This took a while.
Now, this will most likely be long and rambling, of no interest to people who do not deal with Slavic linguistics, and simplistic and silly to those who actually do. So let's get to it.
Radishchev's book is one of the great classics of early Russian literature. It's *always* mentioned in any book on Russian lit, and I would say that it's one of those stepping stones before Russian became... Russian. Russia was notoriously slow in its literary development, and while other countries were writing seedy dramas on love, murder and deception, Russians were going to church or dying in slavery. That's my take on it, anyway. This is 1790, Pushkin is in the 1820's, Lermontov 1830's Dostoevsky and Turgenev didn't publish anything until 1846, Tolstoy in 1852, Chekhov (decent-looking man by the way) is all the way up somewhere in the 1880's, and I guess those are the authors Western folks know about. So - 1790, that's early! That's in the days of Elizabeth the Great, the supposedly enlightened monarch. Radishchev's book shocked her deeply and he almost lost his life because of it, but ended up only being exiled. I do see her point, if I were tsarina and read "Скажи мне, в чьей голове может быть больше несообразностей, если не в царской?" ("Tell me, in whose head can there possibly be more incongruities, than in that of a tsar?") I would also be a bit annoyed. Perhaps Radishchev thought she'd be cool about it because the form, strictly speaking, is masculine? Or that she'd think it only applied to those who came before her? Hmm. Nah.
There's probably lots and lots of good stuff in here for historians. Radishchev criticizes the societal order rather harshly (there's a reason why there finally was a revolution, after all) by staging meetings with various individuals during his trip from St Petersburg to Moscow. The people he meets tell him of their troubles, of how daughters and wives of farmers are raped and mistreated, their husbands executed for defending their honor, how petty masters and mistresses do as they please with their property (their "souls"), how a just judge has no business in the judicial system, on the uselessness of censorship, and so on. Pretty depressing reading. This is furthermore interspersed with long sermon-like passages on how to build a better future, on the falseness of society, etc, with some musings on how prostitution should be banned NOT on moral grounds, but because prostitutes spread diseases. And also a part on how erotic literature can ruin the minds of young men. He doesn't mention young women. ^^
To be honest, the never ending moral preaching kind of made me zone out from time to time. You blink in the middle of line 3 of a 10 line sentence, and all of a sudden you have no idea who that damned participle is in agreement with, what on earth the plural dative is referring to, and... well... all of a sudden, you're counting occurrences of the root "blag". (It's everywhere.) It's not an easy read. Because this is not actually Russian. This novel could be translated
into Russian. This is funny, because at the end of the book, Radishchev says the exact same thing about all that has been published up until Lomonosov (1711-1765, all-around genius, author of the first Russian grammar), during which time people (= those who could write, i.e. almost no-one) wrote in the same language as that prior to the Mongols, i.e. "na slovenskom" (Old Church Slavonic). Radishchev emulates a learned Church Slavonic idiom, using all he can find of OCS connectors, conjugations, vocabulary, and participles, probably because that *was* what being educated was about. Never ending participles! Not a single sentence without them. This makes for very cumbersome reading, and for endless amounts of fun for Old Church Slavonic geeks.
I had the most wonderful example of "we've got cases, so screw word order", but can't remember where I wrote it down. :(
First and foremost, and most incredible of all, there are absolute datives! Several of them! I really think it's a shame the absolute dative has not permeated colloquial Russian. As far as I can remember, it's a calque from Classical Greek's double genitive (but my Classical Greek grammar is shady at best, so I'm not sure now that they fill the exact same functions), but I do think I've read some article stating that it also reached East Slavic. And then, obviously, went away again. Such a shame, it's so elegant. And my edition has a note explaining
what the absolute dative means, so it's not all that familiar to modern day Russians. (It's a temporal/causal adverbial clause.)
Look what I found!
"Я пью и ем не для того только, чтоб быть живу" <-- ! is that a dative? Infinitive with dative!
"Подъезжал я к Новугороду" and "монастырей, вокруг оного лежащих" <-- double declination, lots and lots of онъ in the form of оного as 3rd.p.sg. pronoun (probably for non-animate referents, as его is also frequent).
"власы главы его" <-- South Slavic metathesis! (lots and lots of these, also град, брад, сребро, слат... but also a fair amount of East Slavic polnoglasie forms!)
зрети instead of видеть, яко, дондеже, еже, да-imperatives, которые without antecedent, ити and итти instead of идти, many short form всяк, единожды (однажды), токмо, at least one active present participle in the sg.m. without the щ-suffix!
And those are just a couple of examples. This was very interesting, but tiring. I have only read 10th-15th century texts, and then 19th century, so I'm lacking this middle period, which is very fascinating! I need to find some Lomonosov now.