The Objects

19th May 1815

Source: Institute of Russian Literature (the Pushkin House), Russian Academy of Sciences, with permission.

Turgenev's Diary

Contributed by: Alexei Evstratov

On 29 March 1815, Nikolai Turgenev (1789-1871), a key figure of Russian liberal thought, wrote in his diary: 'Today [we] found out here that N[apoleon] entered into Paris as if he was back from a journey. He plays his role in a masterly fashion among a people made up of actors. What is going to happen? What influence will this coup have on Russia?'

In 1813, the Prussian statesman Baron vom Stein had requested that Turgenev, a young civil servant who had studied in Moscow and in Göttingen, join his department and act as his personal secretary. This appointment carried the young man into the heart of European diplomacy, and in late September 1814 he arrived in Vienna to attend the Congress as part of the Russian delegation. It was there that the news about Napoleon's escape from Elba reached him on 7 March 1815; confined to his room for many weeks after a long sickness, Turgenev dedicated his free time to reading and to his diary.

Napoleon appears in this diary only a few times between early March and early July 1815. Initially his escape does not strike Turgenev as having serious consequences, and the young man is surprised to see the French residents in Vienna worrying; in his view, Napoleon is rootless, a man without fatherland and hence any real perspective. As Napoleon's landing progresses, the Russian diplomat declares the French responsible for the success of the absurd endeavour, thus earning them 'the contempt of other nations' (19 March).

The theatrical metaphor he uses to write about the Parisian entrée of Napoleon on 29 March binds together the French philosopher Denis Diderot's idea of acting (where the actor preserves a distance between their real self and dramatic fiction) and the crisis of national sovereignty in France, which would later be expressed in the external government of the French territories: Lorraine, for example, found itself under the supervision of the Russian Empire, and Turgenev served as the assistant to the military governor of the province, David Alopaeus, until the end of the 100 Days.


Further reading:
A.V. Piskunova, "N.I. Turgenev kak diplomat v period poslevoennogo pereustroistva Evropy v 1813-1816 gg.," Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Series II. 2015. 1 (62): 90-99.

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