The M. Gorky Scientific Library of St Petersburg University maintains book collections that were assembled by outstanding scientists and scholars over the course of their lifetime. Later these collections were passed on to the University to become accessible to future generations of researchers. Among the donors were: Konstantin Bestuzhev-Ryumin, the founder and first director of the famous Bestuzhev Courses (the Higher Education Courses for Women); Andrey Beketov, the ‘father’ of Russian botanists and the founder of the St Petersburg University Botanical Garden; and other significant historical figures. St Petersburg University has received an invaluable gift from the personal library of the French literary historian and critic Robert Burac.

Read also about the book collection from the Philippe Habert Library, given to St Petersburg University by the French Embassy.

Robert Burac (1935–2006) devoted his life to studying the oeuvres of the classic of French literature Charles Péguy (1873–1914), an outstanding poet, philosopher, and publicist. Burac discovered the works of Charles Péguy while writing his thesis in 1962. The life’s work of Robert Burac was the publication of Péguy’s complete oeuvres in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade – a prestigious editorial collection of the Gallimard publishing house. Apart from annotating and editing Péguy’s works, Burac taught at the University of Amiens. In fact, editing work took up all of his spare time. He would continue editing even when he was on vacation. All in all, each of the three Péguy’s volumes took Burac about five years of work. The complete oeuvres run to some 5,000 pages. The publication was a real accomplishment, since Burac worked on his own, without any help. Indeed, books from the Gallimard collection of Péguy’s writings became reference publications, interesting not only for literary scholars, but also for historians.

Robert Burac’s long-standing research interest in Charles Péguy led him to write a biography of the writer – Revolution and Grace (La Révolution et la Grâce), which was published by Robert Laffont in 1994. Burac’s thesis ‘On the mood and humour of Charles Péguy’, written in 1968 at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) under Professor Gerald d’Antoine, was later revised it into an essay ‘The Smile of Hypatia, an essay on the comical in Charles Péguy’ (Le sourire d’Hypathie, Essai sur le Comique de Charles Péguy). It was published by Honoré Champion, who also published a critical and annotated edition of The King Dagobert Song (La Chanson du Roi Dagobert) and a two-volume Correspondence (Correspondance, 1905-1914: Charles Péguy – Pierre Marcel).

While working on Péguy’s prose works for the Gallimard Pleiade Edition, Robert Burac assembled a unique collection of scholarly books. Upon his death in 2006, in accordance with his will, his book collection was divided between centres for scholarly studies of Charles Péguy’s work in France, Russia and Poland. In March 2008, with the assistance of the Consulate General of France in St Petersburg, part of Robert Burac’s book collection was passed on to the St Petersburg branch of the Jeanne d’Arc–Charles Péguy Centre as a gift from the scholar’s widow, Liliane Ruf-Burac. The founder and director of the St Petersburg Jeanne d’Arc–Charles Péguy Centre was Tatiana Taimanova, Professor of St Petersburg University. The book collection was transported to Russia with the financial support of the Association of Friends of Charles Péguy (France). Currently, the books are kept in the Robert Burac classroom at St Petersburg University.

Tatiana Taimanova was the author of over 60 scholarly publications, Vice-President of the International Association of Literary Critics (L'Association Internationale de la Critique Littéraire (AICL)), France), and a member of the Association for the Dissemination of Literary Research (Association pour la Diffusion de la Recherche Littéraire (ADIREL)). Professor Taimanova was a literary scholar and an academic. For almost 20 years she taught at the Department of French, St Petersburg University. Her research interests focused on Charles Péguy, who praised the deeds of the national heroine of France, Jeanne d’Arc; and France’s Catholic writers of the late 19th – early 20th centuries. A number of research papers on these topics were published in Russian and international scholarly journals, including publications in the French bulletin Le Porche.

Tatiana Taimanova made a significant contribution to the development of scientific and cultural ties between Russia and France. In 1995, she founded the St Petersburg branch of the Jeanne d’Arc–Charles Péguy Centre, which became part of the Centre for French Studies at St Petersburg University. The scholarly and organisational activities of Professor Taimanova were recognised by the French authorities. In 1997, she was awarded an honorary medal of the city of Orléans, the hometown of Jeanne d’Arc and Charles Péguy, for: establishing a scholarly centre; studying literature and history of France; and attracting Russian scholars and students to the field of her scholarly interests. In 2016, she was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Arts and Letters (la Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres) of the French Republic.

Robert Burac’s book collection contains: lifetime editions of Charles Péguy’s writings; a complete set of issues of the literary journal ‘Fortnightly Notebooks’ (Cahiers de la Quinzaine), edited and published by Péguy in 1900-1914; and rare research publications on the writer’s work and his time, published in the 20th century. The collection also includes major scholarly works about the national heroine of France – Jeanne d’Arc. The story of the Maid of Orléans was Péguy’s favourite subject for dramatisation. He wrote three plays about Saint Joan: Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc, 1897); The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc (Le Mystère de la Charité de Jeanne d’Arc, 1910); and The Mystery of the Holy Innocents (Le Mystère des Saints Innocents, 1912).

Robert Burac’s book collection will be a fundamental resource for studying French culture and literature of the ‘Fin de siècle’ period, but it will be also of interest to scholars who study Medieval France. This multifaceted collection of books can provide research and reference material to literary scholars, philosophers, historians, bibliographers and other francophone researchers. Housing of the book collection in the M. Gorky Scientific Library of St Petersburg University will significantly increase its availability and readership, making publications accessible for all researchers, regardless of whether they are affiliated with the University or not, at both national and international level.