Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

During the late 1920’s, the poet Osip Emilievich Mandelstam had encountered difficulties with serious creative endeavors; for a period of about five years, he had written no verse, and it appeared possible for him to compose works only in other genres. His other accomplishments did not entirely allay concerns that his lyrical gifts had departed from him. He also had been unjustifiably accused of plagiarism by a popular journalist, who almost certainly had been motivated by political concerns. Just as Mandelstam’s literary career apparently had reached an impasse, fresh inspiration was provided by a prolonged visit, with his wife, Nadezhda, to the Caucasus Mountains between April and November, 1930. After touring Armenia and Georgia, he began anew to write poetry; subsequently while in Moscow, he composed other major poems. He also brought out a brief, if rather engaging, account of his travels, which was published in 1933; it was the last of his works to appear in print in Soviet Russia during his lifetime.

While Mandelstam had undertaken his journey with the permission and encouragement of Nikolai Bukharin, a leading Soviet official who took a lively interest in the poet’s work—and who was executed the same year that his protege died in confinement—ideological concerns did not seem important in his travel writing. During that period, it was fairly common for writers to visit far-flung parts of the Soviet Union and to produce civic-minded works based on their observations; by contrast, Mandelstam’s remarks are whimsical and often personal. Sometimes, however, he would...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Birkerts, Sven. “On Mandelstam’s Journey to Armenia,” in Pequod. XIX-XXI (1985), pp. 79-92.

Brown, Clarence. Mandelstam, 1973.

Freidin, Gregory. A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam and His Mythologies of Self-Presentation, 1987.

Harris, Jane Gary. “The ‘Latin Gerundive’ as Autobiographical Imperative: A Reading of Mandel’shtam’s Journey to Armenia,” in Slavic Review. XLV, no. 1 (1986), pp. 1-19.

Harris, Jane Gary. Osip Mandelstam, 1988.

Isenberg, Charles. Substantial Proofs of Being: Osip Mandelstam’s Literary Prose, 1987.

Pollak, Nancy. “Mandel’shtam’s Mandel’shtein, Initial Observations on the Cracking of a Slit-Eyed Nut: Or, A Couple of Chinks in the Shchell,” in Slavic Review. XLVI, nos. 3/4 (1987), pp. 450-470.