“Cholera Morbus” in Moscow as a Literary Situation





cholera morbus, A. A. Orlov, M. Yu. Lermontov, creative behaviour, image of death, lyrical poetry


This article considers the cholera epidemic (cholera morbus), which first shook Russia in the early 1830s, and more precisely, the time when cholera reached Moscow (summer and autumn of 1830). The article draws on numerous pieces of documentary evidence from those years and later. The cultural and historical approach to studying them makes it possible to present a “bitterly deplorable picture of the dying humanity” and assess the degree of fear and depression in people in the face of the “Indian infection” previously unknown to medicine. The article interprets “cholera morbus” as a fact that is tragically significant not only for Russian public life but also as a literary situation in which a human being faces death. Using the biographical method, the author studies the literary situation referring to the creative behaviour of two authors, A. A. Orlov, and M. Yu. Lermontov. Orlov entered the history of Russian literature as a “grassroots writer” (A. I. Reitblat) known as the author of parody arrangements of the “Vyzhigin” novels by F. V. Bulgarin. However, Orlov also wrote the “Moscow story” known as The Meeting of Plague with Cholera, or The Sudden Destruction of all Human Intentions (1830), which, due to the established literary reputation of the author, does not attract researchers’ attention. The article notes that by parodying the genre form of a vision traditionally designed for the mass reader, Orlov fills it with cutting-edge content and even sends a civic message encouraging readers and instilling faith in God and the Sovereign. Staying in Moscow for the entire epidemic, M. Yu. Lermontov would for the first time get real experience of facing death, which would be reflected in his work. Analysing the poems of different genres (Plague in Saratov, Plague (Excerpt), Grave of a Fighter, Death – Sunset Burns with a Fiery Streak…) created in 1830 during the cholera epidemic (as evidenced by the marks in the autograph), the author of the article concludes that cholera morbus was perceived by the young poet, unlike the creator of the “Moscow story”, not in a particular historical aspect but in philosophical terms. The experience of death, aggravated by the “picture of the dying humanity”, contributed to Lermontov’s comprehension of the eternal antinomy of being in its dialectical unity. Death and life, death and immortality would become a cross-cutting theme in Lermontov’s work giving it philosophical depth and timeless content.

Author Biography

Svetlana Ermolenko

Dr. Hab. (Philology), Professor, Ural State Pedagogical University.

26, Kosmonavtov Ave., 620091, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-5606-7007



Azadovskii, M. K. (1941). Fol’klorizm Lermontova [Lermontov’s Folklore]. In Literaturnoe nasledstvo. Moscow, Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR. Vols. 43–44. M. Yu. Lermontov. I, pp. 227–262.

Berezkina, S. V. (1987). A. A. Orlov i antibulgarinskaya bor’ba 1830–1833 gg. [A. A. Orlov and the Anti-Bulgarian Struggle of 1830–1833]. In Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii. Leningrad, Nauka. Iss. 21, pp. 181–185.

Dnevnik pastora Gubera s 6-go po 31-e avgusta 1830 g. [The Diary of Pastor Huber from August 6 to August 31, 1830]. (1878). In Russkaya starina. Vol. 22, pp. 581–590.

Ermolenko, S. I. (1996). Otryvok: fragmentarnost’ mira i tselostnost’ liricheskogo perezhivaniya [Excerpt: The Fragmentariness of the World and the Integrity of Lyrical Experience]. In Ermolenko, S. I. Lirika M. Yu. Lermontova: zhanrovye protsessy. Yekaterinburg, Ural’skii gosudarstvennyi pedagogicheskii universitet, pp. 125–155.

Gogol N. V. – A. S. Pushkinu. SPb. Avgusta 21 <1831> [Gogol N. V. to A. S. Pushkin. St Petersburg. August 21 <1831>]. (1994). In Gogol’, N. V. Sobranie sochinenii v 9 t. Moscow, Russkaya kniga. Vol. 9. Pis’ma, pp. 49–51.

Grekhnev, V. A. (1994). Mir pushkinskoi liriki [The World of Pushkin’s Lyrical Poetry]. Nizhnii Novgorod, Nizhnii Novgorod. 462 p.

Grekhnev, V. A. (1997). Slovesnyi obraz i literaturnoe proizvedenie [Verbal Image and Literary Work]. Nizhnii Novgorod, Nizhegorodskii gumanitarnyi tsentr. 200 p.

Herzen, A. I. (1975). Byloe i dumy v 2 ch. [My Past and Thoughts. 2 Parts]. In Herzen, A. I. Sobranie sochinenii v 8 t. Moscow, Pravda. Vol. 4. 336 p.

Lermontov, M. Yu. (1954–1957). Sobranie sochinenii v 6 t. [Collected Works. 6 Vols.]. Moscow, Leningrad, Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR.

Miller, O. V. (1981). Mogila boitsa [The Grave of the Fighter]. In Lermontovskaya entsiklopediya. Moscow, Sovetskaya entsiklopediya, pp. 281–282.

Orlov, A. (1830). Vstrecha Chumy s Kholeroyu, ili Vnezapnoe unichtozhenie vsekh zamyslov chelovecheskikh. Moskovskaya povest’ [The Meeting of Plague with Cholera, or The Sudden Destruction of All Human Plans: A Moscow Story]. Moscow, Universitetskaya tipografiya. 23 p. In Bibra.ru [website]. URL: https://bibra.ru/composition/vstrechachumy-s-holeroyu-ili-vnezapnoe-unichtozhenie-zamyslov-chelovecheskih/ (accessed: 14.02.2022).

Ostroglazov, V. M. (1904). Kholera v Moskve v 1830 godu [Cholera in Moscow in 1830]. In Russkii arkhiv. No. 9, pp. 95–109.

Popov, K. I. (1893). Zapiski o Saratove [Notes about Saratov]. In Saratovskii krai. Istoricheskie ocherki, vospominaniya, materialy. Iss. 1. Saratov, Parovaya skoropechatnya Gubernskogo pravleniya, pp. 155–236.

Prokopenko, L. (1962). Saratovskoe stikhotvorenie poeta [Saratov Poet’s Poem]. In Leninskii put’. Saratov. October 6. In Library.sgu.ru [website]. URL: http://library.sgu.ru/elcol/0512.htm (accessed: 15.02.2022).

Pushkin, A. S. (1950–1951). Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 10 t. [Complete Works. 10 Vols.]. Moscow, Leningrad, Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR.

Reitblat, A. I. (2016). Faddei Venediktovich Bulgarin: ideolog, zhurnalist, konsul’tant sekretnoi politsii [Thaddeus Venediktovich Bulgarin: Ideologist, Journalist, Consultant of the Secret Police]. Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. 632 p.

Sandomirskaya, V. B. (1979). “Otryvok” v poezii Pushkina dvadtsatykh godov [“Excerpt” in Pushkin’s Poetry of the Twenties]. In Pushkin. Issledovaniya i materialy. Vol. 9. Leningrad, Nauka, pp. 69–82.

Shompulev, V. A. (1897). Iz dnevnika zhandarma 30-kh godov. (Zapiski starogo pomeshchika) [From the Diary of a Gendarme of the 30s. (Notes of an Old Landowner)]. In Russkaya starina. Vol. 90. No. 5, pp. 261–269.

Seifert, E. I. (2014). Neizvestnye zhanry “zolotogo veka” russkoi poezii. Romanticheskii otryvok [The Unknown Genres of the “Golden Age” of Russian Poetry. Romantic Passage]. Moscow, Flinta, Nauka. 380 p.

Smirnov, A. A. (1994). Romanticheskaya lirika A. S. Pushkina [Romantic Lyrical Poetry by A. S. Pushkin]. Moscow, Izdatel’stvo Moskovskogo universiteta. 187 p.

Tynyanov, Yu. N. (1965). Problema stikhotvornogo yazyka [Problems of Poetic Language]. Moscow, Sovetskii pisatel’. 303 p.

Tynyanov, Yu. N. (1977). Literaturnyi fakt [Literary Fact]. In Poetika. Istoriya literatury. Kino. Moscow, Nauka, pp. 255–270.

Yarkho, B. I. (1989). Iz knigi “Srednevekovye latinskie videniya” [From the Medieval Latin Visions Book]. In Vostok – Zapad. Issledovaniya. Perevody. Publikatsii. Moscow, Nauka. Iss. 4, pp. 18–55.

Zyryanov, O. V. (2000). Situatsiya lyubvi k mertvoi vozlyublennoi v russkoi poeticheskoi traditsii [The Situation of Love for a Dead Lover in the Russian Poetic Tradition]. In Izvestiya Ural’skogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. No. 17, pp. 57–74.



How to Cite

Ermolenko, S. (2023). “Cholera Morbus” in Moscow as a Literary Situation. Quaestio Rossica, 11(1), 34–51. https://doi.org/10.15826/qr.2023.1.774



Problema voluminis