"The Tsar's Scriveners": Writing Bureaucrats in Nineteenth-Century Russia
Groce, Alexander Marlen
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AbstractAfter Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol’, and others problematized the bureaucrat in the 1820s and 1830s, the literary bureaucrat’s further contours were determined in no small part by the literary contributions of bureaucrats themselves. During the tumultuous period of reaction and reform between the 1830s and early 1870s the bureaucrat as a cultural type became a primary object of contestation between ideologies and literary schools. Investigating the strategies of literary texts authored by bureaucrats, I give special attention to representatives of the bureaucracy who were active in literature in the middle of the nineteenth-century. I examine the correspondence and private writing that lay bare the compounded difficulties of hiding literary pursuits hidden in plain sight of the censorship authorities.
Depictions of the bureaucrat evolved in ways that, I suggest, are integrally related to the politics of the Reform Era in Russia and represent an attempt to reimagine the bureaucrat as a potential agent of civic renewal, a project that ultimately failed. I explore the evolving literary image of the bureaucrat in the era following the initial euphoria of the Great Reforms, when the pendulum began to swing back towards the familiar reactionary atmosphere that had inspired earlier representations. I identify the strategies employed by authors working in the censorship division in order to meet the demands of their bureaucratic profession while continuing to write literature. Russian satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin in his early cycle “Provincial Sketches” and in his later novel “The Tashkenters’ Clique” offers a particularly illuminating case study. The “bureaucrat” constitutes a more unified ele-=ment in nineteenth-century Russian literary production than has heretofore been acknowledged. I conclude by proposing a new definition for this seemingly familiar Russian literary trope.
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