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Beyond history: a study of Saltykov's The history of a town Petro, Peter


The purpose of this work is to show the evolution of The History of a Town and analyze its satirical form and thus to elucidate the obscure points that until recently prevented the recognition of The History of a Town (Istoriya odnogo goroda, 1869-1870, from now on, mentioned as The History) as a major work of Mikhail Evgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin (1826-1889), a work that came into the Russian literature after the time of the Great Reforms and which expressed the spirit of the time, understanding of the historical process and aimed deeper beyond the satirical rendering of the historical facts. Considered by most of the critics as a kind of parody of Russian history, where a provincial town, Glupov, stands for Russia and whose governors are caricatures of Russian sovereigns and ministers, this work survived the onslaught of various interpretations. Shortly after its first appearance it generated much controversy and grounds for suspicion as to whether it was not more than a parody of Russian history and the characters that appear in it more than mere caricatures of the House of Romanov and their ministers. After the heated polemics and discussions so typical of the period of the publication of Saltykov's satiric chronicle subsided, neglect descended upon it, to cover it for several decades. The interest in Saltykov's works increased after the books were dusted and rediscovered by the Soviet propagandists who also gave an impetus to a serious study of Saltykov's work, which, with a few exceptions, lacked both in objectivity and in assertion of the chronicle's significance beyond the historically ramified period which The History ostensibly covered. An attempt will be made here to show that Saltykov tried, successfully, to transcend the temporary framework of a definite situation of the period between 1731-1826 in order to give us an insight into the relationship of the governors and the governed, encompassing the epoch highlighted by the reform of 1961 and the decade that followed it. This study will also undertake an analysis of Saltykov's technique of satire and humour, as well as the gradual development of his technique and ideas in the course of the decade preceding the publication of The History.

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