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Шведская Пальма > Информация > Культура > The end of the millenium: Scandinavian literary pantheon in Russia

The end of the millenium: Scandinavian literary pantheon in Russia

(problems of cultural interaction; results and prospects)

Ph. D. Katarina Mouradian, Russia


Each culture creates its pantheon. It takes dozens of years, a century and sometimes several centuries to create a literary pantheon. Pantheon according to the origin of word means devoted to all Gods or to certain Gods of a religion". In this connection the subject of our research is a formation of a "temple" of strange that is foreign gods, who belong to foreign culture and organically become a part of our own culture.

By pantheon we do not mean a literary necropolis where each name has its definite place. Pantheon is a lively changing system of values and traditions, of great names and galaxies, a general panorama of a literary process which is being changed in the course of time.

Alongside with the discoveries, the end of the century and millenium leaves us quite a lot of mysteries and paradoxes. For instance in his lifetime a Russian writer Peotr Boborikin was more popular than Chekhov. Was it incidental or natural? Or Verner von Heidenstam considered that "Strindberg must be and will be forgotten"*. Some contemporaries did not recommend children to read the books by Selma Lagerlof. The contemporaries have a close distance vision. A writer is really appreciated with the course of time. As Marina Tzvetayeva wrote "And for my poems like for precious wines the turn will come". Literary pantheons are seldom created by contemporaries. They are oftener created by progeny.

In a way the subject of this essay was suggested to me by an utterance of a Swedish critic Ingemar Algulin: "The research of Scandinavian literatures abroad still demonstrates rather modest achievements. We are more interested in what impact our writers made on the world than on us".*

The idea of a foreign literature pantheon combines both the appreciation of Scandinavian literary-cultural achievements and the impact of Scandinavian literature on the world, in this case - on Russia.

Each culture has its own genetic codes. When two different cultures, languages, religions, different levels of social development interact not all spiritual and ethical values can be translatable and convertible.

Let us take Pushkin as a book-reading example. On the whole one might say that he has not become "one of any foreign literature family". By the way in professor Nils Ake Nilssons* opinion Sweden played an important role in presenting Pushkin to European readership: one of the first translations of Pushkin was made in Sweden. Pushkin is undoubtedly present in the history of world literature as a great Russian poet. However one wouldnt say that he has become part of the pantheon of American or Icelandic literature. There is a riddle here which not one generation of literary scholars, culture-crirics, those who study the psychology of creativity, has been trying to guess. For instance, the phrase "I remember the beautiful moment" - "Я помню чудное мгновение" sounds in Russian like magic music. While in translation it loses its magic ring. Thats how notions of native and foreign, opened and closed, of national and intercultural space emerge.

How do different cultures receive certain spiritual figures, how are they transplanted on a foreign soil, in what way do they penetrate into other cultures and become native or rejected, how does a writer feel within the frames of a different culture, different language, how are his works assessed and translated? It seems to me: as far as the problem of national and foreign pantheons is concerned there are at present more questions than answers.

The first step is certainly the research of history and present state of Russian-Scandinavian literary ties studies.

Russian scholar Dmitriy Sharipkin (1961-1980) made a great contribution in this field. Much is done by the Scandinavian scholars. But what is needed is analysis, theory.

For example Scandinavian scholars Martin Nag and Robert Ferguson each in his own way, told the dramatic story of Knut Hamsun, who in 1890 was accused of being Dostoyevskis plagiarist. His novelette "Father and son. The story of gamblers" ("Far og Son. En spillehistorie) which was originally called "Ardour" ("Hazard") was taken by the contemporaries as a copy of Dostoyevskis novel "Gambler". According to to the historians the accusation was also due to the fact that the translation of "Gambler" came out in Norway in 1889 - the same year when Hamsuns novelette was published. It should be noted that by that time Hamsun had already known of Dostoyevski and was his true admirer.

How can one explain this story? In the 19th century not many scholars studied the psychology of literary creative work. Otherwise it would have been evident that very often the same creative ideas dawn upon different writers who havent even read each others works.

The story of Hamsun-Dostoevsky is a peculiar phenomenon which needs a theoretical analysis and definition. But whatever it was that paradoxical coincidence testified to the fact that Hamsun was the most Russian of all Norwegian writers and Dostoyevski - the most Scandinavian among all Russian classics.

Dmitriy Sharypkin, by the way, thought that the image of Hamsun`s Glan was inspired by Lermontovs Pechorin from "The Hero of Our Time". In the 1980th critic Dmitriy Khachaturan, developed this idea. In his opinion, August Strindberg was fully under the influence of the Russian literature of the 19th century. His concept was strongly criticised by a Swedish critic Ingmar Oldberg.

I think, these points of view express extremes and distance us from the "golden middle". The theme of "pantheon" requires a more balanced and delicate approach.

In order to make foreign literature a fact of a national culture it is necessary to have an intermediary. First of all it is a translator. Pushkin called translators "postal horses of enlightenment". There are other intermediaries - critics, literary historians, they help to transplant writers on a different soil.

It was Swedenborg who had never been a stranger to Russia. He was somehow mentioned by Pushkin, Odoyevskiy, Nickolai Grech, Hertzen. But only after Dostoyevsky he became "one of the family". The polish poet Cheslav Milosh wrote about the parallels in the creative work of those two writers: "Swedenborgs open-hearted christology helps to make Dostoyevskys agonizing christology less gloomy". According to Milosh, Dostoevski`s personages Prince Mishkin, Stavrogin, Raskolnikov, monk Zosima and Alesha Karamazov were swederborgians - each of them in his own way. In the 20-th century Swedenborg was considered "a reactionary mystic". He was not published first of all because Russian orthodox censorship put him on the list of authors who were banned. At the tzars Russia Swedenborg contradicted the official doctrine - "orthodoxy, autocracy, national character". And there is no wonder, that at Soviet time, while Stalin, who hated Lostoevsky was alive, Dostoyevsky and so - Swedenborg were not practically published. Swedenborgs "return" to the "Russian banks" took place in the beginning of the nineties when his works started to be translated, published and studied.

For example, Seren Kierkegaard who was well known in Russia in the 19th century thanks to P. Ganzens translations, for nearly the whole of the 20th century fell off the literary and philosophical process - he was not published. He was considered as a decadent aesthete, a metaphysical despair adherent. He was studied by Russian scholar - historian of philosophy - Piama Gaidenkos monography "Tragedy of aesthetism" which was published in Moscow 1970. Only in the 1990-ies Kierkegaard came back to Russian literature and aquired his stature again. Nowadays nobody doubts that Kierkegaard is a for-runner of philosophy and literary of existentialism, that he is unquestionably one of the great spiritual figures of the 20th century.

In Russia of the 19th-20th centuries there was a cult of French literature. Then they started reading English literature. German literature took the third place.

On the whole one might say that Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic literature became really popular in Russia only in the end of the 19th century. Finnish literature was mostly read only in the 20th century except for "Kalevala".

On the whole we may say that Russian Scandinavian literary canon was formed in the 20th century. At the turn of the 19th-20th centuries Hans-Christian Andersen, Henrik Ibsen, Knut Hamsun, Bjoorstjerne Bjornson, August Strindberg, Selma Lagerlof, Jalmar Sederberg, Herman Bang, Seren Kierkegaard, Jens Peter Jakobsen, George Brandes became a fact of Russian culture. They were published in their countries and in Russia almost simultaneously.

Hans-Christian Andersen is the unquestionable figure of the Russian Scandinavian pantheon. He is a cult figure and is no less popular with Russians than with Danish people. Many generations of children were brought up on Andersens fairy-tales and stories, his fairy-tales are taken by adults as wise parables. He is a writer for all times. He is the most popular of all story-tellers - both of Russian and foreign. He has been published and continues to be published in Russian in many-million print-runs. Although he is less known with us as a novelist and play-wright. Now his novels "Improviser", "O. T.", "Only a violonist", "Two baronesses", "To be or not to be", "Lucky Peter" are also being translated into Russian and will make his portrait more complete. But of course Andersen-novelist will not be able to compete with Andersen-story-teller.

Now lets talk of August Strindberg. Translations of his works were published in 1910s, though mainly from German and inaccurate, some parts missing. But nevertheless he was highly appreciated by great Russian writers - Leo Tolstoy, Alexandre Blok, Maxim Gorki, Anton Chekov, who called him a brilliant writer of an unusual power. Thus already at the beginning of the XXth century Strindberg, as well as Andersen, became a figure of Russian foreign pantheon. But during Soviet period officially he was practically ignored. At the end of the XXth century he is represented in Russian translations with a few editions, mainly plays and novels. The most important one is the two-volume edition of 1986. But taking into consideration the scale of Strindberg and Russia this is too little. So one might say that at present in Russia Strindberg is rather known than read. In this connection it is relevant to remember the old aphorism: who is a classic? A writer whom everybody knows but no one has read.

One can say that Knut Hamsun went his cross way to Russia foreign Pantheon. An outstanding Russian poet-symbolist Balmont translated several works by Hamsun into Russian in 1908-1910 (Kratskog, Queen Tamara, Under Half Moon, Svaermere, Stridende liv). Another great poet - symbolist - Alexandre Blok wanted to translate Hamsuns novels "The voice of life", "The conquerer", "The street revolution", "On a tour", "Father and Son", "The slave of love". These novels were translated and published by the poets wife - Lubov Blok. A famous writer Alexander Kuprin admired Hamsuns novels "Viktoria" and "Pan". It was the theme of tragic love in Hamsun that attracted him. The hero of Kuprins autobiographical novel "The night in the forest" (1931) ponders about Hamsun. Anna Akhmatova in her poem "The nineteenth year" mentions Hamsuns hero Glan. In one of his articles (1929) Osip Mandelstam wrote that "Ibsen, Hamsun and Meterlink are conquering qualified readership elite". Hamsun was also read by poet-futurists Vasiliy Kamenskiy (1884-1961) and Alexei Kruchenikh (1886-1968).

So from the beginning of the XXth century Hamsun was a success with Russian symbolist, avangard, that is non-official Russian poets and writers.

In the first Soviet edition - a two-volume collection published in 1970, Hamsun was characterised as "a great writer and reactionary politician". Nowadays Hamsun is translated, published a lot, a collection of his works has been published. A four-part Jan Truels film "Hamsun", twice shown on Russian TV channel "Culture", produced a great impression. After this film it became clear that Hamsuns tragic fate had been "directed" by his contemporaries. By the way a two-part film about Strindberg, shown on All-Russian channel, has had a wide response. Of course those films cannot be compared by their artistic quality. Truels film is a masters canvass while "August Strindberg" had first of all an educational purpose which is no less important either.

In the 20th century the role of the translators was not always a positive one. Often it was not their fault. During the Soviet epoch cultural development was complicated by many factors. Tough censorship, division of writers into "our" and "not our", loyal and heterodox, modernists, restricted the "import" of culture and especially that of literature. Translators and publishers were often oriented at ideological and not artistic criteria.

Scandinavian writers penetrated into Russia and fit into its cultural layer by different ways. Sigrid Undset was first known in Russia in the 1910-1920th as an author of short novels – “Fru Marta Oulie”, “Vigaljot og Vigdis” (in Russian translation – “The Vikings”), of novels "Jenni", “Spring” (“Vaaren”), a collection "Dispossessed" ("Fattige skjebner"). The peak of her creative work - the historic epic "Christine, Lavranss daughter" (the first two volumes)- was translated and published in the thirties (more exactly in 1935-39) by the trade consul of the Russian Embassy in Norway - Michael Dyakonov. He was not a professional literary worker or translator but he was so much enamoured of Sigrid Undsets novel that he decided by all means to introduce it to Russian culture. Later, after several dozens of years other translators published the third volume of "Christine, Lavranss daughter". Then the novel "Olof, Auduns son" was also translated.

Before the Russian revolution of 1917 Selma Lagerlof was known as the author of "Gosta Berlings Saga" and "The Legend of the Christmas Rose". After the revolution she became known as the childrens writer, the author of "The Wonderful Adventures Of Nils And The Further". And only after 1991 the collection of his works was published in Saint Petersburgs (and not a full collection) Selma Lagerlof came back into the Russia literary pantheon.

A special role belongs to the idols of childrens readership - Astrid Lindgren and Tuve Janson. Russian children know Malish and Karlson and Mumy-trollies practically by heart. Like Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, Winni the Pooh, Pinocchio they have become an integral part of Russian folklore and cultural custom. In Russian Internet there are sites about Lindgren and Janson, there is even a special site: mumitrollogy.

By the way not long ago in his article about the translations of Astrid Lindgren into Russian Alexei Karahan, a Commersant-newspaper reviewer, wrote: "In many countries where the translation was not so well adapted to everyday speech Karlson was vegetating in obscurity. He was really popular only in Sweden and in the USSR". Still this is probably an exaggeration as Karlson and many other Lindgrens characters are known and loved all over the world. The author simply means that many of Astrid Lindgrens fairy-tails are taken as native, films and performances based on her stories have been produced and not long ago even an opera was composed. Its author is Elena Gornik. On the whole Karahans article implies that a copy-write to Astrid Lindgrens Russian editions belongs to one publisher. Due to this the previous translation of the series about Karlson made by Lilian Lungina have not been reprinted for a long time. Of course a monopoly to writers works and especially of such stature as Astrid Lindgren is an unprecedented fact. In his article written many years ago Stefan Scott sharply criticised Lillian Lungins translations. While Karahan considers them classics.

Tove Janson as well as Astrid Lindgren is also an absolute leader with childrens readership, her books are "top-bestsellers". That is why when in 1987 publishers "Raduga" produced her novels and novelettes for adults, but the even the critics havent noted this event.

In the 20th century the portraits of many Scandinavian writers were being made clearer and more complete.

Before 1990 Karen Blixen was practically unknown to Russian readership. In a way it was because the publishers argued to where she belonged - Danish or English-language. In 1990 the collection of her novels "Babettas feast" came out in the supplement to the "Foreign literature" magazine which was the first presentation of her creative work to the Russian reader. Since then "Seven fantasy stories" and the collection "An old travelling knight" have been published. The latter included only an excerpt from the novel "African farm" which unfortunately has not been fully translated so far. Although the film "From Africa" by Sidney Pollak about Karen Blixen, with Muriel Strip starring, shown on television was a great success.

The Russian literary landscape of the 20-th century was supplemented by such names as Johannes Jensen, Henrik Pontopiddan, Herman Bang, Hans Branner, Jalmar Soderberg, Jalmar Bergman, Sigurd Hoel, Par Lagerkvist, Halldor Laksness, Lars Gyllensten, Eivind Jonsson, Ingmar Bergman, Bjorg Vik, Hjerberg Vassmu, Vera Henriksen, Johan Borgen, Sven Delblanc, Johan Bargum. Those writers broke into Russia mainly due to the critics efforts.

It is necessary to say that critique had its achievements and failures. For instance from the foreword to the collection "Modern Swedish poetry" (1979) we get the following information: "Sweden is the country of forests and lakes, from three sides it is washed by the sea, it has short summers and long humid winters". In the foreword to the anthology "From modern Danish poetry" poet-translator Viktor Toporov writes: "Denmark did not give the world any great poet". This is a very risky passage. I think its not the best way to introduce a foreign literature. Besides the word "poet" in Russian has a much wider notion than just "an author of poems", meaning a master, an artist. From Russian point of view Hans-Christian Andersen, Ludvig Holberg, Adam Elenshleger were great poets.

Icelandic and Finnish literature are less known in Russia. For example, Icelandic prose writer Jakobine Sigurdardottir published in Moscow 1974, remained practically unnoticed.

Finnish historian Timo Vihovainen in an article "What does Finland read?" writes: "If the writer is typically Finnish then he cannot be a success abroad". "The books by non-typical Finnish writers like Miko Valtary, Veyo Mery, Paavo Haaviko or Martha Tikkanen sell abroad well. Or for example, Martti Larni, who is very popular in Russia is a not well known with us in Finland", - he wrote.

There are undoubtful achievements in contemporary translations of prose: recently published novels such as "Minotavre" by Tur Oge Bringsvaerd, "Poltava, the story of the destruction of one army " by Peter Englund, "Virsavia" by Torgni Lindgren. Those are retellings of immortal stories, "old bronze" as one of the Swedish critics called them.

As for poetry things go worse. In our country foreign poetry was usually published in collections, called anthologies, while they may be also called "collective graves". So these anthologies "Poems by the Norwegian poets of the nineteenth century" (1984), "Modern Swedish poetry" (1979), "Modern Danish poetry" (1983) and "Modern Icelandic poetry", presented by great names, turned out to be short-lived. The genre of anthology is too specific and dependent on compilers taste. That is why my collection of critical essays "The writers of Scandinavia on literature", published by "Raduga" in 1982, was criticised in Sweden.

And no matter how hard you try to explain that the writers aim was not to embrace what is impossible to embrace etc., the critics will always find something to cavil at.

As for poets Gustav Froding who was translated in the 20th century, remained practically unknown in Russia, although his life and his destiny remind of Sergei Yesenin who was a legend. A huge volume of Harry Martinsons poetry, prose and drama published in 1984 did not become an event in literary life.

So far there have been no adequate translations of Edith Sodergran, Elmer Diktonius, Gunnar Bjorling, Rabbe Enkell. Although Elmer Diktonius had a better luck. He was translated by wonderful poets like Bulat Okudjava, Leon Toom, Yunna Moritz. Yet the collection "Thorny flame" ("Progress" 1969) does not really present Diktoniuss creative work.

In his forerun to Michael Bellmans collection of poems and songs a critic Juriy Kuzmenko stresses that "Bellman is peoples poet". Torsten Nilsson, the author of the article about "Russian Bellman" , writes that "the translations are authentic to the original". Although the translations of Ignatiy Ivanovskiy and Sergei Petrov are made very professionally, Bellman is known only to elite readership or literary scholars.

I think that the problem of poetry translation may be called "Pushkin`s syndrome": it is a problem of language proper, its nature, the problem of untranslatability of poetry in general, there are very rare examples of absolutely adequate translations.

Surely Russian literature lost a lot because it didnt pay much attention to Scandinavian poetry. Unfortunately nowadays the interest to national as well as to any other poetry in Russia is practically almost nil.

Usually the literary critics play an important part in formation of literary reputations and after all - "foreign literary pantheon". But to much regret the school of Scandinavian literary studies in Russia has become much weaker. Of course there are scholars, chairs of Scandinavian languages and literatures, but there are no centres of complex study of Scandinavian literature and culture; few representatives of young generation among translators and critics, few monographs and dissertations, research of Scandinavian literary heritage is very limited - this situation is connected with the general crisis of Russian science and culture.

Its a long time monographs of veterans of Russian Scandinavian studies - of Mikhail Steblin-Kamenskiy, Dmitriy Sharipkin, Vladimir Neustroyev, Vladimir Admoni, Galina Khrapovitskaya, Irina Kuptiyanova, Ludmila Braude were not reprinted. They have become book rarities.

In conclusion I would like to say that now on the threshold of the new century, new millenium the study of the PANTHEON phenomenon or, as a contemporary Russian scholar and writer Valeri Zemskov noted , a "literary pantheon" phenomenon, is extremely important. A literary pantheon implies "a complex of sacred high authorities personalised as separate writers names", their writings as a whole or "even as separate works". The study of literature opens up the way to understanding of the roots, basis of cultures - in our case Scandinavian and Russian. As in any culture and civilisation there is a "connection between levels: pattern of the language - normative level - system of values". Correspondingly the research of literary pantheons enables us to see the mechanism of culture in its national autonomy"* and its interaction with the non-national milieu. Thus the problem set here, which was considered on a theoretical level by Roman Jakobson, Juri Lotman and others, fits into the new, non-standard historical and cultural concept of "receptive culturology" which is being presently developed in Russia.

© Кatarina Mouradian (Катарина Мурадян)
The paper is reprinted with kindly permission of the author

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