Barriers to the acceptance of Estonian Russian-language literature in 1918–1940

The case of Igor Severyanin


Keywords: Igor Severyanin, Russian-language literature in Estonia, identity, Estonian literature, Estonian literary history, integration

The article looks at the history of Estonian Russian-language literature in the young Republic of Estonia (1918–1940) and the life and work of the Russian-speaking poet Igor Severyanin (1887–1941) from the perspective of Estonian literature. In 1918, Severyanin, as a mature author, moved permanently from Russia to Estonia. Gradually, he developed a hybrid identity: he became fond of Estonia and wrote in Russian. However, his works have been omitted from the Estonian literary history.

The article sets out the following hypotheses:

1) Estonian Russian-language literature from 1918 to 1940 has not become part of Estonian literature of that period, as its acceptance is hindered by various cultural-historical barriers for literary researchers. The main barriers have been highlighted by means of source criticism.

2) Igor Severyanin’s life and work serve to situate him as a representative of Estonian literature. Terms such as integration and identity were not used in his day, but Severyanin’s personal and creative choices help to understand, retrospectively, that it was important for him to live in Estonia, write poetry inspired by local material, interact with Estonian-speaking colleagues, remain connected with Estonian public and cultural institutions. I have approached Severyanin’s case through the identity theory (the work of John Charles Turner and Homi Bhabha), as well as Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the literary field.

Both hypotheses were confirmed in the article. However, the values of modern multicultural society dictate that the discussion of Estonian literary history should include the Russian-speaking authors of the interwar period. Currently, there are gaps in Estonian literary history regarding these authors. Filling these gaps would mean overcoming the cultural-historical barriers.


Igor Kotjuh (b. 1978), MA, PhD student in Estonian literature at the Institute of Cultural Research of the University of Tartu (Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu), igor.kotjuh@gmail.com