The night before the execution, or Russian love lyrics on the Eve of birth

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A modern culture of love emerged in Russia as a result of the Petrine reforms. Over the entire course of the 18th century, a Baroque (gallant) notion of cruel love and lover's melancholy predominated in Russia before being attenuated by Karamzin and then transformed by Zhukovsky, who founded a new religion of love as revelation and transfiguration. This religion was later adopted and reconceptualized by other poets of the 19th century, from Batiushkov and Pushkin to Balmont, Briusov, and Merezhkovsky. In this article, the author considers the initial period of adapting the western tradition of love ("the art of heartfelt lamentation"), dating to the end of Peter's reign and finding expression in the gallant poems, letters, and textbook on gallant behavior of the time. The article concentrates on the story of the "first Russian lyricist," the cavalier Willem Mons, who lost his head in an affair with Peter the Great's wife.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalNovoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Cultural appropriation
  • Fin de siècle
  • German baroque
  • Russian emotional culture
  • «formula of gallant love»


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