"Holy Russia" In English Literature: Concept Development during the 1870S–1910S


  • Svetlana B. Koroleva




The idea of Holy Russia is one of those most significant spiritual phenomena of Russian culture which are difficult to define. The issues addressed in the article are of particular relevance due to the growing scholarly interest in the identification of the concept of Holy Russia and its place in the national cultural identity. The study aims to reveal the content of the concept in the first half of the 19th century in different discourses of the Russian culture and to define the specific features of two early stages of its perception in the English literature. The methodology chosen by the author corresponds to the complexity of the research objectives: interdisciplinary in nature, it combines the method of comparative conceptology with the methods of comparative literary criticism and theoretical concepts of imagology.
The article demonstrates that the concept of Holy Russia receives new impulses for development within the framework of Russian culture in the 19th century. That was a period of intensive search for a national idea and ideology, a unique "Russian spirit" and the national character of the Russian people — search that was oriented in the direction set by the concept of Holy Russia. Reflections on Holy Russia for the first time became an integral part of Russian historical, political and philosophical discourses; in literary texts, they not only correlated with new motives of personal responsibility, prayer aspiration and the national ideal, but also partly lost their axiological uniqueness.
The article proves that the content of the Russian concept of Holy Russia was in stark contrast to the content of the concept of Holy Russia emerging in the British culture around the 1870s. Initial interpretation of the latter was largely determined by the nature of British-Russian political relations. In the context of Russophobic sentiments in Britain, the term "Holy Russia" was originally interpreted in English journalism and literature (Swinburne, 1884) as a smokescreen, hiding the murderous tyranny of the tsarist regime.
The article describes the significant changes that the concept of Holy Russia was undergoing by the end of the 19th century, which was partly due to the ideological pressure of the Russian political emigration on the English intellectual elite. Thus, for example, F. Adams in his poem ‘Holy Russia’ portrays the Russian people very sympathetically, in the allegorical image of a woman tormented by a powerful snake and, at the same time, illuminated with spiritual light and belief in the possibility of liberation from terrible bonds. Each of the main versions of the Holy Russia concept, formed in the English culture by the 1910s, finds its reflection in the novel "Joan and Peter" by H.G. Wells.
The materials analysed in the article can have practical implications for historical, literary and cultural research on the Russian culture and the Anglo-Russian cultural and literary ties.