Klyuchevsky and the Course of Russian History

A historical pioneer of the 'longue durée' who found his own liberal vision of a European Russia clouded by the contradictions and pessimism of his own times.

Portraits of V.O. Klyuchevsky show a modest, bearded, bespectacled, slightly dishevelled figure who would not have looked out of place at the beginning of the century in the library of the British Museum. They do not fit in at all with Kipling's assertion that the Russians were fine fellows until they tucked in their shirts and began to ape the more cultivated citizens of other European empires. But how could such an evident gentleman achieve a sympathetic understanding of a national history that was widely deemed in the West to contain little that was credit- able or even civilised? It was Klyuchevsky's achievement to present an account of Russian development that was not only coherent but also persuasive, at least until it neared the public events of his own lifetime. Then, as we shall see, he came up against some insuperable problems.

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