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How Alexander Pushkin Became Russia’s National Genius

An online lecture by Dr. Andrew Kahn 

To commemorate the 225th anniversary of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin’s birth, Dr. Andrew Kahn will present an overview of Pushkin’s career and his works. In post-1848 Europe, many countries made a cult of national writers: in Scotland, this was Burns, in England, Shakespeare, in France, Molière (or Hugo or Voltaire as the establishment could never quite decide); and in Russia, it was Alexander Pushkin, who continues to enjoy this status. In addition to his poetry and fiction, Pushkin wrote works of history and was the first to treat the great peasant and Cossack rebellion of the 1770s against Tsarist autocracy.

During his presentation, Dr. Kahn will tell the story of how Pushkin became central to Russian culture as a writer who faces East and West. The story of how he became a national writer is full of unlikely twists and moments of intense politicization. The phenomenon of his appropriation and the suppression of works the Tsar viewed as dangerous began immediately after his death in a duel in 1837, when the state confiscated his papers. His reputation languished among Russian nationalists and radical revolutionaries until the great Pushkin speech Dostoevsky gave in 1880 at the erection of a first monument to the writer. The speech celebrated both Pushkin’s universality and his Russianness. But it would take the efforts of Stalin to establish on a genuine mass level the creation of a Pushkin cult in the Soviet in 1937 at the start of the Great Terror. By the 1960s, statues were a feature in every town of the Soviet Union as this most aristocratic of writers was appropriated for the people. Yet in the same period Pushkin was also appropriated by dissidents who found in him a champion of freedom, both political and metaphysical.
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About the Speaker

Andrew Kahn is Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Oxford and is a Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford. His area of specialization is Russian poetry of all periods and eighteenth-century literature and thought. He is the author and editor of a number of books including Pushkin’s Lyric Intelligence (Oxford University Press, 2008, pbk. 2012), Mandelstam’s Worlds (Oxford University Press, 2020), co-author with Mark Lipovetsky, Irina Reyfman and Stephanie Sandler of A History of Russian Literature (Oxford University Press, 2018, pbk. 2022), and the forthcoming with Mark Lipovetsky, All the World on a Page. A Critical Anthology of Modern Russian Poetry (Princeton University Press, 2025). He has also edited the Cambridge Companion to Pushkin (Cambridge) and with Kelsey Rubin-Detlev is the editor and translator of Catherine the Great, Selected Letters (Oxford Worlds Classics, 2018).

Connecting with Zoom

This virtual lecture is presented live via Zoom. Registered users will be emailed a link to join this Zoom program. To get started, please download Zoom on your chosen device and explore the Frequently Asked Questions.

This program will be recorded and posted to the museum’s YouTube channel.

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