Griboedov as Orientalist and Literary Hero1, The

Persian Frontier: Griboedov as Orientalist and Literary Hero1, The

Brintlinger, Angela

ABSTRACT: Recent studies in the concept of Russian Orientalism have carved out new theoretical ground for a specifically Russian version, often tri-partite, of Edward Said’s well-known dichotomy of Orient and Occident. This essay builds on that research, on Lotman’s ideas of the poetics of everyday behaviour, and theories of the frontier to explore Aleksandr Griboedov’s life (and death) and their connections to literature. I argue that not only did Griboedov’s contemporaries conceive of his life as the life of a literary hero-ultimately writing a number of narratives featuring him as an essential character-but indeed Griboedov saw himself as a hero and his life as a narrative. Taking off from his reference to James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Prairie (1827), I argue that Griboedov consciously wrote a “living novel” that might have been entitled The Persian Prairie, and that ended in the spectacular tragedy of his death in Teheran. While no such literary artifact survives, by examining Griboedov’s letters and dispatches, we can construct a historical narrative that fits the literary and behavioural paradigms of his time and that reads like a real adventure novel set in the wild, wild East.

In 1929 the scholar and novelist Iurii Tynianov published The Death of the Vazir-Mukhtar, a novel about the last year of the life of Aleksandr Griboedov (1795-1829). Published in the year of the centennial of Griboedov’s death, the novel resurrected the nineteenth-century poet and diplomat and emplotted his life. The dramatic events of that life, from Griboedov’s unofficial fame as the author of the unpublished satirical play about Moscow society, Woe from Wit, to his diplomatic escapades in exotic Persia and the Caucasus, to his arrest in connection with the Decembrist revolt and his vindication and promotion by tsarist officials, to his tragic demise-massacred in Teheran, torn apart by an angry mob-presented Tynianov with wonderful material. Griboedov’s life reflected many of the interests of the Romantic era in Russia: duels over honour, travel to exotic locales, interaction with native customs, even a Georgian princess, whom Griboedov wed in the year before his death. Thus as a subject for a novel, Griboedov appealed to Tynianov both as an unusual, adventurous figure and as a typical representative of an era of literary fascination with the exotic.

In creating his own Griboedov, Tynianov saw what many scholars overlook today-the seamless quality of Griboedov’s two professions as a writer and a career foreign service officer. Although Griboedov is best-known today for Woe from Wit, Tynianov remembered his non-literary exploits and saw them as an essential part of his hero’s life. By profession, Griboedov was an expert on Russia’s Orient, and he made his career in Persia and the Caucasus in a time of imperial expansion and war with bordering countries. Beginning on 9 June 1817 (o.s.) and until his untimely death in January of 1829, Griboedov served in the State College of Foreign Affairs. It was during this time that he wrote his immortal comedy.

Griboedov would always protest that it was poetry which he passionately loved,2 but beyond the play he wrote little else. An ambitious but not wealthy man, Griboedov had two essential needs in life: he yearned to make a name for himself, and he had to earn a living. He was able to accomplish both these tasks, but it was in diplomacy, not literature, where his future-and his fate-lay. As scholars have noted, Griboedov’s interest in the exotic is visible in his few poems. But Griboedov did not write romantic poems, i.e., “Southern Poems,” as Pushkin did, or “Eastern Poems,” like Byron. Beyond Woe from Wit, his literary output was decidedly spare, in part due to the existence and nature of his other career.

Because his literary output was so meager, scholars of Russian literature have largely treated Griboedov as a secondary figure. Likewise, historians of the imperial age have treated his career as a spectacular misstep in Russia’s relationship with its Eastern neighbours. Only recently have scholars begun to look at both halves of Griboedov’s career, to see, as Tynianov did, that the writer and scholar was inextricably bound to the diplomat and adventurer.4

In this essay I want to take Tynianov up on his challenge to consider Griboedov’s life in toto. Doing so reveals several things about the nature of both halves of Griboedov’s life. First, we can see Griboedov as an Orientalist. Griboedov’s correspondence and diplomatic reports are filled with evidence of his Orientalism. As literary texts, portions of these documents stand alone; in fact, one scholar has argued that Griboedov’s letters differ from those of his contemporaries in their literariness, and his reports did not lag far behind as exemplars of narrative prose, with their detailed descriptions, precise, even style, and semantic spareness.5 Nonetheless, their content shows that Griboedov shared many of the attitudes of his British and French imperial counterparts and partook of the Orientalist discourse identified most famously by Edward Said in his Orientalism.6

Second, we see in Griboedov a particularly Russian kind of Orientalism: not the familiar model of a Western power conquering the East, but rather of a nation staring, with both fascination and unease, across a frontier at its Eastern neighbours. Thus rather than seeing Griboedov simply or only as a Saidian Orientalist, as an intellectual and diplomatic agent of an imperial country looking to expand into the “East,” we might better see him as someone who was both drawn to and wrestling with the challenges of “frontier.” As historian and anthropologist Kerwin Lee Klein has pointed out, the early nineteenth century notion of the frontier was “as the outer border of a geographic area occupied by a single political entity,” which abutted another such entity. In this sense, the frontier was seen not as a line separating settlement from wilderness, civilization from savagery, but rather a place of cultural mixing and cultural contest.7 In going to Teheran, Griboedov put himself precisely on such a frontier, whose political border was fixed by treaty, but whose cultural borders were at once dangerous and fascinating. Interestingly, it was in the cultural mix he found in Teheran, which featured “native” Persians as well as foreigners such as the English, that Griboedov discovered other models of frontier encounters, including the American author James Fenimore Cooper and his novel The Prairie (1827).

Finally, Griboedov was not only looking to literature for models, he was living literature. It becomes interesting and worthwhile to analyze his very life as a narrative, an instance of emplotment, illustrated in part through the literary prose of his letters and reports. The setting of Griboedov’s mature life, dating from his first diplomatic posting to Teheran in 1818, was in itself archetypally romantic. Romantic poets of the time set their works in just such exotic places, describing the natural surroundings and examining the lives of savage or wild people; in other words, creating literary scenes filled with couleur locale. More often than not, they also placed into those scenes a Byronic hero.8 The image of the Byronic hero, the quintessential “romantic wanderer,” was never far from the minds of Griboedov and his contemporaries, particularly in the first half of the 1820s. It was during these years that Pushkin began to publish his Byronesque poems (1820-24); that Lord Byron himself perished in Greece, fighting for the cause of freedom from the Turkish regime (1824); and that the enlightened officers of the tsar’s army were planning a revolt of their own, which ended in the tragic Decembrist uprising of 1825. But as Tynianov argued in his fictional presentation of Griboedov’s life, the uprising changed everything, and afterwards “thre was a new scent of America in the air.”10

Thus Griboedov lived his life and wrote about it for his friends, creating not only a kind of literary text, but also performing what were functionally literary acts, for Griboedov felt himself to be living a paradigmatically artistic and emplotted life on a literary model.” When in a letter from 1828 he referred to himself as living a “novel in life” (zhivoi roman), he presented himself to his friends as a character, a hero “more interesting” than the Trapper in Cooper’s The Prairie. Although Griboedov did not write a romantic poem based on his own life and adventures in the East, he might have, and it might have been called something along the lines of The Persian Prairie.


That Griboedov should wind up in Teheran in 1818 was, in a sense, overdetermined. After having become enmeshed in a duel over a ballerina in 1817 and being pressured to get out of the capital, he was ostensibly given a choice: Teheran or Philadelphia. Both positions were far from Russia, and from Griboedov’s friends, compatriots, and dueling companions; both were in theory in frontier-lands, borderlands; and both were on the margins of the Western world. But to the aspiring litterateur, the difference seemed vast indeed. Though he would complain to his friends about his posting and though he would call it his “voluntary exile,”13 he was drawn to the East, to Asia, in part because of the romance of the Byronic model, the prevailing literary image of the “romantic wanderer.”

Instead of sitting down to dinners in the essentially European and “civilized” society of nineteenth-century Philadelphia, Griboedov constructed a life as a member of what he called a “traveling mission,” testing the borders of the empire while enduring the jolts and bumps of poor roads and the icy winds, rain and snow in the mountains and plains of Georgia, Armenia, and Persia. And not insignificantly, in the East, against the backdrop of an uncivilized landscape, Griboedov had the chance for a more spectacular end. Indeed, he was to wind up dead in one of the worst debacles of Russian diplomatic history: the massacre of the entire Russian mission in Teheran by an angry Persian mob on 30 January 1829 (o.s.). Rather than fulfilling his literary promise, the author-turned-diplomat perished in a diplomatic disaster. The story leading to that debacle is the story of Griboedov’s life as Orientalist and tragic hero.

At one level, Griboedov certainly fit the model of an Orientalist. A talented language learner with degrees from Moscow University in literature and law, Griboedov read Latin and Greek and spoke French, German, Italian and English fluently, and he came to study Arabic and Persian in the autumn of 1817. Thus he entered Oriental Studies in Russia at the very time it was emerging, becoming a foundational figure in the field.14 But the Orient could never have been a purely academic pursuit for Griboedov. In his position in the foreign service, Griboedov could not separate knowledge from the power associated with the East and his role there. Indeed, the books and manuscripts that he sent back to Russia and which still form the heart of the St. Petersburg Oriental collection were extracted, by him, as war booty.

Furthermore, Griboedov received his first real introduction to the Orient from General Aleksei Ermolov, the “conqueror of the Caucasus,” whose “open contempt” for Persians and all “Asiatics” was legendary. Griboedov seems to have absorbed some of the General’s attitudes, at least initially. Writing of Ermolov’s exploits to a friend in 1819, he reported:

…he subdues the disobedient with arms: hangs them, burns their villages, but what is to be done? I cannot justify his arbitrary actions according to the law, but recall that he is in Asia-here even a child reaches for a knife.

Yet to see Griboedov as merely an Orientalist in the Saidian vein oversimplifies. In recent years the question of Russia’s Orient and its relationship to Said’s theories has been much on the minds of historians and literary scholars. For some historians of Russia’s Orient, “‘Orientalism’ signifies the Western point of view … that created an imaginary exotic picture of eastern peoples and lands… For Said, it captures the pervasive, demeaning nature of Western global domination.”16 To these scholars it seems that Russians, in contrast to the other great imperialist powers of the early nineteenth century, “did not designate [on their ethno-linguistic map of the southern and eastern borderlands] a distinct exotic region in a manner corresponding to the French and British Orient’.”17 Thus, the model of “civilized” expansionists attacking “wild” and “exotic” natives does not quite work for the Russians on any of their borders, including the boundary with the ancient civilization of Persia.

In addition, it has not merely been a question of the “natives” which is problematic; Russians have had issues with their own “civilization” as well. To use Susan Layton’s expression, “a Russian could not believe in the alterity of the orient as readily and invariably as a European might.”18 Russians were neither sure that they themselves belonged to the West, nor could they unequivocally label the Persians “oriental,” much as they might like to.

The most useful model for considering Russia’s Orient, offered by Sara Dickinson, is of a triangle whose corners consist of Russia, the South and the West, in which Russia’s relations with the exotic Orient are conditioned by her relations with Western Europe.19 Likewise, as historian Muriel Atkin has argued, if Russia could somehow prevail over Persia, it could then compete with England in the game of imperialist expansion and stake a greater claim to be a part of the Western world. Atkin suggests that Russia’s colonialist outlook was “consciously imitative of Western overseas expansion,” and she continues that “this would prove that Russia, too, was as great and civilized an empire as those of Western Europe.”20

Atkin and others are quite right to point to European influences on Russia’s ideas of imperialism. However, this Eurocentric model for Russian imperialist adventures, particularly the British model, may not provide us a complete explanation. England was, after all, an island country with its colonial outposts in far-flung territories across the globe. What’s more, England at least felt confident in its own self-image as a colonizer that could act as a big brother for underdeveloped nations such as India. In contrast, especially after the crushing of the Decembrist revolt, Russians were not sure of their relationship to their own government, much less to citizens of other lands. In the wake of the events of 1825, Russians felt less European than ever. While fashioning his own diplomatic approach to the East, Griboedov, too, became even more aware that Russians were merely “semi-Europeans.”

While Ermolov’s teaching formed a part of the young Orientalist’s education, it was not his lone source of information about the East. Griboedov made his own observations and shared his impressions with friends back home. In vivid letters and travel notes, he described the landscape and people he met-an Oriental correspondent sending dispatches back to the capitals of Russia. Here the more nuanced view of Griboedov as a cultural player on the frontiers of empire will serve us well.

One explanation Griboedov found in his attempts to understand the Eastern cultures he was experiencing was to look backwards in history-a common tactic among Westerners who encountered more primitive societies. The Orient, it seemed to him, was a backwards culture, similar to Russian culture in its preEuropean days. For example, when Griboedov was in Erevan, visiting Sardar Hussein-Khan (a Kadzhar prince), in February of 1819, he wrote:

I was transported to our homeland two hundred years ago. The host seemed to me a genial Muscovite, offering sustenance to foreign guests, the farashes were as the members of his household, and I-Olearius. The strong drink, raw vegetables and dishes of sweet foods-all this aided the transport of my thoughts to our olden days…21

If Russia was merely semi-Europe, then Persia was semi-Russia, or Russia from long ago, the frontier space for European travelers such as Olearius.22

The causes of the Russo-Persian War (1826-28) were many, including border disputes between General Ermolov and the Persian Crown Prince Abbas Mirza, but by its end Ermolov had been recalled in disgrace and a new commander appointed, General Ivan Pashkevich-a favourite of the tsar and, coincidentally, a relative of Griboedov’s by marriage. As Pashkevich’s secretary, Griboedov was his main advisor on Persia and on the ways of the diplomatic bureaucracy, and as such was entrusted with much of the peace negotiating process. With this new responsibility, Griboedov came to see any affront, or indeed, any diplomatic tactic, by the Persians as an insult to his own dignity as well as those of his general and tsar. In January of 1828, with the Turkmanchai treaty negotiations still ongoing, Griboedov complained that the Persians were bad-faith negotiators: “The negotiations have broken down,” he wrote to V.D. Val’khovskii, “after much discussion, empty, as it always is with Persians … This is all a Persian trap.”23

Just as he had fallen back upon a historical model, seeing Persian civilization to be on a par with Old Muscovite civilization, so too Griboedov drew from another common metaphor. To comprehend the Oriental “other,” Griboedov looked to the trope of the spectrum of “civilization” as life span: the Persians were child-like, and could be frightened by military force, but they must be re-educated, like adolescent criminals, before they could become full-fledged adults and worthy neighbours. The condescension of an imperialist entered Griboedov’s diction without any prompting from his own imperial superiors.

Griboedov’s final trip to Persia occurred in the autumn of 1828, when as “Resident Minister Plenipotentiary” he was to enforce the conditions of the Treaty of Turkmanchai. Those conditions, which Griboedov had a hand in formulating, included the establishment of new borders (with the addition of territories) and the payment of ten kurors, or 20 million silver rubles, in reparation.24 The borders established by this treaty remained in effect throughout the history of the Russian empire and indeed until the dissolution of the Soviet empire. The most fraught conditions, of course, were the war reparations, which the Shah and his son Abbas Mirza were loath to pay, and a repatriation clause, which would ultimately trigger the tragic massacre in Teheran.

Before heading to Persia for the last time, Griboedov tarried in Tiflis, for reasons both personal and professional. On 22 August he married the young Georgian princess Nina Chavchavadze, the 16-year-old daughter of Aleksandr Chavchavadze, a Major General in the tsar’s army and now commander of the newly Russian provinces Erevan and Nakhichevan.25 Professionally, Griboedov felt that his diplomatic tasks would be more easily accomplished from afar. Though he found that his new title of minister added to his prestige-“the further I am from Petersburg, the more my peacock title gains in magnitude,”26 he wrote-his physical distance seemed to increase his leverage with the Persians. “As you know,” he wrote to his colleague A.K. Amburger, “in the East appearances are everything.”27

Leaving Tiflis on 9 September 1828, Griboedov and his new wife, along with her mother, rode to Erevan to greet his new father-in-law. In Erevan Griboedov had cause to consider where he was heading, and he did not anticipate cooperation from his Persian hosts. As he wrote to Amburger about Mirza Dzhafar, a Persian engineer educated in England, with whom Griboedov had dealings in Erevan: “What is this State, who is this people: this one at least is half-European, and he makes little sense; I can imagine what absurdity awaits me further.”28 The party left Erevan on 25 September, arriving in Persia to present the ratified treaty to Abbas Mirza on 9 October in Tabriz, where Griboedov was to remain for two months.

By December, Griboedov had had enough. “It is boring, vile, and awful here. No! in the next world I will not have to suffer the rage of the Lord. Already here I am savouring all the pleasures of pitch darkness before my time.”29 In his final letter to General Pashkevich of 3 December 1828, Griboedov signed himself “devoted to you even after the grave.” This was to be a prophetic statement.


As Griboedov himself argued, “people are not clocks; who among us always seems himself, and where can you find a book without contradictions?”30 The fact that Griboedov compared a man’s character to that of a book is important. Griboedov’s attitude toward his own lifeline followed what Iurii Lotman has recognized as a tendency to “perceive one’s own life as a text … and [discern] life’s movement toward an immutable goal.” In other words, Griboedov, like many of his contemporaries, saw his life as a plot, unfolding gradually toward its “finale.” For a playwright like Griboedov, the theatrical category of the fifth act, the end of the play, was quite clearly identified with the end of life. In Lotman’s words, “death, particularly tragic death, became the object of constant reflection and life’s climactic moment.”31

Griboedov saw himself as a hero, even in the travel notes he wrote for his dearest friend, Stepan Begichev. In 1825, he apologized that he was switching from stories of Ermolov to tales of his own life, but, as he wrote:

To turn our attention from such a remarkable man to the insignificant traveler would not be at all interesting for readers, if 1 wanted to have them, but I am writing to a friend and judge by my own self: you are more interesting to me than all of Plutarch’s heroes.32

Thus Griboedov was suggesting that Begichev, Griboedov, indeed every man was a kind of hero in a history, and the life each led formed the narrative thread of that history. For Griboedov, that narrative was end-driven, and he saw his own life as being fated.

The idea of an eventual tragic ending to his life occurred to Griboedov early on. In a letter from Novgorod, on 30 August 1818 Griboedov wrote:

Today is my saint’s day: the good prince for whom I am named made his fame here; as you remember, he died on the way back from Asia; perhaps the same fate awaits his namesake, the secretary of the embassy, only it’s doubtful that I will become a saint!33

Like Aleksandr Nevskii, Griboedov was to perish in Asia, but, as he himself prophesied, his martyrdom did not lead to sainthood. For the next decade, Griboedov was to live his life headed toward this finale. In his letters, the literary construction of identity is almost uncanny.

Just as the historian Atkin has drawn a geo-political parallel between Russia and England, so Griboedov and his contemporaries looked to English poetry in fashioning their selves. In Griboedov’s certainty about his tragic-death-to-come we see a Byronic influence. Apparently, a collection of English poetry was one of the books that Griboedov took with him on his last diplomatic mission, and this was not the first time that he had sought solace among the English. While under investigation after the Decembrist affair, Griboedov had requested that Faddei Bulgarin bring him a copy of Childe Harold.

Griboedov, then, was an Orientalist both in the traditional Russian or academic sense of the word-studying the language, culture, and literature of the Persians-and in the Saidian sense of the word, conducting his diplomatic duties with disdain and distrust, manipulating the knowledge he had to increase his power over his adversaries, striving to rival his British counterparts in the area. But while Dickinson and Atkin look to Europe and Britain as the triangulating force in the construction of Russia’s Orient, for the sprawling, continental empire of the Russians, there was another country which offered an even better imaginative mirror: the United States. And the parallels went beyond geographic similarity; the U.S. also shared with Russia an inferiority complex in regard to Europe. In fact, comparison of the Russian imperial enterprise with that of the young United States was in the diplomatic air during Griboedov’s service in the Caucasus and Persia. Jacques-Francois Gamba, who served as French consul in Tiflis, Griboedov’s main home base in the Caucasus, contrasted America and Russia, arguing that the former was much more “civilized” for a European since it drew its origins from Britain. Layton comments that “Gamba assigned all Russia to a low, Asian rung on civilization’s great ladder.”34

Tynianov wrote the English into his rendition of the hero’s life as well, arguing that after the Decembrist uprising “it began to smell …of the smoke of East India.”35 Griboedov did create an elaborate plan for a Russian Transcaucasian Trading Company in Georgia,36 dreaming of rivaling England and its East India Company, but as he moved east to enforce the conditions of the treaty with Persia, the scent of America was stronger. It was another landscape that arose before his eyes: the imaginative landscape of Cooper’s America. We might thus consider Griboedov as neither a heavy-handed Orientalist a la Ermolov nor an ambivalent Orientalist who valued knowledge but sought power. Instead, Griboedov could be seen as a man escaping the center, a man fascinated with the idea of the frontier and all that brought with it: freedom, contact with the exotic, the potential for regeneration. he saw in his Persian frontier what Americans saw in theirs.

The most eminent theorist of the idea of the frontier was not to write until over half a century later, but we can nonetheless turn to American historian Frederick Jackson Turner for some insight into what Griboedov saw in the late 182Os. Turner’s essay, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” presented in 1893, remains probably the single most influential piece of historical writing in American historiography. For Turner, the American frontier was central to creating Americans-it was the place where Europeans of various kinds, in their struggles against nature and against Native Americans, had their Old World culture stripped away, and where something distinctly American replaced it.

Turner, first and last, was an historian of the American experience, but as he cast a comparative eye around the globe looking for analogies he found Russia.37 “Russia works as an obvious example,” Turner said:

the colonization which Russia did across [the] Asiatic West, her merchants, her soldiers, her missionaries, the war in which she [through] colonization ultimately took military and economic possession of great regions that finally br[ought] her to the Pacific Ocean. When Russia strikes, she strikes hard. When she thinks, she thinks in big terms. She is huge and colossal because she has had vast spaces of unoccupied places to deal with and she has had to do her thinking with reference to this vast space.

The difference between Russia and England, Turner claimed, was that England had to depend on sea power to spread her influence, while Russia and the U.S. spread into “empty” lands and claimed contiguous territories for their own.38 Like Turner a few generations later, Griboedov looked to America as the analogous large empire, expanding into space occupied by native peoples who were not entirely comprehensible and not entirely trustworthy, but who could provide romance and regeneration.

Indeed, in the last months of his life, Griboedov explicitly compared himself to the hero of an American contemporary novel-not a Russian or English one. Writing to his close friends Varvara Miklashevich and her husband on 17 September 1828, Griboedov presented his adventurous life as a novel of sorts. he wrote:

Forget your Trapper and Cooper’s Prairie, my living novel is right before your very eyes and a hundred times more interesting; the main character in it is your friend, unchanging in his feelings, but in his daily life, lifestyle, various adventures completely dissimilar to his previous self, last year’s, even yesterday’s; with every moon something new happens to me which I never considered, never guessed might occur.39

In referring to Cooper, Griboedov presented the narrative of Cooper’s Prairie as a framework for constructing and understanding his own life, and proposed that life to his friends as a plot for just such a novel. From the letter quoted above it is clear not only that Griboedov was familiar with (and had probably read) Cooper’s The Prairie, but that he knew his friends were also reading it.40 Griboedov drew from literature to explain his life, and in Prairie he found two characters with whom he shared traits: the Trapper and, interestingly, the Pawnee brave Hard-Heart.

This literary construction was a part of the “poetics of behaviour,” to use Lotman’s phrase, of Griboedov’s time. Even his original choice of the East over the United States was in tune with contemporary literary instincts.41 What Lidiia Ginzburg writes about the Caucasus was in part true for Persia as well. For young men in the military, many of whom became Decembrists, the Caucasus had two meanings: it was the main sphere of Russian military victories and state interests, and at the same time it was a romantic region where a young man could get out from under the bureaucracy of the imperial government. In the 182Os, Ginzburg writes, there was often a “freedom-loving” subtext to poetry in the eastern style.42 Certainly for Griboedov, his distance from Petersburg presented him with a freedom from supervision that allowed him unusual autonomy in his personal and diplomatic activities. Direct contact with Oriental people and landscapes became Griboedov’s “Eastern university”; though he may have had to terminate his studies at St. Petersburg University upon taking up his diplomatic posting, Griboedov nonetheless never stopped studying Russia’s East.

Individual freedom was part of what Griboedov gained in leaving St. Petersburg, although his true political leanings and degree of philosophical association with the Decembrists themselves still remain an issue of scholarly debate.43 However, Griboedov’s political inclinations, whatever they were, are irrelevant for our purposes. In choosing the East, he also chose to be a part of the expansionist and militaristic goals of the tsarist regime. His diplomatic career played out among Asiatic peoples, and his attitudes developed accordingly. His assignment in the U.S. was likely to have been urban, but a full decade later, when Griboedov considered what role he was to play in his own “living novel,” he had very different associations with America, taken from the fiction of Fenimore Cooper. In his experiences in the East, he saw America not with diplomatic regrets, but with the eye of an imaginative writer. When developing his own ideas about local peoples and about behaviour in an Oriental environment, Griboedov drew on Cooper’s model.

In thinking of America and using the model of James Fenimore Cooper and his famed hero, Natty Bumppo, to conceive of his own life and diplomatic adventures, Griboedov saw himself as an explorer, negotiating the cultural space of frontier, free from the social bounds of life in the capital. Bumppo had that freedom, and he occupied an ambivalent space between the “white man” and the native Indian. However, Griboedov also modified Cooper’s model, because he felt “fate” pulling him towards an early death. In Cooper’s The Prairie, the hero is in his eighties and has lived a full and interesting life. Griboedov was to have no such luck.

Thus in Griboedov’s Russian Orientalism we see both a Byronic element and a curiously American element, one noted first in the fiction of the Caucasus generally by Peter Scotto, who argued that Cooper, Chateaubriand, and “tales of the American frontier” had a great influence on that fiction.44 In referring to his own Persian Prairie, a “novel” more lively and interesting than the latest installment of Cooper’s tales, Griboedov cast Persia as the American wilds and himself as the hero, facing unpredictable savages, an emissary from the central imperial government charged with enforcing new borders and eliciting punitive reparations for a war against infidels. Like others of his countrymen, as Lotman asserted, Griboedov approached his own life as literary plot. In Woe from Wit, Griboedov’s hero declaims dramatic final lines at the end of the play, announcing his intention of abandoning his native city forever:

Away from Moscow! I shall not come here again.

I’ll run, I won’t look back, I’ll go to search the earth,

A corner for the wounded sensibility!

A carnage, a carriage for me!45

But Griboedov’s life as a diplomat was not a society comedy. Rather it resembled an adventure plot set in an exotic locale. Leaving for Persia, Griboedov referred to a possible fifth act of his “drama.” As Stepan Begichev was to recall, his friend was certain that he wouldn’t return from Persia alive.46

Cooper’s novels, including The Prairie-the third volume of the Leatherstocking Tales-were in high demand in Europe. But while curiosity about America may have driven the public’s interest, the novels did more than influence the way that Europeans viewed America. The way in which Cooper suggested that Americans and Europeans should view America and its native peoples added complexity to the way that Europeans viewed other “native,” exotic and often “oriental” tribes-those peoples of the Near and Middle East whom the Europeans were to conquer and to see as their own Indians. Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales not only influenced Russia’s Caucasian fiction, they were to influence the lives of Russians as well.

Cooper provided a stock narrative in numerous variants in his novels-a formula, and it is into such formulae that Europeans subsequently were able to plug their own variables. History is narrative, with its plots used and re-used across the globe, and Cooper’s part in the creation of world-wide plot formulae for both fiction and history is significant. The hero of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, Natty Bumppo, was a white man who longed to be a part of the natural landscape, a loner who continually fled “civilization” for the American wilds. Throughout the series, Bumppo’s name changes, as he “earns” one nickname after another (Deerslayer, Hawkeye, Pathfinder, Long Knife, Leatherstocking, The Trapper) “almost as if he were an Indian.”50

But Cooper was famous, even in his own time, for his complex and ambivalent attitude toward the concept of frontier. Though the narrative of negotiating ownership of space ultimately played out in Cooper’s novels as it would have in tsarist Russia’s ideal version of Russo-Persian relations in the late 182Os-the white man, the civilized man, the “European,” expanded his hold on territories and the red man, or the Oriental, was driven out-the author hinted at his dismay. The savage barbarians took their toll on the conquering civilizer, and the civilizer was left to contemplate just how civilized his tactics were. Like Natty Bumppo, Cooper sympathized with the native characters, often more than the “civilized” ones, and his readers followed suit.

Evidence of Griboedov’s ambivalent identification with the characters of Cooper’s novel surfaces in the later continuation of the letter to Miklashevich already mentioned. Though the Trapper is the nominal hero of Cooper’s Prairie, like Cooper, Griboedov found admirable qualities in the main Indian hero, the Pawnee warrior who befriended the Trapper. As the Trapper relates: “They call him Hard-Heart from the stoutness of his resolution; and well is he named if all I have heard of his deeds be true.”51 While nicknames are common fare in fiction, they appear in life as well. Using his own nickname among the Persians, Griboedov constructed the image of the “hero” of his “novel”:

…I have no friends and I do not want any; [the Persians] must above all else fear Russia and fulfill the commands of the Emperor Nikolai Pavlovich, and I assure you that in this I am behaving more properly than those who would undertake to act with mildness and worm their way into some future friendship with the Persians. I seem fearsome to all and they have nicknamed me sakhtir. coeur dur.52

The word sakhtir does not exist in the Persian language, so Griboedov’s reported nickname offers evidence of either his mishearing or his own invention, or both. The Persians might have called him sakht-gir, or “extortionate.” But, with Cooper on his mind and the root sakht, meaning “hard or difficult,” Griboedov created his own nickname, on the model of the Pawnee Hard-Heart.53

In accordance with his sense of duty Griboedov adopted an attitude with the Persians designed for maximal effect: his mission was to force fulfillment of the Turkmanchai peace treaty, both the heavy reparations payments and the controversial repatriation clauses. The imperial army was engaged in yet another war with Turkey in 1829 and desperately needed the funds from the Persian imperialist adventure in order to successfully pursue another. The designation “Hard-Heart” suggests a stoic countenance, an uncompromising manner and a cruel indifference to the plight of others, in this case the Persian people suffering under onerous reparations demands. In the self-conscious poetics of Griboedov’s behaviour, he could very well have adopted the name of Cooper’s Pawnee hero to match the characteristics of the personage he had chosen to play.54

In the exotic setting of the Persian frontier, Griboedov lived out his life as a hero of a novel or romantic poem, following the tragic trajectory towards the final act of meaningless sacrifice and massacre. Having predicted the outcome of his last trip to Persia-“I won’t come out of this alive”-Griboedov steeled his heart in good Pawnee fashion and pressed for the fulfillment of the treaty. Cooper’s Hard-Heart, surrounded by his Sioux enemies and bound to a stake in anticipation of a death by torture, ultimately managed to escape his fate and lived beyond the end of The Prairie. Griboedov’s “novel” had a different outcome.

On 30 January 1829 a crowd of thousands advanced on the Russian mission in Teheran, spurred on by the claims of mullahs throughout the city that Griboedov had denigrated the Muslim faith.55 Encircled by Persian crowds, Griboedov was unable to sprint to safety and to the protection of rescuers as Hard-Heart had. There was no escape from the complex of the Russian mission. There were no Russian troops to aid Griboedov. And the poet diplomat perished.

Both Cooper’s Prairie and Griboedov’s putative Persian Prairie represented milieux where questions about empire and otherness were central to living, interacting, expanding and retreating. As Klein argued, in the early nineteenth century the frontier was a place of cultural mixing and cultural contest. In the fictional novel, Cooper allowed Hard-Heart to live on, knowing that the contest would eventually be won by the white man. For Griboedov, the frontier offered what he saw as fitting plot nodes for his own poetics of behaviour: an exotic adventure and an early death.

The novels of Cooper must have made wonderful escapist reading in Griboedov’s “voluntary exile” in Persia, but the Cooper formula became more than escapism for the writer-turned-diplomat. One can only wonder how Griboedov would have read those novels-and written his own life “novel”-had his diplomatic career taken the other path-to America.

Never in my life have I had the opportunity to be such an immediate witness to the sight of a sufferer himself forced to choose his own mysterious fate.56

Thus wrote the civil servant who helped Griboedov on the first step of his diplomatic career-when in 1818 Griboedov had to decide between Teheran and Philadelphia.


Sometimes fiction lives on even after the author is dead. It was not only Griboedov and his twentieth century biographer, Tynianov, who saw him as living an emplotted life. His tragic end, and indeed other events in his “stormy” life, struck writers of his own generation as specifically literary. Griboedov’s entire existence, in the reactions of his peers, became a paradigmatic romantic life, the life, indeed, of a tragic literary hero. And the narrative of Griboedov’s life influenced more than just the literary plans of his contemporaries. Some of them even began to read their own lives according to the same model. In 1837, in reaction to Pushkin’s sudden death by duel, the Decembrist writer Aleksandr Bestuzhev-Marlinskii (1797-1837) wrote to his brother:

I was deeply touched by Pushkin’s tragic death, dear Pavel … I could not close my eyes all night, and at dawn I was already riding along the terrible road to the monastery of St. David, which you know. Arriving there, I called the priest and asked him to say a requiem at the grave of Griboedov, the grave of a poet … I cried bitter tears then, as I do now, over my friend, my comrade, and myself. And when the priest pronounced the words: “for the murdered boyars Aleksandr and Aleksandr,” I began to sob-this phrase seemed to me not only a recollection, but a prediction… Yes, 1 feel this, my death will also be violent, unusual, and soon.57

Considering the tragic deaths of his two friends and namesakes, Bestuzhev predicted that he too would die a tragic death. he saw their violent ends, and his own sensations when he contemplated their deaths, as portents for his imminent “final act.” And indeed, Bestuzhev was to perish in battle three months later.58

A consideration of the posthumous literary fame of Aleksandr Griboedov returns us to Aleksandr Pushkin. In a famous passage from Pushkin’s essay of 1836, A Journey to Arzrum during the Campaign of 1829, the itinerant poet Pushkin, traveling through the south-eastern portion of the Russian empire, meets a cart driven in the direction of Moscow by two oxen. “What are you hauling?” he asks its drivers. “Griboed,” one responds.59 Here, in an episode impossible to authenticate, Pushkin suggested the ignominy and brevity of “national celebrity” (“namdnaia slavd”). If the once distinguished and trusted emissary of the tsar was returning to his homeland in this anonymous and degrading fashion, unknown even to the men who transported him, then how could a man make a lasting impact on the world around him? For the poet Pushkin the answer was clear; Griboedov, he wrote, had already “said his word” in his Woe from Wit. According to Pushkin, it is the literary works of one’s life and not any other actions that assure one a place and a voice in history.

There is another way, though, to have a literary impact on history-as a character. In his parodie travelogue Pushkin recast Griboedov’s literary, personal and political life as a dramatic story, a narrative suitable for a novel or poem. His version of the poet-diplomat’s demise posited political glory; Griboedov, in Pushkin’s words, had an exciting and appropriate end. “I know of nothing more enviable than the last years of his stormy life,” Pushkin wrote in A Journey to Arzrum; “… his death was instantaneous and splendid.”60 In the year before his own tragic death by duel, Pushkin codified his fellow poet Griboedov’s demise as a romantic end to a turbulent life, as that of a Byronic Westerner perishing in the mysterious East. With a few sentences in A Journey to Arzrum, Pushkin rewrote Griboedov’s life as an Oriental romance.

But in this portrait of Griboedov, Pushkin also gave credit to a literary hero who was able to predict his own fate. Pushkin wrote:

I had not thought to meet our Griboedov again! I parted with him last year in Petersburg before his departure for Persia. he was sad and had strange premonitions. I wanted to calm him; he said to me: Vous ne connaissez pas ces gens-la: vous verrez qu’il faudra jouer des couteaux. he thought that the reason for bloodletting would be the death of the shah and the rivalry among his seventy sons. But the aged shah still lives, and Griboedov’s prophetic words have come true. he perished beneath the daggers of the Persians, a victim of ignorance and betrayal.61

Pushkin anticipated that there was more literary material in Griboedov’s life than just the final scenes in Teheran. It seems, in fact, that Pushkin almost commissioned novels on the life of his namesake, taunting his contemporaries in A Journey to Arzrum by proclaiming:

It’s such a pity that Griboedov did not leave any notes! Writing his biography should be the work of his friends; but in our country remarkable people disappear without leaving a trace. We are lazy and incurious…62

Galvanized by this famous indictment, a number of writers answered his call.

In fact, in a fragment of another novel, Pushkin took up his own challenge. When fashioning the plans for his novel The Russian Pelham (1834-5), on the model of Baron Edward Lytton’s English novel Pelham, or Adventures of a Gentleman (1828), Pushkin was again thinking of Griboedov’s life.63 The most developed scenes in the plans64 refer to the first major tragic event in Griboedov’s life, his duel with Zavadovski, whose actual name appears in the draft. In Pushkin’s rendition, the character of Pelham/Griboedov is a lovelace with family complications, a Byronic hero of the Russian 182Os. As S. Povarin has argued, this novel was to be a “depiction of Russian society” and its characters “the heroes of real life,” including such types as “Molchalins”-i.e., types precisely not from life, but from literature-from Griboedov’s own pen.65 In other words, Pushkin’s Russian Pelham would have been a novel recasting Griboedov’s Woe from Wit, itself a “depiction of Russian society” in which readers identified characters from real life. The Russian Pelham would in part have been based on Griboedov’s biography.

While it is regrettable, perhaps, that Pushkin did not complete this novel, others wrote their own versions. Griboedov’s status as hero was clear to a number of his friends. The addressee of the letter comparing Griboedov’s life to Cooper’s Prairie also took that advice to heart. Varvara Miklashevich based the central character of her novel The Village of Mikhailovskoe on Griboedov, giving her character Ruzin certain experiences out of the life of her friend, but also describing him with the psychological specificities of Griboedov’s character. As Griboedov’s friend and Miklashevich’s husband, A.A. Zhandr, wrote, “even his physical appearance and his manner of speaking are exactly the same in the novel as they were in real life.”66

Miklashevich’s was not the only novel of the 183Os featuring a character based on Griboedov; Faddei Bulgarin’s “Chukhin” came out in 1835 (The Memoirs of the Titular Counselor Chukhin, or a Simple Story of a Common Life). While the present article does not aim to analyze these literary descendants of the man Griboedov, it is interesting to note how his contemporaries perceived his life as narrative. A century later Tynianov’s modernist version-The Death of the Vazir-Mukhtar-appeared. The title belies the content, as I have described it above, of a resurrection of the poet-diplomat in his two hypostases. Instead, in his title Tynianov removed Griboedov and turned him into a mere post, that of “minister plenipotentiary,” foregrounding the “final act” of his drama. Indeed, while the novel includes scenes and characters from earlier periods of Griboedov’s life, the action takes place in the year leading up to his death. As Boris Eikhenbaum wrote, “It’s not by chance that the novel was named as if it were not about life and not about Griboedov: The Death of the Vazir-Mukhtar.”67

Translators of Tynianov, too, usually focus on the massacre, as did Alec Brown in his abridged British translation.68 But in 1976, when the Persian translator Mirza Sakhabi prepared parts of Tynianov’s Death of the Vazir-Mukhtar for publication in the Teheran newspaper Keikhan, he gave Tynianov’s novel a fresh and fitting title: Griboedov Was Writing a New Tragedy. Thus Sakhabi presented Iranian readers with the opportunity to consider the diplomatic disaster as a “literary work” by Griboedov.69

Novelists write the fate of their characters into the characters themselves, creating, as it were, the inevitable outcome of the lives they write. In Griboedov’s case, Tynianov chose elements from his biography which seemed more fated than others, and used Griboedov’s own fatalistic predictions about his imminent death in Asia. But, as this article has shown, Tynianov was not the only one who saw the narrative line in Griboedov’s life. Pushkin, Miklashevich, Bulgarin, and Griboedov himself “authored” that hero first. The romantic poem or novel The Persian Prairie may have remained unwritten, but it nonetheless served as a prototype for Oriental visions, fated lives, and actual literary works in Griboedov’s time and beyond.


Russians reading the Moscow Telegraph in 1828 learned about peace with Persia, but perhaps paid greater attention to the item which followed the tidings of war and peace:

We can expect the arrival in Moscow of an extremely remarkable man. In May the American author Fenimore Cooper plans to travel through Germany to Russia, to visit Petersburg, Moscow, Astrakhan and Odessa. One of the correspondents of the Odessa Herald saw Cooper in Paris, where Cooper himself described his plans. “I love Russians and want to see Russia,” Cooper said. Soon we expect to receive a new Cooper novel in Moscow: The Red Rover.47

News of Cooper’s interest in Russia could only heighten Russians’ interest in Cooper. Cooper represents vivid proof that Europeans were following American literature as it was written-written, indeed, in Europe, where Cooper resided. In 1827, The Prairie came out virtually simultaneously in London and Philadelphia, and in Paris in a French translation.48

During the late 182Os, Cooper was omnipresent in journals, literary discussions, and the letters and diaries of cultural figures from Pushkin to historian Nikolai Polevoi. Having read his works, authors integrated his ideas and literary techniques into their own works, developing a whole line of literature “under the influence” of Cooper. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that Cooper, along with Sir Walter Scott and a few other European novelists, helped create the Russian prose tradition of the first half of the nineteenth century. As Belinskii was to argue in the 184Os, the Cooper-style novel was more appropriate to Russian historical circumstances than the historical novel a la Walter Scott.49 Cooper thus had an influence on Russian novelists, but he also had an effect on his readers, helping to construct the way Russians came to view native peoples and themselves.

1 I would like to express my thanks to colleagues Nick Breyfogle, Steven Conn, Dick Davis, Sara Dickinson, Sergei Fomichev, David Hoffmann, David Powelstock and Galina Rylkova, as well as to the anonymous reviewers of Canadian Slavonic Papers, for their generous comments and advice on various drafts of this article. Thanks also to Olivia for her editorial help. A previous version of the article appeared in the working papers of the Ohio State University Slavic Department. See “The Persian Prairie: James Fenimore Cooper, Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboedov, and Tales of Russian Orientalism,” in Working Papers in Slavic Studies, vol. 1, eds. Irene Masing-Delic and Mateja Matejic (Columbus: Ohio State University, Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures, 2001) 77-100.

2 See, for example, the letter to his friend Stepan Begichev, 9 December 1826, in A.S. Griboedov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 3, ed. N.K. Piksanov (Petrograd: Akademiia nauk, 1917) 195-6. I will refer to this edition below as Piksanov. 3 These poems include “Where the Alazan winds”(~1822), “Predators on the Chegem” (1825), and his fragmentary play A Georgian Night. See Aleksis Rannit, “Iran in Russian Poetry,” Slavic and East European Journal 17.3 (1973): 266; Susan Layton, Russian Literature and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994) 162, 198-200.

4 See my Writing a Usable Past: Russian Literary Culture, 1917-1937 (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2000) and Laurence Kelly, Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran: Alexander Griboyedov and Imperial Russia’s Mission to the Shah of Persia (London and New York: LB. Tauris, 2002).

5 See N. Stepanov, “Druzheskaia perepiska 20-kh godov,” in Russkaia proza, ed. B. Eikhenbaum and Iu. Tynianov (The Hague: Mouton, 1963) 81.

6 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979) 3.

7 Kerwin Lee Klein, Frontiers of Historical Imagination: Narrating the European Conquest of Native America, 1890-1990 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1997) 20.

8 See Viktor Zhirmunskii, Bairon i Pushkin: iz istorii romanticheskoi poemy (Leningrad: Academia, 1924) 24-5.

9 For an analysis of these interconnected themes-Byron, the East, Pushkin, the image of the “romantic wanderer”-see Lidiia Ginzburg, “Russkaia lirika 1820-1830-kh godov,” in Poety 1820-1830-kh godov (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisateP, 1961) 35.

10 Iurii Tynianov, “Smert’ Vazir-Mukhtara,” in Sochineniia v dvukh tomakh, vol. 2 (Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1985) 7.

11 Here and below I rely in great part on the ideas of Iurii Lotman, as developed in “The Poetics of Everyday Behavior in Eighteenth-Century Russian Culture,” and “The Decembrist in Daily Life (Everyday Behavior as a Historical-Psychological Category),” in The Semiotics of Russian Cultural History (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985) 67-149.

12 Letter to V.S. Miklashevich, 17 September 1828, Piksanov, vol. 3, 227.

13 Letter to Begichev, 15 April 1818, Piksanov, vol. 3, 128-9.

14 For a discussion of the emergence of Oriental Studies in Russia, see B. M. Dantsig, Blizhnii vostok v russkoi nauke i literature (dooktiabr’skii period) (Moscow: Nauka, 1973).

15 Travel notes written to Begichev, 29 January 1819, Piksanov, vol. 3, 36-7. Nathaniel Knight has pointed to similar attitudes in V. V. Grigor’ev in a slightly later period: he quotes Grigor’ev as writing that “Asiatics […] because of their low state of cultural development are in general inclined toward deceit. The Asiatic considers the ability to cheat a neighbor a great virtue; cunning seems to him a necessary companion to intelligence.” in “Grigor’ev in Orenburg, 1851-1862: Russian Orientalism in the Service of Empire?” Slavic Review 59.1 (Spring 2000): 91.

16 Daniel R. Brower and Edward J. Lazzarini, eds., Russia’s Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700-1917 (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997) xvii.

17 Russia’s Orient 313.

18 Layton 74.

19 Sara Dickinson, “Russia’s First Orient’: Characterizing the Crimea in 1787,” in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.1 (Winter 2002): 3-25. In this same issue of Kritika, Austin Jersild and Neli Meldadze argue that from the 1840s “there emerged a well-developed Russian ideology of empire preoccupied with matters of culture and enlightenment, which posed an important contrast to traditional Russian militarism and imperial conquest of the frontier,” “The Dilemmas of Enlightenment in the Eastern Borderlands: The Theater and Library in Tbilisi,” Kritika 3.1 (Winter 2002): 28-29. Like Dickinson, Nathaniel Knight notes that Said’s “stark dichotomy between Orient and Occident” must in the Russian case be replaced by what he calls “an awkward triptych: the west, Russia, the east;” Knight 77.

20 Muriel Atkin, Russia and Iran, 1780-1828 (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1980) 163.

21 4 February 1819, Piksanov, vol. 3, 47.

22 The seventeenth century German scholar Adam Olearius traveled to Russia in 1633-34 to seek the Russian tsar’s permission for exploration of an overland trade route with Persia.

23 Letter to V.D. Val’khovskii, 10-22 January 1828, Piksanov, vol. 3, 205.

24 Kelly 159.

25 In his interesting Orientalism and Empire: North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845-1917 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2002), Austin Jersild points out that “Georgians viewed Russia as their bridge to Europe, and themselves as the chief representation of the ‘West’ on the ‘Eastern’ frontier of the Caucasus” (8). The marriage of Griboedov and Chavchavadze, he notes, served as a metaphor for the union of Russia and Georgia, and their gravesite on the mountainside overlooking Tbilisi “stood […] as a monument to these links of nobility and culture” (113).

26 Letter to F.V. Bulgarin, 12 june 1828, Piksanov, vol. 3. 209.

27 Letter to A.K. Amburger, mid-August 1828, Piksanov, vol. 3, 223. Amburger was the general consul in Tabriz.

28 Letter to Amburger, 20 September 1828, Piksanov, vol. 3, 226.

29 Letter to Ustimovich, 2 December 1828, Piksanov, vol. 3, 236.

30 Letter to Begichev, 7 December 1825, Piksanov, vol. 3, 185.

31 Lotman, “The Poetics of Everyday Behavior,” 86.

32 Travel notes to Begichev, 31 January 1818, Piksanov, vol. 3, 37.

33 Letter to Begichev, 30 August 1818, Piksanov, vol. 3, 130.

34 Layton 79. see also Jacques-Francois Gamba, Voyage dans la Russie meridionale, et particulierement dans les provinces situes au-dela du Caucase, fait depuis 1820 jusqu’en 1824, vol. 1 (Paris: C. J. Trouve, 1826) vii-ix.

35 Tynianov 7.

36 see the appendices to LK. Enikolopov’s Griboedov v Gruzii (Tbilisi: Zaria Vostoka, 1954) for the text of the project and some reactions to it.

37 A summary of historiography relating to Russia and frontier can be found in the best comparison between Turner and a Russian historian: see Mark Bassin, “Turner, Solov’ev, and the ‘Frontier Hypothesis’: The Nationalist Signification of Open Spaces,” Journal of Modern History 65.3 (1993): 473-511, esp. note 3. In a sense Bassin is writing about a different kind of frontier; Solov’ev’s thesis of the “country which colonized itself is fascinating, but not quite applicable to Griboedov’s experience. see also Bassin’s book, Imperial Visions: Nationalist Imagination and Geographical Expansion in the Russian Far East, 1840-1865 (Cambridge UP, 1999).

38 Frederick Jackson Turner papers, Historical Society of Wisconsin, Selma Schubring’s lecture notes on Turner’s History of the West course, 1903, 15.

39 Piksanov, vol. 3, 227.

40 Unfortunately, Griboedov led much too nomadic an existence for any record to have survived of the books that he may have owned at various times in his life. However, his contemporaries read all of Cooper. Of the 14 volumes in Pushkin’s French collected works of Cooper, twelve have had the pages cut. see I.A. Balashova, “Traditsii Dzh. F. Kupera v tvorchestve A.S. Pushkina,” in her book lstochniki plenitel’nykh obrazov: traditsii v ntsskoi romanticheskoi literature (Rostov-na-Donu: Izd. Rostovskogo pedagogicheskogo universiteta, 1996) 44-45; and B.L. Modzalevskii, Biblioteka Pushkina (St. Petersburg, 1910) 212, 151. Cooper’s Russian audience, including Griboedov, was probably reading the novel in the French translation of 1827, published under the title La Prairie. In the Russian original of Griboedov’s letter, the word “Trapper,” designating the main character of the novel, is “russified” rather than translated (as “ypanep,” perhaps to render trappeur).

41 Nikolai Piksanov, in his 1911 biographical essay on Griboedov, also suggested that “in large measure a thirst for new poetic impressions caused Griboedov to prefer Persia to the United States. Oriental’ motifs were then popular in literature;” Piksanov, vol. 1, xxx.

42 Ginzburg 22.

43 His personal associations with the “freedom-loving” crowd were close and friendly. For a Stalin-era look at the question, see M.V. Nechkina, A.S. Griboedov i dekabristy (Moscow, 1947). For the most recent discussion of Griboedov, the Decembrists, and the scholarship surrounding the question, see Kelly.

44 Peter Scotto, “Prisoners of the Caucasus: Ideologies of Imperialism in Lermontov’s “BeIa,'” PMLA 107.2 (1992): 248.

45 A.S. Griboedov, Sochineniia v stikhakh (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1967) 171.

46 see Stepan Begichev, “Zapiska ob A.S. Griboedove,” in Griboedov v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, ed. S.A. Fomichev (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1980) 31.

47 see Moskovskii teiegraf 1828, eh. 20, 259-260. Balashova has suggested that Pushkin took note of Cooper’s intentions to visit Russia and became more interested in the American writer. see “Traditsii Dzh. F. Kupera” 44-72.

48 The first Russian translation of The Prairie, as “The American Steppes,” appeared in Moscow Telegraph in 1829. see V.A. Libman, Amerikanskaia literatura v russkikh perevodakh i kritike 1776-1975 (Moscow: Nauka, 1977) 140-141. It was not until 1898 that the Russian title Preriia gained preference in Russia. The first Russian reviews of Cooper’s novels included a review of the English-language version of The Prairie in November of 1827, followed by a review of the French translation (La Prairie, Paris, 1827) in May of 1828 and of the Russian translation (Amerikanskie stepi) in August of 1829. The December 1829 issue of Moscow Telegraph featured Nikolai Polevoi’s comparison of Mikhail Zagoskin’s historical novel IuHi Miloslavskii, or the Russians in 1812 to the Cooper novel. Libman 144-145.

49 Belinsky thought that Scott depended too much on love intrigues to drive his plot. On Cooper and other historical novelists in Russia, see M. Al’tshuller, Epokha Val’tera Skotta v Rossii: Istoricheskii roman 1830-kh godov (St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 1996).

50 see Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Criterion Books, 1960) 194.

51 James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992) 191.

52 Letter to V.S. Miklashevich, 3 December 1828, Piksanov, vol. 3, 237.

53 My gratitude to Persian specialists Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis for helping decipher Griboedov’s nickname.

54 Lotman identifies the “stock character,” “a historical personage, a literary or government figure, or a character from a poem or a tragedy” on whom the eighteenth century Russian man modeled himself. “The Poetics of Everyday Behavior” 81.

55 In the words of Peter Hopkirk, “to the more fanatical religious elements, [Griboyedov’s] presence in their midst served as a red rag … Hatred of the infidel Russians was at a flashpoint. It was Griboyedov himself who provided the spark.” The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (New York: Kodansha International, 1994) 112.

56 A.S. Sturdza, “”Beseda liubitelei russkogo slova’ i ‘Arzamas’ v tsarstvovanii Aleksandra I i moi vospominaniia,” Moskvitianin 21 (1851) 19.

57 Griboedov v vospominanuakh sovremennikov 368.

58 see Lewis Bagby, Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky and Russian Byronism (University Park, PA: Perm State UP, 1995).

59 Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Akademiia nauk, 1948) 8.1, 460.

60 Pushkin 8.1, 461.

61 Pushkin 8.1, 461.

62 Pushkin 8.1, 462.

63 According to S. Povarin, Pushkin had already read the English novel by 1831, when the first reference to a “Lady Pel’gaiTi” appears in his prose. see S. Povarin, ‘”Russkii Pelam’ A.S. Pushkina,” in Pamiali A.S. Pushkina. Sbornik stalei prepodavatelei i slushatelei istoriko-füologicheskogo fakul’teta imperatorskogo S.-Peterburgskogo universiteta (St Petersburg: 1900) 329.

64 Of which there were four; see Pushkin 8.2, 974-6.

65 Povarin 342-4.

66 I. Danilov, “Zabytaia pisatel’nitsa,” in V.S. Miklashevich, SeIo Mikhailovskoe (St. Petersburg: 1908) 20, cited in V.E. Vatsuro, “Griboedov v romane V.S. Miklashevich SeIo Mikhaitovskoe” in A.S. Griboedov: Tvorchestvo, biografiia, traditsii, ed. S.A. Fomichev (Leningrad: Nauka,1977) 251.

67 Boris Eikhenbaum, “Tvorchestvo Iu. Tynianova,” in O proze. Opoezii. Sbornik statei (Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1986) 213.

68 Death and Diplomacy in Persia (London: Boriswood, 1938).

69 see B.P. Balaian, Diplomaticheskaia istoriia nissko-iranskikh voin i prisoedineniia vostochnoi Armenii k Rossii (Erevan: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk Armianskoi SSSR, 1988) 242.

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