Write the whirlwind

Michael Church investigates the publishing of Pushkin's notebooks in facsimile
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The Independent Culture
PUSHKIN's working notebooks propel the reader into the whirlpool of Russian politics, and into the whirlwind of his mind. Alongside his literary drafts - and often interrupting them - are sketches he compulsively drew of himself, of friends and enemies, heroes and loves, and of his fantasies and fears. He depicted himself as a horse, while casting about for inspiration to continue his poem "Andre Chenier in Prison". Penning an elegy to Arina Rodiovna, he comes to the line "And I, like a clown, might have hanged", and is instantly impelled to draw a fortress gate and a scaffold with swinging corpses. The Decembrist revolutionaries who were hanged for sedition in 1825 were members of an inept but idealistic group with whom he passionately sympathised. The final notebook ends in blank pages, and contains a poem, "Exegi monumentum": "I've set up to myself a monument/Not wrought by hands..." He went to his fatal duel soon after.

A facsimile edition of these notebooks is about to be published, thanks to the efforts of a most unlikely consortium. The project originally began in 1988, when a facsimile specialist, Tim Plumridge, decided to publish them on a subscription basis, but the scheme ran into the sand. While visiting the Pushkin House in St Petersburg two years ago, the British pianist and entrepreneur Sir Ernest Hall (creator of Dean Clough Mill in Halifax) stumbled on this aborted project. He persuaded the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum to collaborate with the city of St Petersburg, Hall put together financial backing for a viable print-run. Nearly a hundred sets have been sold in advance; another 100 have been given to the Pushkin House for distribution to Russian libraries; a further 200 will be given to the Russians, for sale after the break-even point of 300 has been reached.

"We have to guard against the Mafia getting their hands on them, and flooding the market at knock-down prices," says Hall. "The money will go to a charitable foundation based on the Pushkin House, to help it in the years ahead." At pounds 1500 per set, and without an accompanying English translation, the potential market is necessarily limited, but the benefit to the world of scholarship is great.

To contact the Consortium, write to Dean Clough, Halifax, HX3 5AX (01223) 894179.