Статья 'Как отличить пьяного от голодного? (К интерпретации стихотворения Н.А. Некрасова «Филантроп»)' - журнал 'Litera' - NotaBene.ru
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How to distinguish drunk from hungry? (To the interpretation of N.A. Nekrasov's poem "Philanthropist")

Vei Sin'i

PhD in Philology

Postgraduate student, Department of the History of Russian Literature of the XIX Century, Faculty of Philology, Lomonosov Moscow State University.

518100, Kitai, spetsial'nyi raion, g. Shen'chzhen', ul. Tsin'syue, Raion Nan'shan', Tszin'lun, kv. C— 503,

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Abstract: N.A. Nekrasov's poem "The Philanthropist" (1853) remains poorly studied. Soviet literary critics paid attention primarily to the dating of the work, the prototype of its character, and the creation of a real commentary on the text. Speaking about the content of the text, researchers (both Soviet and generally post-Soviet) see the poem as a satire either on the famous writer, educator and philanthropist Prince V.F. Odoevsky, or on philanthropy, charity in general. Such an understanding of the author's idea seems superficial and incorrect, based on a priori ideas about Nekrasov's "revolutionary" views. This article proposes a new reading of the poem as describing the impossibility for a person to go beyond the class relations that permeate the entire social life of Russia in the 19th century. The comparative-historical approach, methods of generalization, interpretation were used in the study. At the same time, as the analysis given in the article shows, the very idea of charity is not questioned or denounced by Nekrasov. The conclusions of the article are confirmed by comparing the poem "Philanthropist" with the works of N.V. Gogol ("Overcoat") and F.M. Dostoevsky ("Poor People"), in which there are episodes close to the central "scene" of "Philanthropist". This comparison allows us to show in particular how original Nekrasov interprets the plot, which has become almost "archetypal" for Russian literature of the mid-19th century: the collision of a "little man" with an angry "important person".


Nekrasov, Philanthropist, soviet non - racial studies, satire, interpretation, charity, the bureaucratic system, humane attitude, human, hierarchy

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

The poem "Philanthropist" (1853) attracted the attention of non-racial scholars mainly of the "Soviet period". Among the most prominent scientists who made important comments about this work or dedicated a separate work to it, it is necessary to name K. I. Chukovsky[1], B.Ya. Bukhshtaba[2], M.M. Gin[3], A.M. Garkavi[4].  At the same time, central attention was paid to the establishment of the correct main text of the work, the establishment of the prototype of the title character, the real context of the poem (in particular, the connection between Nekrasov and the "Society of Visiting the Poor"). At the same time, practically no attention was paid to the actual "reading" of the text, its interpretation: the meaning, apparently, seemed simple and unambiguous, the poem was seen as a denunciation of "liberal philanthropists" and philanthropy as such, as presumably something deliberately false and artificial, allowing the ruling classes to turn a blind eye to genuine social problems and ways to solve them[2]. Such an understanding, as we will show in our work, is extremely inaccurate, based on a priori ideological ideas about Nekrasov as a "revolutionary poet" [5].

Unfortunately, in the post-Soviet period, there was practically nothing opposed to these interpretations of the "Philanthropist". The poem practically did not attract the attention of either non-racial scholars or specialists in Russian literature of the second half as a whole. Thus, in a recent monograph by M.S. Makeev, the "Philanthropist" is spoken very fluently and in essence repeats the idea of the "skepticism" reflected in him regarding Russian charity [6: 193-194]. The monographs of V.I. Melnik [7] and G.Y. Filipovsky [8] "Philanthropist", which are of significant importance for modern non-racial studies, are attracted to consideration "episodically". Little attention is paid to this text in the recent dissertation for the degree of Candidate of Philological Sciences "The ideological and artistic concept of righteousness in the poetry of N.A. Nekrasov" by T.A. Zhitova [9]. The poem in S.N. Makarova's dissertation "The Ideal of Man in N.A. Nekrasov's lyrics in the light of the Orthodox tradition" is also briefly considered [10]. Like Nekrasov's work in general, this poem practically does not attract foreign researchers. Perhaps the only exception is the monograph dedicated to the great Russian poet by the Swiss researcher Annette Luisier, however, little attention is paid to the Philanthropist in this book, and the author generally relies on the ideas of Soviet literary critics [11].

Thus, the poem "Philanthropist", despite the dramatic change in the scientific paradigm, despite the ongoing revision of the understanding of Nekrasov's views on society and man (see, for example, the block of articles dedicated to the 200th anniversary in the journal "Russian Literature" [12],[13] and [14]), remains read "in the Soviet way." This is the reason for the relevance of this work, the task of which is to offer a reading of the text that would be most adequate to the author's idea and would not be based on a priori ideological ideas about the poet's work. This reading ultimately aims to make a feasible contribution to the beginning revision of ideas about Nekrasov's public views, his position on benevolence and public education.

At the same time, we accept the idea, which has become almost axiomatic for modern literary criticism, of the inevitability of the presence of a subjective beginning in any reading of any text (see: [15]), however, we rely in our analysis on the works of such literary theorists who, on the one hand, recognize that the meaning of the text is realized only in its reading and therefore it depends on a kind of "co-creation" of the reader, on the other hand, they show that this co-creation itself is not absolute arbitrariness, but is limited to elements immanently inherent in the text itself. Stanley Fish [16] and Michel Riffaterre [17] undoubtedly belong to such theorists. It is the Riffaterian concept of the autoreference of the text, which allows a competent reader to identify significant elements of the text and thereby verify their intuitions that arise when reading it (accepting true and discarding erroneous, arbitrary ones - see also [18]) that is the basis of the methodology of this work. The poem "Philanthropist" is quoted according to the latest most authoritative edition of the work of N.A. Nekrasov [19].

There is no doubt that any reading of "Philanthropist" cannot fail to take into account, not to proceed from the fact that before us "satire" is an accusatory poem. It is also clear that the object of the accusation is the title character. However, it is not so easy to understand what the main character is accused of. Let's start with the fact that whoever served as the prototype of the title character (V.F. Odoevsky, as most Nekrasov scholars believe, or V.I. Dahl, as Nekrasov himself claimed), this character is obviously different from a real landowner or bureaucrat, indifferent to the fate of the people (compare him, for example, with the "gentleman" from the poem "The Forgotten village" or the nobleman from "Reflections at the front door"). He, being a major official and a rich man, is really engaged in educational activities, publishing books as popular science:

About public education,

Competing, General

In the popular presentation

He wrote eight volumes.

Sold in large quantities

They are cheaper than a nickel,

Talk some sense into electricity

In them, trying to man ...

and of an edifying and moralizing nature:

Preaching patience to us,

How Socrates is eloquent.


(Nekrasov himself will soon take quite a sympathetic part in educational activities [20]). The benefits brought by this activity are beyond doubt neither by the author nor by the narrator (although the reader can also hear the irony in its description: does a peasant need to know about electricity). The "philanthropist", unlike other satirical characters of Nekrasov's poetry, accepts the poor man and is ready to listen to him. The narrator himself speaks unintelligibly and incoherently and causes reasonable suspicion that he appeared drunk. The incident thus resembles rather an incident in which almost the petitioner himself is to blame: he could not get together, prepare, clearly and briefly state the essence of his request. The only thing, it seems, that the narrator can reproach "his excellency" with is that he cannot distinguish "hungry from drunk." This reproach, however, does not look very clear: why is it necessary to be able to distinguish a drunk from a hungry one?

Researchers usually overlook another important nuance, important for understanding the poem. The fact is that from what the retired official tells about "his excellency", it does not follow in any way that the general is engaged in some kind of practical charity. And, judging by the speech prepared, but not spoken, the narrator addresses the general not as a philanthropist and philanthropist (he is not going to ask him for material assistance), but precisely as a "general" who has power, perhaps able to rehabilitate him and restore him to service:

...I'm woe-weeping,

I work for two,

But not with a cup — with your book

I strengthen a weak spirit,


In fact, a retired official is not looking for "charity", but patronage, patronage from an important person, that is, he acts in a bureaucratic way, similar to those that he himself had previously neglected.

Having taken all this into account, we can return to the "incident" itself. His archetypal character, so to speak, catches the eye. It can be said, therefore, that the collision of the narrator and his excellency is in fact not an episode of the relationship between a philanthropist and a poor man seeking help from him, but quite a traditional and typical scene for the bureaucratic bureaucratic world of a subordinate's appeal to his superiors. The episode goes back to the situation of a meeting between an important boss and a poor official ("little man"), which is common in Russian literature. It is easy to recall, first of all, N.V. Gogol's novel "The Overcoat", which was present in Nekrasov's mind when creating "Philanthropist"[1]. Here we see the chief, the general, scolding the poor official in order to show his friend how strict he is and how everyone is afraid of him. The situation resembles (and perhaps goes back to it) also the famous episode from the well-known Nekrasov (he was actually the one who first saw the talent of his author) of the novel by F.M. Dostoevsky "Poor People", in which Makar Devushkin, thanks to a torn button, made a strong and touching impression on his excellency and instead of punishment he received a hundred rubles from a boss touched by his position [2]. Dostoevsky (we will by no means pretend to an exhaustive interpretation of this most complex episode here) describes a very important change in the mood of the authorities, or, more precisely, in the way they treat a minor official: from the bureaucratic to the human. It is important that in both works the reaction of the authorities arises in a situation, so to speak, of the silence of the subordinate. Neither Bashmachkin nor Makar Devushkin are able to say anything in their defense, both because of their tongue-tied and timidity. The authorities themselves decide, according to the appearance of a minor official, their mood, their general inclination, how to behave in this situation: pardon or roughly "chastise".

In Nekrasov's poem we see as if "an intermediate case between the "Overcoat" and "Poor People". The narrator, addressing the general as a bearer of power, and because he is a bearer of power due to his high position on the service ladder, in this particular case hopes to enter into a relationship that goes beyond simple bureaucratic ones. Obviously, the general himself gave him such a right with his writings, in which human dignity is placed above position in society and rank, and "commitment to good" is affirmed:

As if conversing with equals,

He is courteous to beggars too...

The main character decides to turn to the "philanthropist", having heard about him and his activities, having read some of the books (he not only knows their contents, but they have served him as a moral support in his misfortune, one can say they inspire him). Being an "atypical official" himself, he saw "his Excellency" as an "atypical general". A person who has achieved high ranks and great influence, but has not lost a sense of equality with humanity, a person for whom honesty and justice matter more than rank and the presence of awards. It can be said that in the general the narrator saw the triumph of his principles, hostile to bureaucratic bureaucracy, but corresponding to high moral, Christian requirements.

At the same time, the official himself, it seems, could not stand such a title of just a person, was not ready to be with the count as an equal. He was frightened, no doubt, by the arrival of such a significant person:

Here comes his Excellency,—

I'm scared; I'm almost alive;

I fell into a stupid confusion

And I forgot all my speech.

He rubbed both his forehead and the bridge of his nose,

He squinted at the ceiling,

Mumbled only nonsense,

And about the case — no aza!

The philanthropist general behaves, of course, not like a similar character in "Overcoat". For him, the hierarchical position of the interlocutor is clearly not the only criterion determining the modality of his behavior. He does not act as a tyrant, basing his attitude to his neighbor on rank and position. However, he does not rise to the level of Dostoevsky's hero. As in "Poor People", a minor official does not give his superiors a chance to hear himself, his explanations. Dostoevsky, however, shows that the "wordlessness" of a subordinate is not necessarily an absolute obstacle to understanding for a humane boss. The appearance of Makar allows you to see in him not a negligent drinking official who deserves punishment, but a "poor man". Little is said about the appearance of the narrator in "Philanthropist" - it is only said that he, going to the general, "cleaned his uniform", therefore, appeared in a rather decent form, not in practically rags, like Devushkin. That's why the general couldn't identify the poor man by his clothes. However, the despair itself, which could not fail to manifest itself in gestures, in tears and, even if incoherent, but obviously touching words of the visitor, could become a revelation for him, the key to the true position of the person who came to him.

The Nekrasov general, however, did not see this situation. This is precisely the meaning of the reproach, this is the defect of the general's vision, which is meant in the verses "And hungry from drunk / They don't know how to distinguish...". It's not that the general doesn't have some special "knack" required by a real philanthropist to distinguish the hungry from the drunk (obviously, this is often easy to do). The problem is that he does not love and does not know a person, a human heart, and in a difficult, unclear situation that requires a close and loving, initially sympathetic and accepting look, he prefers to simplify it by reducing it to the easiest: it is easier to see a person's vice and his own guilt than innocent suffering.

Let's draw conclusions from what has been said. Our reading allows us to show that the poem "Philanthropist" is not a satire on the educational activities of the ruling classes, especially on charity as such. Such a reading of the work, canonized in Soviet literary criticism, leads away from the true author's intention. In fact, in his work Nekrasov poses a much broader and more important problem of the inability of even an obviously kind person to go beyond formal relations between people. In "Philanthropist" one must first of all see the exposure of the terrible power of such relations, which has subjugated the entire Russian society from top to bottom.


First Peer Review

Peer reviewers' evaluations remain confidential and are not disclosed to the public. Only external reviews, authorized for publication by the article's author(s), are made public. Typically, these final reviews are conducted after the manuscript's revision. Adhering to our double-blind review policy, the reviewer's identity is kept confidential.
The list of publisher reviewers can be found here.

The article submitted for consideration is "How to distinguish a drunk from a hungry one? (To the interpretation of N. A. Nekrasov's poem "The Philanthropist")", proposed for publication in the magazine "Litera", is undoubtedly relevant, in view of the consideration of the work of one of the famous Russian writers of the 19th century N. A. Nekrasov and the interpretation of one of his poems. The study violates generally accepted scientific approaches, namely the structure of the work, which traditionally consists of an introduction containing a statement of the problem, which is missing from the reviewed article. In this connection, the question arises about the methodology used by the esteemed author, the goals and objectives of the research. Due to unclear tasks, it is impossible to analyze the final part of the study, which traditionally contains conclusions that, in fact, are virtually absent. In the main part, which traditionally begins with a review of theoretical sources and scientific directions, it can be noted that several surnames are given. However, the author does not delve into the history of the issue under study, as it is unclear from the text of the article: 1) how widely the problem of the issue has been studied, 2) what scientific gap has been identified, and what problem is being solved within the framework of the peer-reviewed work. We believe that strengthening the introductory part from the point of view of studying history, the bibliography of the article contains 9 sources, among which exclusively domestic works are presented. The lack of references to the research of foreign philologists in national languages does not allow the work to be included in the global scientific paradigm, creating artificial isolation. The disadvantages of the bibliographic list include the lack of references to fundamental works, which include PhD and doctoral dissertations on the subject under consideration. A greater number of references to authoritative works, such as monographs, doctoral and/or PhD dissertations on related topics, which could strengthen the theoretical component of the work in line with the national scientific school. Quoting the works of the last century seems strange. A fair question arises: 1) is this topic so unpopular among researchers that philologists have not paid attention to it over the past 50-70 years, or 2) does the author rely on research from the Soviet period without having access to modern sources (which is strange in the era of the comprehensive Internet)? It should be noted that not only the poor quality of the bibliographic list, but its inattentive design raise questions. So, source 2 contains a spelling error. In addition, two cited works are placed in source 2 at once. Source 1 and source 8 are the same job, source 2 and source 9 are the same job. Source 5 "This point of view is most fully formulated in the article by B.Ya. Bukhshtaba" is not a book at all, but a footnote? An author's remark? Given the errors and errors in the formation of the list of references, the references in the text of the work are not relevant and cannot be verified. The article will undoubtedly be useful to a wide range of people, philologists, undergraduates and graduate students of specialized universities after significant revision, expansion of the list of cited works, clarification and reconciliation of references, as well as strengthening the theoretical part, which as such is missing. The article "How to distinguish drunk from hungry? (To the interpretation of N. A. Nekrasov's poem "The Philanthropist")"recommended for substantial revision and re-review.

Second Peer Review

Peer reviewers' evaluations remain confidential and are not disclosed to the public. Only external reviews, authorized for publication by the article's author(s), are made public. Typically, these final reviews are conducted after the manuscript's revision. Adhering to our double-blind review policy, the reviewer's identity is kept confidential.
The list of publisher reviewers can be found here.

The author of the article aims to give a new interpretation of Nekrasov's poem "Philanthropist", as it still "remains read "in the Soviet way". The stated goal has been achieved. The article is a deep, interesting and even innovative analysis of the poem "Philanthropist". The work organically and in a balanced way combines a review of scientific literature and original author's observations, taking into account existing points of view. The main results of this study are: 1. The genre of "Philanthropist" has been rethought: it has been convincingly proved that the poem is not a social satire, but a poetic novella, which reveals "the problem of the inability of even an obviously kind person to go beyond formal relations between people." 2. The contexts have been clarified: both real-historical (the problem of prototypes is touched upon) and literary (the situation of the poem correlates with Gogol's novel "The Overcoat" and Dostoevsky's novel "Poor People"), thereby Nekrasov's poem acquired dialogical potential, began to be perceived both as a reaction to a specific life phenomenon, but also as a replica in a creative dialogue with Gogol and Dostoevsky. 3. The author reveals the archetypal nature of the situation, reveals how Nekrasov interprets the typical scene of a subordinate addressing his superiors. The author is attentive to the details, the nuances of the characters' behavior, their speech behavior (the silence of the subordinate heroes is emphasized). Against this background, Nekrasov's uniqueness in the interpretation of the famous plot becomes obvious. It is worth noting that the article is easy and even fascinating to read, while it consistently maintains a scientific style. Thus, this research is relevant and will be in demand in the university and school educational process, when publishing and commenting on Nekrasov's works. The article "How to distinguish drunk from hungry? (To the interpretation of N.A. Nekrasov's poem "The Philanthropist") "it is recommended for publication after correcting some typos. In the sentence "Like Nekrasov's work in general, this poem practically does not attract enthusiastic researchers ..." in the word "foreign". In the sentence "... the monograph of the Swiss researcher Annette Luisier, however, little attention is paid to the Philanthropist in this book..." two corrections need to be made. In the sentence "... and it would not be based on a priori ideological ideas about the poet's work", the word "representations" is required. In the sentence "Philanthropist", unlike other satirical characters..." the preposition "unlike" is incorrectly written. It is necessary to slightly correct the sentence "In fact, as if the general himself gave him such a right by his writings, putting a person above everything, by his commitment to goodness, and not to orders and ranks..." In the sentence "... an atypical general, similar to how he himself is an atypical official..." it is better to write "like". And in general, this fragment needs to be corrected – the introductory word "so to speak" occurs twice in two sentences, which in the first case is not separated by a second comma. Links 9 and 10 should be drawn up correctly – the title of the dissertations should not be put in quotation marks. These corrections are of a technical nature. Comments of the editor-in-chief dated 30.05.2022: " The author has fully taken into account the comments of the reviewers and corrected the article. The revised article is recommended for publication"
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