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  Philologica 3 (1996)  


[on Aleksandr Pushkin’s Ballad “The Shade of Barkov”]

Edited by E. S. Shal’man
Preparation of the text and notes by I. A. Pil’shchikov


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The significance of the outstanding Russian scholar, Mstislav Aleksandrovich Ciavlovskij (14 June 1883 — 11 November 1947) for the study of Pushkin’s poetry of the Lycée period should be recognized as exceptional. With T. G. Zenger-Ciavlovskaia, he edited the first volume of the 1937—1959 Complete Works of Pushkin. Ciavlovskij prepared a historical and literary commentary on the poems of 1813—1817, which was, five decades later, “used as a basis” for the first volume of the new academic edition; the latter also includes Ciavlovskij’s analytic description of textual sources of the Lycée poems.

A pornographic ballad, The Shade of Barkov, presented a particular problem in the preparation of the corpus of Pushkin’s early writings. “The unavailability of the full text of the ballad in printed form hampers the work of researchers, and one wishes the text would be published, even if only for private use, however small the print-run”, Shchegolev argued (1928). Ciavlovskij undertook a reconstruction of the poem, and completed his research in 1931. In the list of the scholar’s unpublished works, we find: “Pushkin’s The Shade of Barkov. Special supplement to volume I of the Academic edition of Pushkin (<...> not for sale) <...> Typeset and composed, but not printed”.

The Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences, to which Ciavlovskij submitted his manuscript, planned to complete the typesetting by 1 Feb. 1937 (200 copies were to be printed). The Shade of Barkov was prepared for press in absolute secrecy: at the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) printing house, where only two typesetters worked (a deaf-and-dumb married couple). Ciavlovskij’s work was destined to go through most incredible vicissitudes. The building of the printing house caught fire, and the extensive commentary on the ballad seemed to have perished. But in 1939 or 1940 the page proof of the book suddenly came to light at a Moscow second-hand bookseller’s; and in 1943, by a mere chance, Ciavlovskij got back a portion of his final manuscript. These documents were preserved within the family until the death of T. G. Ciavlovskaia (30 May 1978), and then they were handed over to the Manuscript Department of Pushkin House. The further history of this fundamental study is also clouded; only odd fragments from it have been published so far, and with misleading inaccuracies. In the meanwhile, its unavailability hampers discussion of the issues raised in it, at the same time encouraging inexpert and incompetent speculations.

The following are the main problems, posited and solved with brilliance by Ciavlovskij. The scholar was faced with serious difficulties, the first of which was the attribution of The Shade of Barkov. On the basis of six manuscript copies which were available to him and which are reproduced in the commentary, as well as the fragments published by Gaevskij in 1863, Ciavlovskij reconstructed the full text of the poem. His analysis of “the history of The Shade of Barkov in Pushkin scholarship” proved that P. A. Efremov (who, five decades earlier, inadvertently claimed the ballad apocryphal) did not in fact demonstrate any strong “evidence against Pushkin’s authorship”, and therefore, we “have nothing to oppose” the testimonies of the Lycée students (the poet’s classmates) — testimonies, by which Gaevskij was backed up in attributing The Shade of Barkov to the great Russian poet. Then, Ciavlovskij compiled an almost exhaustive list of “lexical and phraseological coincidences between <...> the ballad and Pushkin’s other works of the Lycée early period”; the existence of a considerable number of parallels is a convincing argument for Pushkin’s authorship. Ciavlovskij raised the question of obscene language in Pushkin; he revealed that the shocking, epatant style of the ballad is based on a “deliberate <...> ‘heightening’” of the role of obscene swear words, which are “on the whole fairly common in both the poet’s literary works and his letters”.

The commentary presents the first serious efforts to establish the literary context for The Shade of Barkov. Having pointed out the significance of the Lycee “parodiomania” for Pushkin’s early work, Ciavlovskij then supported, with facts, Gaevskij’s “unsubstantiated” statement that The Shade of Barkov parodies a ballad of Zhukovskij, Gromoboj; he also discovered other important sources for Pushkin’s poem (in particular, Zhukovskij’s Bard in the Camp of the Russian Warriors and its parodic variations in Batuishkov’s Bard in The Colloquy of the Lovers of the Russian Word). And last, Ciavlovskij showed that “Pushkin’s mentors <...> who taught him to rework parodically sublime literary works” were Scarron and Piron with their Russian followers, Vasilij Majkov and Barkov. Ciavlovskij’s results gave him every right to appraise the young Pushkin’s ballad as “a work of great skill” and a “matchless” “oeuvre in the style of Barkov”.


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