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LITERATURE FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE THIRD QUARTER OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY

 

In the fourteenth century, as in the preceding period, a bitter struggle continued between the Russian principalities for political and economic supremacy. This internecine strife profited the Horde, because it undermined the forces that could have re­sisted Mongol oppression. The khans of the Horde encouraged this internal struggle between the Russian princes and used it to suppress the popular uprisings against the invaders that broke out sporadically.

A prince who succeeded to a princely throne had first to ob­tain the sanction in the Horde in the form of a special written document or yarlyk permitting him to reign. The Russian prince who obtained a yarlyk to rule in the grand principality of Vla­dimir was senior to all the other Russian princes. The competition between the politically and economically strongest princes for sanction to rule the grand principality sometimes led to the killing of one Russian prince while he was visiting the Horde, with the connivance of another.

In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries the principality of Moscow emerged as one of the strongest in North-Eastern Russia. The Moscow princes played an active part in the struggle for supremacy among the Russian princes, and, consequently, for the title of Grand Prince of Vladimir. The main rivals in this struggle at the beginning of the fourteenth century were the princes of Tver and Moscow. At that time when religious ideology was prevalent the support of the Church was extremely important. Moscow was most successful in strengthening its alliance with the Church. In the 1320s during the reign of Prince Ivan, son of Daniel, Metropolitan Peter of All Russia moved from Vladimir to Moscow, and Moscow became the ecclesiastical centre of all the Russian lands.

Mongol dominion put a brake on the country’s political and socio-economic development, but it could not arrest the march of history.

The late thirteenth and early fourteenth century saw a gradual revival of handicrafts, expansion of trade between town and countryside and a growth in settlements of traders and artisans. These processes led to the flowering of architecture in Russia, particularly in the middle and latter half of the fourteenth century. Stone churches and fortifications were built in Novgorod, Pskov, and Tver. Stone building began in Moscow in 1326. Four stone churches were built in the Kremlin under Ivan the Money-Bag. White stone walls were erected round it in 1366-1367.

Book production, which had been greatly undermined by the Mongol invasion, also revived. During the destruction of Russian towns a large number of manuscript books had perished. Mongol rule led to a drop in literacy among the population. The revival of book culture was promoted by the appearance in Russia during the second half of the fourteenth century of paper, a cheaper writing material than parchment.

By the beginning of the fourteenth century the disrupted relations of the Russian lands with other countries began to be resumed. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Constantinople were resumed, and in this connection the genre of the travel story describing journeys and places visited by pilgrims was also re­vived.

In the period when Russia was ruled by the Mongols the style of monumental historicism continued but did not produce any great or impressive individual works.

In general, it must be said that in mediaeval literatures of the traditionalist type (i.e., literatures in which tradition and literary convention played the dominant role) there was not the radical change of literary styles within a strictly defined space of time, that we find in literatures of the modern age. Literary styles did not replace one another suddenly in mediaeval literatures, but rather grew gradually out of one another. The features of the new style developed slowly within the old one.

In the fourteenth century the emotional element became stronger in Russian literature. Whereas in the preceding period a strong, majestic emotion pervaded works about the Mongol invasion, which combined in these works with the epic grandeur of the events to create a kind of monumental emotionality, now, in the period of oppressive foreign rule, when, as the chronicler puts it, “you could not swallow bread from fear”, the lyrical, emotional element was combined with minor themes, about the day-to-day events of foreign rule: the courage of individual people who perished in the Horde for their homeland and their faith, and popular uprisings. Increasingly more space was devoted in literature to dreams of a better future, of distant happy lands, of an earthly paradise as yet undiscovered. The emotional element was also strengthened by the growing interest in familiar events of the present, in local and regional themes. Inevitably the monumentalism so characteristic of the preceding period gradually weakened as the subject-matter changed and no longer showed its former consistency and unity of stylistic expression.

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