March 01, 2012

Alexander Herzen

Alexander Herzen

The Russian writer Alexander Ivanovich Herzen was born in Moscow on March 25, 1812 (April 6, New Style). Thanks to a famous phrase from Lenin’s “In Memory of Herzen” – “The Decembrists awakened Herzen. Herzen began the task of revolutionary agitation.” – everyone who grew up in the Soviet Union knew Herzen’s name, whether or not they had ever read a line of his work.

Lenin’s phrase inspired the contemporary poet Naum Korzhavin to write the humorous, “In Memory of Herzen or Ballad of a Historic Lack of Sleep,” which explains all of Russia’s historical woes in terms of the crankiness a series of the country’s revolutionary heroes felt after being awakened before they had gotten a good night’s sleep.

But actually, the common conception of Herzen as a revolutionary is rather one-sided. Dostoyevsky wrote about this after Herzen’s death, expressing the opinion that his revolutionary activities represented a departure from his true calling as a writer:

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