Places: The Bronze Horseman

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Medniy vsadnik, 1837 (English translation, 1899)

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Historical realism

Time of work: 1703 and 1824

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*St. Petersburg

*St. Bronze Horseman, ThePetersburg. Russian city built by Peter the Great in which the poem’s entire narrative is set. Czar Peter moved his capital to St. Petersburg in 1703 after capturing the formerly Swedish territory. His intent, in addition to claiming the conquered territory, was to create a “window to the West” and modernize Russia by providing her with a western port. Russia at that time was a deeply tradition-bound country, suspicious of western influences. Peter’s iron will clashed with entrenched societal forces such as the church, landed gentry, and peasants. Those opposing Peter the Great bristled at his total disregard for tradition and his vaunting pride–even to the point of blasphemy. A theme in Russian literature is that St. Petersburg is a cursed city. The legend is that Peter the Great established the city, rashly built on a marsh and at such a northern latitude, solely to impose his will on the Russian people. In his overweening pride, he rebelled against God and nature, and the city and its inhabitants must suffer as a result. As proof of this “curse,” the city is said to be built on the bones of the 100,000 men who died during its construction. The city is considered “cold” in comparison to Moscow, center of old Russia. Additionally, the city floods at the whim of the Neva River, showing that although Peter could build a city, it is still subject to forces superior to any human.

*Neva River

*Neva River. River running through St. Petersburg. Just as the river runs through the great Russian city, it also threads through the poem, responsible both for giving life to the city, as well as destroying Yevgeny.

*Senate Square

*Senate Square. Government center in St. Petersburg. In the poem, called “Peter’s Square,” after the statue of Peter the Great, “The Bronze Horseman,” overlooking the Neva. Yevgeny waits out the flood here and after discovering that his fiancé has perished in the city’s low-lying, poorer regions, he returns half-crazed for his final encounter with the “Horseman.” Yevgeny’s plight echoes that of Pushkin. Socially liberal military officers and friends of Pushkin staged a putsch on this square demanding the emperor enact wide-ranging social reform. They were brutally suppressed, though Pushkin was unscathed due to his social proximity to the emperor.

BibliographyBayley, John. Pushkin: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1971. This study looks at Pushkin in the context of both Russian and European literature, with special attention given to Shakespeare and the English poets. The chapter on Pushkin’s narrative and historical poetry uses The Bronze Horseman as a standard of comparison both with Pushkin’s own earlier poems such as Poltava and with Lord Byron’s treatment of some of the same themes. There is an extensive discussion of The Bronze Horseman in its own right.Briggs, A. D. P. Alexander Pushkin: A Critical Study. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1983. A thorough introduction to Pushkin’s work, with an entire chapter devoted to The Bronze Horseman. Briggs gives an overview of the poem’s sources, themes, devices (including rhyming patterns), and structure.Gregg, Richard. “The Nature of Nature and the Nature of Eugene in The Bronze Horseman.” Slavic and East European Journal 21 (1977): 167-179. Offers a slightly different view of Evgeny as an individual caught between two opposing forces, and argues for the notion that character as much as circumstance dictates individual fate.Lednicki, Wacław. Pushkin’s “Bronze Horseman”: The Story of a Masterpiece. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955. The only book-length study in English and still an invaluable resource. Appendices include a translation of the poem itself, of the works of Adam Mickiewicz, and of other sources.Vickery, Walter N. Alexander Pushkin. Rev. ed. New York: Twayne, 1992. A revised edition of an earlier book by the same author, it incorporates new scholarship and is a brief but highly readable introduction to Pushkin’s life and work. The section on The Bronze Horseman includes a synopsis, brief comments on style, and a discussion of major themes.
Categories: Places