Vasily Andreevich Zhukovsky (1783 - 1852)

Vasily Andreevich Zhukovsky is one of the fore-fathers of Russian literary classics, a poet, translator, prose writer, critic, who combined in his art encyclopedic mental outlook of the heir to the Enlightenment with artistic universalism of Romanticism. A son of the Tula nobleman A.I.Bunin and the captive Turkish woman Salha, he received his patronymic and family name from his godfather and spent his youth full of dramatic experiences. However, he became one of the best educated people of his time and inaugurated with his art literary history of the XIX century. Zhukovsky made his debut in 1802 with translation of the elegy of English poet-sentimentalist T. Gray «Rural Cemetery» and managed through the work of translation not only to mark his entrance into the field of literature, but also to outline new - romantic - perspectives for Russian art, a new level of poetic culture that was to be reached in the XIX century. Near the end of the century V.S.Soloviyov called «Rural Cemetery» the beginning of authentically humane poetry in Russia after conventional rhetorical art of Derzhavin’s epoch», «the homeland of Russian poetry».

In 1800-1810s Zhukovsky occupied the primary place in Russian literary process. Apart from landscape-meditative elegies, elegiac epistles, songs and romances that formed the basis of the genre repertoire of Romantic lyric and expressed spiritual moods of the early Russian Romanticism, the poet expressed his artistic originality in creation and development of a new genre form - the ballad. Romantic ballad being closely linked to folklore sources, to the Middle Ages mythology of Christian nations, filled with legendary-fantastic subject matter, gave tragic perspective on the relation of man to the world, sometimes going deeply into the realms where personal experience came in contact with supernatural forces, and thus discovered the metaphysical complexity of human existence. «Ludmila» (1808), «Svetlana» (1808-1812), «The Aeolian Harp» (1814), «Twelve Sleeping Virgins» (1810, 1814-1817), «The Castle of Smalgholm, or St. John’s Night» (1822), «Goblet» (1831) - these are the outstanding examples of Zhukovsky’s ballad art.

By 1820-1840s, having ceded the position of the leader of literary movement to Pushkin and later to Gogol, Zhukovsky retained his exceptionally important role in Russian social and cultural life. From 1821 to 1841 he carried his duties of a mentor to the future Emperor Alexander II with the pathos of religious service. Zhukovsky’s artistic interests of the period bend to translations and expositions of poetic epos, both folklore and literature, Western and Eastern. Having created the veritable library of poetic translations, Zhukovsky, according to P.A.Pletnev’s comment, «adopted for us the first-class works of ancient and modern poets and equaled us in the realm of poetry with the most educated modern nations». The poet’s artistic feat of his later years was the monumental translation of «The Odyssey» (1842-1849) that, together with Gnedich’s translation of «The Iliad» created such cultural phenomenon as «Russian Homer».

Pushkinsky Dom archive, book and museum collections possess a substantial number of manuscripts, printed matter, memorable relics that refer to Zhukovsky’s literary heritage, his biography, family and social circle. First of all, there are more than 70 poet’s manuscripts, among which the historian of literature would find autographs of several masterpieces - «The Ballad that Describes How One Kiev Old Lady was Riding on a Black Horse Together and Who Sat in the Front» (1814), poems «To the Familiar Genius that Has Flied Past» (1819), «Lallah Ruk» (1821), elegies «The Young Muse I Used to» (1824), long poems «Nal and Damajanti» (1837-1841), ««Camôes” (1839). All in all there are nearly four hundred epistolary and biographical documents, fragments of diaries, note pages and note-books.

Pushkinsky Dom preserves part of a large (over 5,000 volumes) Zhukovsky’s library (308 book editions in Russian and main European languages, 598 volumes) - the part that the poet’s son P.V.Zhukovsky presented to the famous collector of Pushkin time relics A.F.Onegin. From A.F.Onegin’s Museum, and also from the family archive of the poet’s heirs, from the Utkinsky archive that belonged to descendants of M.A.Protasova-Meyer, from the archive of P.A.Pletnev, from the collection of bibliophile and collector I.A.Shlaypkin there came both manuscript and pictorial and memorial material of great value: graphic and sculptural portraits of Zhukovsky (made by G. von Reitern, E.Bouchardi, A.L.Elagina, A.A.Voeikova, A. von Nordhaim and others); his graphic heritage (drawings, watercolors, etchings, lithographs with views of Mishenskoe, the poet’s native place, of Pavlovsk, Tsarskoe Selo, Germany, Switzerland, self-illustrations); photographs and memorabilia (albums, a briefcase, a wallet, that belonged to the poet, sealing-wax impressions of his personal stamps); Zhukovsky’s art collections.

The funds of Zhukovsky not only preserve the materialized memory of the great poet. The poet’s vast archive has made it possible to prepare his Complete Works and Letters in 20 volumes. It is noteworthy that this edition of a new typed is being created by specialists belonging to Tomsk Philological School. This adds one more evidence to the fact that treasures preserved at Pushkinsky Dom are available for the scholars from all over Russia.

Y. M. Prozorov