Of Blizzards, Pistol Shots and Fair Smugglers: Russian Fiction and Middlebrow Strategies in the "Strand Magazine"
Claiming that that the history of the London-based Strand Magazine started with Russian literature would be understandably far-fetched but not extravagantly misleading: the episode with the notorious short novel The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy infamously led to the rift between the enfant terrible W.T. Stead and the future founder of the Strand George Newnes. The deal-breaking disapproval of Tolstoy’s scandalous opus did not, however, result in Newnes’ utter rejection of Russian literature. His new magazine, established shortly after the conflict, was neither straightforwardly Russophile nor openly or implicitly Russophobic unlike many of the periodicals enchafed by the turbulent “Tournament of Shadows”. At the early stages of its existence, the newly founded magazine demonstrated an explicit predilection towards translated rather than domestic fiction, with translations from Russian occupying an important niche among other national literatures. While favouring the renowned, canon-approved authors, such as Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov, the early Strand also displayed a tendency to select the works which could be read as adventure or “healthfully” sensational stories thus conforming to the magazine’s genre policies (predominantly gothic Queen of Spades, multigenred Belkin Tales, nocturne-flavoured Tamagne from A Hero of Our Time). The texts were prefaced by introductory notes, enticing yet unconcerned with factual accuracy (e.g., Lermontov was described as a “fair-haired” man with “large blue eyes”). The notes attempted to both “domesticate” the selected authors and retain the international couleur locale while finding suitable English counterparts for the writers of choice (“Russian Othello”, “Byron of North”). The paper will trace the ever-evolving role of Russian fiction in the magazine’s history, from the aforementioned early instances to the peculiar Edwardian and post-Edwardian cases when the translations became more eclectic in nature, ranging from Ivan Turgenev’s ghost story and Tolstoy’s moralistic pieces to the middlebrow stories by Vasily Nemirovich-Danchenko and a modernist oeuvre by Leonid(as) Andreev. The paper intends to outline the strategies of selecting the “Russian material” for the lower middle class readers not only in the context of the Strand’s editorial policies but also as a part of the “middlebrow” Anglo-Russian cultural transfer mechanisms.