The History of Pugachev

By Alexander Pushkin.

I thought that this could be quite a dry work of history, however Pushkin’s narrative was entertaining and there were some good Pushkinesque asides.

Revolution is what happens when those who govern fail to listen to the mass of people. In Russia there was a great deal of poverty then as now and what Pugachev seems to have offered was some hope for a better life. There wasn’t any grand military plan either from Pugachev or the Yaik cossacks but their battle experience, when matched against commanders who were made up of the minor gentry, was telling. Pugachev won a great many battles and Catherine the Great was greatly concerned for a time.

Did Pushkin have an object in writing this history? Possibly – or it could be that he simply saw Pugachev as an attractive romantic figure. The title of the work eventually had to be changed to ‘The History of the Pugachev Rebellion’ as Tsar Nicholas didn’t think a revolutionary could have a history.

In context, many of Pushkin’s friends had been exiled and executed after the Decembrist revolt of 1825. The question must be asked – would the Decembrists have succeeded if they had not been merely dissatisfied gentry, but had canvassed popular support? If the Decembrists had been led by a Pugachev the outcome may have been very different.

Once again, Pushkin proves himself to be a literary genius. Not content with writing Poetry, Novellas, Novels, Drama, Prose in Verse and codifying the Russian literary language by encompassing spoken dialects – he was a historian as well. We know he was working on a history of Peter the Great, unfortunately his death in a duel meant this was never written. Still, at least he had an additional ten years of writing more than Lermontov. Both of their oeuvres were cut short and we can only speculate as to what may have been. Maybe there is room for a novel to imagine a future world where Lermontov and Pushkin survived their respective duels.

Soundtrack: The Able Tasmans – Sour Queen.

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