This is not Peter's historic window on the West, nor is it St. Petersburg as a historical window on Russia. Buckler, a professor of literature, offers the city for its own sake -- where the physical and the aesthetic merge to create what nineteenth-century Piter was for both its highborn and its common. She focuses on the period from 1830 to 1890, the period of "eclecticism" -- between neoclassicism and modernism in architecture, between romanticism and modernism in literature. It is St. Petersburg from Pushkin to Dostoyevsky, and the reflections of each serve as anchors for an elaborate and arresting exploration of the city through urban legends, travel guidebooks, literary reactions to its changing architecture, and the poetry, short stories, essays, and plays of the normal, undistinguished, and eventually forgotten writers of the day. She makes much of the notion of the "middle" -- spatially, chronologically, and qualitatively -- applied both to the city's image and to the people in it.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics From This Issue