Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dickens and Pushkin as Saviours of National Identity

Wonderful. 200 years of Dickens. What could be nicer? Celebrations, BBC documentaries, author readings, competitions, blogs, biographies. Your favourite Dickens character? Your favourite Dickens novel? What would you have said to Dickens? What does Dickens mean to us in 2012?

Nice, if it wasn't so heavy-handed. It is so very obvious that poor old Dickens has his role to play in this "special year" for Britain: Jubilee, yeah, Olympic Games double yeah, Dickens yeah. Yeah us, Great Britain. And remember Dickens' Victorianism? Wasn't all hunky-dory then was it? People had it tough too, actually a lot tougher than you lot. Scavenging, no money, crime, alcoholism.. you name it, they had it. You've got it really good in comparison, so stop moaning and get ony with it. Best country in the word innit! So there.

1937, the height of Stalin's terror regime. Also, the centenary of Pushkin's death. An author who used to be labelled aristocratic and decadent now became a cultural figure of national identity. Kulturny'i were the people who read Pushkin, cultured folk, not backward peasants. And Stalin saw to it that everybody did indeed read Pushkin. And that every poet, writer, musician (Shostakovitch!) did their bit explainig why -oh yes indeed - Pushkin was their favourite poet. A national hero. The embodiment of the Russian soul. Legacy of what we're about. National source of Russianism, the essence of our literary heritage.

Pushkin sculptures sprang out of the ground next to the usual Lenin and Stalin ones. A literary figure became a national treasure. Pushkin's works became the ersatz-bible of the new state. Communist party, Stalin, Pushkin - your reference system if you're a modern Stalinist who loves his country. Hero of the masses.

Your favourite work by Pushkin? Err, sorry, Dickens!

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