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Lost in Translation: Trediakovskii’s Journey to the Island of Love and Its Social Context

One of the most notable events in the cultural history of eighteenth-century Russia is arguably the 1730 publication of Vasilii Trediakovskii’s Ezda v ostrov luibvi (Journey to the Island of Love), a translation of Paul Tallemant’s novel Le Voyage de l’Isle d’Amour. This work, focused as it was on describing and even celebrating the evolution of its protagonist’s amorous feelings, is rightly considered to have opened a new page not only in the history of Russian literature, which hitherto had not known such genres, but also in the history of the Russian language. With its explicit depiction of sexual desires, with its thinly veiled portrayal of caressing different parts of female body as ‘climbing up the hills’ and descending into ‘deep valleys’, this was a text unlike anything the Russians had previously seen in print. It was in the course of producing this translation that Trediakovskii had to codify a new, previously non-existent vocabulary for conducting a polite secular discourse about carnal love and the affective states that accompany it. This vocabulary, in turn, played the key role in the evolution of lyrical poetry and of language of feelings later in the century.