On Friday the 22nd and Saturday the 23rd the XIX Colloquium of the British-French Association for the Study of Russian Culture took place at SSEES, the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL, London. The Colloquium was organized by Professor Derek Offord from the University of Bristol.

The British-French Association for the Study of Russian Culture aims at encouraging scholarly dialogue between English, French and Russian-speaking colleagues working in the fields of Slavonic studies, comparative literature, and the humanities in general.

The Colloquium presented fascinating papers by academics and young researchers, all driven by a huge passion for Russian culture. The speakers’ nationality was quite broad, ranging from British, French, German, Italian, Ukrainian, Russian, and Kazakh and even thought the hosting language was English, some presented their papers in French and Russian. Also, the following discussions welcomed multilingualism and every participant expressed himself in one of the three languages, usually the one he felt more familiar with. Initially the Colloquium included a few more papers, but the pensioners’ strike in France prevented many of the appointed guests to reach the other side of the Channel.

In the first session on Friday the 22nd three university professors gave their speeches. Firstly, Professor Marie-Pierre Rey from the University Pantheon Sorbonne in Paris gave her speech on “Fighting Napoleon with Ideas: Alexander I’s vision of Europe”. She  recently published a marvellous book on the subject, emphasising on Alexander I’s foresight on an Union européenne.

Secondly, Professor Andreas Schonle from QueenMaryUniversity in London talked about “Gogol’s Poetics of Ruins and His Response to de Stael’s Corinne”. Professor Schonle’s presentation is part of his forthcoming project Architecture of Oblivion: Ruins and Historical Consciousness in Modern Russia where the trope of ruin and the response to actual ruins in Russia’s thinking about its discontinuous history and fractured identity are examined.

Thirdly, the organizer of the Colloquium, Professor Derek Offord from the University of Bristol, presented “Francophonie in Tolstoy’s War and Peace”. Professor Offord is currently researching on the history of the French language in Russia. Bilingualism in War and peace is a mirror of the alienation within Russian society where language is used a social sign; French being used by the elite and Russian by the common narod.

Although Napoleonic history, Gogol’ and Tolstoy may be considered classics within the field of Slavonic studies, it has to be noticed that these papers presented new fascinating insights on those themes. The second part of the conference held on Saturday the 23rd included more niche topics.

The morning of Saturday the 23rd of October opened with two presentations on Art, music and literature in the early 20th Century by two young independent scholars. With great pleasure, I have introduced my study on “A contrastive analysis of Art Nouveau in France and the UK vs. Russia”, after carrying extensive research on the commonalities and the differences of Art Nouveau in the three countries, focusing particularly on Russia. The other speaker was Marina Lupishko, a pianist and a teacher, on “Daniil Kharms’s analysis of Chopin’s Op. 17, 4: Reflections on the formal structures in Music and Prose”. Carrying out research on the interplay between music and literature proved to be extremely original.

The third speech was given by Irina Bill from the University of Toulouse Le Mirail. “Memsahibs in Russian Borderlands: A Pleasurable Instruction or a Colonial Gaze?” will be part of a bigger project on travel writing, dealing with the perception of otherness, orientalism, colonialism at the Russian borders.

After a small coffee break the colloquium went on with Boris Czerny from the University of Caen who presented a paper on “Zweig : Erasme : Tolstoy” and with Vladimir Goudakov on “Le littorail Francaise, Grande Bretagne et la Russie”. Within his broad interest for the history of the Russian Jews, Mr Czerny analysed how Stefan Zweig portrayed Tolstoy, along with the duality of the Russian soul. Mr Goudakov, a well-known Russianist, talked about the appeal that the three French coasts had had for both British and Russian citizens throughout history.

The discussions following the presentations were intense and the Colloquium proved to be not only deeply informative, but also highly inspirational for all the participants. The British-French Association for the Study of Russian Culture will hold its next conference at the University of Toulouse 2 Le Mirail, department «Lettres Langages et Arts», on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 April 2011, with its central theme being migration.