Timofei Nikolaevich Granovskii Critical Essays


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Timofei Nikolaevich Granovskii 1813–1855

Russian historian.

Granovskii was one of the most renowned and complex intellectuals of 1840s Russia, an era often referred to as the Remarkable Decade, as it encompassed the first flowering of the intelligentsia during the reign of Nicholas I. Granovskii's approach to history as an instrument of enlightenment broadened the scope of the discipline into such arenas as the political and social constitution of Europe. With his liberal humanist stance and keen interest in Western European history and law, Granovskii provided a moderate view of the ideological conflicts of his time, and his influence on Russian and Soviet historians remains unparalleled.

Biographical Information

Granovskii was born on March 9, 1813, in Orël to a wealthy family. His childhood schooling was erratic; he studied with various foreign tutors, becoming fluent in English and French, and read extensively, particularly literature and history. In 1826 Granovskii entered a Moscow boarding school, where he developed an interest in poetry. He was also, even at a young age, intensely attentive to moral character. These attributes, combined with Granovskii's weak health, have led many biographers, including Patricia Reynolds Roosevelt, to represent his early life as imbued with romanticism. After a short period in Moscow, Granovskii spent the remainder of his adolescence at his parents' home, ending his early formal education. His intellectual life was now restricted to a small group of tutors and writers. At the age of eighteen he entered the civil service in St. Petersburg, where he lived with relatives. Already he was distinguished from his colleagues as an intellectual, even though his schooling had been brief, and as a Westernizer for his love of European literature. In 1831-32 he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a translator, but by the spring of 1832 decided to enter the recently established University of St. Petersburg. Granovskii's mother—who had cultivated his sense of moral virtue and his religious faith—had recently died, and Granovskii suffered his first major episode of depression, which would continue to plague him throughout his life. His family's wealth considerably dissipated by his father's gambling and spending habits, Granovskii was forced to live in some poverty through his university years. In September of 1832 he entered the Faculty of Law, where he encountered rigid and repetitive teaching and instead derived intellectual stimulation outside of the classroom, in his own reading and discussion with other students. Around this time he began to read not only romantic literature but also history, especially Augustin Thierry, the French romantic historian. Gradually Granovskii joined the circle of the intelligentsia in St. Petersburg, where he met Yanuarii M. Neverov, Mikhail Bakunin, Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinski, and Nikolai Stankevich. In 1836 Granovskii was sent to Germany for graduate study at state expense. His three years abroad amplified his affinity for Western culture and enhanced his intellectual foundation in history; he studied with Leopold von Ranke and Friedrich von Savigny, among others. His study in Berlin also provided him with a "cosmopolitan veneer," in Roosevelt's words, that considerably aided his professorial success. Upon his return, Granovskii embarked on a career as a professor of history at Moscow University, the most prestigious of Russian institutions, where he increasingly used historical scholarship as "a medium for the enlightenment of Russia," according to Derek Offord. His early interest in literature and poetry remained strong, and he was particularly interested in history as a form of art. His enthusiasm and command of the language contributed to his growing popularity as a lecturer, and in 1843-44 he delivered a series of public lectures that were attended by a wide spectrum of Muscovites and became the most famous of Granovskii's contributions to the development of the intelligentsia and public discussion of political and philosophical issues. In 1841 he married Elizaveta Bogdanovna Mülhausen, a young Russian who embodied Granovskii's conservative social ideal: religious and devoted, she also fulfilled Granovskii's need for a morally virtuous confidant. Political problems within the university and ill health dampened Granovskii's success, and his own views on the Slavophile-Westemizer controversy, the role of state authority, and spirituality cost him some of his closest intellectual ties. In the early 1850s he despaired of the decline of the intellectual life that had flourished in Russia during the previous decade. In October, 1855 he died, succumbing to a weakness in his chest that dated from childhood and had been aggravated during his time in Berlin.

Major Works

Granovskii's most extended work is in the form of lectures, which survive primarily in the form of students' notes. In these lectures, he treated history not only as a retelling of the past, but also as lessons for enlightenment. This approach to history was therefore intimately entangled with the moral, political, and social issues of the day; Granovskii's views came to be regarded as dangerous to the authoritarian government of tsarist Russia, although he was never officially reprimanded. He was particularly interested in individuals in history, including Peter I and Charlemagne, which reflects both his early romantic/militaristic ideals and his study of Georg Wilhelm Hegel. Granovskii is commonly characterized as a Westernizer, but his views were moderate in comparison to those Westernizers who opposed themselves to the emergent Slavophile movement. Suspicious of fanaticism of any variety, Granovskii negotiated a middle ground between these two extremes: although he was firmly convinced of the need for individual freedom, he also believed that the tsarist state could support rather than hinder the fulfillment of this ideal. His lectures demonstrate a pronounced humanism, which denounced the injustice of despotism and rigid class lines, but he opposed radical political activism and social reform. He also emphasized the need for education, including the study of Western literature and history. Granovskii's rejection of the Slavophile position derived from his impatience with the glorified image of Russia's past; however, he remained convinced of the importance of Christianity for its mitigation of state authority with moral standards. He was passionately interested in nobility of character and brought this interest to bear not only on his scholarship, but in his relationships with students and other members of the intelligentsia. Late in his life he began to work on a textbook of history—he had for many years criticized the available textbooks at the university—that would model a "scientific" approach, a study that would "extract eternal laws from known, already completed phenomena," in his own words from an 1850 proposal for the textbook. The textbook remained incomplete—only the introduction, the chapter on Chinese history, and drafts of chapters on ancient history had been written by the time of Granovskii's death. Granovskii's letters reflect the quality of his personal relationships with leading Russian intellectuals of the day as well as his more intimate correspondence with family members. These documents display his command of political and philosophical ideas, his adeptness with language, and his increasing discouragement with the political and intellectual climate in Russia. His moderation, as well as his ability to apply Western philosophy of history to Russian society and politics, are also strongly evident in his work.

Critical Reception

During his lifetime Granovskii was revered as a lecturer by his students and remained in the thick of intellectual discussions in Moscow. His moderate views distanced him from Slavophiles, such as Kireyevsky, and ardent Westernizers, such as Aleksandr Herzen and Belinski; as the university came under scrutiny from the monarchy, Granovskii's liberalism eroded his popularity. Since his death, his political position and scholarship have been variously characterized by Russian, Soviet, and Western historians. Yet he is perhaps most commonly considered to embody the ideal of the noble intellectual, morally serious and politically engaged. Many scholars consider him to manifest the sometimes contradictory aspects of the intelligentsia of the 1840s, a period of transition for Russia particularly and a time of great political upheaval in Europe generally. Fedor Dostoevsky, himself leaning toward conservative Slavophilism, explicitly used Granovskii as a model for his character Verkhovensky, a rationalist liberal and Westerner, in The Possessed (1872). This critical portrait, skeptical of the seeming nobility of the intellectual, has influenced subsequent interpretations of Granovskii. Roosevelt has claimed that Granovskii's legacy lies in his ability to bring history to bear on present debates and in his liberal philosophy of history, not easily categorized under any major methodology. A major figure of the Remarkable Decade, Granovskii has become, as Martin Katz has argued, "an intellectual hero of radicals and liberals alike," and a seminal scholar in Russian historiography.