Vladimir Pecherin (1807-1885), a Russian political emigré and Catholic convert was a controversial figure both in nineteenth-century Ireland and in Russian intellectual history. In his autobiographical notes and in the letters to his Russian corespondents of the 1860s and the 1870s, eventually collected in Apologia pro vita mea (Mémoires d'outre-tombe), Pecherin provides a vivid display of the evolution of Russian thought. His writings as a whole constitute an artistic presentation of the Russian Zeitgeist.
Certain glaring contradictions between the ideas expressed in Pecherin's Russian correspondence and the reality of his long life within the Catholic Church require explanation. The article focuses on the authorial intention behind Pecherin’s autobiographical writing. In the hope of cementing his connection with Russia, Pecherin created in his memoirs the largely stock literary image of a “superfluous man,” a dominant literary figure of nineteenth-century Russian literature. Pecherin’s practical activity within the Catholic Church was, however, by no means superfluous, as his reputation in Dublin attests.
Pecherin’s epistles to Russia invert the genre of “confession of conversion” and form a “confession of disillusionment.” Pecherin’s “hero” writes a repentant story in which he recounts a life-long pattern of devotion to various deceptive illusions, among which he counts Socialism, Hegelianism, as well as Catholicism and religion in general. The constant reinventions of himself are matched by surprising flexibility of his literary style, which seems to imitate the major voices of Russian classic literature, from Karamzin and Dostoevsky to Turgenev. If we acknowledge that Pecherin’s memoirs are primarily a work of art and only then a source of historically accurate information, many of his apparent contradictions are explained.