The Presidential Library’s new collection dedicated to Vissarion Belinsky

23 August 2022

The Presidential Library has formed the collection Vissarion Belinsky dedicated to the life and career of one of the most famous critics in Russia in the 19th century. It features digital copies of books, periodicals and archival documents. Some of the materials were provided by the winner of the contest of the Presidential Library "Regions of Russia in Persons" (2021) of the Lermontov Penza Regional Library. It was in Penza that the childhood years of the future publicist passed. “In addition to electronic copies of publications about Belinsky, which set out the life and career of Belinsky in an accessible language, digital copies of museum exhibits have also been transferred to the collection. These are drawings, paintings, photographs, including photographs of memorial things”, - representatives of the Penza Regional Library emphasized.

Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky (1811–1848) is one of the iconic figures in Russian history, literature and journalism. The historian of Russian literature Semyon Vengerov called the 1930s and 40s the “Belinsky era”. The published collection of materials is also a peculiar era. Almost each of the "exhibits" has its own history, and sometimes these stories intersect unexpectedly. So, the writer Dmitry Merezhkovsky, starting the book Belinsky's Testament (1915), calls him the first Russian intellectual. And then he cites the words of Dostoevsky: “This man scolded Christ for me. He slapped his mother, Russia, on the cheeks”.

“My whole life is in letters”, - said Belinsky. And just one of his letters directly influenced the fate of Dostoevsky.

This is about a letter from the already eminent critic Belinsky to his once beloved writer Nikolai Gogol. This was his response to Gogol's book "Selected passages from correspondence with friends", which praised, as it seemed to the "violent Vissarion", autocracy, Orthodoxy and serfdom. Belinsky passionately criticized both the views expressed by Nikolai Vasilyevich and the authorities and the church in Russia. This letter became, as they would say now, a sensation; it was reread and rewritten. One of the surviving handwritten copies has been digitized, and now it is available on the Presidential Library’s portal.

“In your opinion, Russian people are the most religious in the world: a lie! Belinsky writes. – The religiosity is based on pietism, reverence, fear of God... ...Look closer and you will see that these people are deeply atheistic by nature. There is still a lot of superstition in it, but there is no trace of religiosity.

Russia sees its salvation not in mysticism, not in asceticism, not in pietism, but in the successes of civilization, education, humanity. It needs not sermons (enough it heard them!), not prayers (enough it repeated them!), but the awakening in the people of a sense of human dignity, so many centuries lost in mud and dung, rights and laws that are consistent not with the teachings of the church, but with common sense and justice, and strict, if possible, their implementation"...

The subsequent reaction of the authorities was immediate - for the storage and distribution of a copy of the letter, they were sent to hard labor. Among those who read and shared many points of the letter was Fyodor Dostoevsky. In 1849 he was arrested and sentenced to death.

The text of the verdict read: “To shoot ... the retired engineer-lieutenant Dostoevsky - for failure to report on the distribution of a criminal letter about religion and government by the writer Belinsky...” As we know, everything ended more or less happily (instead of execution at the last moment, Nicholas I graciously allowed hard labor). The letter itself was banned for almost 60 years, until 1905.

Another archival document presented on the Presidential Library’s portal is The cases of the dismissal of the rector of the university and the censor of the Moscow Censorship Committee, Professor A. V. Boldyrev for the comission of the article by P. Ya. Chaadaev “Philosophical Letters” in the “Telescope” magazine... It helps to more clearly understand the reasons for the closure of the magazine in which Belinsky began his literary career. Then Vissarion Grigoryevich gets a job as the editor of the Moscow Observer (Moskovskiy Nablyudatel) magazine. Articles in this magazine were noticed, and in 1839 Belinsky received an offer to move to St. Petersburg and head the critical department in the journal “Domestic Notes” (Otechestvennye Zapiski), which at that time was one of the leading publications in the country. Numerous works published in these journals and other publications amounted to several volumes of collected works - in their collection there are several editions of different years. He responded to new theatrical plays and productions, to new works, and wrote scathingly about the observed phenomena of reality. Belinsky's influence on the socio-political and cultural life of Russia was colossal. Belinsky's editorial activity served to establish the critical genre as an integral element of journalism.

Vissarion Belinsky died in the prime of life, in St. Petersburg on June 7, 1848, a few days before his 37th birthday.

In the Central District of St. Petersburg, a street also named after him stretches from Belinsky Square along the bridge of the same name between the Fontanka embankment and Liteiny Prospekt. In Russia, 478 streets, squares and lanes bear his name. Libraries in nine cities of our country are named after him. "Furious Vissarion" is the name of the first and so far the only literary award in Russia, which is given to critics.

Collection Vissarion Belinsky provides 168 documents. All of them are publicly available on the Presidential Library’s portal. When forming the collection, materials from the Zonal Scientific Library of the Ural Federal University, the Penza Museum of Local Lore, the Association of State Literary and Memorial Museums of Penza Region, the Scientific Library of St. Petersburg State University, the Children's Postcard Museum and other organizations were used.

For reference:

There are four monuments to Belinsky in Penza, three in the city of Belinsky. In 1948, the city of Chembar, in connection with the 100th anniversary of the death of V. G. Belinsky, was named after him. The world's only Belinsky Museum is open in Penza Region. There are two general education schools and the Belinsky Pedagogical Institute. The Central Park of Culture and Leisure and a square are also named after Belinsky in Penza.