n Slavic Almanac : The South African Journal for Slavic, Central and Eastern European Studies - 'Letters of a Russian traveller' by N. M. Karamzin as a Parisian prototext

Volume 18, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1025-3386


Among the texts which modern researchers of literature examine actively, the Parisian 'city text' occupies a particularly prominent place. And, although the status of this text has not yet been fully established, one can draw certain preliminary conclusions about its nature. The existence of a Parisian text in Russian literature is a given, but because of its dynamics and the instability of its image, it is difficult to identify the interpretative code of the supertext. The central position among literary works dealing with the theme of Paris is taken by 'Letters of a Russian traveller' by N. M. Karamzin, where the parameters of the Parisian text are established on the level of genre through the synthesis of a travelogue and an epistolary text, the narrative structure (unifying objective-essayistic, emotionally expressive and analytical-publicistic planes) and verbal characteristics, which create a mental image of Paris. Karamzin introduces a system of oppositions through which city life is portrayed. He uses the device of oxymoron as an expression of the spirit of the city which disrupts its usual pragmatics, and turns to the anecdote to illustrate Parisian custom. The way Karamzin treats the capital of France is validated by a number of Russian literary works, especially Pushkin's 'The Negro of Peter the Great'. Karamzin was the first in Russian literature to use the principle of comparative description, which was subsequently applied by his followers and became a fixed component of the 'city text' - especially in the extraordinary comparison between Moscow and St Petersburg, by V. G. Belinski, or in 'Rome' by N. V. Gogol. The broad representation of the image of Paris in Russian 19th-century literature and journalism allows one to outline a corpus of texts of various generic natures, whose analysis in the context of Karamzin's notes may lead to the formulation of unambiguous definitions of the Parisian text.

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