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Working paper

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

V. K. Trediakovskii’s translation of Paul Tallement Voyage de lisle d’amour occupies a special place in the history of Russian 18th-century literature: it is often credited with creating a new vocabulary of love and amorous intercourse, an innovation that would pave the way for much of the later poetry and prose. It is also believed to have gained instant popularity among Russia’s youth, although who exactly Trediakovskii’ early readers were is not clear. Likewise, while Trediakovskii’s early life and his stay in Europe have been a subject of extensive study, we do not know much why exactly he choose this topic and this particular work for his translation: following the version offered by the poet himself, this choice is usually treated as nearly random. Against this background, this this paper uses a variety of archival sources to reconstruct the actual courtly context of these events. On the one hand, it focuses on the secret liaison between Ekaterina Ioannovna, the Duchess of Mecklenburg, the most important patron of Trediakovskii and his work in the early 1730s, and Prince Beloselskii. On the other, it explores a trove of unpublished letters written by a variety of French, German, and Dutch ladies to Prince A.B. Kurakin during his stay in Europe in the 1720s: these letters present the prince as fully integrated in the social life of Western European aristocracy and, most importantly, as thoroughly versed in the contemporary rules and conventions of gallant intercourse. Kurakin, as is well known, was another patron of Trediakovskii, and it was thanks to him that the poet has been introduced to Ekaterina. Taken together, these documents not only provide context for Trediakovskii’s translation and its popularity, but also allow us to reconstruct the amorous practices of the post-Petrine Russian elite.