In the 17th century, the most common genre was the story. They remain popular in the first decades of the new 18th century. The stories were anonymous. Handwritten stories about a new hero were typical. This is a young man who receives education abroad and makes a successful career. The stories were not independent. Unknown Russian writers imitated translated secular stories. In Peter’s time, there was an ideal of a hero: this is a man of an humble family, but energetic, enterprising, he achieves fame and fortune with his mind and knowledge. The then fashionable word “history” or “history” is introduced into the title of the stories. Anonymous authors wanted to emphasize the authenticity of the events depicted in the works, and by this to distinguish the stories of the 18th century from the stories of the 17th.
Two stories were especially popular: “History about the Russian sailor Vasily Koriotsky”, and “The story about Alexander, the Russian nobleman.” The story of Koriotsky has come down to us in many lists. There are 12 editions of the story. In this work, a conflict develops, familiar already from the stories of the 17th century. Before us is a clash of old and new ideas about the goals of life, about moral values. If in the stories of the 17th century such clashes became acute /”The Tale of Savva Grudtsyn”/, then there is no clash between Vasily and his father. Moreover, the father does not interfere with the son’s desire to “live his own mind.” There is no enmity between them. On the contrary, Vasily takes care of his father, sends him money from abroad, always remembers him. The whole story proves that it is impossible to live in the old way. The old life is denied, its whole way of life, its moral foundations. Vasily, who lives in his own way, wins, reaches the highest rung of the social ladder. The poor nobleman becomes the “king of Florence”. This is a fundamentally new solution to the conflict – quite in the spirit of the stormy times of Peter the Great. The hero is initiative, independent, but before leaving home, he asks his father for a blessing. The hero of the story has not yet completely lost the old perception of the world, since it was believed that only a parental blessing would give success to the cause.
The action begins in St. Petersburg, where the poor nobleman Vasily Koriotsky asks his father to let him go to serve in the navy. Vasily’s choice is not accidental – to go to the fleet – the brainchild of Peter. This choice was dictated by the new political situation, when Russia, having conquered the shores of the Baltic Sea, became a major maritime power. He manages to master naval science in Kronstadt and travels to Holland “for the sciences of arithmetic and various languages.” A sharp mind, resourcefulness and knowledge allow Vasily to succeed in any situation where fate throws him.He brilliantly fulfilled the commercial orders of the Dutch merchant with whom he lodged.He manages to achieve success and the merchant decides to make Vasily his heir.Before accepting the inheritance, Vasily again his father’s blessing is needed. He goes by sea to St. Petersburg, but the ships fall into a storm and crash. Vasily is thrown onto the island. Robbers lived on the island, who discovered in him “a young man with a dashing and sharp mind.” The robbers immediately chose Vasily as their chieftain. The robbers languishing in captivity – the queen of the Florennian land – Heraclius. Before her, the hero appears in a new capacity – he is a gallant gentleman, who in the subtleties comprehended the rules of secular behavior and managed to win her heart. He frees Heraclius, flees with her from the island and after wanderings ends up in Caesarea. Caesar hospitably meets them and admires his mind, and brings Vasily closer to him, calls him brother and invites them to live with Heraclius and settle in his palace. Soon Vasily and Heraclius are separated due to the intrigues of the Florensky admiral and meet a year later. In the final, Vasily marries Heraclius, and after the death of her father, becomes king.
There is no fantasy in the story. The hero is helped not by magic items, but by his mind and ingenuity. Vasily is a hero of the time of Peter the Great – smart, decisive, enterprising. In life, he achieved everything himself. Koriotsky carries the proud title of “Russian sailor” through all countries. All the author’s sympathies are on the side of the clever Koriotsky.
In full accordance with the new worldview, Vasily Koriotsky treats a woman in a completely different way than the heroes of the stories of Ancient Russia / for example, the young man from “The Tale of Woe of Misfortune” or Savva Grudtsin. / In relation to Heraclius, he is described as a “courteous” gentleman. The features of his relationship with Heraclius are largely inspired by the tale of chivalry, which was generously translated in the early 18th century. In the stories of the 17th century. love was considered a sinful, diabolical feeling, the hero falls in love with a married woman. In the stories of the 18th century, on the contrary, love is a noble feeling. Beautiful love between Heraclius and Basil. Such love makes the hero for the sake of Heraclius neglect the danger, risk his life. In the stories of the Petrine era, a Russian person is depicted as a European. He was given qualities that were alien to ancient Russian stories: independence, resourcefulness, gallantry – what the new life and new reality demanded.
The story “The Story of Alexander, the Russian nobleman” was also popular. “History” is a work composed of several separate short stories, united only by the name of the protagonist – Alexander. Characteristics of the hero varies from novel to novel. Here is a gallant-psychological story, and anecdotes, and an adventurous chivalrous novel. The first part of the story is especially interesting. It tells how a Russian nobleman, a very handsome and educated young man, went abroad; traveled to Paris, he settled in the city of Lille in France. Alexander fell in love with the pastor’s daughter Eleanor, and she fell in love with him. The mutual feelings of young people, their modest declarations of love, the hero’s graceful courtship of his beloved girl are described in detail in the story. They swore eternal loyalty to each other. But then a noble and rich person, the daughter of General Dorothea, saw Alexander, and fell in love with him. She impudently sought the love of Alexander, and she managed to ensure that he cheated on Eleanor. Upon learning of this, Eleanor fell ill with grief. Alexander returned to her, cursing Dorothea, but it was too late. Eleanor died forgiving Alexander.
There are no adventures in this story, it talks about simple, ordinary things, about ordinary people, the interest of the story is only in psychological and everyday conflicts. The honest love of modest Eleanor is justified and the passion of a noble person who, in contrast to Eleanor, herself achieves the love of a hero, is condemned. The author of the story depicts the courtship of a Russian nobleman for Eleanor. Alexander’s feelings are in the center of attention: sighs, love languor are described, from which the hero is ready to die. When “sudden despondency” attacks Alexander, he begins to play the flute, and with this game he attracts the attention of Eleanor. Alexander is a strong, dexterous, brave knight. He defeats the glorious knights of Europe. Alexander admires European cities and especially Paris. His fate is also sad: Alexander drowns while swimming in the sea.
If the story about Vasily Koriotsky inspired courageous deeds, then the story about Alexander taught to love, brought up good manners.
The compositional feature of the Russian stories of the time of Peter the Great is the inclusion of songs-arias in them, which were performed by the characters. These “arias” are examples of love lyrics from the early 18th century. In the “History of Alexander the Russian Nobleman” Eleanor sings arias. She, seeing Alexander, expresses her feelings in an aria. Plays the harp and sings an aria and Vasily Koriotsky. The authors of the stories were not the authors of these arias. They used popular arias of their time.
The artistic merits of the stories of the time of Peter the Great are not great, but their content was significant. The stories depicted a new hero who believed in himself and this hero was interesting to the reader.