My Past and Thoughts: The Memoirs of Alexander Herzen

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Vintage Books, 1974 - Authors, Russian - 684 pages
Herzen's story of his privileged childhood among the Russian aristocracy is lit with the insight of a great novelist; and, with a trained historian's sense of the interaction of men and events, he limns the grand line of revolutionary devleopment from the earliest stirrings of Russian radicalism throught the tumultuous ideological debates of the International. His close friends - Marx, Wagner, Mill, Bakunin, Garibaldi, Kropotkin - are brought pungently, brilliantly alive.

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To be honest, fairly hard going at times. Read full review


INTRODUCTION by Isaiah Berlin
DEDICATION to Nicholay Platonovich Ogarév

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About the author (1974)

Herzen's primary importance in literature is his role in Russia's political and intellectual history. During the 1830s, with his friend N. Ogaryov, he became the center of a university circle whose members were developing utopian socialist theory. During the 1840s he helped shape the ideas of Russian Westernism. However, he also wrote fiction. His novel Who Is to Blame? (1847) presents a woman caught between two men. All three are unable to find a place for themselves in Russian society and, in line with Herzen's ideas about individual dignity and freedom, are responsible for their own unhappiness. After leaving Russia in 1847, Herzen became active in European revolutionary movements. Their failure produced From the Other Shore (1855), a collection of essays and dialogues on historical subjects. But his masterpiece is his memoirs, My Past and Thoughts; a unique combination of reminiscences, analyses, and anecdotes on which he worked from 1852 until 1868. Yet another achievement was The Bell (Kolokol), a weekly publication that Herzen produced for a decade and that had an enormous influence on both government and society in Russia from 1857 to 1861. Like many radical thinkers of the time (Vissarion Belinsky, Nikolay Chernyshevsky, and others), Herzen combined political and literary interests. Unlike them, however, he never lost his sensitivity of feeling and style, directing his irony at his allies as well as his adversaries. In this he was exceptional in Russian nineteenth-century letters.

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