Monuments and Mutilations: Catherine the Great in The Captain’s Daughter

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Alexander Pushkin’s portrayal of Catherine the Great in The Captain’s Daughter is one of the few depictions of the empress within the Russian literary canon of the 1830s. Despite Viktor Shklovsky’s assertion that Pushkin followed Vladimir Borovikovsky’s famous portrait of the empress at Tsarskoe Selo in order to portray the “official Catherine,” close studies by Richard Wortman, Simon Dixon, Vera Proskurina and others reveal evolution and variety in the empress’s official mythology.
In fact, Pushkin’s depiction of Catherine stands out for the number and variety of political and literary conventions it contains, as well as the collisions and contradictions between them. This article will consider multiple monumental versions of Catherine, including the wise Pallas Athena, and Felitsa on the throne, as well as the literary sleight of hand involved with frequent mentions of bodily mutilations, which etch themselves onto the reader’s memory as anti-monuments to the empress’s monumental age. Pushkin’s composite depiction of Catherine reveals the author’s complex and ambivalent view of her era.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRussica Romana
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jun 3 2023


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