Book at Lunchtime: Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow

Background of colourful old book spines, overlaid with a white circle containing the words 'Book at Lunchtime' and to the right, the cover of Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow

Register here.

Join us for a TORCH Book at Lunchtime online webinar on Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow by Alexander Radishchev, translated by Andrew Kahn and Irina Reyfman. This event is co-organised with Columbia University's Harriman Institute and The Russian Library.

Book at Lunchtime is a series of bite-sized book discussions held during term-time, with commentators from a range of disciplines. The events are free to attend and open to all.

About the book:

Alexander Radishchev’s Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow is among the most important pieces of writing to come out of Russia in the age of Catherine the Great. An account of a fictional journey along a postal route, it blends literature, philosophy, and political economy to expose social and economic injustices and their causes at all levels of Russian society. Not long after the book’s publication in 1790, Radishchev was condemned to death for its radicalism and ultimately exiled to Siberia instead.

Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow has just been awarded the 2021 AATSEEL (Association of American Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages) Book Prize in the category of Literary Translation. AATSEEL said:

"When Alexander Radishchev self-published his Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow in March of 1790, he soon found himself in the prison of the Peter Paul Fortress, with a death sentence that was commuted to exile in Siberia. The French Revolution led Catherine the Great to ban the book and accuse him of fomenting revolution. Radishchev’s name remained taboo until Alexander II came to the throne. A few remaining copies of the book and manuscripts continued to circulate, until the book was finally first published in Russia in 1907. Radishchev had imagined a different reception for his advice to Catherine – a treatise in praise of freedom, equality and reforms, and opposed to serfdom and a corrupt monarchy. This translation comes at a time when its message seems fresh and necessary again.

It is only the second translation, and the first to take Radishchev’s language seriously, as part of his artistry, rather than a defect. In Journey, Radishchev varies his language from easily readable vernacular to dense passages that are barely comprehensible to native speakers. Here Radishchev uses an artificially archaic Church-Slavonic idiom, with ornate syntax and neologisms that increase the moral weight of important passages and force the reader to pay attention. The translators opted to translate the difficulties Radishchev’s Russian poses into mostly readable, accessible English, with occasional bumps. Radishchev also included excerpts from his long ode, Liberty, which they translate into appropriate meter and rhyme. The translators provide an expert introduction that ranges widely, yet is a thorough overview of the context for such a problematic major work. This seems to be among those translations where the translation clarifies the original and is useful to all readers – scholars, teachers, students, and general readers. The Journey deserves to be much more widely read in English. This is the translation to introduce new readers to this historically important, timely plea to let the blinders fall from our eyes, transform our world and live up to our ideals."


Chair: Dr Oliver Ready (St Antony's College)

Professor Irina Reyfman (Columbia)

Professor Andrew Kahn (MML)

Professor Zofia Stemplowska (Politics)