December 05, 2006

La Russie en 1839, a major political piece of Marquis de Custine

Born in the middle of the French Revolution ( March the 18th, 1790), The Marquis Alfonse de Custine had a fitful lifestyle. Originally from a rich and aristocratic family, he was the grandson of General de Custine who led the Army of North in 1793 and was decapitated by the Jacobins.

The Marquis de Custine is early attracted by literature, no doubt under the influence of the writer Chateaubriand who was the lover of is mother, Delphine de Sabran, for twenty years. He travelled a lot, in England, Switzerland, Italy (1811-1822), Spain(1835) and in Russia (1839), taking notes of his impressions and reflections. If his travelling records were succesful, especially La Russie en 1839, his others books, novels and plays, were less regarded.
Refined and acute spirit, sometimes conflincting and disgraceful, the Marquis de Custine, between 1832 and 1857, maintained a patron reputation by inviting the whole artistic Paris : painters, musicians and above all writers. Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, Georges Sand, Victor Hugo ou Barbey d'Aurevilly took part in the sumptuous nights at the house of the street de la Rochefoucault and frequented the inner diners of the castle of Saint-Gratien. (Source :

In La Russie en 1839, several volumes presented as letters sent to parisian friends, the Marquis de Custine describes and analyses Russia by the prism of his own society, the post revolutionary France. The Marquis stayed three months in Russia, during the summer of 1839, went places as Saint-Petersburg or Moscow. He was introduced to the Csar Nicholas but talked also with dissidents as the philosopher Pyotr Chaadaev.
In the foreword, the Marquis de Custine makes a lucid balance, based on his aristocratic, liberal and moralistic point of view :
"Il me semblait qu'en disant la vérité sur la Russie, je ferais une chose neuve et hardie : jusqu'à présent la peur et l'intérêt ont dicté des éloges exagérés ; la haine a fait publier des calomnies : je ne crains ni l'un ni l'autre écueil. J'allais en Russie pour y chercher des arguments contre le gouvernement représentatif, j'en reviens partisan des constitutions."
La Russie en 1839, major book who was republished six times, is as important in the political literature as his equivalent, the essay of Tocqueville Democracy in America.

Currently at Loliee's bookshop :
La Russie en 1839
, Paris, d'Amyot, 1843, 4 volumes, in-8, contemporain binding.