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Sentimentalism and Karamzin Tegart, Jarmila Alexandra


The object of this study is to show how the sentimentalist movement in the literatures of Western Europe found its way into Russian literature, and how Karamzin eventually emerged as the most significant representative of the Russian sentimentalist school. The sentimentalist movement, originating in England, soon affected all European literature, particularly the French and the German. Because of Russia's relative isolation, these new tendencies were slow in appearing, but some of the characteristics, namely a sense of the transience of life and vanity of all things, together with an aspiration toward virtue, appeared in the lyrics of Xeraskov, Murav'ev and Sumarokov. These signs of incipient sentimentalism were, however, present only in haphazard form. It was Nikolaj Mixajlovič Karamzin who crystallized these vague tendencies and gave Russian sentimentalism a definite identity. Karamzin's education, his contact with Masonic circles, and his travels in Western Europe drew him toward the mainstream of European culture. His early works are mainly translations of Western European authors, the most significant work being a translation of Julius Caesar, prefaced by an appraisal of Shakespeare's genius. An able and discriminating journalist, Karamzin modelled the Moskovskij Žurnal (Moscow Journal) on the lines of European literary magazines. In this journal he published his most famous works, such as "Bednaja Liza" (Poor Liza), "Natal’ja, bojarskaja doč’" (Natalia, the Boyar's Daughter) and Pis'ma russkogo putesestvennika (Letters of a Russian Traveller). Karamzin popularized the short story and created a wide Russian reading public, commanding the attention of readers with his portrayal of simplicity, virtue and feeling, often set off by a nostalgic pastoralism, but also tinged by suggestions of the romance of the past and of the exotic. His approach to story-telling necessarily involved a considerable degree of the psychological analysis of characters, and this assumes great importance as a prelude to the great Russian novels of the nineteenth century. Considered in the light of the development of Russian literature, Karamzin's most representative work is Letters of a Russian Traveller, which shows his insistence on the sovereignty of the heart and the importance of creating characters as living persons. This work, therefore, remains the first and best example of Russian sentimentalism, which set the norm for a movement that made possible the searching exploration of the human psyche in the great tradition of Russian fiction.

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