Vissarion Belinsky

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Vissarion Belinsky
Vissarion Belinsky by K Gorbunov 1843.jpg
V. Belinsky, lithograph by Kirill Gorbunov
BornVissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky
(1811-06-11)June 11, 1811
Sveaborg, Grand Duchy of Finland
DiedJune 7, 1848(1848-06-07) (aged 36)
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
OccupationEditor of Sovremennik , and Otechestvennye Zapiski
Literary movement Westernizers
Russian Schellingianism [1]
A bust of Belinsky Vissarion Belinsky Bust.jpg
A bust of Belinsky
A 1957 Vissarion Belinsky Soviet postage stamp The Soviet Union 1957 CPA 1973 stamp (Vissarion Belinsky (after Kirill Gorbunov) and Titles of Literary Works).jpg
A 1957 Vissarion Belinsky Soviet postage stamp

Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky (Russian :Виссарион Григорьевич Белинский [note 1] , tr. Vissarión Grigórʹyevich Belínskiy,IPA:  [vʲɪsərʲɪˈon grʲɪˈgorʲjɪvʲɪtɕ bʲɪˈlʲinskʲɪj] ; June 11 [ O.S. May 30] 1811June 7 [ O.S. May 26] 1848) was a Russian literary critic of Westernizing tendency. [2] Belinsky played one of the key roles in the career of poet and publisher Nikolay Nekrasov and his popular magazine Sovremennik . He was the most influential of the Westernizers, especially among the younger generation. He worked primarily as a literary critic, because that area was less heavily censored than political pamphlets. He agreed with Slavophiles that society had precedence over individualism, but he insisted the society had to allow the expression of individual ideas and rights. He strongly opposed Slavophiles on the role of Orthodoxy, which he considered a retrograde force. He emphasized reason and knowledge, and attacked autocracy and theocracy. [3]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, minorities in the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Romanization of Russian Romanization of the Russian alphabet

Romanization of Russian is the process of transliterating the Russian language from the Cyrillic script into the Latin script.

Old Style and New Style dates 16th-century changes in calendar conventions

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.



Born in Sveaborg (now part of Helsinki), Vissarion Belinsky lived in the town of Chembar (now Belinsky in Belinsky District of Penza Oblast) and in Penza, where he studied in gymnazia (18251829). In 18291832 he was a student of Moscow University. In Moscow he published his first famous articles.

Helsinki Capital city in Uusimaa, Finland

Helsinki is the capital and most populous city of Finland. Located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, it is the seat of the region of Uusimaa in southern Finland, and has a population of 650,058. The city's urban area has a population of 1,268,296, making it by far the most populous urban area in Finland as well as the country's most important center for politics, education, finance, culture, and research. Helsinki is located 80 kilometres (50 mi) north of Tallinn, Estonia, 400 km (250 mi) east of Stockholm, Sweden, and 300 km (190 mi) west of Saint Petersburg, Russia. It has close historical ties with these three cities.

Belinsky, Penza Oblast Town in Penza Oblast, Russia

Belinsky is a town and the administrative center of Belinsky District in Penza Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Bolshoy and Maly Chembar Rivers, 129 kilometers (80 mi) west of Penza, the administrative center of the oblast. Population: 8,565 (2010 Census); 8,837 (2002 Census); 9,028 (1989 Census).

Belinsky District District in Penza Oblast, Russia

Belinsky District is an administrative and municipal district (raion), one of the twenty-seven in Penza Oblast, Russia. It is located in the west of the oblast. The area of the district is 2,124 square kilometers (820 sq mi). Its administrative center is the town of Belinsky. Population: 28,881 ; 33,569 (2002 Census); 38,997 (1989 Census). The population of the administrative center accounts for 29.7% of the district's total population.

In 1839 Belinsky went to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he became a respected critic and editor of two major literary magazines: Otechestvennye Zapiski ("Notes of the Fatherland"), and Sovremennik ("The Contemporary"). In both magazines Belinsky worked with younger Nikolay Nekrasov.

Saint Petersburg Federal city in the Northwestern federal district, Russia

Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject.

Literary magazine periodical devoted to literature

A literary magazine is a periodical devoted to literature in a broad sense. Literary magazines usually publish short stories, poetry, and essays, along with literary criticism, book reviews, biographical profiles of authors, interviews and letters. Literary magazines are often called literary journals, or little magazines, terms intended to contrast them with larger, commercial magazines.

<i>Otechestvennye Zapiski</i>

Otechestvennye Zapiski was a Russian literary magazine published in Saint Petersburg on a monthly basis between 1818 and 1884. The journal served liberal-minded readers, known as the intelligentsia. Such major novels as Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov (1859) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Adolescent (1875) made their first appearance in Otechestvennye Zapiski.

He was unlike most of the other Russian intellectuals of the 1830s and 1840s. The son of a rural medical doctor, he was not a wealthy aristocrat. The fact that Belinsky was relatively underprivileged meant, among other effects, that he was mainly self-educated; this was partly due to being expelled from Moscow University for political activity. But it was less for his philosophical skill that Belinsky was admired and more for emotional commitment and fervor. “For me, to think, to feel, to understand and to suffer are one and the same thing,” he liked to say. This was, of course, true to the Romantic ideal, to the beliefs that real understanding comes not only from mere thinking (reason), but also from intuitive insight. This combination of thinking and feeling pervaded Belinsky’s life.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.

Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, establishing and verifying facts, applying logic, and adapting or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics and art, and is normally considered to be a distinguishing ability possessed by humans. Reason, or an aspect of it, is sometimes referred to as rationality.

Ideologically, Belinsky shared, but with exceptional intellectual and moral passion, the central value of most of Westernizer intelligentsia: the notion of the individual self, a person (lichnost’(личность)), that which makes people human, and gives them dignity and rights. With this idea in hand (which he arrived at through a complex intellectual struggle) faced the world around him armed to do battle. He took on much conventional philosophical thinking among educated Russians, including the dry and abstract philosophizing of the German idealists and their Russian followers. In his words, “What is it to me that the Universal exists when the individual personality [lichnost’] is suffering.” Or: “The fate of the individual, of the person, is more important than the fate of the whole world.” Also upon this principle, Belinsky constructed an extensive critique of the world around him (especially the Russian one). He bitterly criticized autocracy and serfdom (as “trampling upon everything that is even remotely human and noble”) but also poverty, prostitution, drunkenness, bureaucratic coldness, and cruelty toward the less powerful (including women).

Westernizers were a group of 19th-century intellectuals who believed that Russia's development depended upon the adoption of Western European technology and liberal government. In their view, western ideas such as industrialisation needed to be implemented throughout Russia to make it a more successful country. In Russian the term was known as zapadnichestvo (зáпадничество), which can be translated as "westernism", and its adherents were known as the zapadniki, westernists in English.

The intelligentsia is a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labours that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society. As a status class, the intelligentsia includes artists, teachers and academics, writers, journalists, and the literary hommes de lettres.

Dignity is the right of a person to be valued and respected for their own sake, and to be treated ethically. It is of significance in morality, ethics, law and politics as an extension of the Enlightenment-era concepts of inherent, inalienable rights. The term may also be used to describe personal conduct, as in "behaving with dignity".

Belinsky worked most of his short life as a literary critic. His writings on literature were inseparable from these moral judgments. Belinsky believed that the only realm of freedom in the repressive reign of Nicholas I was through the written word. What Belinsky required most of a work of literature was “truth.” This meant not only a probing portrayal of real life (he hated works of mere fantasy, or escape, or aestheticism), but also commitment to “true” ideas — the correct moral stance (above all this meant a concern for the dignity of individual people): As he told Nikolai Gogol (in a famous letter) the public “is always ready to forgive a writer for a bad book [i.e. aesthetically bad], but never for a pernicious one [ideologically and morally bad].” Belinsky viewed Gogol's recent book, Correspondence with Friends, as pernicious because it renounced the need to “awaken in the people a sense of their human dignity, trampled down in the mud and the filth for so many centuries.”

Nicholas I of Russia Emperor of Russia

Nicholas I reigned as Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855. He was also the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Finland. He has become best known as a political conservative whose reign was marked by geographical expansion, repression of dissent, economic stagnation, poor administrative policies, a corrupt bureaucracy, and frequent wars that culminated in Russia's defeat in the Crimean War of 1853–56. Nicholas had a happy marriage that produced a large family; all of their seven children survived childhood. His biographer Nicholas V. Riasanovsky says that Nicholas displayed determination, singleness of purpose, and an iron will, along with a powerful sense of duty and a dedication to very hard work. He saw himself as a soldier—a junior officer totally consumed by spit and polish. A handsome man, he was highly nervous and aggressive. Trained as an engineer, he was a stickler for minute detail. In his public persona, says Riasanovsky, "Nicholas I came to represent autocracy personified: infinitely majestic, determined and powerful, hard as stone, and relentless as fate." He was the younger brother of his predecessor, Alexander I. Nicholas inherited his brother's throne despite the failed Decembrist revolt against him and went on to become the most reactionary of all Russian leaders.

Nikolai Gogol Ukrainian writer

Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol was a Russian dramatist of Ukrainian origin.

Fyodor Dostoevsky read aloud at several public events Belinsky's letter, which called for the end of serfdom. A secret press was assembled to print and distribute Belinsky's letter. For these offenses Dostoevsky was arrested, convicted and condemned to death in 1849, a sentence later commuted to 4 years incarceration in the prison camps of Siberia. [4]

In his role as perhaps the most influential liberal critic and ideologist of his day, Belinsky advocated literature that was socially conscious. He hailed Fyodor Dostoyevsky's first novel, Poor Folk (1845), however, Dostoevsky soon thereafter broke with Belinsky. [5]

Inspired by these ideas, which led to thinking about radical changes in society’s organization, Belinsky began to call himself a socialist starting in 1841. Among his last great efforts were his move to join Nikolay Nekrasov in the popular magazine The Contemporary (also known as "Sovremennik"), where the two critics established the new literary center of St. Petersburg and Russia. At that time Belinsky published his Literary Review for the Year 1847.

In 1848, shortly before his death, Belinsky granted full rights to Nikolay Nekrasov and his magazine, The Contemporary ("Sovremennik"), to publish various articles and other material originally planned for an almanac, to be called the Leviathan.

Belinsky died of consumption on the eve of his arrest by the Tsar's police on account of his political views. In 1910, Russia celebrated the centenary of his birth with enthusiasm and appreciation.

His surname has variously been spelled Belinsky or Byelinski. His works, in twelve volumes, were first published in 18591862. Following the expiration of the copyright in 1898, several new editions appeared. The best of these is by S. Vengerov; it is supplied with profuse notes.

Belinsky early supported the work of Ivan Turgenev. The two became close friends and Turgenev fondly recalls Belinsky in his book Literary Reminiscences and Autobiographical Fragments. The British writer Isaiah Berlin has a chapter on Belinsky on his 1978 book Russian Thinkers. Here he points out some deficiencies of Belinsky's critical insight:

He was wildly erratic, and all his enthusiasm and seriousness and integrity do not make up for lapses of insight or intellectual power. He declared that Dante was not a poet; that Fenimore Cooper was the equal of Shakespeare; that Othello was the product of a barbarous age...

But further on in the same essay, Berlin remarks:

Because he was naturally responsive to everything that was living and genuine, he transformed the concept of the critic's calling in his native country. The lasting effect of his work was in altering and altering crucially and irretrievably, the moral and social outlook of the leading younger writers and thinkers of his time. He altered the quality and the tone both of the experience and of the expression of so much Russian thought and feeling that his role as a dominant social influence overshadows his attainments as a literary critic.

Berlin's book introduced Belinsky to playwright Tom Stoppard, who included Belinsky as one of the principal characters in his trilogy of plays about Russian writers and activists: The Coast of Utopia (2002)

English translations

Streets named after Belinsky

Belinsky Street and Belinsky Lane, close to Red Square in Moscow, were named after Belinsky from 1920–1994.


  1. In Belinsky's day, his name was written Виссаріонъ Григорьевичъ Бѣлинскій.

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  1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998): "Schellingianism, Russian".
  2. Leier, Mark (2006). Bakunin: The Creative Passion. Seven Stories Press. p. 68. ISBN   978-1-58322-894-4.
  3. Neil Cornwell, "Belinsky and V.F. Odoyevsky." Slavonic and East European Review 62.1 (1984): 6-24. online
  4. Frank, Joseph (1976). Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849, Volume 1. Princeton University Press. pp. 157–73. ISBN   0691062609.
  5. Fyodor Dostoevsky; translated and annotated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. (1975), written at Leningrad, Pevear, Richard; Volokhonsky, Larissa (eds.), "Commentaries on Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky", Soviet Academy of Sciences, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (published 1994), 12: 715, ISBN   0-679-42314-1

Further reading