European Diary

Baudelaire in Russia

I have known since adolescence—though in Soviet Russia it was all a bit hard to believe, these United States of ours being, after all, the Manichaean pole of Light—that Edgar Allan Poe was completely unknown in America and would have perished in obscurity had he not found a literary agent in Charles Baudelaire and a vociferous claque in Baudelaire’s milieu in France.  What I never would have believed until a month ago, when somebody in Moscow sent me a thesis by a professor at the scarcely plausible University of Evansville in Indiana, is that Russia has the credit for the discovery of Baudelaire.  The title of that thesis could not be more succinct—“Baudelaire in Russia”—and it has been published by the University Press of Florida.  What Adrian Wanner has come up with is little short of an illumination.

What astounds the reader is the perspicacity of the Russian intelligentsia of Baudelaire’s day.  Their discernment may almost be called anecdotal, as Baudelaire’s poems and prose—including the essays in which he championed Poe—began to appear in periodicals with such righteous names as Syn otechestva (“Son of the Fatherland”) and Otechestvennyie zapiski (“Fatherland Chronicles”) in the early 1850’s, long before the succès du scandale of Les Fleurs du Mal...

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