Biographies Russian Writers Pyotr Chaadayev

Pyotr Chaadayev

Pyotr Chaadayev, Russian writer and philosopher, author of Philosophical Letters, prototype for Chatsky, Onegin, Pechorin and the other disillusioned or superfluous men of Russian literature
Born: 1794, Moscow
Died: 1856, Moscow

During the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, Moscow was the centre of intellectual life in Russia. Moscow was further away from officialdom and had a university with a tradition of free thought. Writers, artists and professors frequented the salons of famous people, while such private periodicals as The Telescope, The Muscovite and The Moscow Telegraph were allowed greater liberties than the press in St Petersburg.

In 1836, The Telescope published the first of Pyotr Chaadayev’s eight Lettres philosophiques (1827–31). Attacking Russia’s intellectual and historical backwardness, the author attracted controversy by suggesting that the country should assimilate Western culture. After Chaadayev was declared insane, he answered his critics in The Vindication of a Madman (1837), writing: “Love for one’s country is beautiful, but love of the truth is greater. Love for one’s fatherland brings forth heroes, but love of the truth creates sages, the benefactors of mankind.”

Chaadayev’s writings led to heated debate in Russian literature, dividing society into Westerners (who supported the developments in Europe and liberal reforms) and Slavophiles (who supported Russian Orthodoxy and national culture). Chaadayev himself became the prototype for Chatsky, Onegin, Pechorin and the other disillusioned or “superfluous men” of Russian literature, who could not find a place for themselves in Nicholas’s Russia.

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