This article considers Musorgsky's opera Boris Godunov in light of the outbreak of political violence in Russia during the 1860s and 1870s. Attempting to make sense of Dmitry Karakozov's ideologically motivated attack on Alexander II in 1866, Russians sought parallels in literature—where authors such as Dostoevsky and Turgenev had begun to explore the psychology of ideological commitment—and in history, the Time of Troubles (1598–1613) serving as a particularly salient point of reference. Boris Godunov, on which Musorgsky began work in 1868, brought these two strands together: set during the Time of Troubles, the opera features the upstart Pretender Dmitry, a historical figure in whom some writers found an ancestor of the modern political terrorist. But Musorgsky's treatment of the Pretender character diverges sharply in his two versions of Boris Godunov, suggesting shifting ideas about the role of this figure both in the opera and in history. Musorgsky's first attempt at the character produced a Pretender every inch the undeterrable “new man” of Russian literature; evincing little subjectivity beyond his obsession with his cause, the Pretender of 1869 escapes out a tavern window in act 2 and exists thereafter only as a musico-dramatic idea. In Musorgsky's 1872 revision of the opera, however, the Pretender pops up again in Poland, where both his self-determination and his dogged recitative style are easily bowled over by Marina Mnishek's triple-metered tunefulness. Like Ratmir in Ruslan and Liudmila's enchanted garden, this Pretender forgets his cause—but participates in the opera's most ravishing music. Drawing on a wide swath of literary and historical writings, this article explores Musorgsky's participation in an urgent contemporary discussion about the personal ramifications of absolute commitment to an idea and the limits of individual agency.

On April 4, 1866, Tsar Alexander II narrowly avoided an assassin's bullet outside the Summer Garden in St. Petersburg. The inexpert marksman was one Dmitry Karakozov, a recent university expellee who moved in revolutionary circles. Karakozov, who had donned both a peasant disguise and a pseudonym for the occasion, was quickly apprehended by guards. His pockets were found to contain a number of items that promised to illuminate his extraordinary act: strychnine, cyanide, morphine; a letter, a radical manifesto, a scribbled name. But convincing accounts of Karakozov, his motives, and his associations would prove elusive. First there was the issue of his questionable mental state: the frustrated regicide seemed manifestly unbalanced, attempting suicide no fewer than three times while awaiting trial. Beyond this, however, the documentary contents of Karakozov's pockets offered conflicting images of the crime and its perpetrator. Karakozov's letter suggested that he had acted on behalf of an organized conspiracy of young urban radicals, while his manifesto (entitled “Druz'iam-rabochim!,” or “To My Worker-Friends!”) depicted a solo ideologue with delusions of martyrdom. According to a witness, the tsar himself leapt to a third conclusion—one that the conservative press, ever suspicious of foreign treachery, was only too eager to publicize. Mindful of the Polish uprising quashed by his army only three years earlier, Alexander immediately queried his would-be assassin: “Are you Polish?”1 

He was not—but that detail was often forgotten in the epidemic of hermeneutomania that ensued. In its combination of public spectacle and ideological motivation, Karakozov's attempt on Alexander II's life has been called a founding event in the history of modern terrorism,2 and Russians struggled to interpret the significance of this unheard-of act. Seizing on Karakozov's purported “Polishness” (which equated with “Catholicism” in the nineteenth-century Russian imagination), several commentators insisted that the young man must have been acting under the influence of Jesuit doctrine, with its legendary elevation of ends over means.3 Other writers groped for available metaphors in literature and history. Karakozov was frequently likened to the heroes of recent novels by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev, and Nikolai Chernyshevsky, exemplars of that breed of adamant youth that had come to be known, in life and in literature, as “nihilists” or “new people.” The official verdict on the Karakozov case even cited Chernyshevsky's socialist novel What Is to Be Done? as a crucial and pernicious influence on the accused's mindset.4 Russia's bloody history also provided fertile material for analogy-prone imaginations. Allusions to the succession crisis known as the Time of Troubles circulated with particular urgency in the years surrounding the Karakozov attack.5 This turbulent period at the close of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries, during which nine different heads wore the Russian crown within fifteen years, had seen Russian sovereignty undermined by both Polish intrigues and homegrown insurgency. Thrice was a sitting tsar threatened by a young pretender claiming to be Dmitry, the son of Ivan the Terrible, whose early death was ever a subject of wild speculation—and what were Karakozov and his associates but nineteenth-century pretenders, whose radical self-determination challenged the legitimacy of the autocrat and the stability of the state?

The most irresistible analogy of all was with the historical events mythologized in Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar (1836)—the delivery of Mikhail Romanov, Alexander's six-times-great grandfather, from a Polish assassination plot. (Mikhail's rescue at the hands of Ivan Susanin, a self-sacrificing peasant from Kostroma, had led to the establishment of the Romanov dynasty and the end of the Time of Troubles.) The Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters responded to the national mood with nightly stagings of Glinka's thirty-year-old warhorse, which had suddenly achieved an unprecedented topicality. Three days after the attack the twenty-five-year-old Chaikovsky wrote dryly of the nationalistic froth in which A Life for the Tsar, and particularly its Polish scenes, participated:

The news of the attempt upon the Emperor's life reached us at the station. … The rejoicings here [in Moscow] were beyond belief; yesterday at the Opera, where I went to hear A Life for the Tsar, when the Poles appeared on the stage the entire public began to shout, “Down with the Poles!” In the last scene of the fourth act, in which the Poles put Sousanin to death, the singer who was taking this part resisted with such realistic violence that he knocked down several of the “Polish” chorus-singers. When the rest of the “Poles” saw that this outrage to art and to the truth delighted the public, they promptly fell down of their own accord, and the triumphant Sousanin walked away, shaking his fists at them, amid the vociferous applause of the Muscovites. At the end of the opera the Emperor's portrait was brought on the stage, and an indescribable tumult followed.6 

This scene was reenacted over and over in the spring of 1866. At least once an “indescribable tumult” followed the stagefront appearance not of Alexander's portrait but of Osip Komissarov, the modern-day Ivan Susanin who had reportedly knocked Karakozov's arm as he fired at the tsar.7 Thus were the unions of present and past, art and reality, solemnized in ecstatic celebration, and thus did Glinka's opera come to serve as a transparent allegory for recent events.

It was only two years later that Modest Musorgsky began composing his own Time of Troubles opera, a work that seems in many ways the antipode to A Life for the Tsar. While both operas thematize political assassination, the threat of Polish supremacy, and the relationship between tsar and people—all topics of peculiar concern to Russians in the late 1860s—A Life for the Tsar concludes in a choral blaze of “Glory!” while Boris Godunov ends (in Musorgsky's final version of it, anyway) with a lone supplicant lamenting the fate of the nation. If A Life for the Tsar's contemporary resonances reassure, Boris Godunov's unsettle. Musorgsky's Boris also faces an adversary whom Glinka's Mikhail Romanov had not encountered: the Pretender Dmitry, a young Russian upstart who leads a bloody campaign against the tsar. Begun in the wake of the Karakozov affair, Boris Godunov was thus the timely product of an age in which the topic of individual political violence had profound cultural relevance, and in which references to the Time of Troubles could be read openly as comments on the present. As Olga Maiorova has argued, the reception of Dmitry Karakozov's assassination attempt on Alexander II suggested another link between present and past, between the modern figure of the political terrorist and the historical specter of the pretender. “Karakozov's shot,” writes Maiorova, “took analogies with the Time of Troubles to their apogee and brought them out of the realm of political rhetoric and into the sphere of public action. … The tsar/pretender opposition was actualized, the mythological scheme was ‘played out’ in real experience and became an instrument for the structuring of cultural space.”8 

I would like to interrogate this context, surveying both Russian interest in pretenders during the 1860s and the construction of the revolutionary as a psychological type in contemporary literature. In his adaptation of Aleksandr Pushkin's Boris Godunov, Musorgsky (a composer ever dedicated to finding “the present in the past,” as he put it) picked up on several of the issues that had come to surround these figures in public discourse—most notably, the personal ramifications of absolute commitment to an idea and the limits of individual agency. This article will explore Musorgsky's contributions to this discussion through his depiction of the Pretender Dmitry in the two versions of Boris Godunov. Completed in 1869 and 1872 respectively, these two versions of the opera take vastly differing approaches to the questions that occupied so many Russian minds in the wake of Karakozov's attempt.

Populism, Protest, and the Pretender-Idea

Pretenders were a perennial bloom in imperial Russia.9 Between the Time of Troubles and the middle of the nineteenth century, scarcely a decade went by without the appearance of some new claimant to the Russian throne, and there were sometimes several within the span of a few years. Scholars of Russian culture have linked the rise of pretenders to the establishment of autocracy sanctioned by divine right: “it could be argued,” writes Caryl Emerson, “that samozvanstvo, pretendership, is inevitably a factor in any system in which absolute power remains vested in a single person.”10 If there could be true tsars, legitimized by heaven, there could also be false tsars, the agents of a darker and warmer region. As K. V. Chistov has shown, popular support for pretenders in Russia often took the form of a belief that the true tsar, in hiding among the people, would deliver the nation from its present suffering.11 Naturally this belief rested upon a conviction that the current bearer of the orb and scepter did not wield legitimate power; and so the phenomenon of pretendership has always been connected with antiestablishment political attitudes.

During the 1860s the historian and novelist Daniil Mordovtsev published a number of pamphlets and literary works on the topic of pretendership, a phenomenon he linked to the hermetic and unassailable nature of the Russian autocracy. In a nation that left most of its subjects utterly disenfranchised, Mordovtsev wrote in 1869, pretendership served as a means by which the Russian people could assert political agency:

Pretendership belongs to those methods that constitute a kind of historical feature in the Russian people—to which the Russian people have turned at every uncertain or difficult epoch in their historical existence. This phenomenon, rarely noted among other peoples, is due to the peculiar constitution of our political life, in which protest against the existing order or an intolerable wrong can come from the people not in their own name … but in the name of some other power. … That is why every time the people have protested, they have, as it were, not borne their own standard, but have instead walked behind the standard of [another] power. … In the seventeenth century the people walked behind the standard of the murdered tsarevich and in his name demanded the recognition of their rights.12 

Unable to protest on their own behalf, in other words, subjects of the Russian empire have united behind pretenders who shared their visions. Support for the Pretender Dmitry—the “murdered tsarevich” who served as the main “standard-bearing power” of the seventeenth century—was congruent with support for the rights of the Russian narod, the folk. The pretender, here, is important far less as a human individual than as an idea, as a projection of the people's will. Pretenders arise when the interests of the narod are at odds with those of the state; the pretender-idea is always directed against a political establishment that is imagined to be oppressive and illegitimate.

Pretendership, then, touched on a number of themes that were highly relevant to mid-nineteenth-century Russia, which witnessed an outbreak of peasant uprisings, a flourishing of populist and socialist ideas, and a dramatic renegotiation of the relationship between tsar and people. The accession of Alexander II in 1855 had at first promised to dissolve some creeping tension: in deliberate contrast to his authoritarian father Alexander took a liberal line, freeing the serfs and democratizing the judicial system.13 Optimism abounded; the beloved “Tsar-Liberator” appeared to be the very deliverer the nation had so long sought. The aging Alexander Herzen, whose outspoken socialism had not exactly endeared him to Nikolai I, wrote in 1865 that Nikolai's progressive son managed to combine king and pretender, “unit[ing] within himself tsar and Stenka Razin.”14 (The latter had led a popular revolt against the Russian autocracy in 1670–71.) But for the younger generation of left-leaning intellectuals, born and radicalized in the stifling climate of Nikolai's Official Nationality,15 no rapprochement between tsar and people was acceptable. A pretender-tsar was for them a contradiction in terms; no individual who commanded absolute power could ever embody the people's collective interest. Any autocrat, therefore, was ipso facto illegitimate, and an enemy to the people's freedom and happiness.

These were precisely the terms in which Karakozov couched his grand plan. The conflict between tsar and people was irresolvable, and by taking upon himself the authority for violent action Karakozov became an instrument of the people's interest. Publicity and spectacularity, he imagined, would be essential, for his primary goal was to inspire converts to his radical cause. “To My Worker-Friends!,” the handwritten proclamation found in Karakozov's peasant overcoat at the time of his arrest, described his motives as follows:

It became sad and painful to me to watch my beloved people perish, and so I decided to annihilate the tsar-villain and to die for my beloved people. My plan came to me: I will die in order to be of use to my dear friend—the Russian muzhik [peasant]. And this plan will not succeed, I fully believe, unless it finds people who will follow in my path. I will not succeed—they will succeed. For them my death will be an example, and it will inspire them. Let the Russian people recognize their greatest, most powerful enemy—be he Alexander II or Alexander III and so on, it is all the same. The people will reckon with their great enemy, and the remaining few—landowners, grandees, officials, and other rich folk—will quail, because their numbers are completely insignificant. Then there will be real freedom.16 

Noteworthy here is the suggestion that the individuals involved are entirely replaceable. Alexander II is the same as any other tsar, just as Dmitry Karakozov is the same as any of the people he hopes will take up his cause. This is a clash of political abstractions: one top-down and authoritarian, the other bottom-up and collectivist; the autocrat-idea versus the pretender-idea. And as students of Russian history know, Karakozov's conjecture proved correct. His spectacular act would indeed inspire others, and the lives of “landowners, grandees, officials, and other rich folk” were routinely threatened by terrorists between this period and the Revolution some fifty years later. Alexander II would eventually succumb to just such an attack: the liberal tsar died on March 1, 1881, in a bombing carried out by the members of a group that called itself, provocatively, the People's Will (“Narodnaia volia”).17 In this context, the populist, ideal, and antiestablishment image of the pretender floated ever nearby. At least one revolutionary of the time would later recall the fascination the idea of pretendership held for the youth of his circle.18 

And so, while A Life for the Tsar had served as a balm for a shaken society in the aftermath of April 4, it was the story of Boris Godunov—with its themes of pretendership, illegitimacy, and tsar versus narod—that spoke to the real anxieties of the Reform Era. Godunov's antagonist, the first Pretender Dmitry, became a figure of obsessive interest among Russian dramatists of the 1860s.19 “The Pretender Dmitry and the era of pretenders in general is the most beloved and most hackneyed subject of our playwrights,”20 grumbled an anonymous commentator in Sovremennik, apropos of Nikolai Chaev's new play The Pretender Dmitry in 1866. As if to prove the point, the next year would bring the premiere of Alexander Ostrovsky's The Pretender Dmitry and Vasily Shuisky,21 with incidental music by Chaikovsky. Only A. K. Tolstoi would buck the trend, declaring in 1870 that his own Time of Troubles trilogy would not end with a play called The Pretender Dmitry, because “too many people have busied themselves with him, and to me he seems something of a Marius.”22 An aristocrat of Romantic leanings, Tolstoi evidently had little sympathy for the plebeian Marius, who had led a brutal populist campaign against the Roman elite.

Among historians, meanwhile, a polemical war was brewing over the true identity of the Pretender Dmitry. Table 1 summarizes the major contributions. The official view, most prominently expounded in the 1860s by the statist historian Sergei Soloviov, asserted that the pretender had in fact been the defrocked monk Grigory Otrepev, usually referred to by the familiar and somewhat patronizing diminutive “Grishka.” In the official story Grishka Otrepev had possibly dabbled in the black arts, and had definitely taken his orders from the Poles and Jesuits who had helped him to seize power; the disgraced monk had been a pawn in the hands of Russia's enemies. (In this connection, it is intriguing to remember the vehemence with which conservative commentators proposed that Karakozov must have ties to both Poles and Jesuits. What better way to neutralize a popular pretender than to show that his mandate came from despised foreign elites rather than the long-suffering narod?) At the same time, progressive historians such as Nikolai Kostomarov advanced what Caryl Emerson has called the “non-coincidence hypothesis”23—that the Pretender Dmitry had not been Grishka the Polish puppet but some other fellow of mysterious origins, the seventeenth century's “Mr. X.” For the populist Kostomarov, Dmitry had been an enlightened, egalitarian ruler. Significantly, this pretender had enacted no conscious pretense, for he sincerely believed himself to be the tsarevich. His interests had been identical to those of the narod, and he had harbored no secret plan to bring the people under Polish authority and convert them to Catholicism. He had worn his crown lightly, sharing power and seeking to democratize the nation by educating the masses. Kostomarov, the most fashionable historian of the era, depicted a pretender who was a citizen-king, not a pawn.

Table 1

Reform Era historians on the identity of the False Dmitry

WriterWorksConclusions
Ustrialov Preface to the third edition of Contemporaries’ Tales of the Pretender Dmitry (1859)a The pretender's identity is still a mystery; all previous accounts have been incomplete. 
Kostomarov Who Was the First False Dmitry? (1864)b The pretender was neither Grishka Otrepev nor the real tsarevich Dmitry, but someone else who sincerely believed he was Ivan's son. 
Bitsyn (Pavlov) “The Truth about the False Dmitry” (1864)c Grishka Otrepev was groomed for the pretendership while in Moscow, but he switched places with someone else (identity unknown) in Lithuania. 
Ikonnikov “Who Was the First Pretender?” (1865)d The pretender was the legitimate tsarevich Dmitry, who survived the assassins’ attack. 
Dobrotvorsky “Who Was the First False Dmitry?” (1866)e The pretender was Grishka Otrepev. 
Soloviov “Notes on Pretenders in Russia” (1868)f The pretender was Grishka Otrepev, who sincerely believed he was Ivan's son. 
WriterWorksConclusions
Ustrialov Preface to the third edition of Contemporaries’ Tales of the Pretender Dmitry (1859)a The pretender's identity is still a mystery; all previous accounts have been incomplete. 
Kostomarov Who Was the First False Dmitry? (1864)b The pretender was neither Grishka Otrepev nor the real tsarevich Dmitry, but someone else who sincerely believed he was Ivan's son. 
Bitsyn (Pavlov) “The Truth about the False Dmitry” (1864)c Grishka Otrepev was groomed for the pretendership while in Moscow, but he switched places with someone else (identity unknown) in Lithuania. 
Ikonnikov “Who Was the First Pretender?” (1865)d The pretender was the legitimate tsarevich Dmitry, who survived the assassins’ attack. 
Dobrotvorsky “Who Was the First False Dmitry?” (1866)e The pretender was Grishka Otrepev. 
Soloviov “Notes on Pretenders in Russia” (1868)f The pretender was Grishka Otrepev, who sincerely believed he was Ivan's son. 
a

Ustrialov, Skazaniia sovremennikov.

b

Kostomarov, Kto byl pervyĭ Lzhedmitriĭ?

c

Bitsyn, “Pravda o Lzhedmitrii.”

d

Ikonnikov, “Kto byl pervyĭ samozvanets?”

e

Dobrotvorskiĭ, “Kto byl pervyĭ Lzhedmitriĭ?”

f

Solov'iov, “Zametki o samozvantsakh.”

In these historical accounts the pretender's personhood is once again a vanishing target. A man of obscure motives and obscurer origins, he never rules by the force of his own personality. His subjectivity dissolves; he becomes a medium for this or that political interest (a tool of Jesuits, an instrument of democratic reform), and beyond that a weather vane for the historian's own political biases. The question of who the pretender is thus becomes elided with that of what he stands for, and on whose behalf he acts. As the Slavist Ilya Vinitsky has shown, the Pretender Dmitry's evanescent materiality was a major theme of his reception in the 1860s and 1870s; in writings of the time Dmitry often appears less a flesh-and-blood organism than a specter, a “historical mirage” who symbolized “chance and unrealized possibility.”24 In A. K. Tolstoi's Dramatic Trilogy, for example, the pretender never appears on stage in any unambiguous form. His primary existence in the plays is that of a rumor, an idea, and eventually (for Boris Godunov) an obsession. This incorporeality is the source of his peculiar power: as Rebecca Epstein Matveyev and Caryl Emerson have argued in connection with Tolstoi's trilogy, “the ‘Pretender-force’ might be more charismatic without any attested body attached to it at all.”25 Conjured up so frequently in Russian drama, literature, and historiography, this dynamic spirit served as an intermediary between history and the here and now. As Vinitsky writes, “Ivan Kireevsky once described Dimitry as the shade who reigns in Pushkin's tragedy, Boris Godunov, from beginning to end. In the 1860s he became the shade haunting all of Russian society, connecting the present to the past.”26 Dmitry's contemporary avatar, the late imperial revolutionary, would be another such slippery subject, whose ideals and ambitions ever threatened to crush his “I.”

Ideas and Individualities: Writing the Russian Radical

The historical phenomenon of pretendership served as an important cultural reference point during the upheavals of the Reform Era. Several of the themes that defined Russian interest in pretenders during the 1860s—notably, the nature of political agency and the individual psychology (or lack thereof) this agency demanded—likewise characterized contemporary writers’ attempts to reckon, in fiction, with the recent outbreak of revolutionary rhetoric and political violence in Russian society.

The curious symbiosis between life and art in nineteenth-century Russia is nowhere more observable than in the construction of the Russian revolutionary as a social and literary type. The figure's literary history begins with Ivan Turgenev, in whose fiction, at the end of the 1850s, fiery ideologues began to replace the jaded, impassive aristocrats whose portraits had hitherto dominated the writer's prose. Turgenev's first unambiguous attempt at sketching this type produced On the Eve's Dmitry Insarov, a Bulgarian freedom fighter determined to liberate his nation from Russian rule. In letters of the time Turgenev wrote that historical progress depended on the efforts of individuals such as Insarov: self-determined, tireless men of action whose likeness Russia had not yet seen.27 But contemporary critics reacted coolly to the character of Insarov; even those who sympathized with the Bulgarian's antiestablishment politics found him flat and featureless, evincing no emotional life beyond his obsession with his cause. In his review of the novel (impatiently titled “When Will the Real Day Come?”) the radical critic Nikolai Dobroliubov agreed with Turgenev that Insarov types were essential to Russia's future, and lamented the fact that they were currently in short supply. As a personality, however, Insarov appeared to Dobroliubov to be insubstantial, characterized by “negative” features (“he never lies, he never goes back on his word, he never borrows money”) and “pale outlines.”28 Three decades later, Edward Garnett amplified Dobroliubov's criticism in his preface to the first English translation of On the Eve:

Insarov is a figure of wood. He is so cleverly constructed, and the central idea behind him is so strong, that his wooden joints move naturally, and the spectator has only the instinct, not the certainty, of being cheated. The idea he incarnates, that of a man whose soul is aflame with patriotism, is finely suggested, but an idea, even a great one, does not make an individuality. And in fact Insarov is not a man, he is an automaton. … He is a patriotic clock wound up to go for the occasion, and in truth he is very useful. Only on his deathbed, when the unexpected happens, and the machinery runs down, do we feel moved.29 

An idea does not make an individuality. Both Dobroliubov and Garnett point to a fundamental imbalance within the character of Insarov, whose strong ideals seem to crowd out his inner life. But could things be otherwise for so committed an ideologue—could one be simultaneously a revolutionary and a subject?

Turgenev himself would face this question head on in Fathers and Sons (1862), a novel in which the conflicting forces of ideological devotion and private feeling play out with operatic intensity. Evgeny Bazarov, a medical student and self-styled “nihilist,” professes to reject all traditional forms of authority, and claims public utility (the “greater good”) as the sole inspiration for his actions. “We act on the basis of what we recognize as useful,” he explains to Pavel Kirsanov. “Nowadays the most useful thing of all is rejection. … The ground must be cleared.” (A terrified Pavel immediately realizes the destructive potential of Bazarov's nihilist philosophy: “You reject everything, or, to put it more precisely, you destroy everything.”)30 This mission statement leaves no room for what Arkady Kirsanov, Pavel's nephew and Bazarov's acolyte, terms “personal egotism.”31 Halfway through the novel, however, Bazarov's iron will begins to rust. Reason yields to passion in a physically legible display: Bazarov, who elsewhere boasts of his flinty, uncompromising nature, is rendered a quivering ruin before the brilliant widow Anna Odintsova. Forgoing food and sleep after Odintsova spurns his affections, Bazarov confesses to Arkady that “the machine's falling apart.”32 The embittered medical student never recovers, succumbing to typhus in the novel's final pages. For the ever-ambivalent Turgenev, Insarov-like devotion may be indispensable to history, but it comes at a price to the individual, for unwavering ideological commitment is incompatible with a rich emotional life. It is contingent upon one's capacity to keep the “machinery” running—to subjugate the self to the idea.

In What Is to Be Done? (1863) the radical writer and critic Nikolai Chernyshevsky renovated Turgenev's nihilist archetype, aiming to provide “positive” literary models to whose example real-life revolutionaries might aspire.33 (The first thing to go was the title “nihilist”; Chernyshevsky's “positive” revolutionaries would be dubbed instead “new people.”) The leader of Chernyshevsky's “new people” is Rakhmetov, an ascetic who sleeps on a bed of nails and subsists on a restricted diet.34 Hoping to divest himself of irrational ties to the physical world, Rakhmetov likewise shuns close relationships, romantic and otherwise. The existence for which he strives is thoroughly public, a life pledged wholly to a cause. But even Rakhmetov's ideological piety is not perfect, or at least not yet (“Yes, do pity me,” he exhorts the novel's narrator, “… For I too am not an abstract idea, but a human being, one who longs to live life”);35 furthermore, Rakhmetov is not the personage Chernyshevsky would have his readers embody in their own lives.36 Strict rigorizm, to use Chernyshevsky's term, is neither the only nor necessarily the most desirable path to new personhood. The bulk of What Is to Be Done?, in fact, concentrates on the personal lives of heroine Vera Pavlovna and her succession of husbands, in the belief that Russian domestic life should model in miniature a rationally organized socialist society. In contrast to Bazarov, in whom the forces of private emotion and ideological commitment prove devastatingly incompatible, Chernyshevsky's revolutionaries can have both their sewing communes and their passionate romances, even if it takes a plot worthy of Il trovatore for them to manage it. Moreover, Chernyshevsky takes pains to insist on several occasions that transformation into a “new person” does not compel a loss of individuality:

But just as Europeans among the Chinese seem to have one and the same face and one way of acting only in Chinese eyes, in fact there are incomparably more variations among Europeans than among the Chinese. So, too, in this new, apparently single type, the diversity of personalities develops into numerous varieties that differ from one another more than all the individuals of all the other types differ among themselves. There are all kinds: sybarites and ascetics, stern people and tender, and others, and others besides.37 

If readers cannot perceive the differences among his characters, Chernyshevsky suggests with hackles raised, it implies a failure of perspective on their own part, for new people are more internally varied than any other human type. Here as elsewhere in What Is to Be Done? Chernyshevsky's rhetorical bravado betrays the blind spots in his utopian vision. Attempting to deflect anticipated critiques, he insists upon that which he cannot prove.

In a footnote to his 1868 article “Bazarov Yet Again” Alexander Herzen mused on the remarkable influence of Chernyshevsky's literary prototypes upon his young countrymen:

It is a strange thing, this interaction of people with books and books with people. A book takes its whole shape from the society in which it originates, generalizes the material, makes it clearer and sharper, and is then surpassed by reality. The originals turn their own sharply drawn portraits into caricatures, and real people take on the character of their own literary shadows. … After 1862 all the young Russians who came to see me were almost straight out of What Is to Be Done?, with a few of Bazarov's traits mixed in.38 

As if anticipating Herzen's thought, the Supreme Criminal Court found in 1866 that Karakozov had taken on just such a literary shadow, having been inspired by Rakhmetov “to take as a maxim, the end justifies the means.”39 Judicial opinion aside, however, Karakozov's “means” were hardly Chernyshevsky's. The revolution the novelist hoped to catalyze with What Is to Be Done? was a bottom-up enterprise, and psychological overhaul, not bloodshed, was his method of choice. Individual Russians, Chernyshevsky imagined, would read his novel, pattern their lives on those of his characters, and inspire imitators through their example. Once a critical mass of Russians had been converted to “new personhood,” the nation would be transformed into a socialist utopia; thus the possibility of revolutionary violence lay almost entirely outside the fictional realm of What Is to Be Done? The ideological distance between Rakhmetov and Karakozov, and the ease with which it was traversed in the Russian imagination after April 4, nicely illustrates Herzen's point about the interaction between people and books. Literature had been surpassed by reality—but such would not be the case for long.

If the hallmark of Chernyshevskian new people was their ability to balance the claims of personal feeling and public duty, for the titular figure in Sergei Nechaev's “Catechism of a Revolutionary” no such compromise was to be tolerated. Nechaev, who led a real-life revolutionary circle and embraced the title “terrorist,” wrote the pamphlet in 1869 and published it that same year with the Free Russian Press in Geneva; it was published in Russia two years later, together with the trial proceedings of several of Nechaev's underlings.40 Unlike Rakhmetov, Nechaev's revolutionary was an “abstract idea,” and he had no regrets about the fact. “The revolutionary is a doomed man,” read the infamous opening lines of what remains one of the most radical documents ever penned:

He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, not even a name. Everything in him is engulfed in one exclusionary interest, one thought, one passion—revolution.

… The nature of the true revolutionary excludes all romanticism, sentimentality, infatuation, and exaltation. All private hatred and revenge must also be excluded. Revolutionary passion, practiced at every moment of the day until it becomes a habit, must be united with cold calculation. At all times, and in all places, the revolutionary must obey not his personal impulses, but only those that serve the cause of revolution.41 

This was just the sort of instrumentalized personality that conservative commentators had in mind when they described would-be assassin Karakozov as the blind weapon of foreign Jacobins: an angel of vengeance who saw human lives as expendable, and who believed that a person's worth consisted solely in his or her usefulness to the cause, which Nechaev defined as the annihilation of all existing social and political structures. (Nechaev, unlike Chernyshevsky, would leave the question of what to do with the rubble to future generations.) Among Nechaev's revolutionaries, individuality was to be neither sought nor tolerated. All group decisions were to be taken unanimously, with the ultimate goal of “welding the people into one invincible and all-destructive force.”42 Here, however, lay a paradox already implicit in the character of Rakhmetov: it took a heroic act of individual will to transform oneself into a revolutionary, but once this transformation was accomplished one's will must be freely abdicated, subsumed into the group and the idea.43 In Nechaev's “Catechism” the agency to remake worlds demands the erasure of the subject.

From the right, Dostoevsky had long been crying foul. Both Notes from Underground (1864) and Crime and Punishment (1866) assert that psychology cannot be sacrificed so easily on the altar of ideology. Individuals cannot live by reason alone, the underground man argues, for people are fundamentally irrational beings; reason cannot contain humanity's irrepressible demonic whims. Nor can people bear, Rakhmetov-like, to deny the expression of their free will in the service of a cause, for they would rather act foolishly and arbitrarily simply to prove their individual agency. Crime and Punishment again took up the issues of reason and free will, and foregrounded the problem of means versus ends that likewise dominated the contemporary Karakozov trial.44 At the outset the protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov resolves to murder the miserly pawnbroker out of rational utilitarianism: he will make better use of her money than she would, for he will use it for the betterment of society, however hazily he might conceive of that notion. Late in the novel, however, he confesses to Sonia Marmeladova that his actions were in fact not reasonable at all, but proceeded from something akin to the underground man's demonic impulse to prove himself a free agent. “I wanted to become a Napoleon,” he admits:

I did not kill so that, having obtained means and power, I could become a benefactor of mankind. Nonsense! I simply killed—killed for myself, for myself alone—and whether I would later become anyone's benefactor, or would spend my life like a spider, catching everyone in my web and sucking the life-sap out of everyone, should at that moment have made no difference to me!45 

In the end Raskolnikov discovers—to his torment, his downfall, and his eventual salvation—that means matter, that individual conscience cannot be suppressed in favor of some general idea of the greater good. To convince oneself that lofty ideals govern one's behavior is to enter into a dangerous delusion. Raskolnikov's utopia of reason is ultimately nothing but a dodge, a cover for his ego's most terrible machinations.

Despite the inevitable disagreements among writers and historians of different political stripes, Russian images of the pretender and of the revolutionary during the 1860s shared a number of striking features in the area of thematics. Both propounded (whether sincerely or cynically) populist, antiestablishment politics; and both threatened to become (or to delude themselves into believing they were) carriers of ideas rather than fully developed psychological entities. The interstice between the two figures had been bridged occasionally—for example, by the conservative critic Apollon Grigorev, who referred to his colleagues at the radical journal Sovremennik as “Tushino thieves,”46 the nickname of the second Pretender Dmitry to challenge the Russian throne during the Time of Troubles. It was Dostoevsky, however, who would bring the pretender and the revolutionary together most compellingly in Demons, a novel whose plot drew liberally from the real-life activities of Nechaev and his circle. Appearing serially in 1871 and 1872—that is, contemporaneously with Musorgsky's revisions to Boris GodunovDemons sketched a suggestive link between modern Russia and the Time of Troubles. Indeed, as Adam Weiner has noted, Pushkin's verse drama Boris Godunov, on which Musorgsky's opera would be based, is invoked repeatedly throughout the novel.47 The most pervasive of these Godunovian parallels lies in Dostoevsky's depiction of the revolutionary ringleaders themselves. The novel's young agitators, Nikolai Stavrogin and Piotr Verkhovensky, are not self-abnegating freedom fighters but rebels with a decidedly vainglorious cause. All of the characters in Demons are in thrall less to the ideas than to the enormous personal magnetism of Stavrogin, who serves as the novel's stand-in for Nechaev.48 Spouting collectivist rhetoric, Stavrogin nonetheless commands a cult of personality. This monstrous charisma is what motivates Dostoevsky's frequent references to Stavrogin as fraud (“moshennik”), seducer (“obolstitel”), and—especially—pretender (“samozvanets”). In two places, Maria Lebiadkina explicitly likens Stavrogin to Russian history's most infamous pretender, Grishka Otrepev. “Listen,” she demands, “have you read about Grishka Otrepev, who was cursed in seven cathedrals?” Later in the conversation she taunts Stavrogin with a quotation from Pushkin: “Grish-ka Ot-rep-ev a-na-the-ma!”49 Verkhovensky's revolutionary plan, moreover, is to incite a new Time of Troubles by having Stavrogin act in the False Dmitry's stead. He explains his plan to Stavrogin:

“Well, and there will be a Time of Troubles! Such chaos will follow as the world has never seen … Well, and then we'll put forward … Whom?”
“Whom?”
“Ivan-Tsarevich.”
“Who-om?”
“Ivan-Tsarevich; you, you!”
Stavrogin thought for a minute.
“A pretender?,” he suddenly asked, looking with deep surprise at his frantic companion. “Ah! So that's your plan at last!”50 

The revolutionaries of Chernyshevsky and Nechaev—like, indeed, the citizen-king of Kostomarov—had all been pretenders who did not pretend. Their inmost desires (to the extent that they had them) were identical, or at least complementary, to their public personas. In Dostoevsky conscious pretense enters the equation once more. Ideas become instruments of the subject—and not the other way around. All, for Dostoevsky, is vanity.

And so, to sum up: in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons the incompatibility of high emotions and high ideals becomes a source of personal tragedy; in Chernyshevsky's What Is to Be Done personal life and public duty need not preclude one another; in Nechaev's “Catechism” the revolutionary's lack of a private life, and consequently his ability to focus unerringly on his cause, is the very basis of his power; and in Dostoevsky's works the inner ego determines the outer ideals. This was the complicated field entered by Modest Musorgsky when he began his adaptation of the Boris-Pretender story—a tale that, as we have seen, resonated strongly with the discourse surrounding both the revolutionary and the political life of post–Reform Era Russia more generally. Completed and revised in the years surrounding his thirtieth birthday, Boris Godunov caught the maturing composer in the midst of an aesthetic and ideological transformation. Musorgsky began his magnum opus in 1868, shortly after abandoning his most ambitious realist experiment, a setting of Gogol's play Marriage in naturalistic speech melodies. The year in which the revised version of Boris Godunov premiered at the Mariinsky, 1874, also saw the composition of Musorgsky's Romantic song cycle Sunless, the Russian heir to Winterreise. Musorgsky's politics, too, altered during these years; like many of his contemporaries in the 1870s he grew fatalistic, losing his faith in Russia's capacity for progress. The two versions of Boris Godunov bear witness to this shift, and no single role would be more affected than that of the Pretender Dmitry.

Tenor Pretender

Pushkin's elusive, protean characters have bedeviled many an opera composer. Consistency, sincerity, and frankness were seldom qualities the poet demanded of his creations. Emotional self-disclosure, that seeming lifeblood of nineteenth-century opera, is a vice rarely encountered among them; so too is principled commitment to any particular political or ideological outlook. The inhabitants of a genteeler cultural milieu, they are more often eminently social creatures, adapting their behavior to suit the changes in their surroundings. The Pretender Dmitry of Boris Godunov (1825) is perhaps the quintessential representative of this quintessentially Pushkinian type: an expert operator, he is a chameleon and an opportunist whose “true self,” if he can be said to have such a thing, is as inaccessible to readers as it is to the characters he charms. Unlike the ardent ideologues of the 1860s, he is hardly a man fixated on one stable political vision; rather, the Pretender's politics are as fickle as everything else about him. Animated by neither high ideals nor personal sentiment, he is instead the very embodiment of Schillerian free play. Caryl Emerson has attributed the success of Pushkin's Pretender to just this limitless creativity, this boundless capacity to make himself up as he goes along. “[Pushkin's] Pretender has no need of psychological continuity,” she writes; “in fact, he celebrates his multiple identities. … His ‘cause’ comes and goes; at any given moment he merely wishes to maximize his passion and his freedom. … The Pretender can always find a voice, and a vision, proper to his many roles.”51 

This kaleidoscopic, centrifugal personality, the very antithesis of the obsessive and inadaptable Boris Godunov, may have served the Pretender well in 1825, but it left him terrifically ill prepared to thrive in the cultural climate of several decades later, when authenticity and commitment were prized above all. A Pretender with a chameleon-like ability to change his voice to suit his circumstances also makes a rather improbable operatic hero. It is a commonplace of Pushkin scholarship that the poet's plays were generally written more for the page than for the stage—and indeed, because of censorship restrictions Boris Godunov was not performed in Russia until 1870. As long as his speech resounded only in the auditoria of readers’ minds the Pretender had access to an infinite number of potential voices. But to give that character one voice—in this case a tenor, with all the dramatic connotations carried by that voice by the late nineteenth century—is necessarily to contain him. A Pretender who sings is one whose options are finite.

It seems all but inevitable, then, that in order to become an operatic character Pushkin's Pretender would have to undergo some consolidation of personality. Some of this necessity was related to the exigencies of adaptation: in condensing Pushkin's sprawling drama to manageable operatic proportions Musorgsky had to be selective. The first version of Boris Godunov, completed in 1869, includes only two scenes for the Pretender, and in neither of these is he given the chance to manipulate identities for his own gain. Musorgsky's musical characterization, however, goes still further in depicting a Pretender who is anything but a shape-shifter, for the tenor's entire musical identity comes to coalesce around a single brief theme. Commonly known as the “tsarevich leitmotif,” this theme functions fundamentally differently from the musical “calling cards” used to identify virtually every other character in the opera,52 for Grigory Otrepev, the Pretender-to-be, does not “generate” it. He overhears it from the elderly chronicler Pimen and assimilates it as his own, but the theme always refers to something far greater than Grigory the person. It is not a “personal” theme at all but an abstract one, evoking an entire complex of concepts, feelings, and implications surrounding the image of the tsarevich Dmitry. Once he hears those tones Grigory will be unable to get them—and the big ideas they represent—out of his head.

The Pretender's first scene, set in his cell at the Chudovo Monastery, presents a portrait of nucleating obsession. The future Pretender enters the opera already in thrall to a recurring idea—“Always that same dream! … That nagging accursed dream!”53 The symbolism of his prophetic dream, which he describes in a restless and harmonically daring recitative, remains as yet inscrutable. He spies Pimen, hard at work on his chronicle of Russian history, and asks the old monk to recount the story of the tsarevich Dmitry's murder at Uglich. As Pimen describes the tsarevich's slain body—first lying in a pool of blood, and then miraculously trembling—the orchestra presents two minor-mode statements of the tsarevich leitmotif, which begins with a characteristic upward leap of a sixth (see Examples 1 and 2).54 An inkling forming in the back of his mind, Grigory inquires how old the tsarevich would be today, and Pimen remarks, “He would have been your age—and reigning!” On the word “reigning” the tsarevich motif appears once again, now in the major mode (see Example 3).

Example 1

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 1 (Cell Scene), mm. 266–68

Pimen: The murdered tsarevich lay in blood

Example 1

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 1 (Cell Scene), mm. 266–68

Pimen: The murdered tsarevich lay in blood

Example 2

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 1 (Cell Scene), mm. 299–301

Pimen: A miracle! … Suddenly the dead body trembled …

Example 2

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 1 (Cell Scene), mm. 299–301

Pimen: A miracle! … Suddenly the dead body trembled …

Example 3

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 1 (Cell Scene), mm. 319–22

Pimen: Yes: it has been twelve years. He would have been your age—and reigning! …

At these words, Grigory regally sits up to his full height, then with false modesty sinks again onto the bench.

Example 3

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 1 (Cell Scene), mm. 319–22

Pimen: Yes: it has been twelve years. He would have been your age—and reigning! …

At these words, Grigory regally sits up to his full height, then with false modesty sinks again onto the bench.

At these words, according to Musorgsky's stage direction, Grigory regally raises himself to his full height. With this triumphant transformation of the tsarevich leitmotif comes Grishka Otrepev's transformation into the Pretender Dmitry, and this little melody will be his idée fixe. We will hear this theme once more in the Cell Scene, as the newly self-christened Pretender, now alone, announces his plan to bring Boris down. In the next scene, at an inn on the Lithuanian border, literally all of the Pretender's vocal utterances will be introduced by some variant of the tsarevich theme, except when he tries to sing over the strains of Varlaam's diegetic song. (Example 4 shows one manifestation of the tsarevich motif in the Inn Scene, where the stage direction indicates that the Pretender is “lost in thought” and the orchestra specifies exactly to what those thoughts pertain.) Everything in him, to paraphrase Nechaev's image of the ideal revolutionary, becomes absorbed in this one musical and dramatic idea. The Pretender's Pushkinian capacity for spontaneous reinvention is nowhere to be found; this is hardly a fellow whose cause “comes and goes,” as Emerson says of Pushkin's. Rather than an opportunist, Musorgsky has given us an obsessive. This personality transplant has a profound effect on the relationship between Boris and the Pretender: the two antagonists become doubles of each other, not opposites. Boris had, after all, at one time also been an upstart whose bid for power involved questionable means. Not for nothing did Boris Godunov follow so quickly upon the publication of Crime and Punishment, for the Pretender and Boris seem to illustrate the two halves of Dostoevsky's title, the two main stages of Raskolnikov's moral development. The Pretender, obsessed with his big idea, contemplates the crime; Boris, immobilized by his guilty conscience, experiences the punishment.

Example 4

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 2 (Inn Scene), mm. 99–103

Varlaam takes notice of Grigory, who sits at the table, lost in thought.

Example 4

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 2 (Inn Scene), mm. 99–103

Varlaam takes notice of Grigory, who sits at the table, lost in thought.

The Pretender's legendary charisma, too, is in curiously short supply. The Inn Scene shows him painfully aloof, occupied wholly with his plan. When his traveling companions, Varlaam and Missail, imbibe at the inn, the Pretender fastidiously abstains, prompting jeers from the vagabond monks (“When I drink, I don't like sober people. It's one thing to be drunk, and another to be stuck-up”).55 After a rousing recital of Ivan the Terrible's terrible deeds in Kazan, Varlaam sinks drunkenly to the floor, singing a Russian folksong with a leaden tongue. The Pretender takes no notice, but instead approaches the innkeeper to ask for directions to Lithuania, whence he hopes to escape to Poland. Having just refused the hostess's proffered wine, he here proves himself a teetotaler in the musical sense as well. He restricts his musical speech to a clipped, dry recitative, his vocal idiom contrasting sharply with the melismatic cantabile of his near-comatose companion (see Example 5). Tempted by neither song nor spirits, he remains ever preoccupied with his grand plan. And just a few measures later this ostensible pretender proves utterly incapable of pretense. His attempt to pull one over on the guards at the end of the scene, by purposely misreading a description of the criminal they seek, goes woefully, and hilariously, awry.

Example 5

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 2 (Inn Scene), mm. 250–60

Varlaam: His hat is on his head, he sticks out like a pole!

Grigory: Innkeeper! Where does that road lead?

Innkeeper: To Lithuania, sir.

Grigory: And is it far to Lithuania?

Example 5

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 1, scene 2 (Inn Scene), mm. 250–60

Varlaam: His hat is on his head, he sticks out like a pole!

Grigory: Innkeeper! Where does that road lead?

Innkeeper: To Lithuania, sir.

Grigory: And is it far to Lithuania?

There is quite a bit of Chernyshevsky's Rakhmetov to this depiction—the ascetic restraint, the dogged focus on the big idea, the literal-mindedness, the faint aroma of the ridiculous. Of course, Musorgsky could not give the Pretender a full Reform Era makeover: Pushkin, unlike the historian Kostomarov, had specified that the Pretender Dmitry and Grishka Otrepev were the same person. In personality, though, Musorgsky's Pretender has much more in common with the revolutionary heroes of contemporary literature than with Pushkin's prototype. Dobroliubov and Garnett might easily have found the same faults in Musorgsky's 1869 Grigory as they had in Turgenev's Insarov: he is indeed a figure of wood who appears unable to conceive of himself at all except in connection with his cause. As for a private life, Grigory hardly has one to speak of. Strangely for an operatic character, all of his utterances are public; left alone on stage at the end of the Cell Scene, Grigory wastes no time in an aria of private reflection, but rather issues an outwardly directed apostrophe to the title character (“Boris, Boris! Everything trembles before you!”).56 The Inn Scene, moreover, is the last we see of Grigory in the 1869 version of Boris Godunov. He slips out the window of the inn and accomplishes the transformation that had so eluded Rakhmetov: he becomes an abstract idea. All of Grigory's subsequent appearances in the opera will be disembodied, the tsarevich leitmotif acting as the only material trace of his progress. Others have proposed reasons for the Pretender's mysterious disappearance from the first version of the opera, and have disagreed mightily about the dramatic effectiveness of his physical, if not musical, absence.57 Here I will observe only that Musorgsky's choice is in keeping with many other characterizations of the Pretender during this period—recall Ilya Vinitsky's description of Dmitry as “the shade haunting all of Russian society” in the 1860s, as well as the character's conspicuous nonappearance in A. K. Tolstoi's Dramatic Trilogy. His seeming transcendence of the physical world in Musorgsky's opera might even be seen as the logical fate of a personage who, over the course of two scenes, has become less and less “human” and more and more ideal. Unwaveringly committed to an idea and impossibly slim as a character, the Pretender in Musorgsky's original version of Boris Godunov is every inch a “man of the sixties.”

Psychologically speaking, at least. The crucial element that 1869's Pretender lacked was any real connection between his personal crusade against Boris and the destiny of the nation; while becoming in one sense Rakhmetov's psychic twin, he had retained the narrow and ill-defined objectives of Pushkin's False Dmitry. Where was the narod in this Pretender's vision? Musorgsky's revision of the opera—whose scope went far beyond simply supplying the prima donna role demanded by the Imperial Theaters directorate58—would address this lacuna. One of the revision's three new scenes, entirely unprecedented in Pushkin's original play, would draw a direct link between people and Pretender. This new scene in the Kromy woods, with which the 1872 version of the opera ends, shows the Russian narod as an active historical agent that bears direct responsibility for the success of the Pretender's campaign. The Pretender exits the revised version of Boris Godunov not through a tavern window but on a wave of popular revolt against Boris and the boyars; as in the widely read contemporary writings of Nikolai Kostomarov, the people are here portrayed as an engine of historical change. We have reason to be skeptical, however, of the common Soviet argument that an increasing affinity for radical socialism lay behind Musorgsky's decision to “recast the denouement of his tragedy in keeping with the burgeoning populist tendencies,” as the composer's friend Alexandra Molas would later put it.59 Richard Taruskin, who has written extensively on Boris and historiography, argues compellingly that Musorgsky's revisions were motivated to a greater extent by aesthetic than by political concerns.60 And despite Kostomarov's famous (though probably solicited) remark that Boris Godunov represented “a page from history,”61 there were striking ways in which Musorgsky's conception of events differed from his own. In his magisterial account of the Time of Troubles, published serially from 1866, Kostomarov treated his rioting populace sympathetically, justifying their lawless brutality on the grounds of the deprivations they had so long borne.62 Musorgsky, who gave the heartless hooligans of Kromy no such apologia, would later come to regret his unflattering portrait of the Russian people in this scene. The False Dmitry behind whom Musorgsky's narod rallies is, moreover, a far cry from Kostomarov's enlightened democrat—and an even farther cry from the undeterrable “figure of wood” he had been in 1869. Between Musorgsky's two versions of Boris Godunov the Pretender would graduate from idea to individuality. The change would be to his personal benefit in none but the musical sense.

For before turning up in Kromy the Pretender goes to Poland. The most substantial change made by Musorgsky in revising Boris Godunov was the addition of an entire act relating the history of the Pretender's alliance with Marina Mnishek, a Polish princess. As before, Musorgsky is selective with the scenes he adapts; unlike the parallel passage in Pushkin's original play, the opera's “Polish Act” (act 3) gives no hint of the Pretender's political acumen, his talent for charming the powerful through canny self-invention. In addition, departing from the more literal approach he had taken in 1869, Musorgsky treats Pushkin's words quite freely, paraphrasing, omitting, and even rewriting large sections, as may be seen from the following juxtaposition of the Pretender's opening monologue in scene 2 of the Polish Act with its counterpart in Pushkin's fifteenth scene (“Night, a garden, a fountain”):

Pushkin Musorgsky 
Pretender
Here is the fountain; hither will she come.
I was not born a coward; I have seen
Death near at hand, and face to face with death
My spirit hath not blenched. A life-long dungeon
Hath threatened me, I have been close pursued,
And yet my spirit quailed not, and by boldness
I have escaped captivity. But what
Is this which now constricts my breath? What means
This overpowering tremor, or this quivering
Of tense desire? No, this is fear. All day
I have waited for this secret meeting, pondered
On all that I should say to her, how best
I might enmesh Marina's haughty mind,
Calling her queen of Moscow. But the hour
Has come—and I remember naught, I cannot
Recall the speeches I have learned by rote;
Love puts imagination to confusion—
But something there gleamed suddenly—a rustling;
Hush—no, it was the moon's deceitful light,
It was the rustling of the breeze.63  
Dmitry
At midnight … in the garden … by the fountain … Oh, wondrous voice!
You have filled my heart with such rapture! …
Will you come, my beloved?
Will you come, my light-winged dove?
Or have you forgotten your impetuous falcon,
Who yearns and slaves for you?
Assuage the hopeless torment of my heart
With sweet greetings, with tender speech.
Marina! … Marina! …64  

While Pushkin's Pretender had been supremely self-conscious at this moment, Musorgsky's enters the Polish Act in naive reverie. The tsarevich leitmotif floats in and out of the accompaniment, less insistently than before, and now more lyrical than decisive in character. The object of the Pretender's obsession, as he reveals in yet another apostrophe, appears to be shifting. On stage and alone, but this time singing quite ingenuously about his tortured heart—this is surely no Pretender we have ever encountered before in the opera. Nor is this artless fellow to be found in Pushkin. The play's Pretender recognizes that his feelings for Marina threaten his ambitions, and struggles—successfully, in the end—to keep his emotions in check. His relationship with Marina is to remain tactical, not passionate.65 Musorgsky's lovesick tenor, on the contrary, displays no such self-awareness, and does not realize the threat posed by his newly discovered feelings. Calling himself “Dmitry” when no one else can hear him, he appears to have a hazy conception of even his own identity, to say nothing of his precarious political situation. While 1869's Pretender had been unyieldingly rational, his counterpart of 1872 has learned to feel—and to forget.

Such a beginning does not bode well for the Pretender in his subsequent interactions with two powerful Poles. In the preceding scene, which centers on Marina Mnishek, Musorgsky had borrowed Glinka's trusty trick of representing Poland through the use of triple meters and stereotypical dance rhythms. The individual characters add their own distinguishing musical features (for Rangoni a slithery chromatic descent, for Marina a bold mazurka rhythm), but all of the Poles in Boris Godunov bear the aural taint of the ballroom, their rarefied musical language contrasting with the duple-metered, undanceable idiom of the Russians. Here, in the Fountain Scene, these two styles will clash sharply as the Pretender meets first with Rangoni, a scheming Jesuit of Musorgsky's timely invention, and then with Princess Marina herself. Musorgsky sets both of these conversations as musical duels, and in both cases the Pretender is quite severely outclassed. In all his lengthy discussion with Rangoni the Pretender manages to sing the tsarevich leitmotif only once—in a passage describing Marina's future glory in Moscow. And as Rangoni insinuates himself into the Pretender's confidence, so the Jesuit's heavy triplets creep their way into the Russian's vocal line. The stage is set for the Pretender's encounter with Marina—and their love duet (such as it is) will be a masterpiece of musical subterfuge.

For Marina—like Pushkin's Pretender, and unlike Musorgsky's—is a fundamentally political being. Love is of no use to her unless it can be weaponized, turned into an instrument for the acquisition of power. As we have seen, the Pretender's feelings for Marina have already begun to displace the political obsession he nursed in the Cell Scene and the Inn Scene. Marina's goal, then, is to capitalize on those feelings, rendering the Pretender a puppet who will work in the interests of Poland. At first, the two parties in this duet are polarized, musically as well as dramatically. The Pretender sings of his sleepless nights and lovesick torments in duple meters, while Marina responds with triple-metered jeers, delivered “alla polacca capriccioso.” (Example 6 shows one such exchange.) Growing desperate, the Pretender incorporates more and more triplets into his vocal line—and eventually, describing Marina as the only woman he could ever love, sings a passage in 3/4. Finally, provoked beyond all sufferance, the Pretender spurns Marina, singing the tsarevich leitmotif in a triumphant march. “When I sit as tsar,” he boasts, “… Oh, I will take such delight in laughing at you!”66 The Pretender's last stand, however, is sadly undercut by triplet figures in the accompaniment (see Example 7); his great ambitions, which have come to revolve entirely around Marina, have been hijacked by Polish rhythms. Knowing she has won, Marina makes peace in 9/8—the triplest triple meter of them all (see Example 8). The Pretender is completely taken in. As Rangoni looks on, the “lovers” sing a ravishing 9/8 duet. This reconciliation, and by extension the Pretender's entire campaign against Boris, now occurs on Polish terms. Here, Musorgsky's Pretender Dmitry becomes no smooth operator, and indeed no agent of historical change, but rather a tenor. In retrospect his defining characteristic throughout the opera becomes an unreflective passion that constantly seeks an object. The object changes, the passion does not. And this is where the operatic Pretender parts company with Karakozov, Nechaev, Insarov, and Rakhmetov: “real” feeling had been precisely the quality that all of these figures had forced themselves to do without, acting—or at least claiming to act—in the name of abstract ideals.

Example 6

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 3, scene 2 (Fountain Scene), mm. 445–51

Pretender: Don't reject my delirious love!

Marina(pushing him away with her foot): Get up, tender lover. Don't torture yourself with these vain entreaties.

Example 6

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 3, scene 2 (Fountain Scene), mm. 445–51

Pretender: Don't reject my delirious love!

Marina(pushing him away with her foot): Get up, tender lover. Don't torture yourself with these vain entreaties.

Example 7

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 3, scene 2 (Fountain Scene), mm. 481–83

Pretender: From every corner of Russia, we will fly to battle …

Example 7

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 3, scene 2 (Fountain Scene), mm. 481–83

Pretender: From every corner of Russia, we will fly to battle …

Example 8

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 3, scene 2 (Fountain Scene), mm. 509–12

Marina: Oh, tsarevich, I beg you, don't curse me for my wicked words.

Example 8

Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, act 3, scene 2 (Fountain Scene), mm. 509–12

Marina: Oh, tsarevich, I beg you, don't curse me for my wicked words.

What are we to make of the distance between the versions of Boris Godunov—of the Pretender's transformation from figure of wood to figure of flesh, from robust idea to impotent individuality? If, as Richard Taruskin has argued, Musorgsky's 1872 revision of the opera took the narod from Karamzinian passivity to Kostomarovian agency, the Pretender of 1872 seems to have made that same trip in reverse. Outwardly, the airhead in a white plume who appears briefly in the final scene at Kromy is very much the Pretender of Official Historiography: a naive tool of Polish scheming rather than a conscious and committed “man of the sixties.” Attempting to discern a coherent and unambiguous political message in Boris Godunov (and perhaps in any other opera) is probably a fool's errand. It is tempting, however, to see behind the Pretender's renovation a rather Dostoevskian thought: that reason alone makes meager sustenance for human beings; that feelings, real and irrational, may yet guide us, even (and especially) when we have convinced ourselves that we are immune to their influence. Those feelings, for the Pretender, cause a loss of political efficacy—but also, undeniably, a gain in musicality. The luxurious melodies of the Fountain Scene could never have issued from the mouth of the coldly rational Pretender of 1869, as, indeed, they could not have issued from an Insarov or a Rakhmetov. Often unsatisfying in literature, such committed idea-people are all but unviable in opera, which makes stronger demands for a lyrical “I.” Perhaps there is a reason why Russian opera never really produced a “new person,” despite the figure's ubiquity in contemporary life and literature. Abstract ideals, after all, are not so easily sung.

Reverberations

As revolutionary violence surged in the 1870s and 1880s the psychology of political criminals retained its fascination for Russian artists. During this time the painter Ilia Repin, who as a twenty-two-year-old art student had sketched a striking portrait of Karakozov (see Figure 1),67 embarked on a series of canvases featuring young revolutionaries (two examples of which may be seen in Figures 2 and 3). Common to these works is a strong central focus, with particular attention devoted to the details of the subjects’ heads—the conspicuous eyes, the defiant expressions, and especially the unruly red hair, a characteristic Pushkin had also assigned to his Pretender Dmitry. Repin's historical paintings of the period also took a violent, psychologically inflected turn. Among his most renowned canvases is Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581, which depicts the very event that precipitated the Time of Troubles: Ivan IV's murder of his son and heir (see Figure 4). By including the date in the title of this arresting historical canvas Repin implicitly linked the act of violence depicted with a contemporary trauma: the successful assassination of Alexander II by terrorists, and the public execution of those terrorists, three hundred years after the event pictured. Repin elaborated on this link in an interview of 1913: “The idea of painting the picture, a tragic episode in the life of Ivan IV, first came to me when I was in Moscow in 1882. A kind of bloody streak ran through that year; my feelings were overloaded with the horrors of contemporary life. … It was natural to look for a way out of those horrors in history.”68 Twenty years after Karakozov's shot the impulse to find Russia's bloody past within its bloody present remained as compelling as ever.

Figure 1

Ilia Repin, D. V. Karakozov (1866)

Figure 1

Ilia Repin, D. V. Karakozov (1866)

Figure 2

Ilia Repin, Arrest of a Propagandist (1880–92). Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow. Used by permission.

Figure 2

Ilia Repin, Arrest of a Propagandist (1880–92). Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow. Used by permission.

Figure 3

Ilia Repin, A Revolutionary Meeting (Skhodka) (1883). Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow. Used by permission.

Figure 3

Ilia Repin, A Revolutionary Meeting (Skhodka) (1883). Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow. Used by permission.

Figure 4

Ilia Repin, Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581 (1885). Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow. Used by permission.

Figure 4

Ilia Repin, Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581 (1885). Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow. Used by permission.

Dostoevsky, who died four weeks before Alexander's assassination—and six before Musorgsky's death from alcoholism—would undergo an evolution in his views on political revolutionaries toward the end of his life. While he had portrayed the radical ringleaders of Demons as cynical and opportunistic egomaniacs, in 1880 he wrote, apropos of a terrorist bombing of the Winter Palace, “The young Russian energies, alas, so sincerely deluding themselves, have at last fallen under the power of dark, underground forces, under the power of enemies of the Russian land and consequently all Christendom.”69 For those familiar with the two most common English renderings of “Besy,” the title of Dostoevsky's novel of 1872, this shift might appear especially appropriate: the Stavrogins of the world had gone from “Demons” to “The Possessed.” And in the last month of his life Dostoevsky apparently told his editor Aleksei Suvorin that in the projected sequel to The Brothers Karamazov “my pure Alyosha will kill the tsar.”70 Had Dostoevsky lived to write this work the youngest Karamazov brother would have gone from religious novice to tsar-killer—thus tracing precisely the path trodden by the Pretender Dmitry.

As for 1872's Boris Godunov, it may present the most pessimistic take of all when it comes to the power of a revolutionary to influence history. Or, for that matter, the power of an individual to influence anything: while Marina masterfully manipulates the Pretender, she does so as an agent of the Jesuit Rangoni, who in turn acts on behalf of forces much broader and more diffuse. One might find in this work shades of the historical philosophy that animates the later Khovanshchina—in which, as Richard Taruskin writes, “personal volition is everywhere set at nought; in which everyone plots and strives and everyone loses.”71 In Boris Godunov political violence is ever ineffectual and misguided, little more than the “überall Wahn” so famously bemoaned by Hans Sachs. Boris Godunov thus vitiates Karakozov's central conjecture: that “a new step”72 would be required in order to usher in a new world. The “steps” are irrelevant, Musorgsky seems to say, for the world can never be made new. Means and ends both voided, all that remains is the existential lament of the holy fool: “Weep, weep, Russian people, hungry people.”73 Like Ratmir in Ruslan and Liudmila's enchanted garden, and like Prince Igor's Vladimir on the Polovtsian steppe, the Pretender goes to Poland and forgets his quest; his agency is negated by music. His one consolation, like theirs, is that the music is glorious.

Notes

Notes
Thanks are due to Richard Taruskin, James Davies, Luba Golburt, and the anonymous reviewers of this Journal for their detailed and insightful comments. Thanks also to Anna Berman and Julie Buckler, my thoughtful copanelists at the 2013 meeting of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages, where I presented an early version of this article. Russian words and names in bibliographical citations have been transliterated according to a simplified Library of Congress System. The composers’ names “Musorgsky” and “Chaikovsky” are spelled in accordance with modern American scholarly practice. Pre-revolutionary Cyrillic quotations in the notes are given in modern orthography. Translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.
1.
“Ты Поляк?” This anecdote was first printed in “Korrespondentsii iz Peterburga,” 3.
2.
See Verhoeven, Odd Man Karakozov.
3.
Mikhail Katkov, editor of Moskovskie vedomosti, the most widely circulating newspaper in Russia, was a dependable source of these rumors. He had made the unlikely link between Polish Jesuitism and Russian nihilism (a homegrown and decidedly atheistic phenomenon) as early as 1862. Reviewing Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, Katkov wrote that a nihilist's “only needs are for total self-control and the prudent use of his means toward the goal of denial. … In this regard he is in complete agreement with the Jesuit fathers and fully accepts their famous rule, the end justifies any means”: Katkov, “O nashem nigilizme,” 409 (“Ему нужна только полная самоуверенность и умение пользоваться всеми средствами для целей отрицания. … Он в этом отношении совершенно согласен с отцами иезуитами, и вполне принимает их знаменитое правило, что цель освящает всякие средства”). From here it was no great leap for the daily newspaper Peterburgskiĭ listok to declare on August 20, 1866, “Karakozov is … one of the members of a circle … whose basic teaching was fixed by the Jesuit dogma, ‘the end justifies the means’”: Peterburgskiĭ listok 120 (August 20, 1866), quoted in Verhoeven, Odd Man Karakozov, 53. See also, more generally, ibid., 42–53.
4.
“The novel of that criminal [Chernyshevsky],” opined the Supreme Criminal Court, “had the most destructive influence on [Karakozov and his associates], inspired absurd antisocial ideas, and, finally, invited them to take as a maxim, the end justifies the means”: quoted in Verhoeven, Odd Man Karakozov, 40 (Verhoeven's emphasis). Verhoeven's chapter “The Real Rakhmetov” provides an account and an analysis of Chernyshevsky references in contemporary coverage of the Karakozov case.
5.
Boris Gasparov demonstrates that the Time of Troubles has often served as an apt point of reference during times of violent change in Russia: Gasparov, Poeticheskiĭ iazyk Pushkina, 82–84. To cite one such reference from the period under consideration, in 1874 the popular writer Vsevolod Krestovsky explicitly linked contemporary Russia to its restive past in a pair of antinihilist novels, which together he called A Bloody Nonsense: A Chronicle of the New Time of Troubles in the Russian State.
6.
Letter to A. and M. Chaikovsky of April 7 (19), 1866, in Tchaikovsky, Life and Letters, 74.
7.
Fortuitously enough, Komissarov, like Ivan Susanin, had been born a peasant in Kostroma; when Komissarov was rewarded with elevation to the nobility, the suffix “Kostromskoi” was added to his surname in acknowledgment of the provenance he shared with his seventeenth-century counterpart. The rather romantic official account of Komissarov's role in this affair has always attracted skepticism, not least from Karakozov himself, who maintained that he had been distracted by the shout of a guard. For more on the reception of Glinka's opera in 1866, as well as the “new Susanin” Osip Komissarov-Kostromskoi himself, see Verhoeven, Odd Man Karakozov, 66–84, and Maiorova, From the Shadow of Empire, 122–26.
8.
Maiorova, “Tsarevich-samozvanets,” 228: “Выстрел Каракозова довел аналогии со Смутным временем до апогея и вывел их из области политической риторики в сферу публичного действа. … Оппозиция царьсамозванец актуализовалась, мифологическая схема ‘проступила’ в реальном опыте и оказалась инструментом структурирования культурного пространства.”
9.
The literature on Russian pretendership is vast. For accounts of the origins of this phenomenon, see Perrie, Pretenders and Popular Monarchism, and Dunning, Russia's First Civil War. On the cultural significance of pretenders in Russia, see Uspensky, “Tsar and Pretender”; Chistov, Russkie narodnye sotsial'no-utopicheskie legendy, pt. 1, 24–236; and Maiorova, “Tsarevich-samozvanets.”
10.
Emerson, “Pretenders to History,” 257. See also Uspensky, “Tsar and Pretender.”
11.
Chistov, Russkie narodnye sotsial'no-utopicheskie legendy, pt. 1, 24–236.
12.
Mordovtsev, “Odin iz lzhe-Konstantinov,” 4: “К таким приемам, которые составляют как бы историческую черту в русском народе, принадлежит самозванство, к коему русский народ прибегал во все смутные или тяжелые эпохи своего исторического существования. Явление это, редко замечаемое у других народов, объясняется особым складом нашей государственной жизни, при котором протест существующему порядку или нестерпимому злу мог исходить из народа не от имени этого самого народа … но от имени другой силы. … Оттого всякий раз, когда народ протестовал, он как бы не имел своего знамени, а шел за знаменем силы. … В XVII веке он шел за знаменем убитого царевича и его именем требовал признания своих прав.”
13.
The Karakozov case was, in fact, the very first to be tried after the judicial reforms, though the high stakes and unprecedented nature of the case led to an uneven and sometimes sloppy implementation of the new standards. Verhoeven writes that “terrorism virtually emerged from the Russian autocracy's mishandling of April 4, 1866”: Verhoeven, Odd Man Karakozov, 10. See also her chapter “From the Files of the Karakozov Case: The Virtual Birth of Terrorism.”
14.
Gertsen, “Pis'ma k puteshestvenniku,” 368: “Император … совместит в себе царя и Стеньку Разина.”
15.
This policy—whose slogan “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality” was a deliberate rebuttal to “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”—was the official doctrine of Nikolai's government from 1833 to 1855.
16.
Quoted in Budnitskiĭ, Istoriia terrorizma v Rossii, 32: “Грустно, тяжко мне стало, что … погибает мой любимый народ, и вот я решил уничтожить царя-злодея и самому умереть за свой любезный народ. Удастся мне мой замысел, — я умру с мыслью, что смертью своею принес пользу дорогому моему другу — русскому мужику. А не удастся, так все же я верую, что найдутся люди, которые пойдут по моему пути. Мне не удалось — им удастся. Для них смерть моя будет примером и вдохновит их. Пусть узнает русский народ своего главного могучего врага — будь он Александр второй или Александр третий и так далее, это все равно. Справится народ со своим главным врагом, остальные мелкие — помещики, вельможи, чиновники и другие богатеи струсят, потому что число их вовсе незначительно. Тогда-то и будет настоящая воля.” The original document can be found in the Gosudarstvennyĭ Arkhiv Rossiskoĭ Federatsii (Moscow), f. 95, op. 1, d. 163 T. 1.
17.
Vera Figner, probably the most famous conspirator in the plot against Alexander II, was the eldest of six siblings, among whom four—the women—were active in the revolutionary movement. Her younger brother Nikolai chose a decidedly less dramatic career: he was the Mariinsky's star tenor during the 1890s, creating such roles as Germann in Chaikovsky's The Queen of Spades.
18.
Sergei Kovalik (1846–1926), who spent ten years in hard labor for his antitsarist activities, wrote that in the 1870s “some young people were keen on the idea of pretendership, and thought that if a new Pugachev [a pretender of the eighteenth century and the subject of two works by Pushkin] appeared in the capacity of pretender-tsar the social foundations of Russia could be changed by several decrees. … Dreams sometimes take the form of practical plans, and so one circle even named the person who could play the role of the Pretender”: Starik (Sergei Kovalik), “Dvizhenie 70-kh godov,” installment of December 1906, 80–81 (“Некоторая часть молодежи увлекалась идеей самозванства и думала, что если-бы явился новый Пугачев в качестве самозванного царя, то социальный строй России можно было бы изменить несколькими указами. … Мечтания принимали иногда вид практических планов, так, в одном кружке намечали даже личность, которая могла бы разыграть роль самозванца”).
19.
For a reception history of the Pretender Dmitry in Russia, see Dunning, “Who Was Tsar Dmitrii?”
20.
“Sovremennaia russkaia drama,” 237: “Дмитрий Самозванец и вообще время самозванцев составляет любимый и самый избитый сюжет наших драматургов.”
21.
Alexander Serov briefly contemplated an opera on this subject in 1866 (the year in which the drama was published), but wrote to O. Novikova that, while brilliant, Ostrovsky's play was not made for music; see Gozenpud, Russkiĭ opernyĭ teatr, 248.
22.
Letter to B. M. Markevich of January 2, 1870, in Tolstoĭ, Sobranie sochineniĭ, 4:339–40: “им уж слишком много занимались, он мне кажется чем-то вроде Мария.” The trilogy of plays in question consisted of The Death of Ivan the Terrible (1866), Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich (1868), and Tsar Boris (1870).
23.
Epstein Matveyev and Emerson, “Constructing True Identities,” 11.
24.
Vinitsky, Ghostly Paradoxes, 50.
25.
Epstein Matveyev and Emerson, “Constructing True Identities,” 32.
26.
Vinitsky, Ghostly Paradoxes, 50.
27.
“Fundamental to [On the Eve],” he wrote to the journalist Ivan Aksakov, “is the idea that consciously heroic natures are indispensable … if we are to move forward”: letter to I. S. Aksakov, November 13 (25), 1859, in Turgenev, Polnoe sobranie sochineniĭ, 4:110 (“В основание моей повести положена мысль о необходимости сознательно-героических натур … для того, чтобы дело подвинулось вперед,” emphasis Turgenev's). While Turgenev sympathized with the radical cause to some extent, he belonged to an older generation—the liberal “men of the forties,” represented as the “fathers” of Fathers and Sons—and neither condoned the radicals’ methods nor fully shared their aims. The forward progress he sought was incremental, not instantaneous, and its endpoint was not a socialist utopia but an educated, democratic, humane Russia whose values accorded with European norms. Turgenev's beliefs were routinely attacked from both the left and the right. For more on Turgenev's politics, see Isaiah Berlin's famous essay “Fathers and Children.”
28.
“Strictly speaking,” writes Dobroliubov, “there is nothing exceptional in Insarov. Bersenev and Shubin, and Elena herself, and finally even the author of the work characterize him with ever more negative features. He never lies, he never goes back on his word, he never borrows money. … He does not think to put his personal welfare in conflict with his life's aim. … He cannot conceive of himself at all except in connection with his homeland”: Dobroliubov, “Kogda zhe pridët nastoiashchiĭ den’?,” 218–19 (“В Инсарове, строго говоря, нет ничего чрезвычайного. Берсенев и Шубин, и сама Елена, и, наконец, даже автор повести характеризуют его всe более отрицательными качествами. Он никогда не лжет, не изменяет своему слову, не берет взаймы денег. … Он не думает ставить свое личное благо в противоположность с своей жизненной целью. … Он никак не может понять себя отдельно от родины”).
29.
Turgenev, On the Eve, ix–x.
30.
Turgenev, Fathers and Sons, 38.
31.
Ibid.
32.
Ibid., 84.
33.
For Chernyshevsky, as for the Soviets, the term “positive” in relation to literary characters denoted both agency and virtue, and a “positive hero” was one whose characteristics should be adopted in real life; see Mathewson, Positive Hero. Chernyshevsky disliked the title “nihilism” for his movement, as he found it too negative.
34.
For a history of the ascetic as a Russian literary type, see Morris, Saints and Revolutionaries.
35.
Chernyshevskiĭ, What Is to Be Done?, 290.
36.
Andrew Drozd makes this argument forcefully: “Rakhmetov's ascetic philosophy, as striking as it may be, is clearly at odds with the views of the author himself and with the attitude expressed throughout the remainder of the novel. … As such, Rakhmetov is not Chernyshevskii's contribution to Russian literature's search for a positive hero. Rather, his chosen path, with all its self-imposed deprivations, is precisely what is not to be done”: Drozd, Chernyshevskii's “What Is to Be Done?,” 140. This is further than I would go, considering the number of times Chernyshevsky describes Rakhmetov as being of a “higher nature” than the other characters.
37.
Chernyshevskiĭ, What Is to Be Done?, 212.
38.
Gertsen, “Eshche raz Bazarov,” 273n: “Странная вещь — это взаимодействие людей на книгу и книги на людей. Книга берет весь склад из того общества, в котором возникает, обобщает его, делает более наглядным и резким, и вслед за тем бывает обойдена реальностью. Оригиналы делают шаржу своих резко оттененных портретов, и действительные лица вживаются в свои литературные тени. … Русские молодые люди, приезжавшие после 1862, почти все были из ‘Что делать?,’ с прибавлением нескольких базаровских черт.” Kropotkin too recalled that “for the Russian youth of the times [What Is to Be Done?] was a revelation, and it became a programme. … No novel of Turguéneff and no writings of Tolstóy or any other writer have ever had such a wide and deep influence upon Russian Society as this novel had”: Kropotkin, Ideals and Realities, 280–81.
39.
Quoted in Verhoeven, Odd Man Karakozov, 40.
40.
The ringleader himself had conveniently decamped to Zurich before the arrests of his associates, and would not stand trial for his role in the so-called “Nechaev affair” until 1872. For a history of this event and a biography of Nechaev, see Pomper, Sergei Nechaev.
41.
Nechaev, “Katekhizis revoliutsionera,” 244–45: “Революционер — человек обреченный. У него нет ни своих интересов, ни дел, ни чувств, ни привязанностей, ни собственности, ни даже имени. Все в нем поглощено единственным исключительным интересом, единою мыслю, единою страстью — революцией. … Природа настоящего революционера исключает всякий романтизм, всякую чувствительность, восторженность и увлечение. Она исключает даже личную ненависть и мщение. Революционерная страсть, став в нем обыденностью, ежеминутностью, должна соединиться с холодным расчетом. Всегда и везде он должен быть не то, к чему его побуждают влечения личные, а то, что предписывает ему общий интерес революции.”
42.
Ibid., 248: “Сплотить этот мир в одну непобедимую, всесокрушающую силу — вот вся наша организация, конспирация, задача.”
43.
In this, the far left and the far right begin to converge, for the sort of undifferentiated groupthink Nechaev imagined would prevail in his revolutionary cells was also prized by conservative Slavophiles in their image of the Russian peasant commune. As the Slavophile critic Konstantin Aksakov wrote, “The commune is a union of people who have renounced their egoism, their own personality. … A commune thus represents a moral choir, and just as in a choir each voice is not lost but, following the general pattern, is heard in harmony with all the voices, so in a commune is an individual not lost but, renouncing his exclusiveness in favor of a general accord, attains his highest, most sublime form, in accord with equally self-sacrificing individuals … each individual is heard, not alone, but in harmony with others, and this represents the noble phenomenon of a harmonious existence of rational beings (consciousness); this represents brotherhood. The commune is a triumph of the human spirit”: Aksakov, “Kratkiĭ istoricheskiĭ ocherk,” 279–80 (“Община есть союз людей, отказывающихся от своего эгоизма, от личности своей. … Община представляет таким образом нравственный хор, и как в хоре не теряется голос, но, подчиняясь общему строю, слышится в согласии всех голосов: так и в общине не теряется личность, но, отказываясь от своей исключительности для согласия общего, она находит себя в высшем очищенном виде, в согласии равномерно самоотверженных личностей … каждая личность слышна, но не одиноко, а согласно — и предстает высокое явление дружного совокупного бытия разумных существ (сознаний); предстает братство, община — торжество духа человеческого”). One might also see in this shades of the ideal society proposed by Ivan Karamazov's Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov (1881). For more information, see Watters, “Peasant and the Village Commune,” and Horujy, “Slavophiles, Westernizers.”
44.
Several scholars have argued that the novel and its reception absorbed the impact of Karakozov's bullet. Joseph Frank writes that “this shattering event [of April 4] increased the impact made by Dostoevsky's portrayal of the crime committed by his ex-student, and certainly affected the mood in which the final sections of the book were composed”: Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 42. Claudia Verhoeven, too, asserts that the Karakozov trial, which concentrated so intensely on the defendant's aberrant mental state, “rendered intelligible the possible connection between illness, ideologically inspired crime, and revolutionary politics” that likewise distinguishes the mindset of Dostoevsky's own murderer-with-a-cause: Verhoeven, Odd Man Karakozov, 100. At the very least, these “psychological means of defense,” as Porfiry Petrovich calls them in Crime and Punishment, prove as ineffective in Raskolnikov's case as in Karakozov's: Dostoevskiĭ, Crime and Punishment, 348.
45.
Dostoevskiĭ, Crime and Punishment, 415, 419.
46.
See, for example, Grigorev's letter to M. P. Pogodin of September 17 and 28, 1860: “At least they [the editors of Russkiĭ vestnik] are honest people, not Tushino thieves. … I cannot write in Sovremennik, for that is the center of the Tushinites”: Grigor'ev, Pis'ma, 233, letter 242 (“По крайней мере они — отрицательно-честные люди, не тушинские воры. … Я не могу писать в ‘Современнике,’ ибо тут центр тушинцев”). The term “Tushinites,” used in reference to radicals in general and the editors of Sovremennik in particular, appears throughout Grigorev's correspondence of the time.
47.
Weiner, By Authors Possessed, 109–14. Weiner discusses the similarities between Dostoevsky's narrator, G-v, and the chronicler Pimen from Pushkin's Boris Godunov, and also those between Dostoevsky's Stavrogin and Pushkin's Pretender. He notes, too, the appearance of such Pushkinian phrases as “the people are silent” (Boris Godunov's famous final stage direction) in the text of Demons. Harriet Murav also discusses the Stavrogin-Pretender connection in Demons: Murav, Holy Foolishness, 103–5.
48.
The names of Nechaev and Karakozov are scattered throughout Dostoevsky's notebooks for Demons, appearing both as real-life figures and as fictionalized versions of themselves; see Dostoevskiĭ, Notebooks for “The Possessed,” 94, 137, 142, 349.
49.
Dostoevskiĭ, Besy, 180–81: “Слушайте вы: читали вы про Гришку Отрепьева, что на семи соборах был проклят?”; “Гриш-ка От-репь-ев а-на-фе-ма!”
50.
Ibid., 272–73:— Ну-с, и начнется смута! Раскачка такая пойдет, какой еще мир не видал … Ну-с, тут-то мы и пустим … Кого?— Кого?— Ивана-Царевича.— Кого-о?— Ивана-Царевича; вас, вас!Ставрогин подумал с минуту.— Самозванца? — вдруг спросил он, в глубоком удивлении смотря на исступленного. — Э! так вот наконец ваш план.
51.
Emerson, Boris Godunov, 101–2.
52.
Of the other characters, only Boris's role is irreducible to a single musical tag; see Asaf'ev, “Boris Godunov.” For a thorough analysis of the dramatic significance of the tsarevich theme throughout the opera, see Taruskin, “Musorgsky vs. Musorgsky.”
53.
Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, 57: “Все тот же сон! … Неотвязный, проклятый сон.”
54.
While modern performances of Boris Godunov typically include this section of Pimen's monologue, Musorgsky removed it when revising the vocal score for publication in 1874. (At the suggestion of the conductor Eduard Nápravník the entire Cell Scene was cut for the Mariinsky premiere of the opera later that year.) In the 1874 edition of the vocal score the first appearance of the tsarevich leitmotif occurs at Pimen's words “He would have been your age—and reigning!”: ibid., 77 (“Он был бы твой ровесник, и царствовал!”). The music examples in this article are taken from Musorgsky, Boris Godunov.
55.
Ibid., 100: “Когда я пью, так трезвых не люблю; Ино дело пьянство, ино дело чванство.”
56.
Ibid., 80: “Борис, Борис! Все пред тобой трепещет!” Here Grigory appears as the mirror image of the guilty tsar, who cannot help slipping into “private” speech even in a crowd.
57.
Taruskin summarizes these debates in “Musorgsky vs. Musorgsky,” 237–43.
58.
For a thorough account of these revisions, see Taruskin, “Musorgsky vs. Musorgsky.”
59.
Quoted in Taruskin, Musorgsky, 198.
60.
See, most recently, Taruskin, “Crowd, Mob, and Nation.”
61.
See Orlova, Musorgsky's Days and Works, 361.
62.
For example, Kostomarov's account of the people's cruel behavior toward those loyal to Boris reads as follows: “The mob, long-suffering and long-abased, rejoiced in this day, consoling themselves at the expense of the rich and famous, and paying them back for their former abasement. Even those who had not been on Godunov's side suffered at that time, for it was enough that they were rich; and the general looting and drunkenness continued until the night, when everyone slept like the dead”: Kostomarov, “Smutnoe vremia Moskovskogo gosudarstva,” 4:128 (“Чернь, долго и много терпевшая, долго униженная, радовалась этому дню, чтоб потешиться над зватными и богатыми, отплатить им за прежнее унижение. Потерпели тогда и такие, что вовсе не были сторонниками Годуновых, за то единственно, что были богаты; и всеобщий грабеж и пьянство продолжались до ночи, когда все заснуло мертвецки”).
63.
Pushkin, Borís Godunóv, 67–68.
64.
Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, 256–58: “В полночь … в саду … у фонтана … О, голос дивный! Какой отрадой ты мне наполнил сердце! … Придешь ли ты, желанная, Придешь ли, голубка моя, легкокрылая. Аль не вспомянешь ты буйного сокола, Что по тебе грустит, Надрывается. Приветом ласковым, речью нежною Ты утоли муку сердца безысходную. Марина! … Марина! …”
65.
Even more telling than the Pretender's first speech, perhaps, is his last in Pushkin's scene, which Musorgsky conspicuously omits. The Pretender here describes Marina as the most formidable of his political adversaries, and ends with a boast that even she has not managed to derail his plans:
No—easier far to strive with Godunóv,
Or play false with the Jesuits of the Court,
Than with a woman. Deuce take them; they're beyond
My power. She twists, and coils, and crawls, slips out
Of hand, she hisses, threatens, bites. Ah, serpent!
Serpent! 'Twas not for nothing that I trembled.
She well-nigh ruined me; but I'm resolved;
At daybreak I will put my troops in motion.
Pushkin, Borís Godunóv, 78.
66.
Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, 299: “Но, когда царем я сяду … О, с каким восторгом я насмеюсь над тобой.”
67.
Figure 1 is reproduced from Verhoeven, Odd Man Karakozov, 153. In his memoirs Repin described Karakozov's execution in terms worthy of a Russian novelist: “Karakozov was already rising smoothly, shaking on the rope; his head, cinched about the neck, looked not quite like a doll's, and not quite like a Circassian's in a hood. Soon his legs started to buckle convulsively—they were in grey trousers. I turned into the crowd and was very surprised that all the people appeared in a green fog … My head swimming, I grabbed for [my friend] Murashko, and almost jumped back at the sight of his face—it was uncannily frightening in its expression of suffering; at once he seemed to me like another Karakozov. Oh God! The same eyes, only his nose was shorter”: Repin, Dalëkoe-blizkoe, 204 (“Каракозов плавно уже подымался, качаясь на веревке, голова его, перетянутая у шеи, казалась не то кукольной фигуркой, не то черкесом в башлыке. Скоро он начал конвульсивно сгибать ноги — они были в серых брюках. Я отвернулся на толпу и очень был удивлен, что все люди были в зеленом тумане … У меня закружилась голова, я схватился за Мурашко и чуть не отскочил от его лица — оно было поразительно страшно своим выражением страдания; вдруг он мне показался вторым Каракозовым. Боже! Его глаза, только нос был короче”).
68.
“Beseda s Il'ei Repinoi,” Russkoe slovo, January 17, 1913, quoted in Liaskovskaia, Il'ia Efimovich Repin, 187–88: “Впервые пришла мне в голову мысль писать картину — трагический эпизод из жизни Иоанна IV — уже в 1882 г. в Москве. Какая-то кровавая полоса прошла через этот год, чувства были перегружены ужасами современности. … Естественно было искать выхода наболевшему в истории.”
69.
Quoted in Frank, Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 481 (Frank's emphasis).
70.
Quoted ibid., 727. Suvorin also recalled that in Dostoevsky's plans Aliosha Karamazov would “pass through the monastery and become a revolutionary. He would commit a political crime. He would be executed. He would have searched for truth, and in these searches, naturally, he would have become a revolutionary”: ibid., 484. For more on the projected sequel to The Brothers Karamazov, as well as the debates surrounding Dostoevsky's attitude toward revolutionary violence at the end of his life, see Rice, “Dostoevsky's Endgame.”
71.
Taruskin, Musorgsky, 324.
72.
This term is Dostoevsky's (from Dostoevskiĭ, Crime and Punishment, 4); Karakozov tended to refer to acts of political violence as “decisive facts” or “factual propaganda.”
73.
Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, 419: “плачь, плачь, русский люд, голодный люд!”

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