Mikhail Prishvin on Happy Donkeys and the Ladder of Happiness for Each and for All
This article is the first attempt to determine the structure and dynamics of the ‘text of happiness’ in M. M. Prishvin’s works, including his Diaries (1905–1954) in their unabridged and uncensored version, the short stories The Pharmacy of Happiness (1915) and Hunt for Happiness (1926), the essay Old Vita (1918), the poem Phacelia (1940), the fairytale Mast-Tree Grove (1954), and the diary book You and I. The author searches for new approaches to Prishvin’s prose, including fiction published in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, eighteen volumes of his Diaries published from 1991 to 2017, and The Colour and the Cross collection (published in 2017). The research methodology is based on a reconstruction and motif analysis of Prishvin’s text of happiness in terms of its structure and dynamics from 1905 to 1954. The text of happiness in Prishvin’s prose relates to the topics of personal fate, a life journey existing between individual and common being (natural, social, and transcendental), and the freedom to create one’s own destiny. According to Prishvin, happiness is universal, unconditional, ephemeral, and has innumerable forms. Prishvin’s path to his own happiness is a story of critical reflection and distancing from the Marxist (1900–1920s), Nietzschean (the turn of the 1940s), and Soviet atheistic understanding of happiness (1930–1950s). A central strand of this story is defending one’s right to be true to oneself and “to stand on one’s own rock”. Prishvin’s text of happiness recreates a unique life experience in the first half of the twentieth century as an individual transitions from unhappiness to happiness: part of this experience is a feeling of shame about one’s own happiness and the happiness of self-destruction. The text of happiness in Prishvin’s literary oeuvre is structured with a system of leitmotifs, each of which is realised through a system of individual motifs. The author considers the evolution of the motif of the hunt for happiness, reconstructing the evolution of the motif of happiness for all and everyone: from Prishvin’s defence of the personal right to happiness (1900–1920s) to his recognition of equal rights for one and all when at the turn of the 1940s, when, after experiencing the trauma of Soviet collectivism, he began looking for new forms of human unity. His fairytale Mast-Tree Grove is interpreted not as the end of Prishvin’s understanding of happiness but as one step on the ladder.
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