English Tolstoism (angliiskaia tolstovshchina): interpreting Carlyle in revolutionary Russia

Frances Mary Nethercott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In December1904, the prominent Russian economist, religious thinker, and social activist, Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944) published the first instalment of a long two-part article on Carlyle in the "theological-literary" journal Novyi put or The New Way. At its most basic level, the article was pitched as an introduction to Carlyle's thought, and in this spirit, Bulgakov incorporated lengthy passages from Past and Present (1843) and Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850), as well as quotations from the 1891 translation by Valentin Ivanovich Iakovenko (1859-1915) of On Heroes and Hero-worship. Since the turn of the twentieth century, further random translations of shorter pieces (for example, "Novalis" [1829] and Carlyle's "Inaugural Address at Edinburgh" [1866]) had become available in the Russian language, but it was Nikolaj Gorbov's "masterfully executed translation" of Sartor Resartus (1904), then in its second edition, which had really caught the attention of the reading public. Widely esteemed as a literary chef d'oeuvre in its own right, the reception of Gorbov's translation, Bulgakov believed, confirmed a growing interest in the Scottish thinker among Russian intellectuals and literati. Published in January 1905 in the first issue of a new journal Voprosy zhizni (Questions of Life) under his co-editorship with Nikolai Berdiaev, it opens with what reads like a mission statement for Christian Socialism (Bulgakov, "Part II" 16-38). [...]in his detailed reconstruction of Carlyle's statements on Chartism, pauperization, and the Gospel of Mammon, he seemed to abandon the conventions of interpretative-expository commentary for a broad reflection on the challenges of reconfiguring social moralism (a label he pins on Carlyle) into a program of concrete social measures and the potentially transformative power of Christianity in revolutionary politics. Specifically, the importance Carlyle vested in religious mystery for social solidarity and individual integrity invoked in Bulgakov's mind Tolstoi's evangelism of the simple life and his heterodox view of a non-divine Christ as the greatest moral teacher of mankind, themes that he had developed in a number of highly personal treatises during a period of spiritual crisis and intense soul searching. In particular, his ethical ideal of the many-sided development of man that he set out in What, Then, Must We Do? (1886), which followed his first-hand encounter with poverty as an enumerator for the Moscow census of 1882, contained many notable parallels with the ethos of Carlyle's ruthless denunciations of contemporary "Mammonite" political economy, his moral scrutiny of economic destitution, and his prescriptive "gospel of work."
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-213,261
Number of pages27
JournalCarlyle Studies Annual
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2022


  • Literary translation
  • Ethics
  • Interpreting
  • Russian language
  • Politics


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