Eastern Tales for Western Readers: A Combination of Traditions within D. Mamin-Sibiryak’s Legends
The paper analyses Mamin-Sibiriak’s Legends (1898) cycle, which appeared at the time when legends in Russia were on the peak of popularity. The cycle is a masterful stylization of Asian folk tales belonging to some of the minorities of the Russian Empire, and it fuses together Oriental and Occidental literary and geopoetic traditions. The background of the cycle creation and an analysis of the Asian and European roots of the legends reveal the ways in which the two cultures are combined by the author. Mamin-Sibiryak uses Oriental stylization, typical of the folk-lore of minor ethnic groups of the Trans-Urals, on the language and imagery levels. His artful employment of linguistic and poetic devices such as foreign words, alien names and realias, zoomorphic metaphors and similes, as well as concepts and sets of values not typical of European mentality, misled his contemporaries into thinking that he had published some collected folk material. However, the writer created his own plots, following patterns and motifs mostly characteristic of both Western and Eastern cultures. There are similarities between the plots and the motifs of the cycle and those of the European Romanticism, Buddhism, Indian epics, and Biblical scenes. Consequently, Mamin-Sibiryak’s choice of plots may be aimed at identifying some basic similarities between these traditions. A study of the cycle proves that the impact of A. Schopenhauer’s philosophy, which exploits ideas shared by Eastern and Western cultures, on the legends contributes to the interaction of Occidental and Oriental cultures within the cycle on the underlying levels, though the connotation of some Eastern motifs is contradictory to the Western tradition. While creating the legends, the author did not aim at just making the Russian reader acquainted with the folklore of minority groups. Rather, the chosen ‘alien’ form was intended to help the reader forget about everyday life and perceive some eternal truths concerning morals, history, a person’s predestination, and love. We argue that the writer intentionally combined Eastern and Western cultural and literary traditions to achieve a greater effect on his readers.