Catherine the Great Criticism - Essay

Joan Haslip

K. Waliszewski (essay date 1894)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Waliszewski, K. “Literary and Artistic Tastes,” and “Catherine and Education.” In The Romance of an Empress: Catherine II of Russia, pp. 330-52; 361-70. New York: D. Appelton and Company, 1894.

[In the excerpts below, Waliszewski discusses Catherine's personal and intellectual relationship with the philosophers of the European Enlightenment, particularly Voltaire, but also Diderot, Rousseau, and others. Waliszewski is dismissive of Catherine, characterizing her writings as merely political tools, and calling into question her discernment, her principles, and her intelligence.]

LITERARY AND ARTISTIC TASTES

I

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(The entire section is 8931 words.)

Grigorii A. Gukovskii (essay date 1947)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Gukovskii, Grigorii A. “The Empress as Writer.” In Catherine the Great: A Profile, edited by Marc Raeff, pp. 64-89. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

[In this essay, first published in Russian in 1947, Gukovskii focuses on Catherine's literary works, particularly her dramas. Gukovskii stresses Catherine's conservatism and didacticism, suggesting that her aptitude for creative writing was minimal and that her understanding of Russian history and culture was superficial at best. For Gukovskii, the sole value of Catherine's literary output rests in the political stature of the author.]

Catherine was an active writer for about a quarter of a century, and an...

(The entire section is 8543 words.)

Joan Haslip (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Haslip, Joan. “‘Les Philosophes.’” In Catherine the Great, pp. 160-69. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977.

[In the following excerpt, Haslip focuses on Catherine's relationship with Voltaire, noting that Catherine's correspondence with him and other French philosophers demonstrates the challenges she faced in negotiating between her Western-influenced ideals and the traditions of Russia.]

Catherine's correspondence with Voltaire, a man thirty-five years her senior, the doyen of the philosophes and the most widely read writer in Europe, was inspired by a mixture of hero-worship, expediency and a passionate desire for fame. Voltaire was a name...

(The entire section is 3640 words.)

Vincent Cronin (essay date 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Cronin, Vincent. “The Literary Scene.” In Catherine: Empress of All the Russias, pp. 222-34. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1978.

[In the excerpt below, Cronin provides an overview of Catherine's literary career, relating her works to events in both her private and public life, and tracing her influence on other authors.]

The improvements in government, growing prosperity and a sense of security which began to make themselves felt by the middle of Catherine's reign had their counterparts in intellectual and artistic achievements. A new spirit of confident experiment stirred, nowhere more strikingly than in literature. Almost all genres of fiction and...

(The entire section is 5755 words.)

John T. Alexander (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Alexander, John T. “Crisis Renewed: The Volga Voyage and the Legislative Commission.” In Catherine the Great: Life and Legend, pp. 97-120. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

[In this excerpt from his biography of Catherine the Great, generally considered the scholarly standard, Alexander provides the historical and political contexts for the production and reception of Catherine's Nakaz. For Alexander, the Nakaz reflects both Catherine's idealism and her naivete about Russian politics.]

By the mid-1760s Catherine felt more securely in power than during the nervous first years of her reign. She obviously loved ruling, reveled in being the...

(The entire section is 12855 words.)

W. Gareth Jones (essay date 1998)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Jones, W. Gareth. “The Spirit of the Nakaz: Catherine II's Literary Debt to Montesquieu.” Slavonic and East European Review 76, No. 4 (1998): 655-71.

[In this essay, Jones considers the influence of Montesquieu's L'Esprit des lois on Catherine's instructions to the legislature, the Nakaz. Jones notes Catherine's direct appropriations from the French philosopher's writings as well as similarities in prose style. More broadly, Jones argues that the widely read Nakaz was part of a long-term Enlightenment trend distinguishing true “literature” from other forms of writing.]

On 14 December 1766 Catherine the Great issued a...

(The entire section is 6230 words.)

Marcus C. Levitt (essay date 1998)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Levitt, Marcus C. “An Antidote to Nervous Juice: Catherine the Great's Debate With Chappe d'Auteroche over Russian Culture.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, 32, No. 1 (Fall 1998): 49-63.

[In this essay, Levitt examines Catherine's Antidote, her response to Chappe d'Auteroche's attack on Russian culture in his Voyage en Sibérie. Levitt argues that although the work is flawed by ad hominem attacks on Chappe, the Antidote's defense of the Russian people and Russian literature reflects both Catherine's desire to push her country forward through cultural transformation and the complicated status of Russia in the European Enlightenment.]

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(The entire section is 8078 words.)

Kevin J. McKenna (essay date 1998)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McKenna, Kevin J. “Proverbs and the Empress: The Role of Russian Proverbs in Catherine the Great's All Sorts and Sundries.” In Proverbs and Russian Literature: From Catherine the Great to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, pp. 25-41. Burlington: University of Vermont Press, 1998.

[In this essay, McKenna cites Catherine's facility with employing Russian proverbs as an aspect of her light satirical style in her Spectator-influenced journal Vsiakaia vsiachina.]

One of the many proverbs cited in Vladimir Dal's Proverbs of the Russian People notes that “An ancient proverb is not used for nothing.”1 The seemingly vague wisdom of this...

(The entire section is 7225 words.)

Lurana Donnels O'Malley (essay date 1999)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: O'Malley, Lurana Donnels. “From Fat Falstaff to Francophile Fop: Russian Nationalism in Catherine the Great's Merry Wives.Comparative Drama 33, No. 3 (Fall 1999): 365-89.

[In the essay below, O'Malley demonstrates how Catherine appropriated English comedy to create plays that advanced the cause of Russian nationalism. Focusing on This 'tis to Have Linen and Buck-Baskets, Catherine's adaptation of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, O'Malley suggests that by paring down the plot and avoiding Shakespearean-style references to local events and places, Catherine created a more universal comedy that could better serve its didactic function.]

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(The entire section is 9240 words.)