Paved With Good Intentions: Venichka's Journey of Redemption in Moskva-Petushki and its Relationship with Radishchev's Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Dante's Divine Comedy

Martiniuk, Jill, Slavic Languages and Literatures - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Clowes, Edith, Slavic Languages & Literatures, University of Virginia

Paved With Good Intentions: Venichka’s Journey of Redemption in Moskva-Petushki and its Relationship with Radishchev’s Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Jill Martiniuk
University of Virginia, Graduate School of Arts & Science, 2015
Dissertation Advisor: Edith Clowes


The goal of this dissertation is to examine the theme of redemption in Venedikt Erofeev’s 1969 poema Moskva-Petushki. Moskva-Petushki is a major underground work of the late Soviet postmodern period, which narrates the physical and spiritual journey of the protagonist from Moscow to the small factory town of Petushki on an electric train. Although Moskva-Petushki is usually viewed as a satire, this dissertation takes a new approach, viewing the poema as a journey of spiritual redemption. It examines the relationship between Moskva-Petushki (translated as Moscow to the End of the Line) and other major journeys of redemption—Radishchev’s Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Understood as absolution from past sins, redemption opens new interpretative possibilities for Moskva-Petushki. Redemption is a valuable lens through which to interpret Moskva-Petushki because it allows the reader to question the motivations for Venichka’s journey to Petushki and what drives his desire to go there. This dissertation argues that Venichka attempts to reach Petushki in order to alleviate the grief he feels over his past sins. However, Venichka the protagonist does not have a single vision of redemption and this lack of vision may help to explain the failure of his previous twelve trips to bring him to Petushki as all previous trips have ended in a return to Moscow. Venichka is unable to find a path to redemption on his own, and this uncertainty causes him to stagger at the beginning of his thirteenth attempt. Since Venichka cannot find the correct path to his own redemption, and has met with continual failure on previous journeys, I contend that Erofeev engages with and parodies three pre-established paths to redemption to raise the issue of the possibility of redemption and what it might mean in soviet society. The overall goal of this dissertation is to examine how Erofeev responds to the theme of redemption in each work. It also seeks to show how the author Erofeev parodies the three previous paths to redemption in order to illustrate how these visions of redemption are not universally applicable to all who seek it, and offer a false hope to those who believe they have earned salvation.

Chapter 1 “From Moscow to Petushki: Redemption and Social Enlightenment in Venichka’s Journey” examines Erofeev’s response to Radishchev’s work and his use of parody to create a commentary on Russia’s journey to social enlightenment over the past two centuries. Radishchev’s vision of social enlightenment in A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow means moving towards a society where all Russians are equal before the law, and thoughts can be expressed free from censorship. For Erofeev, social enlightenment means understanding the efforts of previous Russian reformers, but rejecting them for their inaction and inability to move Russia forward. In particular, Erofeev focuses his attention on the images of the narod (the nation; the people) and the intelligentsia, in the form of his fellow passengers, to show the stagnation of social enlightenment and social redemption in its final form as the Soviet Union.

Chapter 2, “Rebel Angels: Seeking the Satanic in Moskva-Petushki,” has two goals: to show how Erofeev appropriates images from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and to explain why Erofeev’s parody of Milton’s vision of redemption and longing for Paradise offers a sense of false hope to seekers who are uncertain of their own path. It posits that the essence of Venichka’s rebellion is metaphysical—he refuses to accept the Soviet atheist premise that the human spirit is merely a higher development of the physical world. He insists on his spiritual existence. This chapter compares Venichka to the figure of Satan, and considers the similarities between Venichka’s angels and the rebellious angels of Paradise Lost. Numerous times in the text Venichka appropriates the distinct characteristics of Milton’s Satan in his quest to regain Petushki. Erofeev’s creative response to Paradise Lost brings out the dual nature of Venichka’s personality and motivation for his journey. In his creative appropriation of Paradise Lost, Erofeev examines the desire to seek salvation while wanting to rebel against an established system.

Chapter 3, “Venichka and La Diritta Via: Exploring the Dantean Path to Redemption in Moskva-Petushki” argues for Erofeev’s creative response to Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Erofeev’s appropriation of themes and imagery creates a commentary on the idea of salvation and questions the possibility of redemption for people who seek it. Although Erofeev sends his protagonist on a journey that resembles Dante’s divinely inspired path through the use of portals and the motif of the guide, Erofeev’s protagonist meets with drastically different results than Dante’s. By examining Erofeev’s poema through the lens of The Divine Comedy, the reader must consider what it means to be redeemed in a society where redemption does not promise survival.

These three paths to redemption that Erofeev challenges in Moskva-Petushki are discussed in reverse chronological order because of the dialog that occurs between the four works rather than which author had the biggest impact on Erofeev’s own definition of redemption. By challenging these three metanarratives on redemption, Erofeev constructs his own concept of redemption from these three predecessors but comes to a completely different and quite original conclusion about the possibility of salvation in Soviet society.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Russian, Venedikt Erofeev, postmodernism, redemption
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