Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juli 2006

5.6. Border Zones: Travel, Fantasy and Representation

Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Ludmilla Kostova (University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Malcolm Bradbury's To The Hermitage: Fiction, History, and the East/West Divide

Ludmilla Kostova (University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria)


For better or for worse, t he critical fashion for notions like hybridity, crossroads and border zones has dominated scholarship in the humanities over the last 15 years or so. A number of writers inside and outside academia have deplored the ubiquity of such terms and have repeatedly warned against a tendency towards their semantic depletion.(1) It cannot be denied, however, that their recurrence is indicative of a search for broader cultural politics which may help us transgress what Richard Philips aptly terms "imperial binaries" (2001: 5). Such binaries, he reminds us, still "structure subjectivities ... and material geographies" (2001:5). Versions of the dichotomy between East and West (arguably!) provide the most notorious examples of the latter tendency. One of my aims in the present paper is to examine the discursive destiny of a particular version of that dichotomy within the context of Malcolm Bradbury's last published novel To the Hermitage (2000).

As I have remarked elsewhere, the book may be read as "a summary, or even a palimpsest, of the major political-cultural concerns and stylistic-narrative motifs of [Bradbury's] previous work" (Kostova 2005: 259). The text is linked, on the one hand, to his postmodern picaresque narratives Rates of Exchange (1983) and Doctor Criminale (1992), while, on the other, it is reminiscent of his "novels of ideas" The History Man (1975) and My Strange Quest for Henri Mensonge (1987). Moreover, To the Hermitage literally straddles the boundaries of history and fiction in portraying a quest for the self-proclaimed fount of modern thought, the Francophone culture of the Enlightenment. A discussion of the text is therefore of particular relevance to a collection of essays purporting to shed light on the cultural-symbolic significance of border zones and the creative decentering and destabilization of traditional categories in them.

Over the last three decades or so, the exploration of the "Age of Reason" and its (dis)contents has been central to what may be described as a literary-historical trend comprising a variety of texts ranging from Erica Jong’s Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980) through Coetzee’s ironic "robinsonade" Foe (1986) to Andrew Miller's prize-winning novel Ingenious Pain (1997). In a commentary on the latter, G. S. Rousseau critically examines the epistemological premises of the crossover of history and literature, which, in his view, acquired particular prominence in the 1990s (2001: 48). While disavowing the trend's novelty, he stresses its financial implications in "selling" the eighteenth century to the reading public. Readers' appetites appear to have been whetted by a judicious foregrounding of some of the "intriguing" characteristics of what was an age of miracles as well as an age of reason (2001: 48). Despite his manifest skepticism, Rousseau acknowledges the value of Ingenious Pain as "a revisionist history in the form of a novel" (2001: 51).

While Rousseau for the most part stresses the attraction of the eighteenth century for Western writers and readers, Donna Heiland highlights the contribution of postcolonial writers to the literary-historical trend under consideration. Moreover, she relates writers’ interest in the "Age of Reason" to the characteristically postmodern need to re-examine the beginnings of modern ontology and epistemology. In other words, preoccupation with present-day wonders such as cyberspace, virtual identities and cyborgs has awakened curiosity in the context in which the mind/body dualism was originally theorized (1997: 109). Heiland further remarks that the same context witnessed the rise of colonial empires and some of the period’s choice spirits took issue with that by either appealing to "the dictates of reason" to justify European supremacy or by invoking the same authority in order to censure European presumption (1997: 110). Significantly, she tends to regard Europe as a unified whole and does not attempt to link the Enlightenment project to a " crucial conceptual division" (Wolff 1995: 935) within the "old" continent, which resulted in the production of the notional entities of "Western" and "Eastern Europe". This "conceptual division" may be interpreted as a version of the East/West divide.(2) Heiland’s omission may be regretted by denizens of Eastern Europe, who would wish to see their part of the world more widely acknowledged in print, but it is decidedly not unjustified insofar as the greater part of the fiction she examines is not concerned with the relationship of the two entities mentioned above. Bradbury’s To the Hermitage thus adds a new dimension to the literary-historical trend under consideration by explicitly addressing this relationship and exploring its impact on the rest of the world.(3)

The British author’s personal "invention" of Europe’s less privileged half started in Rates of Exchange with the creation of the fictive Eastern European country of Slaka. By his own admission, it was "made like a cocktail: a mixture of Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary ... [with] tiny little bits of Poland stuck in" (Bradbury 1994: 21). "Other" European responses to Rates of Exchange and what may be termed later Slakiana, Why Come to Slaka (1986) and the TV series The Gravy Train Goes East (1991), were for the most part negative. English Summer School folklore preserves many semi-apocryphal examples of Eastern and Central Europeans accusing Malcolm Bradbury of misrepresenting their countries. By and large, readers were rather resentful of his farcical portrayal of their part of the world and of his exploitation of the comic possibilities of stereotypes.(4) One of my aims in the present paper is to examine to what extent To the Hermitage is liable to similar "charges".

Bradbury’s last novel may also be situated in the somewhat narrow context of Western texts that responded to the fall of communism in the late twentieth century and to the consequences of that fall. Although the dismantlement of totalitarian regimes in 1989 and the early 90s was initially perceived as a very major historical shift, Western interest in it waned fairly soon. The literary and cinematic outcrop engendered by that interest therefore appears rather scanty from a twenty-first century perspective. Whereas Bradbury’s earlier novel Doctor Criminale was concerned with the effects of what he termed a "New World Disorder" (Bradbury 1994: 28) upon two smaller post-communist countries, Hungary and Bulgaria, To the Hermitage is preoccupied with the destiny of the Russian colossus itself. Apart from examining Russia's relationship with Western Europe, the text invokes a well-established political-rhetorical tradition of contrasting Russia with the United States. The tradition in question is usually traced back to Astolphe de Custine (1790 - 1857) and Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 - 1859) who tended to approach cultural difference in essentialist terms. In Bradbury's text the contrast is presented through a decidedly ironic lens. However, as with other received ideas in his fiction, one wonders whether it has been seriously problematized.(5)

The novel’s plot unfolds on two temporal planes: "now" and "then". The former refers to the early 1990s and provides a background for the thoughts and rather humdrum experiences of the narrator, a British novelist and literary critic, who becomes involved in the elusive "Diderot project" and has to follow "the Enlightenment trail" to post-communist Russia. "Then" refers to the 1770s: the time when the French philosopher Denis Diderot became the privileged employee of the Empress Catherine II and likewise undertook a journey to St. Petersburg. The novel's odd chapters are concerned with the postmodern (and post-communist) 1990s whereas the even ones attempt to revive the spirit of the 1770s. In G.S. Rousseau's opinion, this is done through "a dense work of historical scholarship whose only lacunae are footnotes" (2001: 59). He further remarks upon the blurring of borders in Bradbury's text as "one pilgrimage fuses into the other" and "the recent journey takes as its object the former one" (2001: 59). According to Rousseau, this complex blurring of boundaries reflects Bradbury's conviction that history and fiction cannot be untangled as "each is absorbed into the other" (2001: 59).

The sense of category crisis is further reinforced through an emphasis on precedents and cycles of repetition. Thus, in the context of the novel, the Catherine-Diderot relationship is represented as a partial replica of another uneasy alliance between absolute power and philosophical thought: the strained relationship of Rene Descartes and the Swedish Queen Christina. Descartes’ sojourn in the frosty North is said to have hastened his death but the narrator is primarily interested in the curious story of the gradual destruction of his remains as his dead body was repeatedly disinterred and moved from place to place. The disappearance of "the creator of the metaphysics of human presence" and "founder of the great I Am"(6) highlights the futility of the search for origins, which is traditionally seen as a central concern of Enlightenment thought. The text’s focus upon the role of contingency in history is closely related to that theme.

The debunking of the search for origins and the repeated emphasis upon contingency are central to the novel’s deconstruction of "the master narratives" of European modernity. Thus the narrator casts serious doubts upon the "French" character of Enlightenment thought by drawing attention to Diderot’s admiration for Sterne (159 - 163). However, he forestalls charges of Anglocentricity by admitting that Sterne himself was so fascinated by Rabelais as to merit the name of "the Rabelais of the English" (159). Sterne, it turns out, shared, to a certain extent, Descartes’ posthumous fate insofar as his dead body was stolen by grave snatchers, partially dissected by a Cambridge anatomist at a public lecture, returned to the London cemetery where the author was originally buried, disinterred in the 1960s, and removed to Yorkshire (161- 163). The narrator further shows that contingency affects the circulation of texts as well the mortal remains of authors. Thus Diderot’s unpublished manuscripts went to Russia after his death but began to re-appear in "very confused editions" in Germany and France (162). The narrator vaguely wonders if the "originals" of the French philosophe’s books might not be in Russia still. Searching for them could turn the enigmatic "Diderot project" into a quest but that would not necessarily take it outside the realm of contingency.

The narrator’s fellow academic Jack Paul Verso of the "Department of Contemporary Thinking" at Cornell University (188) likewise contributes to the problematization of traditional cultural narratives. In a lecture ironically entitled "All You’ll Ever Need To Know" (188 - 203), he dwells on the grand Enlightenment project of producing an encyclopaedia that would regulate and classify all existing knowledge. Jack Paul Verso first presents the participants in the "Diderot project" with a fictitious account of his own childhood and then goes on to inform them that Ephraim Chambers’ 1728 alphabetical English encyclopaedia provided a model for Diderot’s tres grand projet (190). Chambers, like William Smellie, compiler of the first Encyclopaedia Britannica, was based in Edinburgh (191). The great reference work, which is traditionally associated with the Francophone Enlightenment, was thus initially conceived and produced at the Scottish "periphery". Origins turn out to be a matter of interpretation or rationalization.

As was already remarked above, the relationship of Russia’s autocratic ruler Catherine II and Denis Diderot is one of the text’s chief concerns. Historically speaking, the largely rhetorical alliances of some of the choice spirits of the Francophone Enlightenment with the monarchs of Sweden, Prussia, Poland and, most notably, Russia were part of the project of a cosmopolitan "Republic of Letters". From a present-day perspective the Republic’s cosmopolitanism appears dubious insofar as it was predominantly European and decidedly Francophone. Nevertheless, one of the project’s consequences should be duly noted: within a context postulated by the French philosophes themselves, private individuals took upon themselves the task of advising monarchs and thus contributed to the emergence and development of the modern idea of participatory citizenship.(7) Somewhat paradoxically, those learned advisers used as their starting point a conception of the prince that had originated within the context of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century monarchical absolutism. For instance, Bishop Bossuet, one of the key political theorists of the "long" eighteenth century, defines the prince as "a public person" representing the whole state and capable of "contain[ing] the will of the whole people [...] within his own" (qtd. in Rosenfeld 2002: 27). The powerful figure thus conceived was a source of fascination, and the fascination became even more intense when the prince (or, as it happens, princess) in question ruled over a little-known foreign country that seemed to be in need of "enlightenment" and the civilizing influence of expert advice. One of the constituent traits of the overall project of the Francophone Enlightenment was therefore "a fantasy of influence, prescription and power" (Wolff 1994: 221). This explains why key denizens of the "Republic of Letters" allowed the absolute monarchs listed above to - as it were -make them part of their respective collections of prized possessions.

Both historically speaking and within the context of Bradbury’s novel, the Russian Empress Catherine II appears to have been the greatest of all royal "collectors". Her gender played a fairly important role in her relationship with the philosophes. As Larry Wolff has observed, that relationship was "deeply imbued with elements of fantasy and romance [...] as they tried "courting Catherine with enlightened proposals [my emphasis]" (1999: 249, 251). The "courtship" was largely epistolary with one notable exception: Diderot’s journey to St. Petersburg in 1773. The journey was first considered in 1765 when Catherine purchased Diderot’s library and undertook to pay him a stipend for his services as the library’s "custodian" (Wolff 1994: 222). The gesture established the Russian Empress as "a patroness and heroine of the Enlightenment" (Wolff 1999: 249). Voltaire paid her extravagant tribute for her generosity and represented the gesture as a significant "inversion of the balance of civilization" (Wolff 1994: 222). He wrote: "Would one have suspected fifty years ago that one day the Scythians would recompense so nobly in Paris the virtue, science, and philosophy so unworthily treated among us [my emphasis]" (qtd in Wolff 1994: 222). Voltaire was not the only one to express admiration for the gesture. All of the Francophone "rulers of opinion" with whom Catherine communicated and who took an interest in the huge empire that she governed were impressed with the dimensions of the Tzarina’s undertakings. They particularly emphasized their own involvement with Catherine’s grand plan for the "civilization" of what was still given the derogatory name of Scythia in supposed conformity with classical precedent.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that Catherine’s image as "a patroness and heroine of the Enlightenment" and a grand civilisatrice was only one of the constituent parts of the complex picture which dominated the European and North American cultural imaginary for over 200 years. There was also a tendency to represent Catherine as a hypocrite who was solely motivated by a desire for self-aggrandizement in her attempts to "flirt" with the choice spirits of the Enlightenment. Predictably, this view was characteristic of twentieth-century Soviet historiography (Greenfeld 1992: 200) but its roots went far back into the past and were intimately linked to an image of Russia itself as a land of sexual adventure. Within the context of a sexualized Russia, Catherine came to be portrayed as a female despot whose sexual appetite and thirst for erotic experimentation knew no bounds. Visions of Russian political autocracy were thus supplemented by pornographic fantasies of Catherine as a whip-wielding domina. Significantly, the Russian Tzarina inspired texts by the West’s foremost proponents of alternative sexual practices, the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. A year after Catherine’s death, Sade published his History of Juliette (1797) in which the Tzarina becomes involved in a sexual orgy together with the text’s libertine Borchamps. Fantasies about Catherine went into the making of Wanda von Dunajew, the vaguely Slavic (anti-)heroine of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs (1870).(8) A year after the production of his best-known text, Sacher-Masoch published Tales of the Russian Court. One of the "tales" is entitled "Diderot in St. Petersburg" and presents the renowned philosophe as Catherine’s acquiescent victim.

Catherine’s image was thus overwritten with "tales" and interpretations. The Russian Empress’s relationship with the choice spirits of the Francophone Enlightenment was of paramount importance in the process of "inscribing" her into the mutually complementary contexts of European history and European fantasizing. Bradbury’s text is informed by a sense of "the inescapable discursivity" (Saglia 2002: 88) of Catherine’s portrait. This awareness is part of what may be termed the text’s epistemological deal with a past, which is likewise discursive in character insofar as it can only be accessed through a conglomerate of different narratives. Bradbury’s narrator approaches the numerous interpretations clustering around the Enlightenment project, Catherine, Russia, and the West from a typically postmodern perspective: he emphasizes the unreliability of his own "stories" of the present and the past and openly admits to uncertainties and possible misconceptions. His experience is said to be limited to "the conference circuit" and the production of "fictions". He does not attempt to transcend his limitations or to impose on his readers by posing as an omniscient narrator who can produce order out of chaos and thus make everything comprehensible.

Contingency further manifests itself in/through the relativity of the categories people employ as they attempt to come to terms with the complexity of the world. The narrator and some of the other characters repeatedly underscore the deceptive nature of the process of identification, which is intimately linked to the concept of originality, itself an invention of the "Age of Reason". In the context of the novel, Europe is represented as a palimpsest overwritten with stories, allusions and metaphors. As the French-Russian character Galina Solange-Stavaronova claims, "nothing is where you think it is" (315). The dividing line between a constructed "reality" and a multitude of equally constructed illusions is largely conjectural. The production of illusions is said to be central to the spread of "European civilization" from South to North and from West to East. Early in the book the narrator wryly comments that St. Petersburg was meant to resemble Amsterdam, a city which, in its own turn, was repeatedly likened to Venice. Venice was likewise assumed to be the archetype behind Stockholm (9- 15). Further on St. Petersburg is said to be "a French city in the North" (267). The city’s multiple identities are thus marked by ambiguity and instability. It stands at the cross-section of a variety of signs and contradictory cultural associations. Bradbury’s Diderot underscores St. Petersburg’s artificiality: after his return from Russia he admonishes Thomas Jefferson, the American Ambassador to France, to "make sure [his country’s] capital city isn’t just a stomach stuck out on the end of a finger" (494). However, what Diderot fails to see is that the "artificiality" of cities is unavoidable. They are constructs even when they are praised for effortlessly blending into a natural landscape. St. Petersburg merely exemplifies a condition that all cities share.

The capital of Peter the Great and Catherine II is also "exemplary" in the sense that it illustrates the process of the continual transference of signs across Europe. As was already remarked, St. Petersburg is reminiscent of Amsterdam, Venice, Paris and, possibly, a few other "traditional" European cities. As a royal "collector" Catherine is said to have greatly contributed to the process of transference but the text likewise implies that she would have been unsuccessful without the help and, indeed, the complicity of the choice spirits of the Francophone Enlightenment. Prior to trading in his moral integrity and consenting to become Catherine’s "Talking Bird and Singing Tree" (31), Denis Diderot assists the Empress’s emissary Prince Golitsyn in acquiring "treasures" for her Hermitage. Eventually he, too, is metaphorically included among those "treasures".

That Catherine’s storehouse of valuable artifacts should have been designated the Hermitage seems highly ironic. A hermitage was originally the abode of a hermit, i. e. a place of retirement and prayer. As the English garden replaced the French one around the middle of the eighteenth century, the hermitage, together with artificial ruins and lakes, became an important item of landscape architecture.(9) Catherine’s Hermitage was intended to rival the luxury of Western European royal palaces and therefore had very little to do with retirement or prayer. It is disappointing that there is no attempt in a book that otherwise bristles with irony to explore the ironic implications of this particular situation.

Apart from that, Catherine gets the greatest share of irony in the text. In representing her Bradbury appears to have relied heavily upon some of the stories of her hypocrisy, despotism, love of conquest, and insatiable sexuality mentioned above. Thus the Tzarina chooses to have her philosophical conversations with Diderot in the afternoon hour usually reserved for her lovers. It should be noted, though, that she does not go so far as to have sex with Diderot. Her desire for conquest is unlimited and is linked to her passion for collecting rarities:

I have the world’s largest deposits of ice and snow, the biggest steppes, the hugest expanse of tundra. I have the largest inland lake. But what about sunshine?

Sunshine? I think I understand. To complete the collection, you would like to have the Mediterranean. (224)

While she has read all of the reformist texts of the Francophone Enlightenment, she appears unwilling to follow the advice of her foreign mentors. Catherine declares that she believes in "reason within reason" (122) and has no intention of matching the enlightened rhetoric she has acquired from reading to her deeds.

Diderot, who is repeatedly referred to as "our man" in the text, presents a more complex case. Without idealizing him in any way, the narrator appears to identify with him closely. In the context of the book, Diderot’s moral integrity is impaired when he decides to go to Russia and become Catherine’s "pet philosopher". He tries to represent his compromise as a means to a great end: the triumph of civilization and enlightenment in "Scythia". However, the philosophe is not granted that satisfaction insofar as Catherine is not inclined to transform Russia in accordance with his ideas. The chief outcome of his conversations with the Tzarina is therefore a text significantly entitled The Daydream of Denis the Philosopher to Himself. The fact that the author is also the addressee is a clear indication of Diderot’s failure to impact upon the destiny of Russia and the world.

Bradbury’s representation of Diderot’s encounter with Catherine is rather significant for yet another reason: as was pointed out above, the philosopher does not have a sexual relationship with the Empress. He unequivocally rejects the French ambassador’s suggestion that he should worm himself into Catherine’s good graces by following the example of the Chevalier D’Eon, the most notorious transvestite of the "Age of Reason." The rejection becomes meaningful when it is read against a background provided by Bradbury’s earlier novels about Eastern Europe. In Rates of Exchange and Doctor Criminale two gullible Western characters are seduced by Eastern European women intent upon controlling and "using" them. In the context of the earlier novels, sex is part of a morally dubious power game. The image of Eastern Europe they produce thus conforms to the conventions of nineteenth-century Ruritanian fiction.(10) With the exception of a few references to Jack Paul Verso’s politically innocuous fling with the Russian stewardess Tatyana, To the Hermitage does not make use of the received literary image of Eastern Europe as a site of sexual adventure.

Interestingly, the narrator does not indulge in any sexual escapades in Russia either. He is fascinated by the French-Russian guide Galina Solange-Stavaronova who knows all the secrets of the Hermitage and whose life work is "to make again the Library of the Enlightenment" (321) which was transported to Russia after Diderot’s death and came to share the country’s turbulent history. Galina makes no secret of the fact that certain manuscripts were smuggled out of Russia in the past. However, the Library is in a particularly vulnerable position in Russia’s post-communist present as rare books are stolen from it and sold to foreign collectors (385 - 396). The narrator can do very little under the circumstances. He is deeply moved by Galina’s one-woman’s stand against the forces of chaos and corruption and the outcome is a fond embrace:

And then, to my surprise, I’m holding in my arms a handsome white-haired woman, scented by Chanel, dressed by Poiret, at least seventy years old. And I’m holding her tight and embracing her fondly, trying to kiss away the bright tears that suddenly fill her eyes... (396)

There is a sexual element in the scene but it is decidedly muted as the narrator pays tribute to Galina for her refusal to yield to inertia and be defeated by a corrupt system. Again, the episode gains significance when it is read against the background of Bradbury’s earlier texts. Angus Petworth, the ineffectual British visitor to Slaka in Rates of Exchange, is horrified by the suggestion that he should smuggle a dissident writer’s manuscript out of the country and is relieved when the briefcase containing the incriminating book is destroyed. Francis Jay, the narrator of Doctor Criminale, becomes involved in international intrigue, whose political significance, however, is utterly beyond his comprehension. Neither Petworth nor Jay is capable of empathy with the Eastern Europeans they encounter in the course of their journeys. To the Hermitage thus departs from the flippancy and ironic reliance upon stereotypes that readers from the former Eastern bloc found so distasteful in Bradbury’s earlier fiction.

Significantly, the novel does not end with the moving scene of regenerative empathy between East and West briefly outlined above. It concludes with a "then" episode. Diderot has returned to Paris and is gravely ill. Shortly before his death he encounters two historically emblematic figures: the inept Russian Crown Prince Paul, who travels under the much too obvious pseudonym of Comte du Nord, and Thomas Jefferson, American Ambassador to France. Paul appears to be a much worse despot than his mother insofar as he lacks her ambition and visionary grasp of reality. Jefferson, on the other hand, represents a country where the Enlightenment ideals can come to fruition - or so the reader is repeatedly led to believe. Bradbury briefly resorts to the use of stereotypes in Jefferson’s representation. Thus the opening sentence of the episode in which the American Ambassador tells Diderot the story of the "new world" presents him as a sort of a cowboy: "The Virginian is riding into Paris" (488). The next couple of sentences, however, indicate that he is in fact riding in a phaeton built by the slaves on his estate. Up on the box is the mulatto James Hemmings, brother of Sarah ("Sally") Hemmings, the appealing heroine of An American Scandal.

The American shares his grand plans with "our man", who appears anxious for America not to repeat any of Russia’s mistakes. At all costs, the "new world" should eschew imitation of "old world" models. It gradually transpires that the open spaces of America - rather than the steppes of Russia - are going to be the best testing ground for the intellectual project of the Enlightenment. In closing, however, there is a memorable incident: an apricot brought all the way from Jefferson’s plantation in the "new world" is the physical cause of Diderot’s death. Like all events presented in the book, the philosophe’s demise is shown to proceed from a multiplicity of factors ranging from personal disappointment to exhaustion from his journeys to and from Russia. The apricot, however, is the "final cause" of Diderot’s death. Interestingly, no attempt is made to interpret this or to relate it to the complex relationship between the "old" and the "new" worlds. Judgement is apparently left to the reader. In his/her wisdom s/he should decide what meanings to work into the final episode of Diderot’s life.

Like other postmodern texts exploring the Enlightenment, To the Hermitage enhances our awareness of the close relationship between the dawn of modernity and our own time. As Donna Heiland has remarked, such texts also "sharpen our understanding of postmodernism" insofar as we realize that it is not merely "an interrogation of history in the abstract" but is very much concerned with particulars (1997: 119). Bradbury’s rambling philosophical romance problematizes key "master narratives" by laying bare the story-telling techniques through which they are organized. By bringing together a wide variety of "authentic" historical incidents and fictional life stories it aims at blurring boundaries between history and fiction and at alerting readers to the role that contingency plays in both. The novel is revisionist in the sense that it re-evaluates received literary images and historical interpretations. Importantly, the author’s revisionist agenda included aspects of his own work as he progressed, in his very last published text, towards a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between East and West.

While a purposefully liminal text which straddles the boundary between history and fiction cannot be expected to provide definitive answers to the questions that perplex us as we confront the "New World Disorder", it can certainly teach us pertinent lessons about reading the traces of the past in the present. "M aking again the [whole of the] Library of the Enlightenment" is a utopian dream that is at best part of an unforeseeable future. In the meantime we can try to make sense of the odd volumes that contingency has thrown our way.

© Ludmilla Kostova (University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria)


(1) For an incisive critique of some of these notions within the context of postcolonial studies, see Vjay Mishra and Bob Hodge, "What was Postcolonialism?", New Literary History, 2005, 36: 375 - 402.

(2) A number of scholars have recently questioned this view. However, I follow Milica-Bakic Hayden in maintaining that the geographical boundaries of what the Western imagination has produced as "Orient" have shifted throughout history, but its content as "other" has "remained more or less unchanged" (1995: 917). Using as my point of departure her notion of "nesting Orientalisms" (1995: 918), I maintain that that imagination's world picture is structured through a "gradation" of external and internal "Orients" (1995: 917). In such a pattern, the Far East is more "Eastern" or "other" than the Islamic Middle East whereas within Europe itself certain localities appear to be more "Eastern" than others.

(3) A journey from England to Russia is central to the action of Andrew Miller's Ingenious Pain but the novel is not specifically concerned with the ideological implications of the East/West divide within Europe.

(4) A somewhat different note was struck by a well-known Bulgarian translator, who argued against the tendency of dismissing Bradbury out of hand; she remarked that " we should at least take some notice of the ways others see us... difficult though it might be to accept their interpretations of our life" (Kondova 1993: 12).

(5) On the conservative element in Bradbury's fiction, see Ludmilla Kostova, Review of The Balkans and the West. Constructing the European Other, 1945- 2003, Andrew Hammond, (ed.), Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004, The Slavonic and Eastern European Review, 83, 4, 2005, pp. 751 - 5.

(6) Malcolm Bradbury, To the Hermitage, London: Picador, 2000, pp. 37 - 38. All further references will be to this edition and will be given parenthetically in the text.

(7) On that particular aspect of the Francophone Enlightenment, see Sophia Rosenfeld, "Citizens of Nowhere in Particular: Cosmopolitanism, Writing and Political Engagement in Eighteenth-Century Europe", National Identities, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2002, pp. 25 - 40.

(8) For a commentary, see Larry Wolff’s Introduction to the 2000 Penguin edition of Venus in Furs, pp. Vii - xxx.

(9) On what has been designated as "an English landscaping revolution", see Yu Lin, "The Importance of the Chinese Connection. The Origin of the English Garden", Eighteenth-Century Life, Vol. 27, No 3 (Fall 2003), pp. 70 - 98.

(10) For a discussion of Anthony Hope’s Ruritania and other similar texts, see Vesna Goldsworthy, Inventing Ruritania. The Imperialism of the Imagination , Yale University Press (1998). I do not accept Goldsworthy's claim that Ruritania stands in a relation of symbolic synonymy to the Balkans and maintain that Ruritania’s distinctive features come from a variety of symbolic-geographical contexts. See Ludmilla Kostova, "Theorising Europe’s ‘Wild East’" (review of Imagining the Balkans and Inventing Ruritania), The European English Messenger, Vol. X/1 (Spring 2001), 71 - 73.


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Bradbury, M. To the Hermitage . London: Picador, 2000.

Goldsworthy, V. Inventing Ruritania. The Imperialism of the Imagination , London: Yale University Press, 1998.

Greenfeld, L. Nationalism. Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Heiland, D. "Historical Subjects: Recent Fiction about the Eighteenth Century", Eighteenth-Century Life 21 (February 1997), pp. 108 - 122.

Kondova, D. "Veche desetiletie Malcolm Bradbury se valnuva ot sadbata na Balgariya" Standart, 24 March 1993, 12.

Kostova, L. "Theorizing Europe’s ‘Wild East’" (review of Imagining the Balkans and Inventing Ruritania), The European English Messenger, Vol. X/1 (Spring 2001), 71 - 73.

Kostova, L., Review of. The Balkans and the West. Constructing the European Other, 1945- 2003, Andrew Hammond (ed.), Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004, The Slavonic and Eastern European Review, 83, 4, 2005, pp. 751 - 5.

Kostova, L., "Travelling Intellectuals and Royal Collectors: Malcolm Bradbury's To the Hermitage as a Parable of Power", The Transatlantic and the Transnational in a Changing Cultural Context, Madeleine Danova (ed.), Sofia: Polis Publishing, 2005, pp. 259 - 269.

Lin, Y. "The Importance of the Chinese Connection. The Origin of the English Garden", Eighteenth-Century Life, Vol. 27, No 3 (Fall 2003), pp. 70 - 98.

Rosenfeld, S. "Citizens of Nowhere in Particular: Cosmopolitanism, Writing and Political Engagement in Eighteenth-Century Europe", National Identities, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2002, pp. 25 - 40.

Rousseau, G. S., "Ingenious Pain: Fiction, History, Biography, and the Miraculous Eighteenth Century", Eighteenth-Century Life 25 (Spring 2001), pp. 47 - 62.

Saglia, D. "William Beckford’s ‘Sparks of Orientalism’ and the Material-Discursive Orient of British Romanticism", Textual Practice, Vol. 16/1 (2002), pp. 75 - 92.

Wolff, L. Inventing Eastern Europe: the Map of Civilisation on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Wolff, L. "Voltaire's Public and the Idea of Eastern Europe: Toward a Literary Sociology of Continental Division", Slavic Review, 54 (1995), pp. 932 - 942.

Woolf, L. "The Fantasy of Catherine in the Fiction of the Enlightenment: From Baron Munchausen to the Marquis de Sade", M. Levitt and A. Toporkov (eds), Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture, Moscow: Ladomir, 1999.

Wolff, L. Introduction to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs. London: Penguin Books, 2000.

5.6. Border Zones: Travel, Fantasy and Representation

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

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For quotation purposes:
Ludmilla Kostova (University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria): Malcolm Bradbury's To The Hermitage: Fiction, History, and the East/West Divide. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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