Küsimus „vene mõjust” Friedebert Tuglase artiklis „Valeri Brjussov”. The Question of Russian Influence on Friedebert Tuglas’ article ”Valeri Brjussov”


  • Lea Pild




This article undertakes to examine a problem that has interested many Estonian scholars for at least a century and a half – the question of the role of Russian literature in the development of Estonian literature. Friedebert Tuglas, leader of the Young Estonia movement, and recognized prose writer, critic, and literary historian, was significantly engaged with this question. In his essay on Valeri Brjussov, published in the 9th issue of the literary magazine Looming in 1924, Tuglas presents an unusual summary of the arguments over ”Russian influence”. As indicated in the subtitle, (”On the Occasion of his Death”), Tuglas’ essay on Brjussov grew out of a talk he gave in the Tartu University main hall on the anniversary of the death of the leader of the Russian symbolists. On closer examination, however, one can see a rich texture of connections between this essay and many of Tuglas’ literary-historical and critical articles in which he engages in polemic with the opponents of Young Estonia’s aesthetic program. As we know, this polemic was not limited to the first two decades of the 20th century, but continued in the 1920s and 1930s, ”when the proponents of new realism came to criticize Young Estonia’s perspectives on art”. One of the main disputed topics was the question of literary ”influences” (”borrowings”). Many of the critics of the Young Estonians accused them of the lack of literary and cultural autonomy, and of dependence on foreign models. From the beginning of the Young Estonia, the sharpest of these polemics concerned relations with Russian literature. According to Tuglas, Young Estonia, which aligned itself first and foremost with the literature of western Europe, also sought the same ”Europeanness” in Russian modernist literature; this can be seen in Estonian literature of the decade 1905–1915. With this approach to the literary process one can interpret the question of ”Russian influence” on Young Estonia as a conscious choice, not an unconscious submission to and copying of a foreign tradition. In literary-historical terms, instead of imitation, choices were made from among a range of parallel phenomena or models. Finally, before drawing far-reaching conclusions prematurely, it should be kept in mind that the conception presented in Tuglas’ article belongs to the sphere of self-description, and does not extend to all aspects of the contacts between the Young Estonians and other ”foreign” literatures.


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