Sunday, June 27, 2010

St. Petersburg and Moscow: A Visit to the Court and Czar

by Richard Bourke, 515 pages of travel account detail.

Better than it sounds, this was perhaps the first travel account that was actually fairly engaging to read. The main approach of a British visitor poking around Russia hits the main stock elements for such narratives. It’s much more energetically told and has better prose, though. Above all the account is fairly relaxed, aware of its fairly limited opportunity to really survey Russia and instead showing various points of interest and entertainment. It’s also relatively funny, showing a couple of quite amusing moments and a general astmosphere that welcomes in the reader rather than lecturing them, or delivering hordes of lists to them.

It’s a useful point to indicate that one can do this type of travel account without being as dull as is the norm. In terms of historical value the relative restraint from making huge essentialized generalizations limits some of the use of the work for my particular project, but it’s neverthless a valuable addition as a part of the Western reprsentation of Russia. This particular account is one that in the process shows the West as somewhat more deserving and self-aware than most other accounts I’ve read.

Better than: Thirty Five Years in Russia by George Hume

Worse than: none immediately come to mind, in terms of this type of primary account from the nineteenth century.

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