudden, a stranger comes to their lonely countryside and stirs her soul. She thinks of him day and night, and finds no rest until, in the letter, she writes everything that lies on her soul. All that her shyness has prevented her mouth from saying, the hand dared to write, scrawling with black ink on paper, under moonlight, offering her life to a man she barely knows, and seals it with wax before sending it.

But her passionate outburst of feelings was welcomed with coldness from the other side. When they meet at the party, she anxiously awaits him in the garden, and he – oh, that dreadful Onegin! – he disdainfully returns the letter to her, advising her to restrain her feelings in the future, to shun her affections and act with reserve and coldness because another man, one not as ‘kind-hearted’ as he was, would surely take advantage of her naivety and innocence. Onegin mercilessly ‘with a cold disdain’ crushed the feelings of this delicate wild flower. When I was reading this, I thought: What a brave thing to do, what a straightforward gesture, especially for a woman of her time, and what a hard thing it must be to write someone a love letter, but after reading about Onegin’s cruel respond, I’ve learnt that it is unwise, and maybe reason should, in this case, prevail over sensibility. Jane Austen seemed to think that too because her heroine Marianne Dashwood was in a way punished for her sensibility.

Why Tatyana fell in love with Onegin is a mystery to me, I find him fascinating as a literary character but he is nowhere near the romantic heroes she’s read about. I suppose she must have felt that underneath that cold, cynical exterior there must lie a heart full of feelings and that she might awaken them, but she was wrong because Onegin is selfish to the core and is not even capable of love. Her daydreams and inexperience seem to have made her a poor judge of character. This is how Onegin felt upon receiving the letter:

Yet now, receiving Tanya’s note,
Onegin’s heart was deeply moved;
The tender style in which she wrote,
The simple girlish way she loved.
Her face possessed his memory,
Her pallor, and her melancholy,
He plunged, head first, into the stream,
A harmless, and delightful dream.
Perhaps the ancient flame of passion,
Thrilled him in its former way,
Though he’d no wish to betray
A soul so trusting, in that fashion...

Oton Iveković, Landscape, 1901

This is part of what Onegin tells Tatyana as reasons why they could never be happy together:

‘I was not born for happiness,
All such is alien to my mind;
Of your perfection too, no less
Am I unworthy, you would find.
Believe me (conscience is my guide)
Wed, the fire would soon have died;
However I wished to prove true,
Habit would cool my love for you.
Then you would weep, yet your tears,
Your grief, would never move my heart,
But madden me, spur me to depart.
What thorns, not roses, through the years
Would Hymen strew along our way,
Many a night, and many a day?

Onegin was actually very kind towards her, because I don’t think she could truly be happy with a man like that.

Pushkin takes a moment to ponder on who is to be blamed for this unfortunate misunderstanding:

Why then consider Tanya guilty?
Because her simplicity, it seems,
Is ignorant of deceit, and still she
Believes completely in her dreams?
Or because her love lacks art,
Follows the promptings of her heart?
Because she’s trusting, and honest
And by Heaven has been blessed,
With profound imagination,
A fiery will, a lively mind,
A soul for passion’s fires designed,
A spirit tuned to all creation?
Surely, then, you can forgive,
A fierce desire to love and live?

Clock is ticking; cold, bitter and lonely Russian winters are passing, and Tatyana is on her way to become an old maid. She still has feelings for Onegin, maybe secretly hopes that he might change his mind and come back to her, but Onegin isn’t coming back and the pressure of her mother is becoming too much:

Tatyana’s bloom is all but gone,
She, more pallid, and more silent!
Nothing can provide distraction,
Or stir her soul, no incitement.
Whispering solemnly together,
Neighbours shook their heads, forever
Sighing: ‘It’s high time she was wed!’…
Enough. It’s high time that instead,
I painted over this sad scene,
And portrayed love’s happiness,
Though, dear Reader, I confess
I’m overcome, by pity I mean;
Forgive me: I’ve loved from the start
My Tatyana, with all my heart.

And so Tatyana was married to another man, a general. She doesn’t love him but tolerates him. Years pass, Pushkin brings the reader on a journey from the countryside to the glamour of St Petersburg. We are at a ball; musicians are playing a charming tune, candles are flickering, couples are dancing… Onegin is there too; equally bored and cynical as he was years ago, but something or someone captures his attention; a beautiful woman, in the film shown wearing a gorgeous red gown. The woman carries an air of dignity and seriousness around her – it is Tatyana, now grown into a wise, mature, confident woman, who stands gracefully by her husband’s side. Onegin is mad with passion, he writes her letters full of declarations of his love and adorations, but she doesn’t respond: she is a married woman after all, and a faithful one too. He takes a certain perverse delight in reawakening the strong feelings that she had, not with ease, managed to tame and lull to sleep. When he happens to steal a moment of privacy with her, he proposes that they elope together and fulfil their love, but now she is the winner in this chess game of love, she tells him it is too late for their love, that he had his chance and now she will remain faithful to her husband. It is a poignant scene in the film, as she tells him through tears that she waited for him but he is too late. Onegin just doesn’t get it because nothing matters to him; he wants her because he can’t have her.

In the end, Tatyana is left as a lonely, unhappy woman in a sad, but tolerable marriage, and Onegin, having killed Lensky in a duel early on, and crushing Tatyana’s affections years ago, is left completely alone, and that is his ultimate punishment. The acts of killing Lensky, that innocent, dreamy idealist, and rejecting Tatyana’s love, Onegin symbolically ‘kills’ the innocence that crossed his life path. And Tatyana is suppose to represent the wideness of the Russian soul and was seen as a symbol of an ideal woman. She also embodies Gogol’s concept of a ‘Slavic soul’: a melancholic soul of a dreamer and thinker, a mysterious and sad soul. A sense of darkness, sadness and tragedy hovers over most of Slavic literature like a rainy cloud. It is immensely interesting to me that in both novels; Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and Lermontov’s The Hero of Our Time a duel takes place and the superfluous man wins while the romantic idealist dies, but in reality both Pushkin and Lermontov died in duels. Wicked destiny!

I first read Eugene Onegin exactly three Aprils ago, but I remember it vividly as if it was yesterday; those three or four magical nights when I flipped through the pages, relishing in the lyricism and musicality of the verses, loving the character of Tatyana and being highly amused by Onegin’s cynicism and his conduct with Lensky. In my little room, under the warm, yellow light of the lamp, in the flowery and exuberant nights of spring, a whole new world and sensibility came to life. Although I’ve enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second half, because the story gets really sad and full of hopelessness after Onegin rejects her, I must say that it still remains one of my favourite books.

Lermontov: It’s Boring and Sad…

9 Nov

This poem arose from the same source that inspired Lermontov to write his novel ‘A Hero of Our Time’, a fabulous literary work, especially if you like Romanticism or Russian literature. The main character, Pechorin, is a superfluous man, just like Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which is a Russian version of the Byronic hero; he’s a pessimistic and cynic man prone to self-destruction who feels superior to his surroundings and yet does nothing to use his potentials, a strong sense of boredom and absurdity of life drives him to lonely wanderings, restlessly seeking oblivion. The lyrical subject of this poem shares his thoughts of sadness and boredom with life, following the path of the superfluous man, viewing life as a cruel joke. This poem is very dear to me because I have the same thoughts on life; I am a melancholic soul, and if it wasn’t for the beauty of art, poetry and rock music, I wouldn’t see any purpose of life at all. Life without art isn’t a life at all.

1830-35-sunset-brothers-or-evening-landscape-with-two-men-caspar-david-friedrichCaspar David Friedrich, Sunset (Brothers) or Evening Landscape With two Men, 1830-35

It’s boring and sad, and there’s no one around

In times of my spirit’s travail…

Desires!…What use is our vain and eternal desire?..

While years pass on by – all the best years!

 

To love…but love whom?.. a short love is vexing,

And permanent love’s just a myth.

Perhaps look within? – The past’s left no trace:

All trivial, joys and distress…

 

What good are the passions? For sooner or later

Their sweet sickness ends when reason speaks up;

And life, if surveyed with cold-blooded regard,-

Is stupid and empty – a joke…

Visual Companion to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin

26 Feb

I think some of you already know how much I loved Pushkin’s novel in verse ‘Eugene Onegin’. Well, this is my visual companion to this book, these are just some pictures (mostly portraits) that come to my mind when I think about Tatiana, Olga, Lensky and the main character – Eugene Onegin. By the way, the film Eugene Onegin (1999), with Ralph Fiennes, Toby Stephens and Liv Tyler, is brilliant. I think all three are superb actors. If you can’t be bothered to read the book, you must see the film.

1834. Lady in front of a Mirror. Ferdinand von Lütgendorff-Leinburg

1899. Ilya Repin - Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's duel 1830. Alexandra Feodorovna by Alexander Brullov 1830s lady wearing a Kokoshnik! 1830s russian lady 1 1830s russian lady 3 1830s russian lady 5 1830s russian lady in blue dress 1830s russian lady 1830s S.A. Lvova by A. Brullov 1830s Zhanetta Ivanovna Lopukhina - Karl Briullov 1835. Lady, said to be a member of the Olenin family 1836. Svetlana Guessing on her Future by Karl Bryullov 1838. Elena Zavadovsky by Alfred Chalon 1838. grand duchesses olga nicolaievna et maria nicolaievna 1 1820s Evdokia Bakunina by Alexander Pavlovich Brullov 1840s Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna by Ivan Makarov Lidia Timoshenko, Illustration to the verse novel ‘Eugene Onegin’ by Alexander Pushkin - Tatiana and Onegin

A Vision of a Russian Artist by Nikolai V. Gogol

21 Feb

A few days ago I read a story by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) called Nevsky Prospekt (or Nevsky Avenue), first published in 1835. It was very interesting all together, not merely because I love Russian literature and Gogol’s other stories, but because the main character is an artist! The story begins and ends with a description of Nevsky Prospekt; firstly, readers get acquainted with the sorts of people who can be seen there, and lastly, lies and superficiality of all those ‘creatures’ are revealed. Gogol himself wrote: ‘But strangest of all are the incidents that take place of Nevsky Avenue. Oh, do not trust that Nevsky Avenue! (…) For all is a deceit, all is a dream, all is not what it seems. (…) It lies at all times, does Nevsky Avenue, but most of all when night hovers over it in a thick mass, picking out the white from the dun-coloured houses, and all the town thunders and blazes with lights  and thousands of carriages come driving from the bridges, the outriders shouting and jogging up and down on their horses, and when the devil himself lights all the street lamps to show everything in anything but its true colours.

The story evokes the mood of the 18th century Sentimental novels, so it’s filled with irony, and mocks the pathetic and romantic main character and his final disillusionment. I highly recommend you to read it, and if you don’t, it’s your loss. And now the part of the story which describes Russian artists at the time:

1830-33. The Last Day of Pompeii is a large canvas painting by Russian artist Karl Bryullov in 1830-33.The Last Day of Pompeii by Russian artist Karl Bryullov in 1830-33.

This young man belonged to a class of people so rare in our country as to be looked upon as phenomenon. These people are no more citizens of St.Petersburg than the people we see in a dream are part of the world of reality. This quite exceptional class of people is particularly uncommon in a city where the inhabitants are either Civil servants, shopkeepers, or German artisans. He was an artist. A strange phenomenon, is it not? A St.Petersburg artist! An artist in the land of snows! An artist in the land of the Finns, where everything is wet, flat, pale, monotonous, grey, misty!… These artists are not at all like the Italian artists, proud and fiery, like Italy and her skies; on the contrary, they are mostly inoffensive, meek men, shy and easygoing, devoted to their art in an unassuming way, drinking their tea with a couple of friends in a small room, modestly discussing their favourite subject, and satisfied with the minimum of food and comfort. They employ some old beggar woman for their model, keeping her posing for six full hours just to transfer her impassive, numb and miserable expression on the canvas. They like to paint interiors of their rooms with every kind of litter lying around: plaster-of-Paris hands and feet, coffee coloured with dust and age, a broken easel, a discarded palette, a friend playing the guitar, walls covered with paint, and an open window through which you can catch a glimpse of the pale Neva and fishermen in red shirts. Everything they paint has a greyish, muddy tint – the indelible imprint of the north. But for all that they labour over their pictures with enjoyment. They are very often men of talent, and if they were breathing the air of Italy their talent would probably have opened up as freely, as widely, and as splendidly as a plant that has been taken out into the open air after being kept indoors for a long time. They are generally rather timid folk…

1876. Viktor Vanetsov - Moving HouseViktor Vanetsov, Moving House, 1876

I couldn’t really decide which painting should accompany the text, so I put both. The first painting, The Last Day of Pompeii, was painted by Karl Bryullov, at the same time the story was published, and it was much appreciated by both Gogol and Pushkin. And the other evokes the sentence ‘Everything they paint has a greyish, muddy tint – the indelible imprint of the north‘, which makes it relevant as well.

Romanticism – Age of Sentimentality, Melancholy, Love, Death and Fallen Heroes

17 Oct

I dedicate this post to Frederic Chopin who died on 17th October 1849 and all the other Romantics who ‘ruined’ my life in the most positive way! ___________________________________________________________

Exploration of the inner self lead the Romantics to discover a prodigious world of mysticism, imagination and dreams.

To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.”(Novalis)

1818. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog - Casper David Friedrich

Romantic era is very appealing to me; all those sad young people that died way too soon, unrequited loves, themes and love towards nature, focus on individuality and imagination,beautiful portraits where ladies’ faces are framed with curls and delicate roses, escapism, melancholy as a state of mind, feeling of alienation.

Every movement in art, music and literature comes as an answer to the previous one and acts as its opposite. Romanticism came as an answer to Classicism and deemed its ‘cult of reason’, coldness, formality and restraint characteristic for the art and literature of the time. In Romanticism an artist is a genious, a gifted person who stands lonely and misunderstood against the meaningless masses. Art itself is originality whereas the principle of Classicism was imitating the Antic models. Romanticism praised the aesthetic function of literature while Classicism valued the educational purpose of it. Artist had more freedom in expressing himself in the Romantic era than in the rigid worldview of Classicism.

In the Romantic era young individuals felt powerless against that rigid regime. Melancholy pervaded the air and the atmosphere of oppressive disappointment after the ideals of equality and justice of the French Revolution were never fulfilled, and the Napoleon’s demise made the society to perceive him as a fallen hero, fallen self-proclaimed hero, which again brought the disappointment. ‘Cult of reason‘ couldn’t and can’t explain the inequality of the world that hurt the young people so much. I find one of Novalis’ quotes very appropriate “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” How could rationalism answer the existentialistic questions one might ask oneself? What solution could rationalism have to cure the disappointment of the people with the false social values? Young people; misunderstood poets, artists, musicians and all the other sensitive individuals couldn’t find fulfillment and refuge in rationalistic ideas that were so popular only a century before so they had to find their own way to survive.

In literature this disappointment, unexplainable sadness and melancholy manifested themselves by escaping into solitude and one’s own vision of the world. Those are the sources of the pessimistic worldview, that is the Weltschmerz. ‘World-pain’ or Weltschmerz is an expression for the sense of sadness and despondency induced by discrepancy of reality and ideals. Physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. Weltschmerz resulted in the ‘cult of pain’; a pessimistic sense of how there is no cure for evil in the world. This world pain that caused depression, escapism and resignation as the individual felt powerless against all the injustice in the world, occurred as early as in Rousseau’s (New Heloise) and Goethe’s work (The sorrows of young Werther). However, the world-pain gained its fullest form in works of Byron and Chateaubriand.

Artists of the time felt helpless, sad and disappointed. Surrounded by the tranquil solitude they found comfort in four major themes and preoccupations; intimacy and love, nature (especially exotic landscapes), history and folklore, and mystic and occult. Theme of love and intimacy is the most evident in Goethe’s work The Sorrows of Young Werther, historical themes were the most interesting to Victor Hugo thought he came to the scene a little bit later, and the dark romantic, Edgar Allan Poe is the king of mystical and occult, combing the themes of beauty and death.

1888. John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, after a poem by Tennyson; like many Victorian paintings, romantic but not Romantic.

Romanticism in English literature begins with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s collection of poems Lyrical ballads (1798). These two poets, along with Robert Southey, belonged to a group called ‘Lake poets’ for they lived in the Lake district; a picturesque mountainous area in north-west England. William Wordsworth considered poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” which he then “recollect[s] in tranquility.” Nature was, however, Wordsworth’s biggest inspiration and he admired it deeply, not only for its aesthetic values; he felt in it the closeness with the sources of life and inexhaustible wellspring of simple and eternal cognition of life. Nature mirrors the state of your soul; romantic poets reflected their feelings into nature, but they also did the opposite, the nature acted on the poets’ sensibility and his inner experiencing. These poets have been very important in setting the ground for the English Romanticism, especially for the second generation of poets.

I must say that I prefer the second generation of English Romantic poets; Byron, Shelley and Keats. Byron, as a person and an artist, is characterised by the fact that in reality he had lived a life of his romantic heroes. His numerous love adventures, travels to exotic lands and the willingness to sacrifice for the ideals of freedom; most importantly, for the freedom of another country – that shows the true nobleness. Byron is responsible for many innovations in poetry and for creating a new type of hero, that is, anti-hero or Byronic hero. Alongside Byron there were two more important poets; Shelley and Keats; both of them cherished a ‘cult of pure beauty’ and both of them died very young in tragic circumstances.

1856. Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton 1856, by suicide at 18 in 1770

Literary type that emerged from the literature of Romanticism was a romantic hero; a sensitive, courageous and adventurous young man with a great love for nature and everything that is natural, and yet he is unable of controlling his own emotions. He is usually a victim of scheming, mistakes from his youth, his abruptness or his pessimistic attitudes towards life. Typical romantic hero, the best example is young Werther, perhaps even Karl Moor from Schiller’s play The Robbers, does not fit in in society, has a rebellious spirit, can be self-destructive and highly pathetic and excessive in statements.

Other type of romantic hero is Byronic hero, created by Lord Byron. Byronic hero is a man who despises everything and everybody. Though he can have many positive traits like courage or intelligence, he is not noble, kind or humane. He is a cynic and a skeptic, most commonly a materialist and an atheist, often full of contradictions. He loves to live life to the fullest but that desire is usually induced by boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. Byronic hero is a ‘cursed person‘, doing everything that stimulates his own demise. Since Lord Byron was extremely popular with Russian romantic authors, Pushkin was the first to be inspired by the Byronic hero, and derived a similar hero – Superfluous man. It’s a hero who feels superior to his surrounding and yet he submits himself to aimless actions not taking advantage of his potentials. Prone to self destruction, the superfluous man has a strong sense of boredom which compels him to seek oblivion on wanderings and travels. Typical examples include Eugene Onegin and Pechorin from Lermontov’s novel and the first novel of Russian literature – A Hero of our Time.

Romantic hero and Superfluous man are different but they do have similarities such as feeling of alienation and loneliness, intelligence, sensitivity, they both have tendencies towards traveling and excitement and the are fighters against the established social and moral norms.

1821. John Constable - The Hay Wain

Though poetry was the most popular form of expressing oneself in Romanticism, it was music that was considered the most romantic of all arts. E.T.A. Hoffman commented on the subject of music ‘The magic of music is so strong, getting stronger, it should break any shackle of another art.‘ Romanticists considered music to be almost like a mind-expanding experience; music revealed unknown areas to man, a word of imagination, a world completely cut out from earthly senses; music was romantic because its theme was the fathomless itself. Music was not only considered to be the most romantic of all arts, but also the spring of all other arts, and therefor lies its true greatness and importance. Novalis also made a remark on music –  “Every disease is a musical problem; every cure is a musical solution.

Beethoven was a musician whose work is considered to mark a transition between Classicism and Romanticism. Other Romantic composers were Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Schumann and Schubert. Romantic musicians were rebellious when it came to themes, they were fascinated by nocturnal, mystic and spooky, longing to the infinite they were inspired by fantastic seeing and spiritual experiences, fascinated by the past, especially Middle Ages, interested in the autobiographical and emphasised extreme subjectivism, at the same time surrendering to nature.

My favourite romantic composer is Chopin; I absolutely adore his Nocturnes; their melody is of greatest melancholy and sadness and yet it possess untamed beauty and mystique. Oscar Wilde commented on Chopin’s music ‘After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. Music always seems to me to produce that effect. It creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden from one’s tears.‘ Frederick Chopin grew up in Warsaw. His father was French, and Frederick soon moved to Paris, the center of Romanticism in music and the center of arts in general, and as soon as he arrived, his playing style amazed the posh aristocrat audience and gained him admirers. He soon befriended many famous artists and writers of the time; Victor Hugo, H. Balzac, H. Heine, Eugene Delacroix, and also F. Listz all became his friends.

Frederick was elegant and posh, he loved modern and beautiful clothes, champagne, he changed his white gloves every day and traveled in his own carriage. However, he was profound when it came to music and his playing style reflected both great strength and sophistication and sensitivity. ‘It should be like dreaming in beautiful springtime – by moonlight.‘ – he once described his sonata. However, Chopin was of frail health, always thin, weak and melancholic, he died aged thirty nine from consumption. Although befriended with many famous artists of the time, Chopin had a person in Paris he loved even more, it was George Sand with whom had a ten year long relationship. The two met on a party, but Chopin was repelled by her clumsy posture and short, fat, unattractive build. The two met again, two years later; Chopin was in state of melancholy because a young Polish girl had proved unfaithful him, and, devastated, he was improvising a lamentations on a piano when he saw George Sand standing on the doors. His eyes met with her eyes which were black, magical and velvety as the night. After he finished playing, she bent down and kissed him softly. The rest is history.

Romantic era with its emphasis on love and emotions, was an era of many great love stories; Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and Robert Browning, Clara Schumann and Robert Schumann, Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb… the list is endless.

1781. The Nightmare - Henry Fuseli1781. The Nightmare – Henry Fuseli

In Romantic era even death was romantic; it was considered a beautiful land of dreams where one could escape the harshness, troubles and greyness of reality. When one sleeps, one dreams and in death one would be dreaming forever, eternally united with nature. In dreams we see our innermost thoughts and desires, and when we die, we would be dreaming forever and ever; death is a dream and one should not be afraid of it. In life, Romantic poets were sad, melancholic, disappointment, alienated, lonely, burdened with social injustices, and powerless against established social and moral norms, and the only comfort and sweetness they could get was sleep; dreams. For Wordsworth, death is nothing more than returning to a more complete and satisfactory existence. Keats considered a death to be an eternal dream which is as beautiful as we create it; death is for him merely a sleep in which one sees the picture they most desire. There are no fears in death, only the ones we create for ourselves. Death is opposite of life, it’s an escape from reality and misunderstanding society, it’s the submerging in nature, becoming a part of the universe again. Life was hard for romantic spiritual philosophy since they lived in times when the Industrial revolution was changing lives and materialism was becoming dominant.

John Keats – ‘On Death’

Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.

Percy Shelley, mon préféré Romantic poet, was especially fascinated with death and dreams. Highly sensitive, he hated life; its trivialities and the conventionality of society. Extremely devoted to the beauty and peace which he believed could only be found in dreams and death, Shelley was very close to committing suicide, as he felt an enormous ‘death urge‘; he wished to lose all his senses, all attachment from life, all communication with society and emerge himself forever in enormous beauty and magic that death beholds. He wrote a poem ‘A Lament’ in which he expressed his deep desires and longings for death.

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

1840s grand duchesses olga nicolaeievna et alexandra nicolaievna

I’m fascinated by deaths in Romantic era, thought people were always dying, and artists died young in many eras, there something so appealing in deaths of Romantic poets, musicians, painters or princesses. Perhaps the shortness of their lives, perhaps the sadness and tranquility that tortured them and maybe even induced their deaths… Shelley, Byron, Keats, Schubert – they all died young, but tragic and romantic death did not spare the members of aristocracy either, particularly interesting to me are Russian Grand Duchesses, sisters Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna who died very young; Alexandra died aged seventeen and Elena was just a year older when she succumbed to her eternal sleep. Later, Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna died aged only nineteen. In her portraits, she gazes at the viewer with a hint of melancholy and resignation, dressed in elegant satin, while her pale skin shows the beauty of her innocence, her stately neck stands as if it was fragile as a feather, carrying a beautiful face crowned with dark hair in braids. Aura of sadness followed Alexandra on her portraits like a shadow.

P.S. I wrote this post exactly one year ago but due to the connection between Autumn and Romanticism, and my current obsession with Romanticism, I decided to re-post it.

Romanticism – Age of Sentimentality, Melancholy, Love, Death and Fallen Heroes

17 Oct

Exploration of the inner self lead the Romantics to discover a prodigious world of mysticism, imagination and dreams.

To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.”(Novalis)

1818. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog - Casper David Friedrich

Romantic era is very appealing to me; all those sad young people that died way too soon, unrequited loves, themes and love towards nature, focus on individuality and imagination,beautiful portraits where ladies’ faces are framed with curls and delicate roses, escapism, melancholy as a state of mind, feeling of alienation.

Every movement in art, music and literature comes as an answer to the previous one and acts as its opposite. Romanticism came as an answer to Classicism and deemed its ‘cult of reason’, coldness, formality and restraint characteristic for the art and literature of the time. In Romanticism an artist is a genious, a gifted person who stands lonely and misunderstood against the meaningless masses. Art itself is originality whereas the principle of Classicism was imitating the Antic models. Romanticism praised the aesthetic function of literature while Classicism valued the educational purpose of it. Artist had more freedom in expressing himself in the Romantic era than in the rigid worldview of Classicism.

In the Romantic era young individuals felt powerless against that rigid regime. Melancholy pervaded the air and the atmosphere of oppressive disappointment after the ideals of equality and justice of the French Revolution were never fulfilled, and the Napoleon’s demise made the society to perceive him as a fallen hero, fallen self-proclaimed hero, which again brought the disappointment. ‘Cult of reason‘ couldn’t and can’t explain the inequality of the world that hurt the young people so much. I find one of Novalis’ quotes very appropriate “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” How could rationalism answer the existentialistic questions one might ask oneself? What solution could rationalism have to cure the disappointment of the people with the false social values? Young people; misunderstood poets, artists, musicians and all the other sensitive individuals couldn’t find fulfillment and refuge in rationalistic ideas that were so popular only a century before so they had to find their own way to survive.

In literature this disappointment, unexplainable sadness and melancholy manifested themselves by escaping into solitude and one’s own vision of the world. Those are the sources of the pessimistic worldview, that is the Weltschmerz. ‘World-pain’ or Weltschmerz is an expression for the sense of sadness and despondency induced by discrepancy of reality and ideals. Physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. Weltschmerz resulted in the ‘cult of pain’; a pessimistic sense of how there is no cure for evil in the world. This world pain that caused depression, escapism and resignation as the individual felt powerless against all the injustice in the world, occurred as early as in Rousseau’s (New Heloise) and Goethe’s work (The sorrows of young Werther). However, the world-pain gained its fullest form in works of Byron and Chateaubriand.

Artists of the time felt helpless, sad and disappointed. Surrounded by the tranquil solitude they found comfort in four major themes and preoccupations; intimacy and love, nature (especially exotic landscapes), history and folklore, and mystic and occult. Theme of love and intimacy is the most evident in Goethe’s work The Sorrows of Young Werther, historical themes were the most interesting to Victor Hugo thought he came to the scene a little bit later, and the dark romantic, Edgar Allan Poe is the king of mystical and occult, combing the themes of beauty and death.

1888. John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, after a poem by Tennyson; like many Victorian paintings, romantic but not Romantic.

Romanticism in English literature begins with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s collection of poems Lyrical ballads (1798). These two poets, along with Robert Southey, belonged to a group called ‘Lake poets’ for they lived in the Lake district; a picturesque mountainous area in north-west England. William Wordsworth considered poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” which he then “recollect[s] in tranquility.” Nature was, however, Wordsworth’s biggest inspiration and he admired it deeply, not only for its aesthetic values; he felt in it the closeness with the sources of life and inexhaustible wellspring of simple and eternal cognition of life. Nature mirrors the state of your soul; romantic poets reflected their feelings into nature, but they also did the opposite, the nature acted on the poets’ sensibility and his inner experiencing. These poets have been very important in setting the ground for the English Romanticism, especially for the second generation of poets.

I must say that I prefer the second generation of English Romantic poets; Byron, Shelley and Keats. Byron, as a person and an artist, is characterised by the fact that in reality he had lived a life of his romantic heroes. His numerous love adventures, travels to exotic lands and the willingness to sacrifice for the ideals of freedom; most importantly, for the freedom of another country – that shows the true nobleness. Byron is responsible for many innovations in poetry and for creating a new type of hero, that is, anti-hero or Byronic hero. Alongside Byron there were two more important poets; Shelley and Keats; both of them cherished a ‘cult of pure beauty’ and both of them died very young in tragical circumstances.

1856. Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton 1856, by suicide at 18 in 1770

Literary type that emerged from the literature of Romanticism was a romantic hero; a sensitive, courageous and adventurous young man with a great love for nature and everything that is natural, and yet he is unable of controlling his own emotions. He is usually a victim of scheming, mistakes from his youth, his abruptness or his pessimistic attitudes towards life. Typical romantic hero, the best example is young Werther, perhaps even Karl Moor from Schiller’s play The Robbers, does not fit in in society, has a rebellious spirit, can be self-destructive and highly pathetic and excessive in statements.

Other type of romantic hero is Byronic hero, created by Lord Byron. Byronic hero is a man who despises everything and everybody. Though he can have many positive traits like courage or intelligence, he is not noble, kind or humane. He is a cynic and a skeptic, most commonly a materialist and an atheist, often full of contradictions. He loves to live life to the fullest but that desire is usually induced by boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. Byronic hero is a ‘cursed person‘, doing everything that stimulates his own demise. Since Lord Byron was extremely popular with Russian romantic authors, Pushkin was the first to be inspired by the Byronic hero, and derived a similar hero – Superfluous man. It’s a hero who feels superior to his surrounding and yet he submits himself to aimless actions not taking advantage of his potentials. Prone to self destruction, the superfluous man has a strong sense of boredom which compels him to seek oblivion on wanderings and travels. Typical examples include Eugene Onegin and Pechorin from Lermontov’s novel and the first novel of Russian literature – A Hero of our Time.

Romantic hero and Superfluous man are different but they do have similarities such as feeling of alienation and loneliness, intelligence, sensitivity, they both have tendencies towards traveling and excitement and the are fighters against the established social and moral norms.

1821. John Constable - The Hay Wain

Though poetry was the most popular form of expressing oneself in Romanticism, it was music that was considered the most romantic of all arts. E.T.A. Hoffman commented on the subject of music ‘The magic of music is so strong, getting stronger, it should break any shackle of another art.‘ Romanticists considered music to be almost like a mind-expanding experience; music revealed unknown areas to man, a word of imagination, a world completely cut out from earthly senses; music was romantic because its theme was the fathomless itself. Music was not only considered to be the most romantic of all arts, but also the spring of all other arts, and therefor lies its true greatness and importance. Novalis also made a remark on music –  “Every disease is a musical problem; every cure is a musical solution.

Beethoven was a musician whose work is considered to mark a transition between Classicism and Romanticism. Other Romantic composers were Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Schumann and Schubert. Romantic musicians were rebellious when it came to themes, they were fascinated by nocturnal, mystic and spooky, longing to the infinite they were inspired by fantastic seeing and spiritual experiences, fascinated by the past, especially Middle Ages, interested in the autobiographical and emphasised extreme subjectivism, at the same time surrendering to nature.

My favourite romantic composer is Chopin; I absolutely adore his Nocturnes; their melody is of greatest melancholy and sadness and yet it possess untamed beauty and mystique. Oscar Wilde commented on Chopin’s music ‘After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. Music always seems to me to produce that effect. It creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden from one’s tears.‘ Frederick Chopin grew up in Warsaw. His father was French, and Frederick soon moved to Paris, the center of Romanticism in music and the center of arts in general, and as soon as he arrived, his playing style amazed the posh aristocrat audience and gained him admirers. He soon befriended many famous artists and writers of the time; Victor Hugo, H. Balzac, H. Heine, Eugene Delacroix, and also F. Listz all became his friends.

Frederick was elegant and posh, he loved modern and beautiful clothes, champagne, he changed his white gloves every day and traveled in his own carriage. However, he was profound when it came to music and his playing style reflected both great strength and sophistication and sensitivity. ‘It should be like dreaming in beautiful springtime – by moonlight.‘ – he once described his sonata. However, Chopin was of frail health, always thin, weak and melancholic, he died aged thirty nine from consumption. Although befriended with many famous artists of the time, Chopin had a person in Paris he loved even more, it was George Sand with whom had a ten year long relationship. The two met on a party, but Chopin was repelled by her clumsy posture and short, fat, unattractive build. The two met again, two years later; Chopin was in state of melancholy because a young Polish girl had proved unfaithful him, and, devastated, he was improvising a lamentations on a piano when he saw George Sand standing on the doors. His eyes met with her eyes which were black, magical and velvety as the night. After he finished playing, she bent down and kissed him softly. The rest is history.

Romantic era with its emphasis on love and emotions, was an era of many great love stories; Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and Robert Browning, Clara Schumann and Robert Schumann, Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb… the list is endless.

1781. The Nightmare - Henry Fuseli1781. The Nightmare – Henry Fuseli

In Romantic era even death was romantic; it was considered a beautiful land of dreams where one could escape the harshness, troubles and greyness of reality. When one sleeps, one dreams and in death one would be dreaming forever, eternally united with nature. In dreams we see our innermost thoughts and desires, and when we die, we would be dreaming forever and ever; death is a dream and one should not be afraid of it. In life, Romantic poets were sad, melancholic, disappointment, alienated, lonely, burdened with social injustices, and powerless against established social and moral norms, and the only comfort and sweetness they could get was sleep; dreams. For Wordsworth, death is nothing more than returning to a more complete and satisfactory existence. Keats considered a death to be an eternal dream which is as beautiful as we create it; death is for him merely a sleep in which one sees the picture they most desire. There are no fears in death, only the ones we create for ourselves. Death is opposite of life, it’s an escape from reality and misunderstanding society, it’s the submerging in nature, becoming a part of the universe again. Life was hard for romantic spiritual philosophy since they lived in times when the Industrial revolution was changing lives and materialism was becoming dominant.

John Keats – ‘On Death’

Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.

Percy Shelley, mon préféré Romantic poet, was especially fascinated with death and dreams. Highly sensitive, he hated life; its trivialities and the conventionality of society. Extremely devoted to the beauty and peace which he believed could only be found in dreams and death, Shelley was very close to committing suicide, as he felt an enormous ‘death urge‘; he wished to lose all his senses, all attachment from life, all communication with society and emerge himself forever in enormous beauty and magic that death beholds. He wrote a poem ‘A Lament’ in which he expressed his deep desires and longings for death.

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

1840s grand duchesses olga nicolaeievna et alexandra nicolaievna

I’m fascinated by deaths in Romantic era, thought people were always dying, and artists died young in many eras, there something so appealing in deaths of Romantic poets, musicians, painters or princesses. Perhaps the shortness of their lives, perhaps the sadness and tranquility that tortured them and maybe even induced their deaths… Shelley, Byron, Keats, Schubert – they all died young, but tragic and romantic death did not spare the members of aristocracy either, particularly interesting to me are Russian Grand Duchesses, sisters Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna who died very young; Alexandra died aged seventeen and Elena was just a year older when she succumbed to her eternal sleep. Later, Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna died aged only nineteen. In her portraits, she gazes at the viewer with a hint of melancholy and resignation, dressed in elegant satin, while her pale skin shows the beauty of her innocence, her stately neck stands as if it was fragile as a feather, carrying a beautiful face crowned with dark hair in braids. Aura of sadness followed Alexandra on her portraits like a shadow. She died, tortured by life, her beauty preserved in an eternal dream.