History of Literature









Russian literature

 

CONTENTS:

Old Russian literature. (10th–17th centuries)

The 18th century

The 19th century

The Silver Age. (From the 1890s to 1917)

Post-Revolutionary literature

Thaws and freezes



 


Russian literature
 



The 19th century
 


Vasily Zhukovsky

Konstantin Batyushkov
Yevgeny Baratynsky

Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin
"The Bronze Horseman"  Illustrations by Alexandre Benois
"Eugene Onegin"    
CANTO I, CANTO II, CANTO III, CANTO IV, CANTO V, CANTO VI, CANTO VII, CANTO VIII
collection:
Portrait in Russian Art (18th-19th centuries)

Mikhail Lermontov
"Death of the Poet"
"Mtsyri"
"The Demon
" Illustrations by Mikhail Vrubel

Aleksandr Griboyedov "Woe From Wit"

Nikolay Gogol
Fyodor Tyutchev
Afanasy Fet
Nikolay Nekrasov

Aleksandr Ostrovsky
Aleksandr Sukhovo-Kobylin
Vissarion Belinsky
Nikolay Chernyshevsky

Nikolay Dobrolyubov


Fyodor Dostoyevsky "The Idiot"

Leo Tolstoy "The Kreutzer Sonata"

Ivan Turgenev

Sergey Aksakov

Aleksandr Herzen
Ivan Goncharov
Nikolay Leskov
Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin
Vsevolod Garshin

Anton Chekhov "Uncle Vanya"

Pyotr Chaadayev

 




The 19th century


The Russian 19th century is one of the most fruitful periods in world literature. Several features, in addition to those mentioned above, distinguish the literary culture of these years:

(1) Literature enjoyed greater prestige in Russia than in the West, and its achievements were sometimes thought (as Dostoyevsky once declared) to be the justification for the Russian people’s very existence. Literary critics were typically the leaders of Russian intellectual life and political thought.

(2) Literature and criticism were expected to fulfill functions, such as philosophical, moral, and religious analysis, that in Europe were typically assigned to distinct disciplines. Thus Dostoyevsky’s works are central to the histories of all these areas of Russian thought. One can see why the highest achievement of Russian literature was probably the philosophical novel.

(3) In the 19th (still more, the 20th) century, politics and literature were intimately connected, and a writer or critic was often called upon to be a political prophet.




The "Golden Age" of poetry


Readers relying on translations usually think of Russian literature almost exclusively in terms of prose, but for Russians their tradition is also, and perhaps equally, one of poetry. The 19th century began with the “Golden Age” of Russian poetry. An aristocratic sensibility, the culture of salons, an aura of friendly intimacy, and genres suitable to this ethos marked the poetry of this period. The romantic poet Vasily Zhukovsky is celebrated for several translations or adaptations that are major poems in their own right, including versions of the English poet
Thomas Gray’s An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard (1802 and 1839), Homer’s Odyssey (completed 1847), and Lord Byron’s “The Prisoner of Chillon” (1822). His “Svetlana” (1813) reworks the German poet Gottfried August Bürger’s “Lenore.” Konstantin Batyushkov was noted for playful and erotic as well as melancholy verse and for the elegy Umerayushchy Tass (1817; “The Dying Tasso”). The “Pushkin Pleiad,” consisting of poets of Pushkin’s generation and closely associated with him, included Anton Delvig, Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky, and, most important, Yevgeny Baratynsky, who was a superb philosophical “poet of thought.”
 


Vasily Zhukovsky



 

Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky (Russian: Васи́лий Андре́евич Жуко́вский; February 9 [O.S. January 29] 1783 – April 24 [O.S. April 12] 1852) was the foremost Russian poet of the 1810s.

He is credited with introducing the Romantic Movement to Russian literature. The main body of his literary output consists of free translations covering an impressively wide range of poets from Ferdowsi to Schiller. Quite a few of his translations proved to be better-written and more enduring works than their originals.

 

Life
Zhukovsky was born in Mishenskoe, near Tula Oblast, Russia, the illegitimate son of a Russian landowner named Afanasi Bunin (related to the Modernist writer Ivan Bunin) and his Turkish housekeeper Salha, who had been brought to Tula as a prisoner of the Russo-Turkish war. She was later christened as Elizaveta Demyanovna Turchaninova. The infant Zhukovsky was given the surname and patronymic of a poor family friend named Andrey Zhukovsky, who formally adopted him, but he was raised by Bunin's wife and her sisters and later ennobled in his own right. In his youth, he lived and studied at the Moscow University's Noblemen's Pension, where he was heavily influenced by Freemasonry, English Sentimentalism, and the German Sturm und Drang. He also frequented the house of Nikolay Karamzin, the preeminent Russian man of letters and the founding editor of The European Messenger (also known in English as The Herald of Europe).

In 1802, Zhukovsky published a free translation of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" in The Messenger. The translation introduced Russian readers to his trademark sentimental-melancholy style and instantly made him a household name. Today it is conventionally cited as the starting point of Russian Romanticism. In 1808, Karamzin asked Zhukovsky to take over the editorship of the Messenger. The young poet used this position to explore Romantic themes, motifs, and genres. He was also among the first Russian writers to cultivate the mystique of the Romantic poet. He dedicated much of his best poetic work to his half-niece Maria (Masha) Protasova, the daughter of his half-sister, with whom he had a passionate but Platonic affair. His efforts to get permission to marry Masha never succeeded. In 1812 Zhukovsky was present at the Battle of Borodino outside Moscow, after which he served with Kutuzov's general staff. After the war he took up a position as Russian tutor to the Grand Duchess Alexandra Fedorovna, the German wife of the future tsar Nicholas I. Many of Zhukovsky's best translations from German were made as exercises for Alexandra.

In later life, Zhukovsky made a second great contribution to Russian culture as an educator and patron of the arts. In 1826, he was appointed tutor to the tsarevich, the son of Alexandra Fedorovna and Nicholas I, later to become Tsar Alexander II. Zhukvosky's progressive program of education so deeply influenced Alexander that the liberal reforms of the 1860s can be partially attributed to it. The poet also used his high station at court to take up the cudgels for such free-thinking writers as Mikhail Lermontov, Alexander Herzen, Taras Shevchenko (Zhukovsky was instrumental in buying him out of serfdom), and the Decembrists. On Pushkin's death in 1837, Zhukovsky stepped in as his literary executor, not only rescuing his work from a hostile censorship, including several unpublished masterpieces, but also diligently collecting and preparing Pushkin's legacy for publication. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, he nurtured the genius and promoted the career of Nikolay Gogol, another close personal friend. In this sense, he acted behind-the-scenes as a kind of impresario for the Russian Romantic Movement that he set in motion. During his later years he lived mostly in Germany where he married a local girl and fathered two children, Pavel and Alexandra. Zhukovsky died in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1852, aged 69. His body was returned to Russia and buried in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra cemetery in St. Petersburg.

Career
According to Nabokov, Zhukovsky belonged to the class of poets who incidentally verge on greatness but never quite attain to that glory. His main contribution was as a stylistic and formal innovator who borrowed liberally from European literature in order to provide models in Russian that could inspire "original" works. Zhukovsky was particularly admired for his first-rate melodious translations of German and English ballads.

Among these, Ludmila (1808) and its companion piece, Svetlana (1813), are considered landmarks in the Russian poetic tradition. Both were free translations of Gottfried August Burger's well-known German ballad Lenore -- although each interpreted the original in a different way. Zhukovsky characteristically translated Lenore yet a third time as part of his efforts to develop a natural-sounding Russian dactylic hexameter. His many translations of Schiller -- including lyrics, ballads, and the drama Jungfrau von Orleans (about Joan of Arc) -- became classic Russian works that many consider to be of equal if not higher quality than their originals. They were remarkable for their psychological depth and greatly impressed and influenced Dostoevsky, among others. Zhukovsky's life's work as an interpreter of European literature probably constitutes the most important body of literary hermeneutics in the Russian language.

When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, Zhukovsky joined the Russian general staff under Field Marshal Kutuzov. There he wrote much patriotic verse, including the original poem, A Bard in the Camp of the Russian Warriors, which helped to establish his reputation at the imperial court. He also composed the lyrics for the national anthem of Imperial Russia, "God Save the Tsar!" After the war, he became a courtier in St. Petersburg, where he founded the jocular Arzamas literary society in order to promote Karamzin's European-oriented, anti-classicist aesthetics. Members of the Arzamas included the teenage Alexander Pushkin, who was rapidly emerging as Zhukovsky's heir apparent. The two became lifelong friends, and although Pushkin eventually outgrew the older poet's literary influence, he increasingly relied on his protection and patronage. Following the example of his mentor Karamzin, Zhukovsky travelled extensively in Europe throughout his life, meeting and corresponding with world-class cultural figures like Goethe or the landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich. One of his early acquaintances was the popular German writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, whose prose novella Undine was a European best-seller. In the late 1830s, Zhukovsky published a highly-original verse translation of Undine that reestablished his place in the poetic avant-garde. Written in a waltzing hexameter, the work became the basis for a classic Russian ballet.

In 1841, Zhukovsky retired from court and settled in Germany, where he married Baltic German Elisabeth von Reutern, the 18-year-old daughter of an artist friend Gerhardt Wilhelm von Reutern. The couple had two children, including Alexandra, who had an affair with Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich. The aged poet devoted much of his remaining life to a hexameter translation of Homer's Odyssey, which he finally published in 1849. Although the translation was far from accurate, it became a classic in its own right and occupies a notable place in the history of Russian poetry. Some scholars argue that both his Odyssey and Undina -- as long narrative works -- made an important, though oblique contribution to the development of the Russian novel.
 

 

 


Konstantin Batyushkov




 

born May 18 [May 29, New Style], 1787, Vologda, Russia
died July 7 [July 19], 1855, Vologda

Russian elegiac poet whose sensual and melodious verses were said to have influenced the great Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin.

Batyushkov’s early childhood was spent in the country on his father’s estate. When he was 10 he went to Moscow, where he studied the classics and learned French and Italian, languages that were to have an important influence on his style of writing. In 1802 he went to St. Petersburg, living for a time with an uncle, Mikhail Muravyov, a writer and poet. He served in the army during the campaigns of 1813–14 against Napoleon. Afterward, he became a prominent member of Arzamas (a literary group formed by the followers of Nikolay Karamzin, who advocated the modernization of the Russian literary language).

Batyushkov’s literary output was not large—a few elegies and lyrics and some free translations of amorous epigrams from the Greek—but his verses are unique in their Italianate quality, producing a musical softness and sweetness. His poetry, written between 1809 and 1812, brought him fame. His collected works appeared in 1817, and shortly afterward he ceased writing. Suffering from mental illness, he was sent abroad in hope of a cure, which was never achieved.
 

 

 


Yevgeny Baratynsky





Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky (Boratynsky Russian: Евге́ний Абра́мович Бараты́нский (Боратынский), 2 March [O.S. 19 February] 1800 – July 11, 1844) was lauded by Alexander Pushkin as the finest Russian elegiac poet. After a long period when his reputation was on the wane, Baratynsky was rediscovered by Anna Akhmatova and Joseph Brodsky as a supreme poet of thought.

 

Life
Of noble ancestry, Baratynsky was educated at the Page Corps at St. Petersburg, from which he was expelled at the age of 15 after stealing a snuffbox and five hundred roubles from the bureau of his accessory's uncle. After three years in the countryside and deep emotional turmoil, he entered the army as a private.

In 1820 the young poet made his acquaintance with Anton Delvig, who rallied his falling spirits and introduced him to the literary press. Soon Baratynsky was transferred to Finland, where he remained six years. His first long poem, Eda, written during this period, established his reputation. Through the interest of friends he obtained leave from the tsar to retire from the army, and settled in 1827 in Muranovo near Moscow (now a literary museum). There he completed his longest work, The Gipsy, a poem written in the style of Pushkin.


Baratynsky's family life seemed to be happy, but a profound melancholy remained the background of his mind and of his poetry. He published several books of verse that were highly valued by Pushkin and other perceptive critics, but met with the comparatively cool reception of the public, and violent ridicule on the part of the young journalists of the "plebeian party". As the time went by, Baratynsky's mood progressed from pessimism to hopelessness, and elegy became his preferred form of expression. He died in 1844 at Naples, where he had gone in pursuit of a milder climate.

 

Poetry
Baratynsky's earliest poems are punctuated by conscious efforts to write differently from Pushkin who he regarded as a model of perfection. Even Eda, his first long poem, though inspired by Pushkin's The Prisoner of the Caucasus, adheres to a realistic and homely style, with a touch of sentimental pathos but not a trace of romanticism. It is written, like all that Baratynsky wrote, in a wonderfully precise style, next to which Pushkin's seems hazy. The descriptive passages are among the best — the stern nature of Finland was particularly dear to Baratynsky.

His short pieces from the 1820s are distinguished by the cold, metallic brilliance and sonority of the verse. They are dryer and clearer than anything in the whole of Russian poetry before Akhmatova. The poems from that period include fugitive, light pieces in the Anacreontic and Horatian manner, some of which have been recognized as the masterpieces of the kind, as well as love elegies, where a delicate sentiment is clothed in brilliant wit.

In his mature work (which includes all his short poems written after 1829) Baratynsky is a poet of thought, perhaps of all the poets of the "stupid nineteenth century" the one who made the best use of thought as a material for poetry. This made him alien to his younger contemporaries and to all the later part of the century, which identified poetry with sentiment. His poetry is, as it were, a short cut from the wit of the 18th-century poets to the metaphysical ambitions of the twentieth (in terms of English poetry, from Alexander Pope to T. S. Eliot).

Baratynsky's style is classical and dwells on the models of the previous century. Yet in his effort to give his thought the tersest and most concentrated statement, he sometimes becomes obscure by sheer dint of compression. Baratynsky's obvious labour gives his verse a certain air of brittleness which is at poles' ends from Pushkin's divine, Mozartian lightness and elasticity. Among other things, Baratynsky was one of the first Russian poets who were, in verse, masters of the complicated sentence, expanded by subordinate clauses and parentheses.

Philosophy
Baratynsky aspired after a fuller union with nature, after a more primitive spontaneity of mental life. He saw the steady, inexorable movement of mankind away from nature. The aspiration after a more organic and natural past is one of the main motives of Baratynsky's poetry. He symbolized it in the growing discord between nature's child — the poet — and the human herd, which were growing, with every generation, more absorbed by industrial cares. Hence the increasing isolation of the poet in the modern world where the only response that greets him is that of his own rhymes (Rhyme, 1841).

The future of industrialized and mechanized mankind will be brilliant and glorious in the nearest future, but universal happiness and peace will be bought at the cost of the loss of all higher values of poetry (The Last Poet). And inevitably, after an age of intellectual refinement, humanity will lose its vital sap and die from sexual impotence. Then earth will be restored to her primaeval majesty (The Last Death, 1827).

This philosophy, allying itself to his profound temperamental melancholy, produced poems of extraordinary majesty, which can compare with nothing in the poetry of pessimism, except Leopardi. Such is the crushing majesty of that long ode to dejection, Autumn (1837), splendidly rhetorical in the grandest manner of classicism, though with a pronouncedly personal accent.
 





Aleksandr Pushkin



Pushkin occupies a unique place in Russian literature. It is not just that Russians view him as their greatest poet; he is also virtually the symbol of Russian culture. His life, as well as his work, has acquired mythic status. To criticize Pushkin, or even one of his characters—as, for example, Tatyana, the heroine of his novel Yevgeny Onegin (written 1823–31; Eugene Onegin)—has been taken as something akin to blasphemy. Pushkin’s quasi-sacred status has itself been parodied by Russian authors, including the satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko, the absurdist Daniil Kharms, and, most recently, Andrey Sinyavsky in his Progulki s Pushkinym (1972; Strolls with Pushkin).

Even if one sets this mythic image aside, Pushkin is truly one of the world’s most accomplished poets; his verse, however, which relies on the author’s perfect control of form, tone, and language, does not read well in translation. Deeply playful and experimental, Pushkin adopted a vast array of conflicting masks and personae. He writes now seriously, now with irony, and now with irony at his own irony, on moral and philosophical themes. He is ultimately a philosophical fox, appreciating the limitations, as well as the virtues, of any set of ideas. A master parodist, Pushkin wrote a number of erotic and at times sacrilegious mock-epics, such as “Gavriiliada” (1821; “The Gabrieliad”), a scabrous retelling of the Annunciation, and Ruslan i Lyudmila (1820; Ruslan and Ludmila), which, after parodying epic, folk tale, literary ballad, and romance in a spirit of pure play, ends with a startlingly sombre epilogue. His diverse lyrics include a series on the poet’s double identity as artist and man of the world; political poems that got him into trouble with the tsar as well as poems in praise of the tsar and his suppression of the Poles; some remarkable elegies (“Vospominaniye” [1828; “Remembrance”]; “Elegiya” [1830; “Elegy”]); love poems, including the “imageless” “Ya vas lyubil” (1829; “I Loved You Once”); and powerful meditations on human evil (“Anchar” [1828; “The Upas Tree”]; “Ne day mne Bog soyti s uma” [1833; “God Grant I Go Not Mad”]).

Pushkin’s narrative poems include Tsygany (1824; “The Gypsies”), which considers the meaning of freedom. Plot is mere excuse for parody of literary forms and conventions in Domik v Kolomne (1830; The Little House in Kolomna). Most famously, Medny vsadnik (written 1833; The Bronze Horseman), which reflects on Peter the Great and the significance of St. Petersburg, examines the meaning of history in relation to individual lives. Concern with the nature of historical causation also led to complex formal innovations in the quasi-Shakespearean drama Boris Godunov (written 1824–25), which reworked Karamzin’s Istoriya gosudarstva rossiyskogo and was in turn reworked by other artists, notably Modest Mussorgsky in his opera Boris Godunov (1869; revised 1874). Pushkin’s greatest work was probably Eugene Onegin, the first truly great Russian novel and the source of countless themes and images in Russian fiction. Playful in the manner of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Lord Byron’s Don Juan, it far surpasses them for sheer brilliance of form, wit, and thought. Amid endless clever digressions, in which the poet adopts a dazzling array of tones and engages in myriad self-conscious self-parodies, it tells the story of Onegin, a “superfluous man”—that is, a man with no core or purpose to his life—and Tatyana, who stands for authenticity in a sea of literary or social clichés, which she somehow manages to transcend even when she accepts them. The work’s serial publication over several years enabled both its own unpredictable creation and changes in the author’s perspective to become themes of the poem itself.

Each of Pushkin’s four “little tragedies,” all written in 1830, succinctly deals with a philosophical problem. The most remarkable, Motsart i Salyeri (Mozart and Salieri), based on a legend that Salieri poisoned Mozart, meditates on the nature of creativity while introducing, in brilliantly compressed speeches, what was to be one of the important Russian themes—metaphysical rebellion against God.

After 1830 Pushkin turned to prose. He wrote both a novella and a nonfictional account—Kapitanskaya dochka (1836; The Captain’s Daughter) and Istoriya Pugachovskogo bunta (1834; The History of Pugachev)—about the same historical events, as if to illustrate that representing the historical truth requires more than one genre. Povesti pokoynogo Ivana Petrovicha Belkina (1831; Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin) filters five narratives, each a parody of a received plot, through the minds of several narrators, collectors, or editors. Pikovaya dama (1834; The Queen of Spades) offers a suspenseful account of a man seeking mystic knowledge that would enable him to gamble without risk and, implicitly, to know the deepest forbidden truths. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment may be seen as an expansion of Pushkin’s brief story.
 


Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

"The Bronze Horseman"  Illustrations by Alexandre Benois
"Eugene Onegin"    
CANTO I, CANTO II, CANTO III, CANTO IV, CANTO V, CANTO VI, CANTO VII, CANTO VIII

collection:
Portrait in Russian Art (18th-19th centuries)





1799, Moscow, Russia
died Jan. 29 [Feb. 10], 1837, St. Petersburg


Russian poet, novelist, dramatist, and short-story writer; he has often been considered his country's greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.


The early years.

Pushkin's father came of an old boyar family; his mother was a granddaughter of Abram Hannibal, who, according to family tradition, was an Abyssinian princeling bought as a slave at Constantinople (Istanbul) and adopted by Peter the Great, whose comrade in arms he became. Pushkin immortalized him in an unfinished historical novel, Arap Petra Velikogo (1827; The Negro of Peter the Great). Like many aristocratic families in early 19th-century Russia, Pushkin's parents adopted French culture, and he and his brother and sister learned to talk and to read in French. They were left much to the care of their maternal grandmother, who told Aleksandr, especially, stories of his ancestors in Russian. From Arina Rodionovna Yakovleva, his old nurse, a freed serf (immortalized as Tatyana's nurse in Yevgeny Onegin), he heard Russian folktales. During summers at his grandmother's estate near Moscow he talked to the peasantsand spent hours alone, living in the dream world of a precocious, imaginative child. He read widely in his father's library and gained stimulus from the literary guests who came to the house.

In 1811 Pushkin entered the newly founded Imperial Lyceum at Tsarskoye Selo (later renamed Pushkin) and while there began his literary career with the publication (1814, in Vestnik Evropy, “The Messenger of Europe”) of his verse epistle “To My Friend, the Poet.” In his early verse, he followed the style of his older contemporaries, the Romantic poets K.N. Batyushkov and V.A. Zhukovsky, and of the French 17th- and 18th-century poets, especially the Vicomte de Parny.

While at the Lyceum he also began his first completed major work, the romantic poem Ruslan i Lyudmila (1820; Ruslan and Ludmila ), written in the style of the narrative poems of Ludovico Ariosto and Voltaire but with an old Russian settingand making use of Russian folklore. Ruslan, modeled on the traditional Russian epic hero, encounters various adventuresbefore rescuing his bride, Ludmila, daughter of Vladimir, grand prince of Kiev, who, on her wedding night, has been kidnapped by the evil magician Chernomor. The poem flouted accepted rules and genres and was violently attacked by both of the established literary schools of the day, Classicism and Sentimentalism. It brought Pushkin fame, however, and Zhukovsky presented his portrait to the poet with the inscription “To the victorious pupil from the defeated master.”


St. Petersburg.

In 1817 Pushkin accepted a post in the foreign office at St. Petersburg, where he was elected to Arzamás, an exclusive literary circle founded by his uncle's friends. Pushkin also joined the Green Lamp association, which, though founded (in 1818) for discussion of literature and history, became a clandestine branch of a secret society, the Union of Welfare. In his political verses and epigrams, widely circulated in manuscript, he made himself the spokesman for the ideas and aspirations of those who were to take part in the Decembrist rising of 1825, the unsuccessful culmination of a Russian revolutionary movement in its earliest stage.

Exile in the south.

For these political poems, Pushkin was banished from St. Petersburg in May 1820 to a remote southern province. Sent first to Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine), he wasthere taken ill and, while convalescing, traveled in the northern Caucasus and later to the Crimea with General Rayevski, a hero of 1812, and his family. The impressions he gained provided material for his “southern cycle” of romantic narrative poems: Kavkazsky plennik (1820–21; The Prisoner of the Caucasus), Bratya razboyniki (1821–22; The Robber Brothers), and Bakhchisaraysky fontan (1823; The Fountain of Bakhchisaray).

Although this cycle of poems confirmed the reputation of theauthor of Ruslan and Ludmila and Pushkin was hailed as theleading Russian poet of the day and as the leader of the romantic, liberty-loving generation of the 1820s, he himself was not satisfied with it. In May 1823 he started work on his central masterpiece, the novel in verse Yevgeny Onegin (1833), on which he continued to work intermittently until 1831. In it he returned to the idea of presenting a typical figure of his own age but in a wider setting and by means of new artistic methods and techniques.

Yevgeny Onegin unfolds a panoramic picture of Russian life. The characters it depicts and immortalizes—Onegin, the disenchanted skeptic; Lensky, the romantic, freedom-loving poet; and Tatyana, the heroine, a profoundly affectionate study of Russian womanhood: a “precious ideal,” in the poet's own words—are typically Russian and are shown in relationship to the social and environmental forces by which they are molded. Although formally the work resembles Lord Byron's Don Juan, Pushkin rejects Byron's subjective, romanticized treatment in favour of objective description and shows his hero not in exotic surroundings but at the heart of a Russian way of life. Thus, the action begins at St. Petersburg, continues on a provincial estate, then switches to Moscow, and finally returns to St. Petersburg.

Pushkin had meanwhile been transferred first to Kishinyov (1820–23; now Chişinău, Moldova) and then to Odessa (1823–24). His bitterness at continued exile is expressed in letters to his friends—the first of a collection of correspondence that became an outstanding and enduring monument of Russian prose. At Kishinyov, a remote outpost in Moldavia, he devoted much time to writing, though he alsoplunged into the life of a society engaged in amorous intrigue, hard drinking, gaming, and violence. At Odessa he fell passionately in love with the wife of his superior, Count Vorontsov, governor-general of the province. He fought several duels, and eventually the count asked for his discharge. Pushkin, in a letter to a friend intercepted by the police, had stated that he was now taking “lessons in pure atheism.” This finally led to his being again exiled to his mother's estate of Mikhaylovskoye, near Pskov, at the other end of Russia.


At Mikhaylovskoye.

Although the two years at Mikhaylovskoye were unhappy for Pushkin, they were to prove one of his most productive periods. Alone and isolated, he embarked on a close study of Russian history; he came to know the peasants on the estateand interested himself in noting folktales and songs. During this period the specifically Russian features of his poetry became steadily more marked. His ballad “Zhenikh” (1825; “The Bridegroom”), for instance, is based on motifs from Russian folklore; and its simple, swift-moving style, quite different from the brilliant extravagance of Ruslan and Ludmila or the romantic, melodious music of the “southern” poems, emphasizes its stark tragedy.

In 1824 he published Tsygany (The Gypsies), begun earlier as part of the “southern cycle.” At Mikhaylovskoye, too, he wrote the provincial chapters of Yevgeny Onegin; the poem Graf Nulin (1827; “Count Nulin”), based on the life of the rural gentry; and, finally, one of his major works, the historical tragedy Boris Godunov (1831).

The latter marks a break with the Neoclassicism of the French theatre and is constructed on the “folk-principles” of William Shakespeare's plays, especially the histories and tragedies, plays written “for the people” in the widest sense and thus universal in their appeal. Written just before the Decembrist rising, it treats the burning question of the relations between the ruling classes, headed by the tsar, andthe masses; it is the moral and political significance of the latter, “the judgment of the people,” that Pushkin emphasizes. Set in Russia in a period of political and social chaos on the brink of the 17th century, its theme is the tragic guilt and inexorable fate of a great hero—Boris Godunov, son-in-law of Malyuta Skuratov, a favourite of Ivan the Terrible, and here presented as the murderer of Ivan's little son, Dmitri. The development of the action on two planes, one political and historical, the other psychological, is masterly and is set against a background of turbulent eventsand ruthless ambitions. The play owes much to Pushkin's reading of early Russian annals and chronicles, as well as to Shakespeare, who, as Pushkin said, was his master in bold, free treatment of character, simplicity, and truth to nature. Although lacking the heightened, poetic passion of Shakespeare's tragedies, Boris excels in the “convincingness of situation and naturalness of dialogue” atwhich Pushkin aimed, sometimes using conversational prose, sometimes a five-foot iambic line of great flexibility. The character of the pretender, the false Dmitri, is subtly andsympathetically drawn; and the power of the people, who eventually bring him to the throne, is so greatly emphasized that the play's publication was delayed by censorship. Pushkin's ability to create psychological and dramatic unity, despite the episodic construction, and to heighten the dramatic tension by economy of language, detail, and characterization make this outstanding play a revolutionary event in the history of Russian drama.


Return from exile.

After the suppression of the Decembrist uprising of 1825, thenew tsar Nicholas I, aware of Pushkin's immense popularity and knowing that he had taken no part in the Decembrist “conspiracy,” allowed him to return to Moscow in the autumnof 1826. During a long conversation between them, the tsar met the poet's complaints about censorship with a promise that in the future he himself would be Pushkin's censor and told him of his plans to introduce several pressing reforms from above and, in particular, to prepare the way for liberation of the serfs. The collapse of the rising had been a grievous experience for Pushkin, whose heart was wholly with the “guilty” Decembrists, five of whom had been executed, while others were exiled to forced labour in Siberia.

Pushkin saw, however, that without the support of the people, the struggle against autocracy was doomed. He considered that the only possible way of achieving essential reforms was from above, “on the tsar's initiative,” as he had written in “Derevnya.” This is the reason for his persistent interest in the age of reforms at the beginning of the 18th century and in the figure of Peter the Great, the “tsar-educator,” whose example he held up to the present tsar in the poem “Stansy” (1826; “Stanzas”), in The Negro of Peter the Great, in the historical poem Poltava (1829), and in the poem Medny vsadnik (1837; The Bronze Horseman ).

In The Bronze Horseman, Pushkin poses the problem of the “little man” whose happiness is destroyed by the great leader in pursuit of ambition. He does this by telling a “story of St. Petersburg” set against the background of the flood of 1824, when the river took its revenge against Peter I's achievement in building the city. The poem describes how the “little hero,” Yevgeny, driven mad by the drowning of his sweetheart, wanders through the streets. Seeing the bronze statue of Peter I seated on a rearing horse and realizing that the tsar, seen triumphing over the waves, is the cause of his grief, Yevgeny threatens him and, in a climax of growing horror, is pursued through the streets by the “Bronze Horseman.” The poem's descriptive and emotional powers give it an unforgettable impact and make it one of the greatest in Russian literature.

After returning from exile, Pushkin found himself in an awkward and invidious position. The tsar's censorship proved to be even more exacting than that of the official censors, and his personal freedom was curtailed. Not only was he put under secret observation by the police but he was openly supervised by its chief, Count Benckendorf. Moreover, his works of this period met with little comprehension from the critics, and even some of his friendsaccused him of apostasy, forcing him to justify his political position in the poem “Druzyam” (1828; “To My Friends”). The anguish of his spiritual isolation at this time is reflected in a cycle of poems about the poet and the mob (1827–30) and in the unfinished Yegipetskiye nochi (1835; Egyptian Nights).

Yet it was during this period that Pushkin's genius came to its fullest flowering. His art acquired new dimensions, and almost every one of the works written between 1829 and 1836 opened a new chapter in the history of Russian literature. He spent the autumn of 1830 at his family's Nizhny Novgorod estate, Boldino, and these months are the most remarkable in the whole of his artistic career. During them he wrote the four so-called “little tragedies”—Skupoy rytsar (1836; The Covetous Knight), Motsart i Salyeri (1831; Mozart and Salieri), Kamenny gost (1839; The Stone Guest), and Pir vo vremya chumy (1832; Feast in Time of the Plague)—the five short prose tales collected as Povesti pokoynogo Ivana Petrovicha Bel ki na (1831; Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin); the comic poem of everyday lower-class life Domik v Kolomne (1833; “A Small House in Kolomna”); and many lyrics in widely differing styles, as wellas several critical and polemical articles, rough drafts, and sketches.

Among Pushkin's most characteristic features were his wide knowledge of world literature, as seen in his interest in such English writers as William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and the Lake poets; his “universal sensibility”; and his ability to re-create the spirit of different races at different historical epochs without ever losing his own individuality. This is particularly marked in the “little tragedies,” which are concerned with an analysis of the “evilpassions” and, like the short story Pikovaya Dama (1834; The Queen of Spades), exerted a direct influence on the subject matter and techniques of the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky.


Last years.

In 1831 Pushkin married Natalya Nikolayevna Goncharova and settled in St. Petersburg. Once more he took up government service and was commissioned to write a history of Peter the Great. Three years later he received the rank of Kammerjunker (gentleman of the emperor's bedchamber), partly because the tsar wished Natalya to have the entrée to court functions. The social life at court, which he was now obliged to lead and which his wife enjoyed,was ill-suited to creative work, but he stubbornly continued to write. Without abandoning poetry altogether, he turned increasingly to prose. Alongside the theme of Peter the Great, the motif of a popular peasant rising acquired growingimportance in his work, as is shown by the unfinished satirical Istoriya sela Goryukhina (1837; The History of the Village of Goryukhino), the unfinished novel Dubrovsky (1841), Stseny iz rytsarskikh vremen (1837; Scenes from the Age of Chivalry), and finally, the most important of his prose works, the historical novel of the Pugachov Rebellion, Ka pi tan ska ya dochka (1836; The Captain's Daughter), which hadbeen preceded by a historical study of the rebellion, Istoriya Pugachova (1834; “A History of Pugachov”).

Meanwhile, both in his domestic affairs and in his official duties, his life was becoming more intolerable. In court circles he was regarded with mounting suspicion and resentment, and his repeated petitions to be allowed to resign his post, retire to the country, and devote himself entirely to literature were all rejected. Finally, in 1837, Pushkin was mortally wounded defending his wife's honour in a duel forced on him by influential enemies.


Assessment.

Pushkin's use of the Russian language is astonishing in its simplicity and profundity and formed the basis of the style ofnovelists Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Goncharov, and Leo Tolstoy. His novel in verse, Yevgeny Onegin, was the first Russian work to take contemporary society as its subject and pointedthe way to the Russian realistic novel of the mid-19th century. Even during his lifetime Pushkin's importance as a great national poet had been recognized by Nikolay Vasilyevich Gogol, his successor and pupil, and it was his younger contemporary, the great Russian critic Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky, who produced the fullest and deepestcritical study of Pushkin's work, which still retains much of its relevance. To the later classical writers of the 19th century, Pushkin, the creator of the Russian literary language, stood as the cornerstone of Russian literature, in Maksim Gorky's words, “the beginning of beginnings.” Pushkin has thus become an inseparable part of the literaryworld of the Russian people. He also exerted a profound influence on other aspects of Russian culture, most notably in opera.

Pushkin's work—with its nobility of conception and its emphasis on civic responsibility (shown in his command to the poet-prophet to “fire the hearts of men with his words”), its life-affirming vigour, and its confidence in the triumph of reason over prejudice, of human charity over slavery and oppression—has struck an echo all over the world. Translated into all the major languages, his works are regarded both as expressing most completely Russian national consciousness and as transcending national barriers.

Dimitry Dimitriyevich Blagoy
 




Lermontov and Griboyedov

Next to Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, who personifies Romanticism, is probably Russia’s most frequently anthologized poet. His celebrated lyrics often recycle lines from his own and others’ poems. “Smert poeta” (1837; “Death of a Poet”), which first earned him fame, deals with Pushkin’s death shortly after a fatal duel in 1837. Among his narrative poems, Demon (1841; The Demon) describes the love of a Byronic demon for a mortal woman; Pesnya pro tsarya Ivana Vasilyevicha, molodogo oprichnika i udalogo kuptsa Kalashnikova (1837; A Song About Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, His Young Bodyguard, and the Valiant Merchant Kalashnikov) is a stylized folk epic. Also an accomplished prose stylist, Lermontov wrote Geroy nashego vremeni (1840; A Hero of Our Time), which in form is something between a novel and a complexly framed cycle of stories about a single hero, a Byronic superfluous man. This work ranges from sketches of philosophical brilliance (“The Fatalist”) to episodes of near puerility (“Princess Mary”). The theme of the superfluous man finds another important rendition in Aleksandr Griboyedov’s classic work, Gore ot uma (completed 1824; Woe from Wit).
 


Mikhail Lermontov

"Death of the Poet"
"Mtsyri"
"The Demon
" Illustrations by Mikhail Vrubel




 

Russian writer

born Oct. 15 [Oct. 3, Old Style], 1814, Moscow, Russia
died July 27 [July 15], 1841, Pyatigorsk

Main
the leading Russian Romantic poet and author of the novel Geroy nashego vremeni (1840; A Hero of Our Time), which was to have a profound influence on later Russian writers.

Life
Lermontov was the son of Yury Petrovich Lermontov, a retired army captain, and Mariya Mikhaylovna, née Arsenyeva. At the age of three he lost his mother and was brought up by his grandmother, Yelizaveta Alekseyevna Arsenyeva, on her estate in Penzenskaya province. Russia’s abundant natural beauty, its folk songs and tales, its customs and ceremonies, the hard forced labour of the serfs, and stories and legends of peasant mutinies all had a great influence in developing the future poet’s character. Because the child was often ill, he was taken to spas in the Caucasus on three occasions, where the exotic landscapes created lasting impressions on him.

In 1827 he moved with his grandmother to Moscow, and, while attending a boarding school for children of the nobility (at Moscow University), he began to write poetry and also studied painting. In 1828 he wrote the poems Cherkesy (“Circassians”) and Kavkazsky plennik (“Prisoner of the Caucasus”) in the vein of the English Romantic poet Lord Byron, whose influence then predominated over young Russian writers. Two years later his first verse, Vesna (“Spring”), was published. The same year he entered Moscow University, then one of the liveliest centres of culture and ideology, where such democratically minded representatives of nobility as Aleksandr Herzen, Nikolay Platonovich Ogaryov, and others studied. Students ardently discussed political and philosophical problems, the hard fate of serf peasantry, and the recent Decembrist uprising. In this atmosphere he wrote many lyrical verses, longer, narrative poems, and dramas. His drama Stranny chelovek (1831; “A Strange Man”) reflected the attitudes current among members of student societies: hatred of the despotic tsarist regime and of serfdom. In 1832, after clashing with a reactionary professor, Lermontov left the university and went to St. Petersburg, where he entered the cadet school. Upon his graduation in 1834 with the rank of subensign (or cornet), Lermontov was appointed to the Life-Guard Hussar Regiment stationed at Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin), close to St. Petersburg. As a young officer, he spent a considerable portion of his time in the capital, and his critical observations of aristocratic life there formed the basis of his play Maskarad (“Masquerade”). During this period his deep—but unreciprocated—attachment to Varvara Lopukhina, a sentiment that never left him, was reflected in Knyaginya Ligovskaya (“Duchess Ligovskaya”) and other works.

Lermontov was greatly shaken in January 1837 by the death of the great poet Aleksandr Pushkin in a duel. He wrote an elegy that expressed the nation’s love for the dead poet, denouncing not only his killer but also the court aristocracy, whom he saw as executioners of freedom and the true culprits of the tragedy. As soon as the verses became known to the court of Nicholas I, Lermontov was arrested and exiled to a regiment stationed in the Caucasus. Travel to new places, meetings with Decembrists (in exile in the Caucasus), and introduction to the Georgian intelligentsia—to the outstanding poet Ilia Chavchavadze, whose daughter had married a well-known Russian dramatist, poet, and diplomatist, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Griboyedov—as well as to other prominent Georgian poets in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) broadened his horizon. Attracted to the nature and poetry of the Caucasus and excited by its folklore, he studied the local languages and translated and polished the Azerbaijanian story “Ashik Kerib.” Caucasian themes and images occupy a strong place in his poetry and in the novel Geroy nashego vremeni, as well as in his sketches and paintings.

As a result of zealous intercession by his grandmother and by the influential poet V.A. Zhukovsky, Lermontov was allowed to return to the capital in 1838. His verses began to appear in the press: the romantic poem Pesnya pro tsarya Ivana Vasilyevicha, molodogo oprichnika i udalogo kuptsa Kalashnikova (1837; “A Song About Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, His Young Bodyguard, and the Valiant Merchant Kalashnikov”), the realistic satirical poems Tambovskaya kaznacheysha (1838; “The Tambov Paymaster’s Wife”) and Sashka (written 1839, published 1862), and the romantic poem Demon. Soon Lermontov became popular; he was called Pushkin’s successor and was lauded for having suffered and been exiled because of his libertarian verses. Writers and journalists took an interest in him, and fashionable ladies were attracted to him. He made friends among the editorial staff of Otechestvennye zapiski, the leading magazine of the Western-oriented intellectuals, and in 1840 he met the prominent progressive critic V.G. Belinsky, who envisioned him as the great hope of Russian literature. Lermontov had arrived among the circle of St. Petersburg writers.

 

At the end of the 1830s, the principal directions of his creative work had been established. His freedom-loving sentiments and his bitterly skeptical evaluation of the times in which he lived are embodied in his philosophical lyric poetry (“Duma” [“Thought”], “Ne ver sebye . . . ” [“Do Not Trust Yourself . . . ”]) and are interpreted in an original fashion in the romantic and fantastic images of his Caucasian poems, Mtsyri (1840) and Demon, on which the poet worked for the remainder of his life. Finally, Lermontov’s mature prose showed a critical picture of contemporary life in his novel Geroy nashego vremeni, containing the sum total of his reflections on contemporary society and the fortunes of his generation. The hero, Pechorin, is a cynical person of superior accomplishments who, having experienced everything else, devotes himself to experimenting with human situations. This realistic novel, full of social and psychological content and written in prose of superb quality, played an important role in the development of Russian prose.

In February 1840 Lermontov was brought to trial before a military tribunal for his duel with the son of the French ambassador at St. Petersburg—a duel used as a pretext for punishing the recalcitrant poet. On the instructions of Nicholas I, Lermontov was sentenced to a new exile in the Caucasus, this time to an infantry regiment that was preparing for dangerous military operations. Soon compelled to take part in cavalry sorties and hand-to-hand battles, he distinguished himself in the heavy fighting at Valerik River, which he describes in “Valerik” and in the verse “Ya k vam pishu . . . ” (“I Am Writing to You . . . ”). The military command made due note of the great courage and presence of mind displayed by the officer-poet.

As a result of persistent requests by his grandmother, Lermontov was given a short leave in February 1841. He spent several weeks in the capital, continuing work on compositions he had already begun and writing several poems noted for their maturity of thought and talent (“Rodina” [“Motherland”], “Lyubil i ya v bylye gody” [“And I Was in Love”]. Lermontov devised a plan for publishing his own magazine, planned new novels, and sought Belinsky’s criticism. But he soon received an order to return to his regiment and left, full of gloomy forebodings. During this long journey he experienced a flood of creative energy: his last notebook contains such masterpieces of Russian lyric poetry as “Utes” (“The Cliff”), “Spor” (“Argument”), “Svidanye” (“Meeting”), “Listok” (“A Leaf”), “Net, ne tebya tak pylko ya lyublyu” (“No, It Was Not You I Loved So Fervently”), “Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu . . . ” (“I go to the Road Alone . . . ”), and “Prorok” (“Prophet”), his last work.

On the way to his regiment, Lermontov lingered on in the health resort city of Pyatigorsk for treatment. There he met many fashionable young people from St. Petersburg, among whom were secret ill-wishers who knew his reputation in court circles. Some of the young people feared his tongue, while others envied his fame. An atmosphere of intrigue, scandal, and hatred grew up around him. Finally, a quarrel was provoked between Lermontov and another officer, N.S. Martynov; the two fought a duel that ended in the poet’s death. He was buried two days later in the municipal cemetery, and the entire population of the city gathered at his funeral. Later, Lermontov’s coffin was moved to the Tarkhana estate, and on April 23, 1842, he was buried in the Arsenyev family vault.


Assessment
Only 26 years old when he died, Lermontov had proved his worth as a brilliant and gifted poet-thinker, prose writer, and playwright, the successor of Pushkin, and an exponent of the best traditions of Russian literature. His youthful lyric poetry is filled with a passionate craving for freedom and contains calls to battle, agonizing reflections on how to apply his strengths to his life’s work, and dreams of heroic deeds. He was deeply troubled by political events, and the peasant mutinies of 1830 had suggested to him a time “when the crown of the tsars will fall.” Revolutionary ferment in western Europe met with an enthusiastic response from him (verses on the July 1830 revolution in France, on the fall of Charles X), and the theme of the French Revolution is found in his later works (the poem Sashka).

Civic and philosophical themes as well as subjective, deeply personal motifs were closely interwoven in Lermontov’s poetry. He introduced into Russian poetry the intonations of “iron verse,” noted for its heroic sound and its energy of intellectual expression. His enthusiasm for the future responded to the spiritual needs of Russian society. Lermontov’s legacy has found varied interpretations in the works of Russian artists, composers, and theatrical and cinematic figures. His dramatic compositions have played a considerable role in the development of theatrical art, and his life has served as material for many novels, poems, plays, and films.

Vladimir Viktorovich Zhdanov
 

 

 


Aleksandr Griboyedov

"Woe From Wit"




 

Alexandr GriboedovAleksandr Sergeyevich Griboyedov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Грибое́дов, alternative transliteration: Alexander Griboedov) (January 15, 1795 – February 11, 1829) was a Russian diplomat, playwright, and composer. He is recognized as homo unius libri, a writer of one book, whose fame rests on the brilliant verse comedy Woe from Wit (or: The Woes of Wit), still one of the most often staged plays in Russia. One expert, Angela Brintlinger, argues that "not only did Griboedov's contemporaries conceive of his life as the life of a literary hero—ultimately writing a number of narratives featuring him as an essential character—but indeed Griboedov saw himself as a hero and his life as a narrative. Although there is not a literary artifact to prove this, by examining Griboedov's letters and dispatches, one is able to build a historical narrative that fits the literary and behavioural paradigms of his time and that reads like a real adventure novel set in the wild, wild East."


 Early life
Born in Moscow, Griboyedov studied at the Moscow University from 1810 to 1812. He then obtained a commission in a hussar regiment, but resigned it in 1816. Next year, Griboyedov entered the civil service, and in 1818 was appointed secretary of the Russian legation in Persia, and was transferred to Georgia. He had commenced writing early and, in 1816, had produced on the stage at St.Petersburg a comedy in verse called The Young Spouses (Молодые супруги), which was followed by other works of the same kind. But neither these nor the essays and verses which he wrote would have been long remembered but for the immense success gained by his comedy in verse Woe from Wit (Горе от ума, or Gore ot uma), a satire upon Russian aristocratic society.


As a high official depicted in the play styles it, this work is "a pasquinade on Moscow". The play's merits are in its accurate representation of certain social and official types-such as Famusov, the lover of old abuses, the hater of reforms; his secretary, Molchalin, servile fawner upon all in office; the aristocratic young liberal and Anglomaniac, Repetilov; contrasted with whom is the hero of the piece, Chatsky, the ironic satirist, just returned from the west of Europe, who exposes and ridicules the weaknesses of the rest, his words echoing that outcry of the young generation of 1820 which reached its climax in the military insurrection of 1825, and was then sternly silenced by Nicholas I. Although rooted in the classical French comedy of Molière, the characters are as much individuals as types, and the interplay between society and individual is a sparkling dialectical give-and-take.

Griboyedov spent the summer of 1823 in Russia, completed his play and took it to St.Petersburg. There it was rejected by the censors. Many copies were made and privately circulated, but Griboyedov never saw it published. The first edition was printed in 1833, four years after his death. Only once did he see it on the stage, when it was acted by the officers of the garrison at Yerevan. Soured by disappointment, he returned to Georgia, made himself useful by his linguistic knowledge to his relative general Ivan Paskevich during a campaign against Persia, and was sent to St. Petersburg with the Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828. Brilliantly received there, he thought of devoting himself to literature, and commenced a romantic drama, A Georgian Night (Грузинская ночь, or Gruzinskaya noch').

Death
Several months after his wedding to the 16-year-old daughter of his friend Prince Chavchavadze, Griboyedov was suddenly sent to Persia as Minister Plenipotentiary. In the aftermath of the war and humiliating Treaty of Turkmenchay, anti-Russian sentiment in Persia was rampant and, soon after Griboyedov's arrival at Tehran, a mob stormed the Russian embassy.


Monument erected in Soviet times in Dilijan, Armenia commemorating the location where Aleksandr Pushkin (on his way to meet his brother) stopped the carriage with Aleksandr Griboyedov's body being transported to Tiflis. An inscription in Russian and Armenian says: "Here A. S. Pushkin on 28[verification needed] June 1829 saw the body of A. S. Griboyedov".The incident began when an Armenian eunuch escaped from the harem of Persian shah Fath Ali Shah, and two Armenian girls escaped from that of his son-in-law. All three sought refuge at the Russian embassy. As agreed to in the Treaty of Turkmenchay, Armenians living in Persia were permitted to return to Eastern Armenia. However, the Shah demanded that Griboyedov return the three. Griboyedov refused as he knew what sort of fate awaited them if he did. This caused an uproar throughout the city and several thousand Persians encircled the Russian compound demanding their release. Griboyedov and other members of his mission, seeing that things are bad, prepared for a siege and sealed all the windows and doors, armed and in full uniform, resolved to defend to the last drop of blood. The Cossack detachment assigned to protect the embassy was too small in number but held off the mob for over an hour until finally being driven back to Griboyedov's office. There, he and the rest of the Cossacks held out even further until the mob broke through and slaughtered them all. Griboyedov was among the first who were shot to death. Second secretary of the mission Adelung and, in particular, a young doctor (name unknown) fought hard, but the fight was too unequal , and soon the scene was that of butchered, decapitated corpses. The mob grabbed the corpse of Griboyedov, distinguished by his uniform, and dragged it through the streets and bazaars of the city, with cries of celebration. The eunuch was one of the first killed in the assault on the embassy; the fate of the two Armenian girls remains unknown.

His body was for three days so ill-treated by the mob that it was recognized only by an old scar on the hand, due to a wound received in a duel. His body was taken to Tiflis and buried in the monastery of Saint David (Mtatsminda Pantheon). His 16-year-old widow, Nino, on hearing of his death, gave premature birth to a child who died a few hours later. She lived another thirty years after her husband's death, rejecting all suitors and winning universal admiration for her fidelity to his memory.

In a move to placate Russia for the attack and the death of its ambassador, Persia presented the Tsar with a large diamond, now known as the Shah Diamond, as a gift. The ceremony is depicted in the 2002 film Russian Ark, by leading Russian director Alexander Sokurov, with lavish realism.

One of the main settings for the satire of Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita is named after Griboyedov, as is the Griboyedov Canal in Central Saint Petersburg.
 




Nikolay Gogol

One of the finest comic authors of world literature, and perhaps its most accomplished nonsense writer, Gogol is best known for his short stories, for his play Revizor (1836; The Inspector General, or The Government Inspector), and for Myortvye dushi (1842; Dead Souls), a prose narrative that is nevertheless subtitled a “poem.” “Nos” (1836; “The Nose”), a parable on the failure of all explanatory systems, relates an utterly inexplicable incident and the attempts to come to terms with it. Both “Shinel” (1842; “The Overcoat”), which is probably the most influential Russian short story, and “Zapiski sumasshedshego” (1835; “The Diary of a Madman”) mix pathos and mockery in an amazing display. As in “Nevsky prospekt” (1835; “Nevsky Avenue”) and “Povest o tom, kak possorilsya Ivan Ivanovich s Ivanom Nikiforovichem” (1835; “The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich”), language itself seems to generate its own absurd content while the universe turns out to be a counterfeit of which there is no original. Characteristic of Gogol is a sense of boundless superfluity that is soon revealed as utter emptiness and a rich comedy that suddenly turns into metaphysical horror. The Inspector General develops a sequence of (witting and unwitting) confidence games within confidence games in a corrupt world of endless self-deception. The mock-epic, even mock-satiric, Dead Souls simultaneously allegorizes the timeless bureaucratic tendency to make official documentation more genuine than actual existence, the emptiness of the human soul, and the mind’s absurd ways of grasping meaning or value. It is one of the most striking (and most Gogolian) ironies of Russian literary history that radical critics celebrated Gogol as a realist.
 


Nikolay Gogol


Russian writer

born March 19 [March 31, New Style], 1809, Sorochintsy, near Poltava, Ukraine, Russian Empire [now in Ukraine]
died Feb. 21 [March 4], 1852, Moscow, Russia

Main
Ukrainian-born Russian humorist, dramatist, and novelist, whose novel Myortvye dushi (Dead Souls) and whose short story “Shinel” (“The Overcoat”) are considered the foundations of the great 19th-century tradition of Russian realism.

Youth and early fame.
The Ukrainian countryside, with its colourful peasantry, its Cossack traditions, and its rich folklore, constituted the background of Gogol’s boyhood. A member of the petty Ukrainian gentry, Gogol was sent at the age of 12 to the high school at Nezhin. There he distinguished himself by his biting tongue, his contributions of prose and poetry to a magazine, and his portrayal of comic old men and women in school theatricals. In 1828 he went to St. Petersburg, hoping to enter the civil service, but soon discovered that without money and connections he would have to fight hard for a living. He even tried to become an actor, but his audition was unsuccessful. In this predicament he remembered a mediocre sentimental-idyllic poem he had written in the high school. Anxious to achieve fame as a poet, he published it at his own expense, but its failure was so disastrous that he burned all the copies and thought of emigrating to the United States. He embezzled the money his mother had sent him for payment of the mortgage on her farm and took a boat to the German port of Lübeck. He did not sail but briefly toured Germany. Whatever his reasons for undertaking such an irresponsible trip, he soon ran out of money and returned to St. Petersburg, where he got an ill-paid government post.

In the meantime Gogol wrote occasionally for periodicals, finding an escape in childhood memories of the Ukraine. He committed to paper what he remembered of the sunny landscapes, peasants, and boisterous village lads, and he also related tales about devils, witches, and other demonic or fantastic agents that enliven Ukrainian folklore. Romantic stories of the past were thus intermingled with realistic incidents of the present. Such was the origin of his eight narratives, published in two volumes in 1831–32 under the title Vechera na khutore bliz Dikanki (Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka). Written in a lively and at times colloquial prose, these works contributed something fresh and new to Russian literature. In addition to the author’s whimsical inflection, they abounded in genuine folk flavour, including numerous Ukrainian words and phrases, all of which captivated the Russian literary world.


Mature career.
The young author became famous overnight. Among his first admirers were the poets Aleksandr Pushkin and Vasily Zhukovsky, both of whom he had met before. This esteem was soon shared by the writer Sergey Aksakov and the critic Vissarion Belinsky, among others. Having given up his second government post, Gogol was now teaching history in a boarding school for girls. In 1834 he was appointed assistant professor of medieval history at St. Petersburg University, but he felt inadequately equipped for the position and left it after a year. Meanwhile, he prepared energetically for the publication of his next two books, Mirgorod and Arabeski (Arabesques), which appeared in 1835. The four stories constituting Mirgorod were a continuation of the Evenings, but they revealed a strong gap between Gogol’s romantic escapism and his otherwise pessimistic attitude toward life. Such a splendid narrative of the Cossack past as “Taras Bulba” certainly provided an escape from the present. But “Povest o tom, kak possorilsya Ivan Ivanovich s Ivanom Nikiforovichem” (“Story of the Quarrel Between Ivan Ivanovich and Ivan Nikiforovich”) was, for all its humour, full of bitterness about the meanness and vulgarity of existence. Even the idyllic motif of Gogol’s “Starosvetskiye pomeshchiki” (“Old-World Landowners”) is undermined with satire, for the mutual affection of the aged couple is marred by gluttony, their ceaseless eating for eating’s sake.

The aggressive realism of a romantic who can neither adapt himself to the world nor escape from it, and is therefore all the more anxious to expose its vulgarity and evil, predominates in Gogol’s Petersburg stories printed (together with some essays) in the second work, Arabesques. In one of these stories, “Zapiski sumasshedshego” (“Diary of a Madman”), the hero is an utterly frustrated office drudge who finds compensation in megalomania and ends in a lunatic asylum. In another, “Nevsky prospekt” (“Nevsky Prospect”), a tragic romantic dreamer is contrasted to an adventurous vulgarian, while in the revised finale of “Portret” (“The Portrait”) the author stresses his conviction that evil is ineradicable in this world. In 1836 Gogol published in Pushkin’s Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”) one of his gayest satirical stories, “Kolyaska” (“The Coach”). In the same periodical also appeared his amusingly caustic surrealist tale, “Nos” (“The Nose”). Gogol’s association with Pushkin was of great value because he always trusted his friend’s taste and criticism; moreover, he received from Pushkin the themes for his two principal works, the play Revizor (The Government Inspector, sometimes titled The Inspector General), and Dead Souls, which were important not only to Russian literature but also to Gogol’s further destiny.

A great comedy, The Government Inspector mercilessly lampoons the corrupt bureaucracy under Nicholas I. Having mistaken a well-dressed windbag for the dreaded incognito inspector, the officials of a provincial town bribe and banquet him in order to turn his attention away from the crying evils of their administration. But during the triumph, after the bogus inspector’s departure, the arrival of the real inspector is announced—to the horror of those concerned. It was only by a special order of the tsar that the first performance of this comedy of indictment and “laughter through tears” took place on April 19, 1836. Yet the hue and cry raised by the reactionary press and officialdom was such that Gogol left Russia for Rome, where he remained, with some interruptions, until 1842. The atmosphere he found in Italy appealed to his taste and to his somewhat patriarchal—not to say primitive—religious propensity. The religious painter Aleksandr Ivanov, who worked in Rome, became his close friend. He also met a number of traveling Russian aristocrats and often saw the émigrée princess Zinaida Volkonsky, a convert to Roman Catholicism, in whose circle religious themes were much discussed. It was in Rome, too, that Gogol wrote most of his masterpiece, Dead Souls.

This comic novel, or “epic,” as the author labeled it, reflects feudal Russia, with its serfdom and bureaucratic iniquities. Chichikov, the hero of the novel, is a polished swindler who, after several reverses of fortune, wants to get rich quick. His bright but criminal idea is to buy from various landowners a number of their recently deceased serfs (or “souls,” as they were called in Russia) whose deaths have not yet been registered by the official census and are therefore regarded as still being alive. The landowners are only too happy to rid themselves of the fictitious property on which they continue to pay taxes until the next census. Chichikov intends to pawn the “souls” in a bank and, with the money thus raised, settle down in a distant region as a respectable gentleman. The provincial townsmen of his first stop are charmed by his polite manners; he approaches several owners in the district who are all willing to sell the “souls” in question, knowing full well the fraudulent nature of the deal. The sad conditions of Russia, in which serfs used to be bought and sold like cattle, are evident throughout the grotesquely humorous transactions. The landowners, one more queer and repellent than the last, have become nicknames known to every Russian reader. When the secret of Chichikov’s errands begins to leak out, he hurriedly leaves the town.

Dead Souls was published in 1842, the same year in which the first edition of Gogol’s collected works was published. The edition included, among his other writings, a sprightly comedy titled Zhenitba (Marriage) and the story “The Overcoat.” The latter concerns a humble scribe who, with untold sacrifices, has acquired a smart overcoat; when robbed of it he dies of a broken heart. The tragedy of this insignificant man was worked out with so many significant trifles that, years later, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was to exclaim that all Russian realists had come “from under Gogol’s greatcoat.” The apex of Gogol’s fame was, however, Dead Souls. The democratic intellectuals of Belinsky’s brand saw in this novel a work permeated with the spirit of their own liberal aspirations. Its author was all the more popular because after Pushkin’s tragic death Gogol was now looked upon as the head of Russian literature. Gogol, however, began to see his leading role in a perspective of his own. Having witnessed the beneficent results of the laughter caused by his indictments, he was sure that God had given him a great literary talent in order to make him not only castigate abuses through laughter but also to reveal to Russia the righteous way of living in an evil world. He therefore decided to continue Dead Souls as a kind of Divine Comedy in prose; the already published part would represent the Inferno of Russian life, and the second and third parts (with Chichikov’s moral regeneration) would be its Purgatorio and Paradiso.


Creative decline.
Unfortunately, having embarked upon such a soul-saving task, Gogol noticed that his former creative capacity was deserting him. He worked on the second part of his novel for more than 10 years but with meagre results. In drafts of four chapters and a fragment of the fifth found among his papers, the negative and grotesque characters are drawn with some intensity, whereas the virtuous types he was so anxious to exalt are stilted and devoid of life. This lack of zest was interpreted by Gogol as a sign that, for some reason, God no longer wanted him to be the voice exhorting his countrymen to a more worthy existence. In spite of this he decided to prove that at least as teacher and preacher—if not as artist—he was still able to set forth what was needed for Russia’s moral and worldly improvement. This he did in his ill-starred Bybrannyye mesta iz perepiski s druzyami (1847; Selected Passages from Correspondence with My Friends), a collection of 32 discourses eulogizing not only the conservative official church but also the very powers that he had so mercilessly condemned only a few years before. It is no wonder that the book was fiercely attacked by his one-time admirers, most of all by Belinsky, who in an indignant letter called him “a preacher of the knout, a defender of obscurantism and of darkest oppression.” Crushed by it all, Gogol saw in it a further proof that, sinful as he was, he had lost God’s favour forever. He increased his prayers and his ascetic practices; in 1848 he even made a pilgrimage to Palestine, but in vain. Despite a few bright moments he began to wander from place to place like a doomed soul. Finally he settled in Moscow, where he came under the influence of a fanatical priest, Father Matvey Konstantinovsky, who seems to have practiced on Gogol a kind of spiritual sadism. Ordered by him, Gogol burned the presumably completed manuscript of the second volume of Dead Souls on Feb. 24 (Feb. 11, O.S.), 1852. Ten days later he died, on the verge of semimadness.


Influence and reputation.
Whatever the vagaries of Gogol’s mind and life, his part in Russian literature was enormous. Above all, it was from the nature of such works as The Government Inspector, Dead Souls, and “The Overcoat” that Belinsky derived the tenets of the “natural school” (as distinct from the “rhetorical,” or Romantic, school) that was responsible for the trend of subsequent Russian fiction. Gogol was among the first authors to have revealed Russia to itself. Yet in contrast to the simple classical-realistic prose of Pushkin, adopted by Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Goncharov, and Ivan Turgenev, Gogol’s ornate and agitated prose was assumed by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Gogol’s realism of indictment found many followers, among them the great satirist Mikhail Saltykov. He was also a champion of the little man as a literary hero. His vexation of spirit, too, was continued (but on a higher level) by both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky as was his effort to transcend “mere literature.”

Janko Lavrin
 




Other poets and dramatists

From the death of Lermontov until the end of the 19th century, Russian literature was dominated by prose, but some poets of lasting interest appeared. Fyodor Tyutchev, a member of Pushkin’s generation, wrote nature, love, and political poetry but is probably best appreciated for his philosophical “poetry of thought,” including “Silentium!” (1830). Afanasy Fet wrote delicate love lyrics remarkable for their absence of verbs. Violently attacked by radical critics as symbolizing pure art, he came to be appreciated by the Symbolist poets to follow. Nikolay Nekrasov, who was also a major figure in Russian journalism, wrote social satires, tendentious “civic” verse, and compassionate accounts of peasant life, including Komu na Rusi zhit khorosho? (1879; Who Can Be Happy and Free in Russia?), which he began writing in 1863 and left unfinished at the time of his death.
 


Fyodor Tyutchev


Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev, Tyutchev also spelled Tiutchev (b. Dec. 5 [Nov. 23, Old Style], 1803, Ovstug, Russia—d. July 27 [July 15], 1873, St. Petersburg), Russian writer who was remarkable both as a highly original philosophic poet and as a militant Slavophile, and whose whole literary output constitutes a struggle to fuse political passion with poetic imagination.

The son of a wealthy landowner, educated at home and at Moscow University, Tyutchev served his country as a diplomat in Munich and Turin. In Germany he developed a friendship with the poet Heinrich Heine and met frequently with the idealist philosopher Friedrich W.J. von Schelling. His protracted expatriate life, however, only made Tyutchev more Russian at heart. Though the bare and poverty-stricken Russian countryside depressed him, he voiced a proud, intimate, and tragic vision of the motherland in his poetry. He also wrote political articles and political verses, both of which reflect his reactionary nationalist and Pan-Slavist views, as well as his deep love of Russia. He once wrote, “I love poetry and my country above all else in the world.”

Tyutchev’s love poems, most of them inspired by his liaison with his daughter’s governess, are among the most passionate and poignant in the Russian language. He is regarded as one of the three greatest Russian poets of the 19th century, making a trinity with Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov.
 

 

 


Afanasy Fet


Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet, Fet also spelled Foeth, legitimatized name Afanasy Afanasyevich Shenshin (b. Dec. 5 [Nov. 23, Old Style], 1820, Novosyolki, near Mtsensk, Orlov district, Russia—d. Dec. 3 [Nov. 21], 1892, Moscow), Russian poet and translator, whose sincere and passionate lyric poetry strongly influenced later Russian poets, particularly the Symbolist Aleksandr Blok.

The illegitimate son of a German woman named Fet (or Foeth) and of a Russian landowner named Shenshin, whose name he assumed by decree in 1876, Fet was still a student at the University of Moscow when, in 1842, he published several admirable lyrics in the literary magazine Moskvityanin. In 1850 a volume of his poems appeared, followed by another in 1856. He served several years in the army, retiring in 1856 with the grade of captain. In 1860 he settled on an estate at Stepanovka, in his home district, where he was often visited by his friends Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy.

His intense and brief lyrics, which aimed to convey vivid momentary sensations, were to have great influence on the later Symbolists, but during his lifetime he was decried because of his reactionary political views and somewhat unattractive personality. After 1863 he published very little, but he continued to write nature poetry and love lyrics (published posthumously in a four-volume collected edition, 1894). His works also include translations of Ovid, Virgil, J.W. von Goethe’s Faust, and Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea.
 

 

 


Nikolay Nekrasov


Nikolay Alekseyevich Nekrasov, (b. Dec. 10 [Nov. 28, Old Style], 1821, Nemirov, Ukraine, Russian Empire—d. Jan. 8, [Dec. 27, 1877], 1878, St. Petersburg, Russia), Russian poet and journalist whose work centred on the theme of compassion for the sufferings of the peasantry. Nekrasov also sought to express the racy charm and vitality of peasant life in his adaptations of folk songs and poems for children.

Nekrasov studied at St. Petersburg University, but his father’s refusal to help him forced him into literary and theatrical hack work at an early age. His first book of poetry was published in 1840. An able businessman, he published and edited literary miscellanies and in 1846 bought from Pyotr Pletnev the magazine Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”), which had declined after the death of its founder, Aleksandr Pushkin. Nekrasov managed to transform it into a major literary journal and a paying concern, despite constant harassment by the censors. Both Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy published their early works in Sovremennik, but after 1856, influenced by its subeditor, Nikolay Chernyshevski, it began to develop into an organ of militant radicalism. It was suppressed in 1866, after the first attempt to assassinate Alexander II. In 1868 Nekrasov, with Mikhail Saltykov (Shchedrin), took over Otechestvenniye zapiski (“Notes of the Fatherland”), remaining its editor and publisher until his death.

Nekrasov’s work is uneven through its lack of craftsmanship and polish and a tendency to sentimentalize his subjects, but his major poems have lasting power and originality of expression. Moroz krasny-nos (1863; “Red-nosed Frost,” in Poems, 1929) gives a vivid picture of a brave and sympathetic peasant woman, and his large-scale narrative poem, Komu na Rusi zhit khorosho? (1879; Who Can Be Happy and Free in Russia?, 1917), shows to the full his gift for vigorous realistic satire.
 



Among the dramatists of this period, Aleksandr Ostrovsky, who has proved much more popular in Russia than abroad, wrote many slice-of-life plays about the Russian merchantry. His plays Svoi lyudi—sochtyomsya! (1850; “It’s a Family Affair—We’ll Settle It Among Ourselves”; Eng. trans. A Family Affair) and Groza (1859; The Thunderstorm) were the subject of reviews by Nikolay Dobrolyubov (1836–61), one of Russia’s most influential radical critics. Aleksandr Sukhovo-Kobylin wrote a macabre trilogy, whose third play, Smert Tarelkina (1869; The Death of Tarelkin), is a brilliant piece of grotesque humour about a man who fakes his own death. The theme of the faked suicide, a motif of Russian drama, later appeared in Leo Tolstoy’s Zhivoy trup (written 1900; The Living Corpse) and Nikolay Erdman’s Samoubiytsa (1928; The Suicide).
 


Aleksandr Ostrovsky


Aleksandr Nikolayevich Ostrovsky, (b. March 31 [April 12, New Style], 1823, Moscow, Russia—d. June 2 [June 14], 1886, Shchelykovo), Russian dramatist who is generally considered the greatest representative of the Russian realistic period.

The son of a government clerk, Ostrovsky attended the University of Moscow law school. From 1843 to 1848 he was employed as a clerk at the Moscow juvenile court. He wrote his first play, Kartiny semeynogo schastya (“Scenes of Family Happiness”), in 1847. His next play, Bankrot (“The Bankrupt”), later renamed Svoi lyudi sochtemsya (It’s a Family Affair, We’ll Settle It Among Ourselves), written in 1850, provoked an outcry because it exposed bogus bankruptcy cases among Moscow merchants and brought about Ostrovsky’s dismissal from the civil service. The play was banned for 13 years.

Ostrovsky wrote several historical plays in the 1860s. His main dramatic work, however, was concerned with the Russian merchant class and included two tragedies and numerous comedies, including the masterpiece Bednost ne porok (1853; “Poverty Is No Disgrace”). His Snegurochka (1873; “The Snow Maiden”) was adapted as an opera by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov in 1880–81.

Ostrovsky was closely associated with the Maly (“Little”) Theatre, Moscow’s only dramatic state theatre, where all his plays were first performed under his supervision. He served as the first president of the Society of Russia Playwrights, which was founded on his initiative in 1874, and in 1885 he became artistic director of the Moscow imperial theatres. The author of 47 original plays, Ostrovsky almost single-handedly created a Russian national repertoire. His dramas are among the most widely read and frequently performed stage pieces in Russia.
 

 

 


Aleksandr Sukhovo-Kobylin


 

Aleksandr Vasilyevich Sukhovo-Kobylin (Russian: Александр Васильевич Сухово-Кобылин) (September 29 [O.S. September 17] 1817, Moscow - September 24 [O.S. September 11] 1903, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France), was a Russian nobleman, chiefly known for the works he authored as an amateur playwright.

A rich aristocrat who often travelled, Sukhovo-Kobylin was arrested, prosecuted and tried for seven years in Russia for the murder of his French mistress Louise-Simone Dimanche, a crime of which he is nowadays generally believed to have been innocent. He only managed to achieve acquittal by means of giving enormous bribes to court officials and by using all of his contacts in the Russian elite. According to his own version as well as the generally accepted view today, he was targeted precisely because he had the financial capabilities to give such bribes. Based on his personal experiences, Sukhovo-Kobylin wrote a trilogy of satirical plays about the prevalence of bribery and other corrupt practices in the Russian judicial system of the time - "Krechinsky's Wedding" (Russian: Свадьба Кречинского) (1850-1854, begun in prison), "The Trial" (Russian: Дело) (1869), and "Tarelkin's Death" (alternatively titled "Rasplyuyev's merry days" (Russian: Смерть Тарелкина, Расплюевские веселые дни) (1869). The first work had immediate success and became one of Russia's most frequently performed plays. It is also considered Sukhovo-Kobylin's best. The trilogy in its entirety was published in 1869 under the title "Scenes from the Past" (Russian Картины прошлого). Attempts to stage the last two plays ran into difficulties with censorship; in particular, "Tarelkin's Death" was only staged in 1899. While popular, the two sequels failed to achieve the same success as the first play.
 





The “intelligentsia”

Beginning about 1860, Russian culture was dominated by a group known as the “intelligentsia,” a word that English borrowed from Russian but which means something rather different in its original Russian usage. In the word’s narrow sense, the “intelligentsia” consisted of people who owed their primary allegiance not to their profession or class but to a group of men and women with whom they shared a common set of beliefs, including a fanatic faith in revolution, atheism, and materialism. They usually adopted a specific set of manners, customs, and sexual behaviour, primarily from their favourite book, Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s utopian novel Chto delat (1863; What Is to Be Done?). Although appallingly bad from a literary point of view, this novel, which also features a fake suicide, was probably the most widely read work of the 19th century.

Generally speaking, the intelligentsia insisted that literature be a form of socialist propaganda and rejected aesthetic criteria or apolitical works. In addition to Vissarion Belinsky,  Chernyshevsky and Nikolay Dobrolyubov, typical members of the intelligentsia came to include Lenin, Stalin, and other Bolsheviks who seized power in 1917. Thus it is not surprising that a gulf separated the writers from the intelligentsia. In an important anthology attacking the mentality of the intelligentsia, Vekhi (1909; Landmarks), the critic Mikhail Gershenzon observed that “an almost infallible gauge of the strengths of an artist’s genius is the extent of his hatred for the intelligentsia.” Typically, the writers objected to the intelligentsia’s intellectual intolerance, addiction to theory, and belief that morality was defined by utility to the revolution. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Anton Chekhov were all sharply contemptuous of the intelligentsia.
 


Vissarion Belinsky



 

born May 30 [June 11, New Style], 1811, Sveaborg, Fin., Russian Empire
died May 26 [June 7], 1848, St. Petersburg, Russia


eminent Russian literary critic who is often called the “father” of the Russian radical intelligentsia.

The son of a provincial doctor, Belinsky was expelled from the University of Moscow (1832) and earned his living thereafter as a journalist. His first substantial critical articles were part of a series that he wrote for the journal Teleskop (“Telescope”) beginning in 1834. These were called “Literaturnye mechtaniya” (“Literary Reveries”), and they established his reputation. In them he expounded F.W.J. Schelling’s Romantic view of national character, applying it to Russian culture.

Belinsky was briefly managing editor of the Moskovsky nablyudatel (“Moscow Observer”) before obtaining a post in 1839 as chief critic for the journal Otechestvennyye zapiski (“National Annals”). The influential essays he published there on such writers as Aleksandr Pushkin and Nikolay Gogol helped shape the literary and social views of other Russian intellectuals for decades to come. By 1840 Belinsky had moved from the idealism of his early essays to a Hegelian view that art and the history of a nation are closely connected. He believed that Russian literature had to progress in order to help the still-embryonic Russian nation develop into a mature, civilized society. His theory of literature in the service of society became an article of faith among Russian liberals and was the distant progenitor of the Soviets’ doctrine of Socialist Realism.

In 1846 Belinsky joined the review Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”), for which he wrote most of his last essays. In 1847 he wrote a famous letter to Gogol, denouncing the latter’s Bybrannyye mesta iz perepiski s druzyami (“Selected Passages from Correspondence with My Friends”) as a betrayal of the Russian people because it preached submission to church and state.

Belinsky’s perceptive praise of such writers as Pushkin, Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turgenev, and Ivan Goncharov helped establish their early reputations. He laid the foundation for modern Russian literary criticism in his belief that Russian literature should honestly reflect Russian reality and that art should be judged for its social as well as its aesthetic qualities.
 

 

 


Nikolay Chernyshevsky


N.G. Chernyshevsky, in full Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky (b. July 12 [July 24, New Style], 1828, Saratov, Russia—d. Oct. 17 [Oct. 29], 1889, Saratov), radical journalist and politician who greatly influenced the young Russian intelligentsia through his classic work, What Is to Be Done? (1863).

Son of a poor priest, Chernyshevsky in 1854 joined the staff of the review Sovremennik (“Contemporary”). Though he focused on social and economic evils and tried to expound predictable laws of economic change, he followed his fellow journalist Vissarion Belinsky and the English utilitarians in preaching a highly purified egoism as the most natural and desirable mainspring of human conduct. Landowners accused him of stirring up class hatred; and, although the extent to which he was actively subversive is a matter of controversy, he was arrested in 1862 and, after two years’ imprisonment, was exiled to Siberia, where he remained until 1883. While in prison he wrote his didactic novel Shto Delat? (1863; A Vital Question or What Is to Be Done?). He was a Westernizer who opposed nationalist Slavophiles. In the U.S.S.R. he was considered by many to be a forerunner of Vladimir Lenin.
 

 

 


Nikolay Dobrolyubov


Nikolay Aleksandrovich Dobrolyubov, (b. Jan. 24 [Feb. 5, New Style], 1836, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia—d. Nov. 17 [Nov. 29], 1861, St. Petersburg), radical Russian utilitarian critic who rejected traditional and Romantic literature.

Dobrolyubov, the son of a priest, was educated at a seminary and a pedagogical institute. Early in his life he rejected traditionalism and found his ideal in progress as represented by Western science. In 1856 Dobrolyubov began contributing to Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”), an influential liberal periodical, and from 1857 until his death he was chief critic for that journal. He was perhaps the most influential critic after Vissarion Belinsky among the radical intelligentsia; his main concern was the criticism of life rather than of literature. He is perhaps best known for his essay “What is Oblomovism” (1859–60). The essay deals with the phenomenon represented by the character Oblomov in Ivan Goncharov’s novel of that name. It established the term Oblomovism as a name for the superfluous man of Russian life and literature.
 




Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Having been imprisoned in Siberia for political activity, Dostoyevsky parodied What Is to Be Done? in Zapiski iz podpolya (1864; Notes from the Underground), a novella that has had incalculable influence on Western literature for formal as well as thematic reasons. In a complex series of paradoxes, its hero argues against determinism, utopianism, and historical laws. In Prestupleniye i nakazaniye (1866; Crime and Punishment), a philosophical and psychological account of a murder, Dostoyevsky examines the tendency of intelligents (members of the intelligentsia) to regard themselves as superior to ordinary people and as beyond traditional morality. Besy (1872; The Possessed), a novel based on Russian terrorism, is famous as the work that most accurately predicted 20th-century totalitarianism. In Idiot (1868–69; The Idiot) and Bratya Karamazovy (1879–80; The Brothers Karamazov), Dostoyevsky, who is generally regarded as one of the supreme psychologists in world literature, sought to demonstrate the compatibility of Christianity with the deepest truths of the psyche.
 


Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"The Idiot"





Russian author
in full Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky Dostoyevsky also spelled Dostoevsky

born November 11, [October 30, Old Style], 1821, Moscow, Russia
died February 9 [January 28, O.S.], 1881, St. Petersburg

Main
Russian novelist and short-story writer whose psychological penetration into the darkest recesses of the human heart, together with his unsurpassed moments of illumination, had an immense influence on 20th-century fiction.

Dostoyevsky is usually regarded as one of the finest novelists who ever lived. Literary modernism, existentialism, and various schools of psychology, theology, and literary criticism have been profoundly shaped by his ideas. His works are often called prophetic because he so accurately predicted how Russia’s revolutionaries would behave if they came to power. In his time he was also renowned for his activity as a journalist.

Major works and their characteristics
Dostoyevsky is best known for his novella Notes from the Underground and for four long novels, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed (also and more accurately known as The Demons and The Devils), and The Brothers Karamazov. Each of these works is famous for its psychological profundity, and, indeed, Dostoyevsky is commonly regarded as one of the greatest psychologists in the history of literature. He specialized in the analysis of pathological states of mind that lead to insanity, murder, and suicide and in the exploration of the emotions of humiliation, self-destruction, tyrannical domination, and murderous rage. These major works are also renowned as great “novels of ideas” that treat timeless and timely issues in philosophy and politics. Psychology and philosophy are closely linked in Dostoyevsky’s portrayals of intellectuals, who “feel ideas” in the depths of their souls. Finally, these novels broke new ground with their experiments in literary form.


Background and early life
The major events of Dostoyevsky’s life—mock execution, imprisonment in Siberia, and epileptic seizures—were so well known that, even apart from his work, Dostoyevsky achieved great celebrity in his own time. Indeed, he frequently capitalized on his legend by drawing on the highly dramatic incidents of his life in creating his greatest characters. Even so, some events in his life have remained clouded in mystery, and careless speculations have unfortunately gained the status of fact.

Unlike many other Russian writers of the first part of the 19th century, Dostoyevsky was not born into the landed gentry. He often stressed the difference between his own background and that of Leo Tolstoy or Ivan Turgenev and the effect of that difference on his work. First, Dostoyevsky was always in need of money and had to hurry his works into publication. Although he complained that writing against a deadline prevented him from achieving his full literary powers, it is equally possible that his frenzied style of composition lent his novels an energy that has remained part of their appeal. Second, Dostoyevsky often noted that, unlike writers from the nobility who described the family life of their own class, shaped by “beautiful forms” and stable traditions, he explored the lives of “accidental families” and of “the insulted and the humiliated.”

Dostoyevsky’s father, a retired military surgeon, served as a doctor at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor in Moscow, where he treated charity cases while also conducting a private practice. Though a devoted parent, Dostoyevsky’s father was a stern, suspicious, and rigid man. By contrast, his mother, a cultured woman from a merchant family, was kindly and indulgent. Dostoyevsky’s lifelong attachment to religion began with the old-fashioned piety of his family, so different from the fashionable skepticism of the gentry.

In 1828 Dostoyevsky’s father managed to earn the rank of a nobleman (the reforms of Peter I the Great had made such a change in status possible). He bought an estate in 1831, and so young Fyodor spent the summer months in the country. Until 1833 Dostoyevsky was educated at home, before being sent to a day school and then to a boarding school. Dostoyevsky’s mother died in 1837. Some 40 years after Dostoyevsky’s death it was revealed that his father, who had died suddenly in 1839, might have been murdered by his own serfs; however, this account is now regarded by many scholars as a myth. At the time, Dostoyevsky was a student in the Academy of Military Engineering in St. Petersburg, a career as a military engineer having been marked out for him by his father.

Dostoyevsky was evidently unsuited for such an occupation. He and his older brother Mikhail, who remained his close friend and became his collaborator in publishing journals, were entranced with literature from a young age. As a child and as a student, Dostoyevsky was drawn to Romantic and Gothic fiction, especially the works of Sir Walter Scott, Ann Radcliffe, Nikolay Karamzin, Friedrich Schiller, and Aleksandr Pushkin. Not long after completing his degree (1843) and becoming a sublieutenant, Dostoyevsky resigned his commission to commence a hazardous career as a writer living off his pen.


Early works
The first work Dostoyevsky published was a rather free and emotionally intensified translation of Honoré de Balzac’s novel Eugénie Grandet; and the French writer’s oeuvre was to exercise a great influence on his own fiction. Dostoyevsky did not have to toil long in obscurity. No sooner had he written his first novella, Bednyye lyudi (1846; Poor Folk), than he was hailed as the great new talent of Russian literature by the most influential critic of his day, the “furious” Vissarion Belinsky.

Three decades later, in The Diary of a Writer, Dostoyevsky recalled the story of his “discovery.” After completing Poor Folk, he gave a copy to his friend, Dmitry Grigorovich, who brought it to the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. Reading Dostoyevsky’s manuscript aloud, these two writers were overwhelmed by the work’s psychological insight and ability to play on the heartstrings. Even though it was 4:00 am, they went straight to Dostoyevsky to tell him his first novella was a masterpiece. Later that day, Nekrasov brought Poor Folk to Belinsky. “A new Gogol has appeared!” Nekrasov proclaimed, to which Belinsky replied, “With you, Gogols spring up like mushrooms!” Belinsky soon communicated his enthusiasm to Dostoyevsky: “Do you, you yourself, realize what it is that you have written!” In The Diary of a Writer, Dostoyevsky remembered this as the happiest moment of his life.

Poor Folk, the appeal of which has been overshadowed by Dostoyevsky’s later works, is cast in the then already anachronistic form of an epistolary novel. Makar Devushkin, a poor copying clerk who can afford to live only in a corner of a dirty kitchen, exchanges letters with a young and poor girl, Varvara Dobrosyolova. Her letters reveal that she has already been procured once for a wealthy and worthless man, whom, at the end of the novel, she agrees to marry. The novel is remarkable for its descriptions of the psychological (rather than just material) effects of poverty. Dostoyevsky transformed the techniques Nikolay Gogol used in The Overcoat, the celebrated story of a poor copying clerk. Whereas Gogol’s thoroughly comic hero utterly lacks self-awareness, Dostoyevsky’s self-conscious hero suffers agonies of humiliation. In one famous scene, Devushkin reads Gogol’s story and is offended by it.

In the next few years Dostoyevsky published a number of stories, including Belyye nochi (“White Nights”), which depicts the mentality of a dreamer, and a novella, Dvoynik (1846; The Double), a study in schizophrenia. The hero of this novella, Golyadkin, begets a double of himself, who mocks him and usurps his place. Dostoyevsky boldly narrates the story through one of the voices that sounds within Golyadkin’s psyche so that the story reads as if it were a taunt addressed directly to its unfortunate hero.

Although Dostoyevsky was at first lionized, his excruciating shyness and touchy vanity provoked hostility among the members of Belinsky’s circle. Nekrasov and Turgenev circulated a satiric poem in which the young writer was called, like Don Quixote, “The Knight of the Doleful Countenance”; years later, Dostoyevsky paid Turgenev back with a devastating parody of him in The Possessed. Belinsky himself gradually became disappointed with Dostoyevsky’s preference for psychology over social issues. Always prone to nervous illness, Dostoyevsky suffered from depression.


Political activity and arrest
In 1847 Dostoyevsky began to participate in the Petrashevsky Circle, a group of intellectuals who discussed utopian socialism. He eventually joined a related, secret group devoted to revolution and illegal propaganda. It appears that Dostoyevsky did not sympathize (as others did) with egalitarian communism and terrorism but was motivated by his strong disapproval of serfdom. On April 23, 1849, he and the other members of the Petrashevsky Circle were arrested. Dostoyevsky spent eight months in prison until, on December 22, the prisoners were led without warning to the Semyonovsky Square. There a sentence of death by firing squad was pronounced, last rites were offered, and three prisoners were led out to be shot first. At the last possible moment, the guns were lowered and a messenger arrived with the information that the tsar had deigned to spare their lives. The mock-execution ceremony was in fact part of the punishment. One of the prisoners went permanently insane on the spot; another went on to write Crime and Punishment.

Dostoyevsky passed several minutes in the full conviction that he was about to die, and in his novels characters repeatedly imagine the state of mind of a man approaching execution. The hero of The Idiot, Prince Myshkin, offers several extended descriptions of this sort, which readers knew carried special authority because the author of the novel had gone through the terrible experience. The mock execution led Dostoyevsky to appreciate the very process of life as an incomparable gift and, in contrast to the prevailing determinist and materialist thinking of the intelligentsia, to value freedom, integrity, and individual responsibility all the more strongly.

Instead of being executed, Dostoyevsky was sentenced to four years in a Siberian prison labour camp, to be followed by an indefinite term as a soldier. After his return to Russia 10 years later, he wrote a novel based on his prison camp experiences, Zapiski iz myortvogo doma (1861–62; The House of the Dead). Gone was the tinge of Romanticism and dreaminess present in his early fiction. The novel, which was to initiate the Russian tradition of prison camp literature, describes the horrors that Dostoyevsky actually witnessed: the brutality of the guards who enjoyed cruelty for its own sake, the evil of criminals who could enjoy murdering children, and the existence of decent souls amid filth and degradation—all these themes, warranted by the author’s own experience, gave the novel the immense power that readers still experience. Tolstoy considered it Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece. Above all, The House of the Dead illustrates that, more than anything else, it is the need for individual freedom that makes us human. This conviction was to bring Dostoyevsky into direct conflict with the radical determinists and socialists of the intelligentsia.

In Siberia Dostoyevsky experienced what he called the “regeneration” of his convictions. He rejected the condescending attitude of intellectuals, who wanted to impose their political ideas on society, and came to believe in the dignity and fundamental goodness of common people. He describes this change in his sketch The Peasant Marey (which appears in The Diary of a Writer). Dostoyevsky also became deeply attached to Russian Orthodoxy, as the religion of the common people, although his faith was always at war with his skepticism. In one famous letter he describes how he thirsts for faith “like parched grass” and concludes: “if someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth, and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.”

Dostoyevsky suffered his first attacks of epilepsy while in prison. No less than his accounts of being led to execution, his descriptions of epileptic seizures (especially in The Idiot) reveal the heights and depths of the human soul. As Dostoyevsky and his hero Myshkin experience it, the moment just before an attack grants the sufferer a strong sensation of perfect harmony and of overcoming time. Freud interpreted Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy as psychological in origin, but his account has been vitiated by research showing that his analysis was based on misinformation. In 1857 Dostoyevsky married a consumptive widow, Mariya Dmitriyevna Isayeva (she died seven years later); the unhappy marriage began with her witnessing one of his seizures on their honeymoon.


Works of the 1860s
Upon his return to Russia, Dostoyevsky plunged into literary activity. With his brother Mikhail, he edited two influential journals, first Vremya (1861–63; “Time”), which was closed by the government on account of an objectionable article, and then Epokha (1864–65; “Epoch”), which collapsed after the death of Mikhail. After first trying to maintain a middle-of-the-road position, Dostoyevsky began to attack the radicals, who virtually defined the Russian intelligentsia. Dostoyevsky was repulsed by their materialism, their utilitarian morality, their reduction of art to propaganda, and, above all, their denial of individual freedom and responsibility. For the remainder of his life, he maintained a deep sense of the danger of radical ideas, and so his post-Siberian works came to be resented by the Bolsheviks and held in suspicion by the Soviet regime.


Works of the 1860s » Notes from the Underground
In the first part of Zapiski iz podpolya (1864; Notes from the Underground) an unnamed first-person narrator delivers a brilliant attack on a set of beliefs shared by liberals and radicals: that it is possible to discover the laws of individual psychology, that human beings consequently have no free choice, that history is governed by laws, and that it is possible to design a utopian society based on the laws of society and human nature. Even if such a society could be built, the underground man argues, people would hate it just because it denied them caprice and defined them as utterly predictable. In the novella’s second part the underground man recalls incidents from his past, which show him behaving, in answer to determinism, according to sheer spite. Dostoyevsky thus makes clear that the underground man’s irrationalist solution is no better than the rationalists’ systems. Notes from the Underground also parodied the bible of the radicals, Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s utopian fiction What Is to Be Done? (1863).


Works of the 1860s » Stay in western Europe
For several reasons, Dostoyevsky spent much of the 1860s in western Europe: he wanted to see the society that he both admired for its culture and deplored for its materialism, he was hoping to resume an affair with the minor author Appolinariya Suslova, he was escaping his creditors in Russia, and he was disastrously attracted to gambling. An unscrupulous publisher offered him a desperately needed advance on the condition that he deliver a novel by a certain date; the publisher was counting on the forfeit provisions, which would allow him nine years to publish all of Dostoyevsky’s works for free. With less than a month remaining, Dostoyevsky hired a stenographer and dictated his novel Igrok (1866; The Gambler)—based on his relations with Suslova and the psychology of compulsive gambling—which he finished just on time. A few months later (1867) he married the stenographer, Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina. She at last put his life and finances in order and created stable conditions for his work and new family. They had four children, of whom two survived to adulthood.


Works of the 1860s » Crime and Punishment
Written at the same time as The Gambler, Prestupleniye i nakazaniye (1866; Crime and Punishment) describes a young intellectual, Raskolnikov, willing to gamble on ideas. He decides to solve all his problems at a stroke by murdering an old pawnbroker woman. Contradictory motives and theories all draw him to the crime. Utilitarian morality suggests that killing her is a positive good because her money could be used to help many others. On the other hand, Raskolnikov reasons that belief in good and evil is itself sheer prejudice, a mere relic of religion, and that, morally speaking, there is no such thing as crime. Nevertheless, Raskolnikov, despite his denial of morality, sympathizes with the unfortunate and so wants to kill the pawnbroker just because she is an oppressor of the weak. His most famous theory justifying murder divides the world into extraordinary people, such as Solon, Caesar, and Napoleon, and ordinary people, who simply serve to propagate the species. Extraordinary people, he theorizes, must have “the right to transgress,” or progress would be impossible. Nothing could be further from Dostoyevsky’s own morality, based on the infinite worth of each human soul, than this Napoleonic theory, which Dostoyevsky viewed as the real content of the intelligentsia’s belief in its superior wisdom.

After committing the crime, Raskolnikov unaccountably finds himself gripped by “mystic terror” and a horrible sense of isolation. The detective Porfiry Petrovich, who guesses Raskolnikov’s guilt but cannot prove it, plays psychological games with him until the murderer at last confesses. Meanwhile, Raskolnikov tries to discover the real motive for his crime but never arrives at a single answer. In a famous commentary, Tolstoy argued that there was no single motive but rather a series of “tiny, tiny alterations” of mood and mental habits. Dostoyevsky’s brilliance in part lies in his complex rethinking of such concepts as motive and intention.

Crime and Punishment also offers remarkable psychological portraits of a drunkard, Marmeladov, and of a vicious amoralist haunted by hallucinations, Svidrigailov. Raskolnikov’s friend Razumikhin voices the author’s distaste for an ideological approach to life; Razumikhin’s own life exemplifies how one can solve problems neither by grand ideas nor by dramatic gambles but by slow, steady, hard work.

Quite deliberately, Dostoyevsky made the heroine of the story, Sonya Marmeladova, an unrealistic symbol of pure Christian goodness. Having become a prostitute to support her family, she later persuades Raskolnikov to confess and then follows him to Siberia. In the novel’s epilogue, the prisoner Raskolnikov, who has confessed not out of remorse but out of emotional stress, at first continues to maintain his amoral theories but at last is brought to true repentance by a revelatory dream and by Sonya’s goodness. Critical opinion is divided over whether the epilogue is artistically successful.


Works of the 1860s » The Idiot
Dostoyevsky’s next major novel, Idiot (1868–69; The Idiot), represents his attempt to describe a perfectly good man in a way that is still psychologically convincing—seemingly an impossible artistic task. If he could succeed, Dostoyevsky believed, he would show that Christ-like goodness is indeed possible; and so the very writing of the work became an attempt at what might be called a novelistic proof of Christianity.

The work’s hero, Prince Myshkin, is indeed perfectly generous and so innocent as to be regarded as an idiot; however, he is also gifted with profound psychological insight. Unfortunately, his very goodness seems to bring disaster to all he meets, even to the novel’s heroine, Nastasya Filippovna, whom he wishes to save. With a remarkably complex psychology, she both accepts and bitterly defies the world’s judgment of her as a fallen woman. Ippolit, a spiteful young man dying of consumption, offers brilliant meditations on art, on death, on the meaninglessness of dumb brutish nature, and on happiness, which, to him, is a matter of the very process of living. Columbus, he explains, was happy not when he discovered America but while he was discovering it.


Dostoyevsky’s last decade » The Possessed
Dostoyevsky’s next novel, Besy (1872; The Possessed), earned him the permanent hatred of the radicals. Often regarded as the most brilliant political novel ever written, it interweaves two plots. One concerns Nikolay Stavrogin, a man with a void at the centre of his being. In his younger years Stavrogin, in a futile quest for meaning, had embraced and cast off a string of ideologies, each of which has been adopted by different intellectuals mesmerized by Stavrogin’s personality. Shatov has become a Slavophile who, like Dostoyevsky himself, believes in the “God-bearing” Russian people. Existentialist critics (especially Albert Camus) became fascinated with Kirillov, who adopts a series of contradictory philosophical justifications for suicide. Most famously, Kirillov argues that only an utterly gratuitous act of self-destruction can prove that a person is free because such an act cannot be explained by any kind of self-interest and therefore violates all psychological laws. By killing himself without reason, Kirillov hopes to become the “man-god” and so provide an example for human freedom in a world that has denied Christ (the God-man).

It is the novel’s other plot that has earned Dostoyevsky the reputation of a political prophet. It describes a cell of revolutionary conspirators led by Pyotr Stepanovich Verkhovensky, who binds the group together by involving them in murdering Shatov. (This incident was based on the scheme of a real revolutionary of the time, Sergey Nechayev.) One of the revolutionaries, Shigalyov, offers his thoughts on the emergence of the perfect society: “Starting with unlimited freedom, I arrive at unlimited despotism.” Enforced equality and guaranteed utopia demand the suppression of all individuality and independent thought. In lines that anticipate Soviet and Maoist cultural policy, Pyotr Stepanovich predicts that, when the revolution comes, “Cicero will have his tongue cut out, Copernicus will have his eyes put out, Shakespeare will be stoned,” all in the name of “equality.”

Pyotr is the son and Stavrogin the former student of the novel’s weak but endearing liberal, Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky. Dostoyevsky suggests that the madness of the radical sons derives from their fathers’ liberal skepticism, mockery of traditional morals, and, above all, neglect of the family. The Possessed is a profoundly conservative and Christian work. In contrast to its savage portraits of intellectuals, the novel expresses great sympathy for workers and other ordinary people ill-served by the radicals who presume to speak in their name.


Dostoyevsky’s last decade » A Writer’s Diary and other works
In 1873 Dostoyevsky assumed the editorship of the conservative journal Grazhdanin (“The Citizen”), where he published an irregular column entitled Dnevnik pisatelya (“The Diary of a Writer”). He left Grazhdanin to write Podrostok (1875; A Raw Youth, also known as The Adolescent), a relatively unsuccessful and diffuse novel describing a young man’s relations with his natural father.

In 1876–77 Dostoyevsky devoted his energies to Dnevnik pisatelya, which he was now able to bring out in the form he had originally intended. A one-man journal, for which Dostoyevsky served as editor, publisher, and sole contributor, the Diary represented an attempt to initiate a new literary genre. Issue by monthly issue, the Diary created complex thematic resonances among diverse kinds of material: short stories, plans for possible stories, autobiographical essays, sketches that seem to lie on the boundary between fiction and journalism, psychological analyses of sensational crimes, literary criticism, and political commentary. The Diary proved immensely popular and financially rewarding, but as an aesthetic experiment it was less successful, probably because Dostoyevsky, after a few intricate issues, seemed unable to maintain his complex design. Instead, he was drawn into expressing his political views, which, during these two years, became increasingly extreme. Specifically, Dostoyevsky came to believe that western Europe was about to collapse, after which Russia and the Russian Orthodox church would create the kingdom of God on earth and so fulfill the promise of the Book of Revelation. In a series of anti-Catholic articles, he equated the Roman Catholic church with the socialists because both are concerned with earthly rule and maintain (Dostoyevsky believed) an essentially materialist view of human nature. He reached his moral nadir with a number of anti-Semitic articles.

Because Dostoyevsky was unable to maintain his aesthetic design for the Diary, its most famous sections are usually known from anthologies and so are separated from the context in which they were designed to fit. These sections include four of his best short stories—Krotkaya (“The Meek One”), Son smeshnogo cheloveka (“The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”), Malchik u Khrista na elke (“The Heavenly Christmas Tree”), and Bobok—as well as a number of autobiographical and semifictional sketches, including Muzhik Marey (“The Peasant Marey”), Stoletnaya (“A Hundred-Year-Old Woman”), and a satire, Spiritizm. Nechto o chertyakh Chrezychaynaya khitrost chertey, esli tolko eto cherti (“Spiritualism. Something about Devils. The Extraordinary Cleverness of Devils, If Only These Are Devils”).


Dostoyevsky’s last decade » The Brothers Karamazov
Dostoyevsky’s last and probably greatest novel, Bratya Karamazovy (1879–80; The Brothers Karamazov), focuses on his favourite theological and philosophical themes: the origin of evil, the nature of freedom, and the craving for faith. A profligate and vicious father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, mocks everything noble and engages in unseemly buffoonery at every opportunity. When his sons were infants, he neglected them not out of malice but simply because he “forgot” them. The eldest, Dmitry, a passionate man capable of sincerely loving both “Sodom” and “the Madonna” at the same time, wrangles with his father over money and competes with him for the favours of a “demonic” woman, Grushenka. When the old man is murdered, circumstantial evidence leads to Dmitry’s arrest for the crime, which actually has been committed by the fourth, and illegitimate, son, the malicious epileptic Smerdyakov.

The youngest legitimate son, Alyosha, is another of Dostoyevsky’s attempts to create a realistic Christ figure. Following the wise monk Zosima, Alyosha tries to put Christian love into practice. The narrator proclaims him the work’s real hero, but readers are usually most interested in the middle brother, the intellectual Ivan.

Like Raskolnikov, Ivan argues that, if there is no God and no immortality, then “all is permitted.” And, even if all is not permitted, he tells Alyosha, one is responsible only for one’s actions but not for one’s wishes. Of course, the Sermon on the Mount says one is responsible for one’s wishes, and, when old Karamazov is murdered, Ivan, in spite of all his theories, comes to feel guilty for having desired his father’s death. In tracing the dynamics of Ivan’s guilt, Dostoyevsky in effect provides a psychological justification for Christian teaching. Evil happens not just because of a few criminals but because of a moral climate in which all people participate by harbouring evil wishes. Therefore, as Father Zosima teaches, “everyone is responsible for everyone and for everything.”

The novel is most famous for three chapters that may be ranked among the greatest pages of Western literature. In “Rebellion,” Ivan indicts God the Father for creating a world in which children suffer. Ivan has also written a “poem,” The Grand Inquisitor, which represents his response to God the Son. It tells the story of Christ’s brief return to earth during the Spanish Inquisition. Recognizing him, the Inquisitor arrests him as “the worst of heretics” because, the Inquisitor explains, the church has rejected Christ. For Christ came to make people free, but, the Inquisitor insists, people do not want to be free, no matter what they say. They want security and certainty rather than free choice, which leads them to error and guilt. And so, to ensure happiness, the church has created a society based on “miracle, mystery, and authority.” The Inquisitor is evidently meant to stand not only for medieval Roman Catholicism but also for contemporary socialism. “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” contain what many have considered the strongest arguments ever formulated against God, which Dostoyevsky includes so that, in refuting them, he can truly defend Christianity. It is one of the greatest paradoxes of Dostoyevsky’s work that his deeply Christian novel more than gives the Devil his due.

In the work’s other most famous chapter, Ivan, now going mad, is visited by the Devil, who talks philosophy with him. Quite strikingly, this Devil is neither grand nor satanic but petty and vulgar, as if to symbolize the ordinariness and banality of evil. He also keeps up with all the latest beliefs of the intelligentsia on earth, which leads, in remarkably humorous passages, to the Devil’s defense of materialism and agnosticism. The image of the “petty demon” has had immense influence on 20th-century thought and literature.

In 1880 Dostoyevsky delivered an electrifying speech about the poet Aleksandr Pushkin, which he published in a separate issue of The Diary of a Writer (August 1880). After finishing Karamazov, he resumed the monthly Diary but lived to publish only a single issue (January 1881) before dying of a hemorrhage on January 28 in St. Petersburg.


Assessment
Dostoyevsky’s name has become synonymous with psychological profundity. For generations, the depth and contradictoriness of his heroes have made systematic psychological theories look shallow by comparison. Many theorists (most notably Freud) have tried to claim Dostoyevsky as a predecessor. His sense of evil and his love of freedom have made Dostoyevsky especially relevant to a century of world war, mass murder, and totalitarianism. At least two modern literary genres, the prison camp novel and the dystopian novel (works such as Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four), derive from his writings. His ideas and formal innovations exercised a profound influence on Friedrich Nietzsche, André Gide, Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux, and Mikhail Bulgakov, to name only a few. Above all, his works continue to enthrall readers by combining suspenseful plots with ultimate questions about faith, suffering, and the meaning of life.

Gary Saul Morson
 





Leo Tolstoy


Probably even more than Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy has been praised as being the greatest novelist in world literature. The 19th-century English critic and poet Matthew Arnold famously expressed the commonest view in saying that a work by Tolstoy is not a piece of art but a piece of life: his novels read as if life were writing directly, without mediation. Tolstoy’s techniques reflect his belief that no theory is adequate to explain the world’s complexity, which unfolds by “tiny, tiny alterations” fitting no pattern. He denied the existence of historical laws and insisted that ethics is a matter not of rules but of supreme sensitivity to the particular. “True life,” he contended, is lived not at moments of grand crisis but at countless ordinary and prosaic moments, which human beings usually do not notice. All these ideas are illustrated and explicitly expressed in Voyna i mir (1865–69; War and Peace), set in the time of the Napoleonic wars, and in Anna Karenina (1875–77), which applies this prosaic view of life to marriage, the family, and work. Anna Karenina also contrasts romantic love, which is based on intense moments of passion and leads to adultery, with the prosaic love of the family, which is based above all on intimacy.

After completing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy underwent a religious crisis, which eventually led him to reject his two great novels, formulate a new religion that he thought of as true Christianity, and cultivate a different type of art. To outline his views, he wrote a number of tracts, including Tsarstvo bozhiye vnutri vas (1893; The Kingdom of God Is Within You) and Chto takoye iskusstvo? (1898; What Is Art?). His only long novel of this period, Voskreseniye (1899; Resurrection), is a tendentious failure. But he produced brilliant novellas, many of which were published posthumously, including Otets Sergy (written 1898; Father Sergius), in which he seems to reflect on his own quest for sainthood, and Khadzhi-Murat (written 1904; Hadji-Murad). Smert Ivana Ilicha (1886; The Death of Ivan Ilyitch), which is often considered the greatest novella in Russian literature, conveys the existential horror of sickness and mortality while describing civilization as a web of lies designed to distract people from an awareness of death.

 


Leo Tolstoy

"The Kreutzer Sonata"





Russian writer
Tolstoy also spelled Tolstoi, Russian in full Lev Nikolayevich, Count (Graf) Tolstoy
born Aug. 28 [Sept. 9, New Style], 1828, Yasnaya Polyana, Tula province, Russian Empire
died Nov. 7 [Nov. 20], 1910, Astapovo, Ryazan province

Main
Russian author, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world’s greatest novelists.

Tolstoy is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written. War and Peace in particular seems virtually to define this form for many readers and critics. Among Tolstoy’s shorter works, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is usually classed among the best examples of the novella. Especially during his last three decades Tolstoy also achieved world renown as a moral and religious teacher. His doctrine of nonresistance to evil had an important influence on Gandhi. Although Tolstoy’s religious ideas no longer command the respect they once did, interest in his life and personality has, if anything, increased over the years.

Most readers will agree with the assessment of the 19th-century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold that a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life; the 20th-century Russian author Isaak Babel commented that, if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy. Critics of diverse schools have agreed that somehow Tolstoy’s works seem to elude all artifice. Most have stressed his ability to observe the smallest changes of consciousness and to record the slightest movements of the body. What another novelist would describe as a single act of consciousness, Tolstoy convincingly breaks down into a series of infinitesimally small steps. According to the English writer Virginia Woolf, who took for granted that Tolstoy was “the greatest of all novelists,” these observational powers elicited a kind of fear in readers, who “wish to escape from the gaze which Tolstoy fixes on us.” Those who visited Tolstoy as an old man also reported feelings of great discomfort when he appeared to understand their unspoken thoughts. It was commonplace to describe him as godlike in his powers and titanic in his struggles to escape the limitations of the human condition. Some viewed Tolstoy as the embodiment of nature and pure vitality, others saw him as the incarnation of the world’s conscience, but for almost all who knew him or read his works, he was not just one of the greatest writers who ever lived but a living symbol of the search for life’s meaning.

Early years
The scion of prominent aristocrats, Tolstoy was born at the family estate, about 130 miles (210 kilometres) south of Moscow, where he was to live the better part of his life and write his most important works. His mother, Mariya Nikolayevna, née Princess Volkonskaya, died before he was two years old, and his father Nikolay Ilich, Count Tolstoy, followed her in 1837. His grandmother died 11 months later, and then his next guardian, his aunt Aleksandra, in 1841. Tolstoy and his four siblings were then transferred to the care of another aunt in Kazan, in western Russia. Tolstoy remembered a cousin who lived at Yasnaya Polyana, Tatyana Aleksandrovna Yergolskaya (“Aunt Toinette,” as he called her), as the greatest influence on his childhood, and later, as a young man, Tolstoy wrote some of his most touching letters to her. Despite the constant presence of death, Tolstoy remembered his childhood in idyllic terms. His first published work, Detstvo (1852; Childhood), was a fictionalized and nostalgic account of his early years.

Educated at home by tutors, Tolstoy enrolled in the University of Kazan in 1844 as a student of Oriental languages. His poor record soon forced him to transfer to the less demanding law faculty, where he wrote a comparison of the French political philosopher Charles de Secondat de Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws and Catherine II the Great’s nakaz (instructions for a law code). Interested in literature and ethics, he was drawn to the works of the English novelists Laurence Sterne and Charles Dickens and, especially, to the writings of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau; in place of a cross, he wore a medallion with a portrait of Rousseau. But he spent most of his time trying to be comme il faut (socially correct), drinking, gambling, and engaging in debauchery. After leaving the university in 1847 without a degree, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana, where he planned to educate himself, to manage his estate, and to improve the lot of his serfs. Despite frequent resolutions to change his ways, he continued his loose life during stays in Tula, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. In 1851 he joined his older brother Nikolay, an army officer, in the Caucasus and then entered the army himself. He took part in campaigns against the native Caucasian tribes and, soon after, in the Crimean War (1853–56).

In 1847 Tolstoy began keeping a diary, which became his laboratory for experiments in self-analysis and, later, for his fiction. With some interruptions, Tolstoy kept his diaries throughout his life, and he is therefore one of the most copiously documented writers who ever lived. Reflecting the life he was leading, his first diary begins by confiding that he may have contracted a venereal disease. The early diaries record a fascination with rule-making, as Tolstoy composed rules for diverse aspects of social and moral behaviour. They also record the writer’s repeated failure to honour these rules, his attempts to formulate new ones designed to ensure obedience to old ones, and his frequent acts of self-castigation. Tolstoy’s later belief that life is too complex and disordered ever to conform to rules or philosophical systems perhaps derives from these futile attempts at self-regulation.


First publications
Concealing his identity, Tolstoy submitted Childhood for publication in Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”), a prominent journal edited by the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. Nekrasov was enthusiastic, and the pseudonymously published work was widely praised. During the next few years Tolstoy published a number of stories based on his experiences in the Caucasus, including “Nabeg” (1853; “The Raid”) and his three sketches about the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War: “Sevastopol v dekabre mesyatse” (“Sevastopol in December”), “Sevastopol v maye” (“Sevastopol in May”), and “Sevastopol v avguste 1855 goda” (“Sevastopol in August”; all published 1855–56). The first sketch, which deals with the courage of simple soldiers, was praised by the tsar. Written in the second person as if it were a tour guide, this story also demonstrates Tolstoy’s keen interest in formal experimentation and his lifelong concern with the morality of observing other people’s suffering. The second sketch includes a lengthy passage of a soldier’s stream of consciousness (one of the early uses of this device) in the instant before he is killed by a bomb. In the story’s famous ending, the author, after commenting that none of his characters are truly heroic, asserts that “the hero of my story—whom I love with all the power of my soul . . . who was, is, and ever will be beautiful—is the truth.” Readers ever since have remarked on Tolstoy’s ability to make such “absolute language,” which usually ruins realistic fiction, aesthetically effective.

After the Crimean War Tolstoy resigned from the army and was at first hailed by the literary world of St. Petersburg. But his prickly vanity, his refusal to join any intellectual camp, and his insistence on his complete independence soon earned him the dislike of the radical intelligentsia. He was to remain throughout his life an “archaist,” opposed to prevailing intellectual trends. In 1857 Tolstoy traveled to Paris and returned after having gambled away his money.

After his return to Russia, he decided that his real vocation was pedagogy, and so he organized a school for peasant children on his estate. After touring western Europe to study pedagogical theory and practice, he published 12 issues of a journal, Yasnaya Polyana (1862–63), which included his provocative articles “Progress i opredeleniye obrazovaniya” (“Progress and the Definition of Education”), which denies that history has any underlying laws, and “Komu u kogu uchitsya pisat, krestyanskim rebyatam u nas ili nam u krestyanskikh rebyat?” (“Who Should Learn Writing of Whom: Peasant Children of Us, or We of Peasant Children?”), which reverses the usual answer to the question. Tolstoy married Sofya (Sonya) Andreyevna Bers, the daughter of a prominent Moscow physician, in 1862 and soon transferred all his energies to his marriage and the composition of War and Peace. Tolstoy and his wife had 13 children, of whom 10 survived infancy.

Tolstoy’s works during the late 1850s and early 1860s experimented with new forms for expressing his moral and philosophical concerns. To Childhood he soon added Otrochestvo (1854; Boyhood) and Yunost (1857; Youth). A number of stories centre on a single semiautobiographical character, Dmitry Nekhlyudov, who later reappeared as the hero of Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection. In “Lyutsern” (1857; “Lucerne”), Tolstoy uses the diary form first to relate an incident, then to reflect on its timeless meaning, and finally to reflect on the process of his own reflections. “Tri smerti” (1859; “Three Deaths”) describes the deaths of a noblewoman who cannot face the fact that she is dying, of a peasant who accepts death simply, and, at last, of a tree, whose utterly natural end contrasts with human artifice. Only the author’s transcendent consciousness unites these three events.

“Kholstomer” (written 1863; revised and published 1886; “Kholstomer: The Story of a Horse”) has become famous for its dramatic use of a favourite Tolstoyan device, “defamiliarization”—that is, the description of familiar social practices from the “naive” perspective of an observer who does not take them for granted. Readers were shocked to discover that the protagonist and principal narrator of “Kholstomer” was an old horse. Like so many of Tolstoy’s early works, this story satirizes the artifice and conventionality of human society, a theme that also dominates Tolstoy’s novel Kazaki (1863; The Cossacks). The hero of this work, the dissolute and self-centred aristocrat Dmitry Olenin, enlists as a cadet to serve in the Caucasus. Living among the Cossacks, he comes to appreciate a life more in touch with natural and biological rhythms. In the novel’s central scene, Olenin, hunting in the woods, senses that every living creature, even a mosquito, “is just such a separate Dmitry Olenin as I am myself.” Recognizing the futility of his past life, he resolves to live entirely for others.


The period of the great novels (1863–77)
Happily married and ensconced with his wife and family at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy reached the height of his creative powers. He devoted the remaining years of the 1860s to writing War and Peace. Then, after an interlude during which he considered writing a novel about Peter I the Great and briefly returned to pedagogy (bringing out reading primers that were widely used), Tolstoy wrote his other great novel, Anna Karenina. These two works share a vision of human experience rooted in an appreciation of everyday life and prosaic virtues.


The period of the great novels (1863–77) » War and Peace
Voyna i mir (1865–69; War and Peace) contains three kinds of material—a historical account of the Napoleonic wars, the biographies of fictional characters, and a set of essays about the philosophy of history. Critics from the 1860s to the present have wondered how these three parts cohere, and many have faulted Tolstoy for including the lengthy essays, but readers continue to respond to them with undiminished enthusiasm.

The work’s historical portions narrate the campaign of 1805 leading to Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, a period of peace, and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Contrary to generally accepted views, Tolstoy portrays Napoleon as an ineffective, egomaniacal buffoon, Tsar Alexander I as a phrasemaker obsessed with how historians will describe him, and the Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov (previously disparaged) as a patient old man who understands the limitations of human will and planning. Particularly noteworthy are the novel’s battle scenes, which show combat as sheer chaos. Generals may imagine they can “anticipate all contingencies,” but battle is really the result of “a hundred million diverse chances” decided on the moment by unforeseeable circumstances. In war as in life, no system or model can come close to accounting for the infinite complexity of human behaviour.

Among the book’s fictional characters, the reader’s attention is first focused on Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, a proud man who has come to despise everything fake, shallow, or merely conventional. Recognizing the artifice of high society, he joins the army to achieve glory, which he regards as truly meaningful. Badly wounded at Austerlitz, he comes to see glory and Napoleon as no less petty than the salons of St. Petersburg. As the novel progresses, Prince Andrey repeatedly discovers the emptiness of the activities to which he has devoted himself. Tolstoy’s description of his death in 1812 is usually regarded as one of the most effective scenes in Russian literature.

The novel’s other hero, the bumbling and sincere Pierre Bezukhov, oscillates between belief in some philosophical system promising to resolve all questions and a relativism so total as to leave him in apathetic despair. He at last discovers the Tolstoyan truth that wisdom is to be found not in systems but in the ordinary processes of daily life, especially in his marriage to the novel’s most memorable heroine, Natasha. When the book stops—it does not really end but just breaks off—Pierre seems to be forgetting this lesson in his enthusiasm for a new utopian plan.

In accord with Tolstoy’s idea that prosaic, everyday activities make a life good or bad, the book’s truly wise characters are not its intellectuals but a simple, decent soldier, Natasha’s brother Nikolay, and a generous pious woman, Andrey’s sister Marya. Their marriage symbolizes the novel’s central prosaic values.

The essays in War and Peace, which begin in the second half of the book, satirize all attempts to formulate general laws of history and reject the ill-considered assumptions supporting all historical narratives. In Tolstoy’s view, history, like battle, is essentially the product of contingency, has no direction, and fits no pattern. The causes of historical events are infinitely varied and forever unknowable, and so historical writing, which claims to explain the past, necessarily falsifies it. The shape of historical narratives reflects not the actual course of events but the essentially literary criteria established by earlier historical narratives.

According to Tolstoy’s essays, historians also make a number of other closely connected errors. They presume that history is shaped by the plans and ideas of great men—whether generals or political leaders or intellectuals like themselves—and that its direction is determined at dramatic moments leading to major decisions. In fact, however, history is made by the sum total of an infinite number of small decisions taken by ordinary people, whose actions are too unremarkable to be documented. As Tolstoy explains, to presume that grand events make history is like concluding from a view of a distant region where only treetops are visible that the region contains nothing but trees. Therefore Tolstoy’s novel gives its readers countless examples of small incidents that each exert a tiny influence—which is one reason that War and Peace is so long. Tolstoy’s belief in the efficacy of the ordinary and the futility of system-building set him in opposition to the thinkers of his day. It remains one of the most controversial aspects of his philosophy.


The period of the great novels (1863–77) » Anna Karenina
In Anna Karenina (1875–77) Tolstoy applied these ideas to family life. The novel’s first sentence, which indicates its concern with the domestic, is perhaps Tolstoy’s most famous: “All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina interweaves the stories of three families, the Oblonskys, the Karenins, and the Levins.

The novel begins at the Oblonskys, where the long-suffering wife Dolly has discovered the infidelity of her genial and sybaritic husband Stiva. In her kindness, care for her family, and concern for everyday life, Dolly stands as the novel’s moral compass. By contrast, Stiva, though never wishing ill, wastes resources, neglects his family, and regards pleasure as the purpose of life. The figure of Stiva is perhaps designed to suggest that evil, no less than good, ultimately derives from the small moral choices human beings make moment by moment.

Stiva’s sister Anna begins the novel as the faithful wife of the stiff, unromantic, but otherwise decent government minister Aleksey Karenin and the mother of a young boy, Seryozha. But Anna, who imagines herself the heroine of a romantic novel, allows herself to fall in love with an officer, Aleksey Vronsky. Schooling herself to see only the worst in her husband, she eventually leaves him and her son to live with Vronsky. Throughout the novel, Tolstoy indicates that the romantic idea of love, which most people identify with love itself, is entirely incompatible with the superior kind of love, the intimate love of good families. As the novel progresses, Anna, who suffers pangs of conscience for abandoning her husband and child, develops a habit of lying to herself until she reaches a state of near madness and total separation from reality. She at last commits suicide by throwing herself under a train. The realization that she may have been thinking about life incorrectly comes to her only when she is lying on the track, and it is too late to save herself.

The third story concerns Dolly’s sister Kitty, who first imagines she loves Vronsky but then recognizes that real love is the intimate feeling she has for her family’s old friend, Konstantin Levin. Their story focuses on courtship, marriage, and the ordinary incidents of family life, which, in spite of many difficulties, shape real happiness and a meaningful existence. Throughout the novel, Levin is tormented by philosophical questions about the meaning of life in the face of death. Although these questions are never answered, they vanish when Levin begins to live correctly by devoting himself to his family and to daily work. Like his creator Tolstoy, Levin regards the systems of intellectuals as spurious and as incapable of embracing life’s complexity.

Both War and Peace and Anna Karenina advance the idea that ethics can never be a matter of timeless rules applied to particular situations. Rather, ethics depends on a sensitivity, developed over a lifetime, to particular people and specific situations. Tolstoy’s preference for particularities over abstractions is often described as the hallmark of his thought.


Conversion and religious beliefs
Upon completing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy fell into a profound state of existential despair, which he describes in his Ispoved (1884; My Confession). All activity seemed utterly pointless in the face of death, and Tolstoy, impressed by the faith of the common people, turned to religion. Drawn at first to the Russian Orthodox church into which he had been born, he rapidly decided that it, and all other Christian churches, were corrupt institutions that had thoroughly falsified true Christianity. Having discovered what he believed to be Christ’s message and having overcome his paralyzing fear of death, Tolstoy devoted the rest of his life to developing and propagating his new faith. He was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox church in 1901.

In the early 1880s he wrote three closely related works, Issledovaniye dogmaticheskogo bogosloviya (written 1880; An Examination of Dogmatic Theology), Soyedineniye i perevod chetyrokh yevangeliy (written 1881; Union and Translation of the Four Gospels), and V chyom moya vera? (written 1884; What I Believe); he later added Tsarstvo bozhiye vnutri vas (1893; The Kingdom of God Is Within You) and many other essays and tracts. In brief, Tolstoy rejected all the sacraments, all miracles, the Holy Trinity, the immortality of the soul, and many other tenets of traditional religion, all of which he regarded as obfuscations of the true Christian message contained, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount. He rejected the Old Testament and much of the New, which is why, having studied Greek, he composed his own “corrected” version of the Gospels. For Tolstoy, “the man Jesus,” as he called him, was not the son of God but only a wise man who had arrived at a true account of life. Tolstoy’s rejection of religious ritual contrasts markedly with his attitude in Anna Karenina, where religion is viewed as a matter not of dogma but of traditional forms of daily life.

Stated positively, the Christianity of Tolstoy’s last decades stressed five tenets: be not angry, do not lust, do not take oaths, do not resist evil, and love your enemies. Nonresistance to evil, the doctrine that inspired Gandhi, meant not that evil must be accepted but only that it cannot be fought with evil means, especially violence. Thus Tolstoy became a pacifist. Because governments rely on the threat of violence to enforce their laws, Tolstoy also became a kind of anarchist. He enjoined his followers not only to refuse military service but also to abstain from voting or from having recourse to the courts. He therefore had to go through considerable inner conflict when it came time to make his will or to use royalties secured by copyright even for good works. In general, it may be said that Tolstoy was well aware that he did not succeed in living according to his teachings.

Tolstoy based the prescription against oaths (including promises) on an idea adapted from his early work: the impossibility of knowing the future and therefore the danger of binding oneself in advance. The commandment against lust eventually led him to propose (in his afterword to Kreytserova sonata [1891; The Kreutzer Sonata]), a dark novella about a man who murders his wife) total abstinence as an ideal. His wife, already concerned about their strained relations, objected. In defending his most extreme ideas, Tolstoy compared Christianity to a lamp that is not stationary but is carried along by human beings; it lights up ever new moral realms and reveals ever higher ideals as mankind progresses spiritually.


Fiction after 1880
Tolstoy’s fiction after Anna Karenina may be divided into two groups. He wrote a number of moral tales for common people, including “Gde lyubov, tam i bog” (written 1885; “Where Love Is, God Is”), “Chem lyudi zhivy” (written 1882; “What People Live By”), and “Mnogo li cheloveku zemli nuzhno” (written 1885; “How Much Land Does a Man Need”), a story that the Irish novelist James Joyce rather extravagantly praised as “the greatest story that the literature of the world knows.” For educated people, Tolstoy wrote fiction that was both realistic and highly didactic. Some of these works succeed brilliantly, especially Smert Ivana Ilicha (written 1886; The Death of Ivan Ilyich), a novella describing a man’s gradual realization that he is dying and that his life has been wasted on trivialities. Otets Sergy (written 1898; Father Sergius), which may be taken as Tolstoy’s self-critique, tells the story of a proud man who wants to become a saint but discovers that sainthood cannot be consciously sought. Regarded as a great holy man, Sergius comes to realize that his reputation is groundless; warned by a dream, he escapes incognito to seek out a simple and decent woman whom he had known as a child. At last he learns that not he but she is the saint, that sainthood cannot be achieved by imitating a model, and that true saints are ordinary people unaware of their own prosaic goodness. This story therefore seems to criticize the ideas Tolstoy espoused after his conversion from the perspective of his earlier great novels.

In 1899 Tolstoy published his third long novel, Voskreseniye (Resurrection); he used the royalties to pay for the transportation of a persecuted religious sect, the Dukhobors, to Canada. The novel’s hero, the idle aristocrat Dmitry Nekhlyudov, finds himself on a jury where he recognizes the defendant, the prostitute Katyusha Maslova, as a woman whom he once had seduced, thus precipitating her life of crime. After she is condemned to imprisonment in Siberia, he decides to follow her and, if she will agree, to marry her. In the novel’s most remarkable exchange, she reproaches him for his hypocrisy: once you got your pleasure from me, and now you want to get your salvation from me, she tells him. She refuses to marry him, but, as the novel ends, Nekhlyudov achieves spiritual awakening when he at last understands Tolstoyan truths, especially the futility of judging others. The novel’s most celebrated sections satirize the church and the justice system, but the work is generally regarded as markedly inferior to War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Tolstoy’s conversion led him to write a treatise and several essays on art. Sometimes he expressed in more extreme form ideas he had always held (such as his dislike for imitation of fashionable schools), but at other times he endorsed ideas that were incompatible with his own earlier novels, which he rejected. In Chto takoye iskusstvo? (1898; What Is Art?) he argued that true art requires a sensitive appreciation of a particular experience, a highly specific feeling that is communicated to the reader not by propositions but by “infection.” In Tolstoy’s view, most celebrated works of high art derive from no real experience but rather from clever imitation of existing art. They are therefore “counterfeit” works that are not really art at all. Tolstoy further divides true art into good and bad, depending on the moral sensibility with which a given work infects its audience. Condemning most acknowledged masterpieces, including Shakespeare’s plays as well as his own great novels, as either counterfeit or bad, Tolstoy singled out for praise the biblical story of Joseph and, among Russian works, Dostoyevsky’s The House of the Dead and some stories by his young friend Anton Chekhov. He was cool to Chekhov’s drama, however, and, in a celebrated witticism, once told Chekhov that his plays were even worse than Shakespeare’s.

Tolstoy’s late works also include a satiric drama, Zhivoy trup (written 1900; The Living Corpse), and a harrowing play about peasant life, Vlast tmy (written 1886; The Power of Darkness). After his death, a number of unpublished works came to light, most notably the novella Khadji-Murat (1904; Hadji-Murad), a brilliant narrative about the Caucasus reminiscent of Tolstoy’s earliest fiction.


Last years
With the notable exception of his daughter Aleksandra, whom he made his heir, Tolstoy’s family remained aloof from or hostile to his teachings. His wife especially resented the constant presence of disciples, led by the dogmatic V.G. Chertkov, at Yasnaya Polyana. Their once happy life had turned into one of the most famous bad marriages in literary history. The story of his dogmatism and her penchant for scenes has excited numerous biographers to take one side or the other. Because both kept diaries, and indeed exchanged and commented on each other’s diaries, their quarrels are almost too well documented.

Tormented by his domestic situation and by the contradiction between his life and his principles, in 1910 Tolstoy at last escaped incognito from Yasnaya Polyana, accompanied by Aleksandra and his doctor. In spite of his stealth and desire for privacy, the international press was soon able to report on his movements. Within a few days, he contracted pneumonia and died of heart failure at the railroad station of Astapovo.


Assessment
In contrast to other psychological writers, such as Dostoyevsky, who specialized in unconscious processes, Tolstoy described conscious mental life with unparalleled mastery. His name has become synonymous with an appreciation of contingency and of the value of everyday activity. Oscillating between skepticism and dogmatism, Tolstoy explored the most diverse approaches to human experience. Above all, his greatest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, endure as the summit of realist fiction.

Gary Saul Morson

 





Ivan Turgenev

The first Russian writer to be widely celebrated in the West, Turgenev managed to be hated by the radicals as well as by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky for his dedicated Westernism, bland liberalism, aesthetic elegance, and tendency to nostalgia and self-pity. He first gained fame with his subtle descriptions of peasant life in Zapiski okhotnika (1852; A Sportsman’s Sketches), which contributed to the climate leading to the abolition of serfdom. He is celebrated for his novels about intelligents and ideology: Rudin (1856), Nakanune (1860; On the Eve), and Dym (1867; Smoke). His most distinguished work, Ottsy i deti (1862; Fathers and Sons), offers both an evenhanded portrait of the radical nihilists and an allegorical meditation on the conflict of generations.
 


Ivan Turgenev




 

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, (b. October 28 [November 9, New Style], 1818, Oryol, Russia—d. August 22 [September 3], 1883, Bougival, near Paris, France), Russian novelist, poet, and playwright, whose major works include the short-story collection A Sportsman’s Sketches (1852) and the novels Rudin (1856), Home of the Gentry (1859), On the Eve (1860), and Fathers and Sons (1862). These works offer realistic, affectionate portrayals of the Russian peasantry and penetrating studies of the Russian intelligentsia who were attempting to move the country into a new age. Turgenev poured into his writings not only a deep concern for the future of his native land but also an integrity of craft that has ensured his place in Russian literature. The many years that he spent in western Europe were due in part to his personal and artistic stand as a liberal between the reactionary tsarist rule and the spirit of revolutionary radicalism that held sway in contemporary artistic and intellectual circles in Russia.

Early life and works.
Turgenev was the second son of a retired cavalry officer, Sergey Turgenev, and a wealthy mother, Varvara Petrovna, née Lutovinova, who owned the extensive estate of Spasskoye-Lutovinovo. The dominant figure of his mother throughout his boyhood and early manhood probably provided the example for the dominance exercised by the heroines in his major fiction. The Spasskoye estate itself came to have a twofold meaning for the young Turgenev, as an island of gentry civilization in rural Russia and as a symbol of the injustice he saw inherent in the servile state of the peasantry. Against the Russian social system Turgenev was to take an oath of perpetual animosity, which was to be the source of his liberalism and the inspiration for his vision of the intelligentsia as people dedicated to their country’s social and political betterment.

Turgenev was to be the only Russian writer with avowedly European outlook and sympathies. Though he was given an education of sorts at home, in Moscow schools, and at the universities of both Moscow and St. Petersburg, Turgenev tended to regard his education as having taken place chiefly during his plunge “into the German sea” when he spent the years 1838 to 1841 at the University of Berlin. He returned home as a confirmed believer in the superiority of the West and of the need for Russia to follow a course of Westernization.

Though Turgenev had composed derivative verse and a poetic drama, Steno (1834), in the style of the English poet Lord Byron, the first of his works to attract attention was a long poem, Parasha, published in 1843. The potential of the author was quickly appreciated by the critic Vissarion Belinsky, who became Turgenev’s close friend and mentor. Belinsky’s conviction that literature’s primary aim was to reflect the truth of life and to adopt a critical attitude toward its injustices became an article of faith for Turgenev. Despite the influence of Belinsky, he remained a writer of remarkable detachment, possessed of a cool and sometimes ironic objectivity.

Turgenev was not a man of grand passions, although the love story was to provide the most common formula for his fiction, and a love for the renowned singer Pauline Viardot, whom he first met in 1843, was to dominate his entire life. His relation with Viardot usually has been considered platonic, yet some of his letters, often as brilliant in their observation and as felicitous in their manner as anything he wrote, suggest the existence of a greater intimacy. Generally, though, they reveal him as the fond and devoted admirer, in which role he was for the most part content. He never married, though in 1842 he had had an illegitimate daughter by a peasant woman at Spasskoye; he later entrusted the upbringing of the child to Viardot.

During the 1840s, Turgenev wrote more long poems, including A Conversation, Andrey, and The Landowner, and some criticism. Having failed to obtain a professorship at the University of St. Petersburg and having abandoned work in the government service, he began to publish short works in prose. These were studies in the “intellectual-without-a-will” so typical of his generation. The most famous was “The Diary of a Superfluous Man” (1850), which supplied the epithet “superfluous man” for so many similar weak-willed intellectual protagonists in Turgenev’s work as well as in Russian literature generally.

Simultaneously, he tried his hand at writing plays, some, like A Poor Gentleman (1848), rather obviously imitative of the Russian master Nikolay Gogol. Of these, The Bachelor (1849) was the only one staged at this time, the others falling afoul of the official censors. Others of a more intimately penetrating character, such as One May Spin a Thread Too Finely (1848), led to the detailed psychological studies in his dramatic masterpiece, A Month in the Country (1855). This was not staged professionally until 1872. Without precedent in the Russian theatre, it required for its appreciation by critics and audiences the prior success after 1898 of the plays of Anton Chekhov at the Moscow Art Theatre. It was there in 1909, under the great director Konstantin Stanislavsky, that it was revealed as one of the major works of the Russian theatre.


Sketches of rural life.
Before going abroad in 1847, Turgenev left in the editorial offices of the literary journal Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”) a short study, “Khor and Kalinych,” of two peasants whom he had met on a hunting trip in the Oryol region. It was published with the subtitle “From a Hunter’s Sketches,” and it had an instantaneous success. From it was to grow the short-story cycle A Sportsman’s Sketches, first published in 1852, that brought him lasting fame. Many of the sketches portrayed various types of landowners or episodes, drawn from his experience, of the life of the manorial, serf-owning Russian gentry. Of these, the most important are “Two Landowners,” a study of two types of despotic serf-owners, and “Hamlet of Shchigrovsky Province,” which contains one of the most profound and poignant analyses of the problem of the “superfluous man.” Far more significant are the sketches that tell of Turgenev’s encounters with peasants during his hunting trips. Amid evocative descriptions of the countryside, Turgenev’s portraits suggest that, though the peasants may be “children of nature” who seek the freedom offered by the beauty of their surroundings, they are always circumscribed by the fact of serfdom.

Turgenev could never pretend to be much more than an understanding stranger toward the peasants about whom he wrote, yet through his compassionate, lucid observation, he created portraits of enormous vitality and wide impact. Not only did they make the predominantly upper class reading public aware of the human qualities of the peasantry, but they also may have been influential in provoking the sentiment for reform that led eventually to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. He added to the Sketches during the 1870s, including the moving study of the paralyzed Lukeriya in “A Living Relic” (1874).

When the first collected edition appeared, after appearing separately in various issues of the Sovremennik, Turgenev was arrested, detained for a month in St. Petersburg, then given 18 months of enforced residence at Spasskoye. The ostensible pretext for such official harrassment was an obituary of Gogol, which he had published against censorship regulations. But his criticism of serfdom in the Sketches, certainly muted in tone by any standards and explicit only in his references to the landowners’ brutality toward their peasants, was sufficient to cause this temporary martyrdom for his art.


First novels.
Although Turgenev wrote “Mumu,” a remarkable exposure of the cruelties of serfdom, while detained in St. Petersburg, his work was evolving toward such extended character studies as Yakov Pasynkov (1855) and the subtle if pessimistic examinations of the contrariness of love found in “Faust” and “A Correspondence” (1856). Time and national events, moreover, were impinging upon him. With the defeat of Russia in the Crimean War (1854–56), Turgenev’s own generation, “the men of the forties,” began to belong to the past. The two novels that he published during the 1850s—Rudin (1856) and Home of the Gentry (1859)—are permeated by a spirit of ironic nostalgia for the weaknesses and futilities so manifest in this generation of a decade earlier.

The first of Turgenev’s novels, Rudin, tells of an eloquent intellectual, Dmitry Rudin, a character modeled partly on Bakunin, whose power of oratory and passionately held belief in the need for progress so affect the younger members of a provincial salon that the heroine, Natalya, falls in love with him. But when she challenges him to live up to his words, he fails her. The evocation of the world of the Russian country house and of the summer atmosphere that form the backdrop to the tragicomedy of this relationship is evidence of Turgenev’s power of perceiving and recording the constancies of the natural scene. The vaster implications about Russian society as a whole and about the role of the Russian intelligentsia are present as shading at the edges of the picture rather than as colours or details in the foreground.

Turgenev’s second novel, Home of the Gentry, is an elegiac study of unrequited love in which the hero, Lavretsky, is not so much weak as the victim of his unbalanced upbringing. The work is notable for the delicacy of the love story, though it is a shade mawkish on occasion. More important in terms of the author’s thought is the elaborate biography of the hero. In it is the suggestion that the influence of the West has inhibited Turgenev’s generation from taking action, forcing them to acknowledge finally that they must leave the future of Russia to those younger and more radical than themselves.

The objectivity of Turgenev as a chronicler of the Russian intelligentsia is apparent in these early novels. Unsympathetic though he may have been to some of the trends in the thinking of the younger, radical generation that emerged after the Crimean War, he endeavoured to portray the positive aspirations of these young men and women with scrupulous candour. Their attitude to him, particularly that of such leading figures as the radical critics Nikolay Chernyshevsky and Nikolay Dobrolyubov, was generally cold when it was not actively hostile. His own rather self-indulgent nature was challenged by the forcefulness of these younger contemporaries. He moved away from an emphasis on the fallibility of his heroes, who had been attacked as a type by Chernyshevsky, using the short story “Asya” (1858) as his point of departure. Instead, Turgenev focused on their youthful ardour and their sense of moral purpose. These attributes had obvious revolutionary implications that were not shared by Turgenev, whose liberalism could accept gradual change but opposed anything more radical, especially the idea of an insurgent peasantry.

The novel On the Eve (1860) deals with the problem facing the younger intelligentsia on the eve of the Crimean War and refers also to the changes awaiting Russia on the eve of the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. It is an episodic work, further weakened by the shallow portrayal of its Bulgarian hero. Although it has several successful minor characters and some powerful scenes, its treatment of personal relations, particularly of love, demonstrates Turgenev’s profound pessimism toward such matters. Such pessimism became increasingly marked in Turgenev’s view of life. It seems that there could be no real reconciliation between the liberalism of Turgenev’s generation and the revolutionary aspirations of the younger intelligentsia. Turgenev himself could hardly fail to feel a sense of personal involvement in this rupture.

Turgenev’s greatest novel, Fathers and Sons (1862), grew from this sense of involvement and yet succeeded in illustrating, with remarkable balance and profundity, the issues that divided the generations. The hero, Bazarov, is the most powerful of Turgenev’s creations. A nihilist, denying all laws save those of the natural sciences, uncouth and forthright in his opinions, he is nonetheless susceptible to love and by that token doomed to unhappiness. In sociopolitical terms he represents the victory of the nongentry revolutionary intelligentsia over the gentry intelligentsia to which Turgenev belonged. In artistic terms he is a triumphant example of objective portraiture, and in the poignancy of his death he approaches tragic stature. The miracle of the novel as a whole is Turgenev’s superb mastery of his theme, despite his personal hostility toward Bazarov’s antiaestheticism, and his success in endowing all the characters with a quality of spontaneous life. Yet at the novel’s first appearance the radical younger generation attacked it bitterly as a slander, and the conservatives condemned it as too lenient in its exposure of nihilism.

Turgenev’s novels are “months in the country,” which contain balanced contrasts such as those between youth and age, between the tragic ephemerality of love and the comic transience of ideas, between Hamlet’s concern with self and the ineptitudes of the quixotic pursuit of altruism. The last of these contrasts he amplified into a major essay, “Hamlet and Don Quixote” (1860). If he differed from his great contemporaries Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy in the scale of his work, he also differed from them in believing that literature should not provide answers to life’s question marks. He constructed his novels according to a simple formula that had the sole purpose of illuminating the character and predicament of a single figure, whether hero or heroine. They are important chiefly as detailed and deft sociopsychological portraits. A major device of the novels is the examination of the effect of a newcomer’s arrival upon a small social circle. The circle, in its turn, subjects the newcomer to scrutiny through the relation that develops between the heroine, who always belongs to the “place” of the fiction, and the newcomer-hero. The promise of happiness is offered, but the ending of the relation is invariably calamitous.


Self-exile and fame.
Always touchy about his literary reputation, Turgenev reacted to the almost unanimously hostile reception given to Fathers and Sons by leaving Russia. He took up residence in Baden-Baden in southern Germany, to which resort Viardot had retired. Quarrels with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and his general estrangement from the Russian literary scene made him an exile in a very real sense. His only novel of this period, Smoke (1867), set in Baden-Baden, is infused with a satirically embittered tone that makes caricatures of both the left and the right wings of the intelligentsia. The love story is deeply moving, but both this emotion and the political sentiments are made to seem ultimately no more lasting and real than the smoke of the title.

The Franco-German War of 1870–71 forced the Viardots to leave Baden-Baden, and Turgenev followed them, first to London and then to Paris. He now became an honoured ambassador of Russian culture in the Paris of the 1870s. The writers George Sand, Gustave Flaubert, the Goncourt brothers, the young Émile Zola, and Henry James were only a few of the many illustrious contemporaries with whom he corresponded and who sought his company. He was elected vice president of the Paris international literary congress in 1878, and in 1879 he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Oxford. In Russia he was feted on his annual visits.

The literary work of this final period combined nostalgia for the past—eloquently displayed in such beautiful pieces as “A Lear of the Steppes” (1870), “Torrents of Spring” (1872), and “Punin and Baburin” (1874)—with stories of a quasi-fantastic character—“The Song of Triumphant Love” (1881) and “Klara Milich” (1883). Turgenev’s final novel, Virgin Soil (1877), was designed to recoup his literary reputation in the eyes of the younger generation. Its aim was to portray the dedication and self-sacrifice of young populists who hoped to sow the seeds of revolution in the virgin soil of the Russian peasantry. Despite its realism and his efforts to give the war topicality, it is the least successful of his novels. His last major work, Poems in Prose, is remarkable chiefly for its wistfulness and for its famous eulogy to the Russian language.


Evaluation.
Turgenev’s work is distinguished from that of his most famous contemporaries by its sophisticated lack of hyperbole, its balance, and its concern for artistic values. His greatest work was always topical, committed literature, having universal appeal in the elegance of the love story and the psychological acuity of the portraiture. He was similarly a letter writer of great charm, wit, and probity. His reputation may have become overshadowed by those of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, but his own qualities of lucidity and urbanity and, above all, his sense of the extreme preciousness of the beautiful in life endow his work with a magic that has lasting appeal.

Richard H. Freeborn
 




Other prose writers

The mid-19th century produced a number of other fine prose writers. Sergey Aksakov wrote fictionalized reminiscences: Semeynaya khronika (1856; The Family Chronicle) and Detskiye gody Bagrova-vnuka (1858; Years of Childhood). Aleksandr Herzen wrote his greatest works in emigration. In S togo berega (written 1847–50; From the Other Shore), which combines essays and dialogues, he reflects with penetrating skepticism on the idea that history has knowable laws. Herzen’s Byloye i dumy (written 1852–68; My Past and Thoughts) is regarded as the best Russian autobiography. Ivan Goncharov is the author of the comic masterpiece Oblomov (1859), a study of dreamy slothfulness: its hero spends a hundred pages getting out of bed. Nikolay Leskov is remembered for his short stories, including “Ledi Makbet Mtsenskogo uyezda” (1865; “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”), as well as for his novel Soboryane (1872; The Cathedral Folk). Like Gogol
before and Mikhail Zoshchenko after him, he was a master of skaz, a written narrative imitating a spontaneous oral account in its use of dialect, slang, or a particular idiom. A radical satirist and (remarkably) a government official who attained general’s rank, Mikhail Saltykov wrote (under the pseudonym N. Shchedrin) the extremely dark novel Gospoda Golovlyovy (1876; The Golovlyov Family), portraying the relentless decline of a family. The agony of an intellectual who wants to merge with the common people and the intimate link of utopianism to madness figure as prominent themes in the short stories of Vsevolod Garshin, including “Khudozhniki” (1879; “Artists”) and “Krasny tsvetok” (1883; “The Red Flower”).
 


Sergey Aksakov



 

Sergey Timofeyevich Aksakov, (b. Sept. 20 [Oct. 1, New Style], 1791, Ufa, Russia—d. April 30 [May 12], 1859, Moscow), novelist noted for his realistic and comic narratives and for his introduction of a new genre, a cross between memoir and novel, into Russian literature.

Brought up in a strongly patriarchal family, Aksakov was educated in the pseudoclassical tradition at home, at school, and at the newly founded university in Kazan. He became a translator in the legislative commission of the civil service, served in the militia in the struggle against Napoleon in 1812, married in 1815, and in 1816 retired to the family estate. After a decade as a sporting country squire, he returned to the civil service in Moscow and became literary censor, inspector, and, later, director of the college of land surveying. Inheriting money, he retired in 1839 and lived in and near Moscow, entertaining his friends—mainly writers and Slavophiles.

Before 1834, when his successful Buran (“Blizzard”) was published, Aksakov’s writings reflected outmoded literary tastes: translations of Nicolas Boileau and Molière, undistinguished verse, and articles on the theatre. But then he was inspired—by his love of rural Russia in the days of serfdom, by his Slavophile sons Ivan and Konstantin, and by his admiration of the novelist Nikolay Gogol—to set down the story of his grandfather, his parents, and his own childhood, transposed into realistic fiction. This effort resulted in three books that have become classics: Semeynaya khronika (1856; The Family Chronicle), Vospominaniya (1856; “Reminiscences”; Eng. trans. A Russian Schoolboy), and Detskie gody Bagrova-vnuka (1858; Childhood Years of Grandson Bagrov). Aksakov unfolds his chronicles objectively in an unaffected style with simple language. Their interest lies in the illusion of reality and intimacy created by his vivid remembrance of his own and his forebears’ past. These works, blending personal reminiscence with the techniques of the novelist, brought Aksakov fame. The finest book of the trilogy, The Family Chronicle, also shows a remarkable understanding of family psychology.

Also of interest are Aksakov’s books on shooting, fishing, and butterfly collecting and his recollections of Gogol, which are firsthand material on his friend’s complex personality.

 

 


Aleksandr Herzen


Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen, Herzen also spelled Hertzen, or Gertsen (b. April 6 [March 25, Old Style], 1812, Moscow, Russia—d. Jan. 21 [Jan. 9], 1870, Paris, France), political thinker, activist, and writer who originated the theory of a unique Russian path to socialism known as peasant populism. Herzen chronicled his career in My Past and Thoughts (1861–67), which is considered to be one of the greatest works of Russian prose.

Early life.
Herzen was the illegitimate son of a wealthy nobleman, Ivan Alekseyevich Yakovlev, and a German woman of humble origins. Reared in his father’s house, he received an elite and far-ranging education from French, German, and Russian tutors. Still, the “taint” of his birth, as he regarded it, made him resentful of authority and, ultimately, of the autocratic, serf-based Russian social order. This resentment also bred in him an ardent commitment to the cause of the Decembrists, a revolutionary group that staged an unsuccessful uprising against the emperor Nicholas I in 1825. Herzen and his friend Nikolay Ogaryov, who, like Herzen, was influenced by the heroic libertarianism of the German playwright Friedrich Schiller, took a solemn oath to devote their lives to continuing the Decembrists’ struggle for freedom in Russia.

Attending the University of Moscow between 1829 and 1833, Herzen evolved from “romanticism for the heart to idealism for the head” and became an adept of the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling’s Naturphilosophie.

Eventually Herzen and Ogaryov and their circle fused the pantheistic idealism of Schelling with the utopian socialism of the French social philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon to produce a philosophy of history in which the “World Spirit” evolved ineluctably toward the realization of freedom and justice.

This metaphysical politics was sufficient, however, to lead to the arrest of the entire circle in 1834. Herzen was sent into exile for six years to work in the provincial bureaucracy in Vyatka (now Kirov) and Vladimir; then, for an indiscreet remark about the police, he spent two more years in Novgorod. The misery of this period was relieved by an extravagantly romantic courtship and an initially happy marriage with his cousin, Natalya Zakharina, in 1838.

Herzen’s eight-year experience with injustice and the acquaintance it afforded with the workings of Russian government gave firmer contours to his radicalism. He abandoned the nebulous idealism of Schelling for the thought of two other contemporary German philosophers—first the “realistic logic” of G.W.F. Hegel and then the materialism of L.A. Feuerbach. Herzen thus became a “Left-Hegelian,” holding that the dialectic (development through the reconciliation of conflicting ideas) was the “algebra of revolution” and that the disembodied truths of “science” (i.e., German idealism) must culminate in the “philosophy of the deed,” or the struggle for justice as proclaimed by French socialism. In later life Herzen explained that this metaphysical approach to politics was inevitable for his generation, since the despotism of Nicholas I made action impossible and thus left pure thought as the only free realm of expression.

Armed with these philosophical weapons, Herzen returned to Moscow in 1842 and immediately joined the camp of the Westernizers, who held that Russia must progress by assimilating European rationalism and civic freedom, in their dispute with the Slavophiles, who argued that Russian development must be founded on the Orthodox religion and a fraternal peasant commune. Herzen contributed to this polemic two able and successful popularizations of Left-Hegelianism, Diletantizm v nauke (“Dilettantism in Science”) and Pisma ob izuchenii prirody (“Letters on the Study of Nature”), and a novel of social criticism, Kto vinovat? (“Who Is to Blame?”), in the new “naturalistic” manner of Russian fiction.

Soon, however, Herzen fell out with the other Westernizers because the majority of the group were reformist liberals, whereas Herzen had by now embraced the anarchist socialism of the French social theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. At this point, in 1846, Herzen’s father died, leaving him a considerable fortune; and the following year Herzen left Russia for western Europe—as it turned out, for good.


Life in exile.
Herzen went immediately to the capital of European radicalism, Paris, hoping for the imminent triumph of social revolution. The revolutionary upheavals of 1848 that he witnessed in Paris and Italy soon disabused him: he became convinced that the Western “matadors of rhetoric” were too imbued with the values of the past to level the existing social order, that Europe’s role as a progressive historical force was finished, and that Western institutions were in fact “dead.” He concluded further that, contrary to the teachings of the Hegelians, there was no “rational” inevitability in history and that society’s fate was decided instead by chance and human will. He developed these themes in two brilliant but rather confused works, Pisma iz Frantsii i Italii (“Letters from France and Italy”) and S togo berega (From the Other Shore). His disillusionment was vastly increased by his wife’s infidelity with the radical German poet Georg Herwegh and by her death in 1852.

Loss of faith in the West, however, provoked a spiritual return to Russia: though “old” Europe, “fettered by the richness of her past,” had proved incapable of realizing the ideal of socialism, “young” Russia, precisely because its past offered nothing worth conserving, now seemed to Herzen to possess the resources for a radical new departure. And Herzen (borrowing an idea from his old foes, the Slavophiles) found these resources above all in a collectivist peasant commune, which he viewed as the basis for a future socialist order. This new faith in Russia’s revolutionary potential was expressed in Letters to the French historian Jules Michelet and the Italian revolutionist Giuseppe Mazzini in 1850 and 1851.

In 1852 Herzen moved to London, and the following year, with the aid of Polish exiles, he founded the “Free Russian Press in London,” the first uncensored printing enterprise in Russian history. In 1855 Nicholas I died, and soon thereafter Alexander II proclaimed his intention of emancipating the serfs. Responding to this unprecedented “thaw,” Herzen rapidly launched a series of periodicals that were designed to be smuggled back to Russia: “The Polar Star” in 1855, “Voices from Russia” in 1856, and a newspaper, Kolokol (The Bell), created in 1857 with the aid of his old friend Ogaryov, now also an émigré. Herzen’s aim was to influence both the government and the public toward emancipation of the peasants, with generous allotments of land and the liberalization of Russian society. To this end, he moderated his political pronouncements, speaking less of socialist revolution and more of the concrete issues involved in Alexander’s reforms. For a time he even believed in enlightened autocracy, hailing Alexander II in 1856 (in words that echoed the famous dying tribute of Julian the Apostate to Christ) with: “you have conquered, oh Galilean!” Kolokol soon became a major force in public life, read by the tsar’s ministers and the radical opposition.

Soon, however, the ambiguity of Herzen’s position between reform and revolution began to cost him support. After 1858 moderate liberals, such as the writer Ivan Turgenev, attacked Herzen for his utopian recklessness; and after 1859 he quarreled with the political writer N.G. Chernyshevsky and the younger generation of radicals, whose intransigent manner appeared to him as “very dangerous” to reform. He also lost faith in the government; when the Emancipation Act was finally enacted in 1861, he denounced it as a betrayal of the peasants.

He therefore veered again to the left and called on the student youth to “go to the people” directly with the message of Russian socialism. Furthermore, on the urging of the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, he threw the support of Kolokol behind the unsuccessful Polish revolt of 1863. He immediately regretted this rashness, for it cost him the support of all moderate elements in Russia without restoring his credit among the revolutionaries. Kolokol’s influence declined sharply. In 1865 Herzen moved his headquarters to Geneva to be near the young generation of Russian exiles, but in 1867 public indifference forced Kolokol to cease publication.

Amidst these political reverses, Herzen turned his energies increasingly to his memoirs, My Past and Thoughts, which were designed to enshrine both his own legend and that of Russian radicalism. A loosely constructed personal narrative, interspersed with sharp vignettes of both Russian and Western political figures and with philosophical and historical digressions, it provides a masterful fresco of contemporary European radicalism. At times witty, irreverent, and playful in style, and at other times lyrical, passionate, and rhapsodical, it is one of the most original and powerful examples of Russian prose. My Past and Thoughts was published principally between 1861 and 1867, and its scope and quality have placed it alongside the great Russian novels of the 19th century in artistic stature.

In 1869 Herzen wrote letters K staromu tovarishchy (“To an Old Comrade”; Bakunin), in which he expressed new reservations about the cost of revolution. Still, he was unable to accept liberal reformism completely, and he expressed interest in the new force of the First International, Karl Marx’s federation of working-class organizations. This wavering position between socialism and liberalism, which characterized so much of his career, proved to be his political testament. The ambiguities of his position have made it possible ever since for both Russian liberals and socialists to claim his legacy with equal plausibility.

Martin E. Malia
 

 

 


Ivan Goncharov


Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov, (b. June 18 [June 6, old style], 1812, Simbirsk [now Ulyanovsk], Russia—d. Sept. 27 [Sept. 15, O.S.], 1891, St. Petersburg), Russian novelist and travel writer, whose highly esteemed novels dramatize social change in Russia and contain some of Russian literature’s most vivid and memorable characters.

Goncharov was born into a wealthy merchant family and, after graduating from Moscow University in 1834, served for nearly 30 years as an official, first in the Ministry of Finance and afterward in the Ministry of Censorship. The only unusual event in his uneventful life was his voyage to Japan made in 1852–55 as secretary to a Russian admiral; this was described in Fregat Pallada (1858; “The Frigate Pallas”).

Goncharov’s most notable achievement lies in his three novels, of which the first was Obyknovennaya istoriya (1847; A Common Story, 1917), a novel that immediately made his reputation when it was acclaimed by the influential critic Vissarion Belinsky. Oblomov (1859; Eng. trans., 1954), a more mature work, generally accepted as one of the most important Russian novels, draws a powerful contrast between the aristocratic and capitalistic classes in Russia and attacks the way of life based on serfdom. Its hero, Oblomov, a generous but indecisive young nobleman who loses the woman he loves to a vigorous, pragmatic friend, is a triumph of characterization. From this character derives the Russian term oblomovshchina, epitomizing the backwardness, inertia, and futility of 19th-century Russian society. Goncharov’s third novel, Obryv (1869; The Precipice, 1915), though a remarkable book, is inferior to Oblomov.

In all three novels Goncharov contrasts an easygoing dreamer with an opposing character who typifies businesslike efficiency; the contrast illumines social conditions in Russia at a time when rising capitalism and industrialization uneasily coexisted with the aristocratic traditions of old Russia.

Of Goncharov’s minor writings, the most influential was an essay on Aleksandr Griboyedov’s play Gore ot uma (Wit Works Woe).
 

 

 


Nikolay Leskov


Nikolay Semyonovich Leskov, pseudonym Stebnitsky (b. Feb. 16 [Feb. 4, Old Style], 1831, Gorokhovo, Russia—d. March 5 [Feb. 21], 1895, St. Petersburg), novelist and short-story writer who has been described as the greatest of Russian storytellers.

As a child Leskov was taken to different monasteries by his grandmother, and he used those early memories of Russian monastic life with good effect in his most famous novel, Soboryane (1872; Cathedral Folk, 1924). A junior clerk of a criminal court in Orel and Kiev, he later joined an English firm and traveled all over Russia; it was during these travels that he obtained the material for most of his novels and short stories. Leskov began his writing career as a journalist. In 1865 he published his best known story, Ledi Makbet Mtsenskogo uezda (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, 1961), the passionate heroine of which lives and dies by violence. His most popular tale, however, remains Skaz o Tulskom kosom Levshe i o stalnoy Blokhe (1881; “The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea”), a masterpiece of Gogolesque comedy in which an illiterate smith from Tula outwits the skill of the most advanced British craftsman. Another story, the picaresque Ocharovanny strannik (1873; Enchanted Wanderer, 1961), was written after a visit to the monastic islands on Lake Ladoga in 1872. His early novels Nekuda (1864; “Nowhere to Go”) and Na nozhakh (1870–71; “At Daggers Drawn”) were violently attacked by the Russian radicals as revealing an attitude of uncompromising hostility toward the Russian revolutionary movement, an attitude Leskov later modified. In 1969 W.B. Edgerton translated into English, for the first time, 13 of Leskov’s stories, with a new translation of “The Steel Flea.”
 

 

 


Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin


Mikhail Yevgrafovich, Count Saltykov, pseudonym N. Shchedrin (b. Jan. 27 [Jan. 15, old style], 1826, Spas-Ugol, Russia—d. May 10 [April 28, O.S.], 1889, St. Petersburg), novelist of radical sympathies and one of greatest of all Russian satirists.

A sensitive boy, he was deeply shocked by his mother’s cruel treatment of peasants, which he later described in one of his most important works, Poshekhonskaya starina (1887–89; “Old Times in Poshekhona”). In 1838 he was sent to the Imperial Lycée at Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin), Russia’s training ground for high officers of state, where he began to compose and publish verses. Reacting violently against its bureaucratic regime, he joined the revolutionary circles in St. Petersburg and met the critic Vissarion Belinsky.

In 1847 he began his literary career as a reviewer in the radical periodicals Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”) and Otechestvennye zapiski (“Notes of the Fatherland”). As a result of the sympathy he expressed for French utopian socialists in his story Zaputannoye delo (1848; “A Complicated Affair”), he was exiled to Vyatka (now Kirov), where he worked in the provincial governor’s office. After he returned to St. Petersburg in 1855, he published his first successful book, Gubernskiye ocherki (1856–57; selections in English translation, Tchinovnicks. Sketches of Provincial Life, 1861), in which he satirized Vyatka officials. In 1857 he wrote his only comedy, Smert Pazukhina (performed 1893; The Death of Pazukhin, 1924), about Russian merchants.

From 1858 he served as a provincial vice governor of Ryazan and then Tver and as president of the taxation boards at Penza, Tula, and Ryazan, successively. In 1862 Saltykov retired from government service and devoted himself to literature. He was editor of Sovremennik and then joined the radical poet Nikolay Nekrasov as co-editor of Otechestvennye zapiski, becoming editor after Nekrasov’s death (1878). His major works include Istoriya odnogo goroda (written 1869–70; “History of One Town”) and Pompadury i pompadurshi (written between 1863 and 1874; “Pompadours and Pompadouresses”), two biting satires on the highest Russian officials. His last works include a novel that traces the falling fortunes of a family of landed gentry, Gospoda Golovlyovy (1876; The Golovlyov Family, 1955); and Skazki (1880–85; Fables, 1931), a trenchant commentary on society.
 

 

 


Vsevolod Garshin


Vsevolod Mikhaylovich Garshin, (b. February 2 [February 14, New Style], 1855, Bakhmutsky district, Russian Empire—d. March 24 [April 5], 1888, St. Petersburg), Russian short-story writer whose works helped to foster the vogue enjoyed by that genre in Russia in the late 19th century.

Garshin was the son of an army officer whose family was wealthy and landed. The major Russo-Turkish war of the 19th century broke out when Garshin was in his early twenties, and, perhaps feeling obligated by his father’s profession, he renounced his youthful pacifism to serve.

He wrote of the plight of injured soldiers in his first story, “Chetyre dnya” (1877; “Four Days”), the title of which refers to the length of time the wounded main character remains unattended on the battlefield. The theme of wartime casualty is continued in his “A Very Short Novel,” the story of a soldier whose injury precipitates an emotional crisis when he returns home. In perhaps his most famous story, “Krasny tsvetok” (1883; “The Red Flower”), a madman dies after destroying a flower he believes to contain all of the world’s evil. Haunted by similar delusions in his own life, Garshin committed suicide by throwing himself down a stairwell.
 





Anton Chekhov


When Tolstoy abandoned the prosaic ethos, Chekhov, one of the greatest short story writers in world literature, remained loyal to it. Indeed, he reinterpreted it within his essentially bourgeois values, stressing the moral necessity of ordinary virtues such as daily kindness, cleanliness, politeness, work, sobriety, paying one’s debts, and avoiding self-pity. Replying to the intelligentsia’s demand for political tendentiousness, which he equated with a stifling intellectual conformity, he maintained that his only “tendency” was a protest against lying in all its forms. In his hundreds of stories and novellas, which he wrote while practicing medicine, Chekhov adopts something of a clinical approach to ordinary life. Meticulous observation and broad sympathy for diverse points of view shape his fiction. In his stories, an overt plot subtly hints at other hidden stories, and so the experience of rereading his fiction often differs substantially from that produced by a first reading. Especially noteworthy are “Skuchnaya istoriya” (written 1889; “A Dreary Story”), “Duel” (written 1891; “The Duel”), “Palata No. 6” (written 1892; “Ward Number Six”), “Kryzhovnik” (written 1898; “Gooseberries”), “Dushechka” (written 1899; “The Darling”), “Dama s sobachkoy” (written 1899; “The Lady with the Lap Dog”), “Arkhiyerey” (written 1902; “The Bishop”), and “Nevesta” (written 1903; “The Betrothed”).

Along with Gogol’s The Inspector General, Chekhov’s plays are the high point of Russian drama. In his four great plays, Chayka (1896; The Seagull), Dyadya Vanya (1897; Uncle Vanya), Tri sestry (1901; Three Sisters), and Vishnyovy sad (1904; The Cherry Orchard), Chekhov’s belief that life is lived at ordinary moments and that histrionics are a dangerous lie found expression in a major innovation, the undramatic drama—or, as it is sometimes called, the theatre of inaction.

 


Anton Chekhov

"Uncle Vanya"



 


Russian author
in full Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

born Jan. 29 [Jan. 17, Old Style], 1860, Taganrog, Russia
died July 14/15 [July 1/2], 1904, Badenweiler, Ger.

Main
major Russian playwright and master of the modern short story. He was a literary artist of laconic precision who probed below the surface of life, laying bare the secret motives of his characters. Chekhov’s best plays and short stories lack complex plots and neat solutions. Concentrating on apparent trivialities, they create a special kind of atmosphere, sometimes termed haunting or lyrical. Chekhov described the Russian life of his time using a deceptively simple technique devoid of obtrusive literary devices, and he is regarded as the outstanding representative of the late 19th-century Russian realist school.

Boyhood and youth
Chekhov’s father was a struggling grocer and pious martinet who had been born a serf. He compelled his son to serve in his shop, also conscripting him into a church choir, which he himself conducted. Despite the kindness of his mother, childhood remained a painful memory to Chekhov, although it later proved to be a vivid and absorbing experience that he often invoked in his works.

After briefly attending a local school for Greek boys, Chekhov entered the town gimnaziya (high school), where he remained for 10 years. There he received the best standard education then available—thorough but unimaginative and based on the Greek and Latin classics. During his last three years at school Chekhov lived alone and supported himself by coaching younger boys; his father, having gone bankrupt, had moved with the rest of his family to Moscow to make a fresh start.

In the autumn of 1879 Chekhov joined his family in Moscow, which was to be his main base until 1892. He at once enrolled in the university’s medical faculty, graduating in 1884 as a doctor. By this time he was already the economic mainstay of his family, for his father could obtain only poorly paid employment. As unofficial head of the family Anton showed great reserves of responsibility and energy, cheerfully supporting his mother and the younger children through his free-lance earnings as a journalist and writer of comic sketches—work that he combined with arduous medical studies and a busy social life.

Chekhov began his writing career as the author of anecdotes for humorous journals, signing his early work pseudonymously. By 1888 he had become widely popular with a “lowbrow” public and had already produced a body of work more voluminous than all his later writings put together. And he had, in the process, turned the short comic sketch of about 1,000 words into a minor art form. He had also experimented in serious writing, providing studies of human misery and despair strangely at variance with the frenzied facetiousness of his comic work. Gradually this serious vein absorbed him and soon predominated over the comic.


Literary maturity
Chekhov’s literary progress during his early 20s may be charted by the first appearance of his work in a sequence of publications in the capital, St. Petersburg, each successive vehicle being more serious and respected than its predecessor. Finally, in 1888, Chekhov published his first work in a leading literary review, Severny vestnik (“Northern Herald”). With the work in question—a long story entitled “Steppe”—he at last turned his back on comic fiction. “Steppe,” an autobiographical work describing a journey in the Ukraine as seen through the eyes of a child, is the first among more than 50 stories published in a variety of journals and selections between 1888 and his death in 1904. It is on this corpus of later stories, but also on his mature dramas of the same period, that Chekhov’s main reputation rests.

Although the year 1888 first saw Chekhov concentrating almost exclusively on short stories that were serious in conception, humour—now underlying—nearly always remained an important ingredient. There was also a concentration on quality at the expense of quantity, the number of publications dropping suddenly from over a hundred items a year in the peak years 1886 and 1887 to only 10 short stories in 1888. Besides “Steppe,” Chekhov also wrote several profoundly tragic studies at this time, the most notable of which was “A Dreary Story” (1889), a penetrating study into the mind of an elderly and dying professor of medicine. The ingenuity and insight displayed in this tour de force was especially remarkable, coming from an author so young. The play Ivanov (1887–89) culminates in the suicide of a young man nearer to the author’s own age. Together with “A Dreary Story,” this belongs to a group among Chekhov’s works that have been called clinical studies. They explore the experiences of the mentally or physically ill in a spirit that reminds one that the author was himself a qualified—and remained a sporadically practicing—doctor.

By the late 1880s many critics had begun to reprimand Chekhov, now that he was sufficiently well known to attract their attention, for holding no firm political and social views and for failing to endow his works with a sense of direction. Such expectations irked Chekhov, who was unpolitical and philosophically uncommitted. In early 1890 he suddenly sought relief from the irritations of urban intellectual life by undertaking a one-man sociological expedition to a remote island, Sakhalin. This is situated nearly 6,000 miles (9,650 km) east of Moscow, on the other side of Siberia, and was notorious as an imperial Russian penal settlement. Chekhov’s journey there was a long and hazardous ordeal by carriage and riverboat. After arriving unscathed, studying local conditions, and conducting a census of the islanders, he returned to publish his findings as a research thesis, which retains an honoured place in the annals of Russian penology: The Island of Sakhalin (1893–94).

Chekhov paid his first visit to western Europe in the company of A.S. Suvorin, a wealthy newspaper proprietor and the publisher of much of Chekhov’s own work. Their long and close friendship caused Chekhov some unpopularity, owing to the politically reactionary character of Suvorin’s newspaper, Novoye vremya (“New Time”). Eventually Chekhov broke with Suvorin over the attitude taken by the paper toward the notorious Alfred Dreyfus affair in France, with Chekhov championing Dreyfus.

During the years just before and after his Sakhalin expedition, Chekhov had continued his experiments as a dramatist. His Wood Demon (1888–89) is a long-winded and ineptly facetious four-act play, which somehow, by a miracle of art, became converted—largely by cutting—into Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya), one of his greatest stage masterpieces. The conversion—to a superb study of aimlessness in a rural manor house—took place some time between 1890 and 1896; the play was published in 1897. Other dramatic efforts of the period include several of the uproarious one-act farces known as vaudevilles: Medved (The Bear), Predlozheniye (The Proposal), Svadba (The Wedding), Yubiley (The Anniversary), and others.


Melikhovo period: 1892–98
After helping, both as doctor and as medical administrator, to relieve the disastrous famine of 1891–92, Chekhov bought a country estate in the village of Melikhovo, about 50 miles (80 km) south of Moscow. This was his main residence for about six years, providing a home for his aging parents, as also for his sister Mariya, who acted as his housekeeper and remained unmarried in order to look after her brother. The Melikhovo period was the most creatively effective of Chekhov’s life so far as short stories were concerned, for it was during these six years that he wrote “The Butterfly,” “Neighbours” (1892), “An Anonymous Story” (1893), “The Black Monk” (1894), “Murder,” and “Ariadne” (1895), among many other masterpieces. Village life now became a leading theme in his work, most notably in “Peasants” (1897). Undistinguished by plot, this short sequence of brilliant sketches created more stir in Russia than any other single work of Chekhov’s, partly owing to his rejection of the convention whereby writers commonly presented the Russian peasantry in sentimentalized and debrutalized form.

Continuing to provide many portraits of the intelligentsia, Chekhov also described the commercial and factory-owning world in such stories as “A Woman’s Kingdom,” (1894) and “Three Years” (1895). As has often been recognized, Chekhov’s work provides a panoramic study of the Russia of his day, and one so accurate that it could even be used as a sociological source.

In some of his stories of the Melikhovo period, Chekhov attacked by implication the teachings of Leo Tolstoy, the well-known novelist and thinker, and Chekhov’s revered elder contemporary. Himself once (in the late 1880s) a tentative disciple of the Tolstoyan simple life, and also of nonresistance to evil as advocated by Tolstoy, Chekhov had now rejected these doctrines. He illustrated his new view in one particularly outstanding story: “Ward Number Six” (1892). Here an elderly doctor shows himself nonresistant to evil by refraining from remedying the appalling conditions in the mental ward of which he has charge—only to be incarcerated as a patient himself through the intrigues of a subordinate. In “My Life” (1896) the young hero, son of a provincial architect, insists on defying middle-class convention by becoming a house painter, a cultivation of the Tolstoyan simple life that Chekhov portrays as misconceived. In a later trio of linked stories, ”The Man in a Case,” “Gooseberries,” and “About Love” (1898), Chekhov further develops the same theme, showing various figures who similarly fail to realize their full potentialities. As these pleas in favour of personal freedom illustrate, Chekhov’s stories frequently contain some kind of submerged moral, though he never worked out a comprehensive ethical or philosophical doctrine.

Chayka (The Seagull) is Chekhov’s only dramatic work dating with certainty from the Melikhovo period. First performed in St. Petersburg on Oct. 17, 1896 (O.S.), this four-act drama, misnamed a comedy, was badly received; indeed, it was almost hissed off the stage. Chekhov was greatly distressed and left the auditorium during the second act, having suffered one of the most traumatic experiences of his life and vowing never to write for the stage again. Two years later, however, the play was revived by the newly created Moscow Art Theatre, enjoying considerable success and helping to reestablish Chekhov as a dramatist. The Seagull is a study of the clash between the older and younger generations as it affects two actresses and two writers, some of the details having been suggested by episodes in the lives of Chekhov’s friends.


Yalta period: 1899–1904
In March 1897 Chekhov had suffered a lung hemorrhage caused by tuberculosis, symptoms of which had become apparent considerably earlier. Now forced to acknowledge himself a semi-invalid, Chekhov sold his Melikhovo estate and built a villa in Yalta, the Crimean coastal resort. From then on he spent most of his winters there or on the French Riviera, cut off from the intellectual life of Moscow and St. Petersburg. This was all the more galling since his plays were beginning to attract serious attention. Moreover, Chekhov had become attracted by a young actress, Olga Knipper, who was appearing in his plays, and whom he eventually married in 1901; the marriage probably marked the only profound love affair of his life. But since Knipper continued to pursue her acting career, husband and wife lived apart during most of the winter months, and there were no children of the marriage.

Never a successful financial manager, Chekhov attempted to regularize his literary affairs in 1899 by selling the copyright of all his existing works, excluding plays, to the publisher A.F. Marx for 75,000 rubles, an unduly low sum. In 1899–1901 Marx issued the first comprehensive edition of Chekhov’s works, in 10 volumes, after the author had himself rejected many of his juvenilia. Even so, this publication, reprinted in 1903 with supplementary material, was unsatisfactory in many ways.

Chekhov’s Yalta period saw a decline in the production of short stories and a greater emphasis on drama. His two last plays—Tri sestry (1901; Three Sisters) and Vishnyovy sad (1904; The Cherry Orchard)—were both written for the Moscow Art Theatre. But much as Chekhov owed to the theatre’s two founders, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Konstanin Stanislavsky, he remained dissatisfied with such rehearsals and performances of his plays as he was able to witness. Repeatedly insisting that his mature drama was comedy rather than tragedy, Chekhov grew distressed when producers insisted on a heavy treatment, overemphasizing the—admittedly frequent—occasions on which the characters inveigh against the boredom and futility of their lives. Despite Stanislavsky’s reputation as an innovator who had brought a natural, nondeclamatory style to the hitherto overhistrionic Russian stage, his productions were never natural and nondeclamatory enough for Chekhov, who wished his work to be acted with the lightest possible touch. And though Chekhov’s mature plays have since become established in repertoires all over the world, it remains doubtful whether his craving for the light touch has been satisfied except on the rarest of occasions. Yet oversolemnity can be the ruin of Three Sisters, for example—the play in which Chekhov so sensitively portrays the longings of a trio of provincial young women. Insisting that his The Cherry Orchard was “a comedy, in places even a farce,” Chekhov offered in this last play a poignant picture of the Russian landowning class in decline, portraying characters who remain comic despite their very poignancy. This play was first performed in Moscow on Jan. 17, 1904 (O.S.), and less than six months later Chekhov died of tuberculosis.

Though already celebrated by the Russian literary public at the time of his death, Chekhov did not become internationally famous until the years after World War I, by which time the translations of Constance Garnett (into English) and of others had helped to publicize his work. Yet his elusive, superficially guileless style of writing—in which what is left unsaid often seems so much more important than what is said—has defied effective analysis by literary critics, as well as effective imitation by creative writers.

It was not until 40 years after his death, with the issue of the 20-volume Polnoye sobraniye sochineny i pisem A.P. Chekhova (“Complete Works and Letters of A.P. Chekhov”) of 1944–51, that Chekhov was at last presented in Russian on a level of scholarship worthy—though with certain reservations—of his achievement. Eight volumes of this edition contain his correspondence, amounting to several thousand letters. Outstandingly witty and lively, they belie the legend—commonly believed during the author’s lifetime—that he was hopelessly pessimistic in outlook. As samples of the Russian epistolary art, Chekhov’s letters have been rated second only to Aleksandr Pushkin’s by the literary historian D.S. Mirsky. Although Chekhov is still chiefly known for his plays, critical opinion shows signs of establishing the stories—and particularly those that were written after 1888—as an even more significant and creative literary achievement.

Ronald Francis Hingley

 

 

APPENDIX

 


Pyotr Chaadayev



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

Pyotr ChaadayevPyotr or Petr Yakovlevich Chaadayev (Russian: Пётр Яковлевич Чаадаев; born June 7 [May 27, old style], 1794, Moscow died April 26 [April 14, O.S.], 1856, Moscow) was a Russian philosopher born in Moscow.

Chaadayev wrote eight "Philosophical Letters" about Russia in French between 1826-1831, which circulated in Russia as manuscript for many years. The works could not be published in Russia because of its highly critical nature of Russia's significance in world history and politics.

The main thesis of his famous Philosophical Letters was that Russia had lagged behind Western countries and had contributed nothing to the world's progress and concluded that Russia must start de novo. As a result, they included criticism of Russia's intellectual isolation and social backwardness.[1].

When in 1836 the first (and only one published during his life) of the philosophical letters was published in the Russian magazine Telescope, its editor was exiled to the Far North of Russia. The Slavophiles at first mistook Chaadayev for one of them, but later, on realizing their mistake, bitterly denounced and disclaimed him. Chaadayev fought Slavophilism all of his life. His first Philosophical Letter has been labeled the "opening shot" of the Westerner-Slavophil controversy which was dominant in Russian social thought of the nineteenth century.

The strikingly uncomplimentary views of Russia in the first philosophical letter caused their author to be adjudged insane, and his next work was entitled, fittingly, The Vindication of a Madman (1837). In this brilliant but uncompleted work he maintained that Russia must follow her inner lines of development if she was to be true to her historical mission.

His ideas influenced both the Westerners (who supported bringing Russian into accord with developments in Europe by way of various degrees of liberal reform) and Slavophils (who supported Russian Orthodoxy and national culture.)

During the 1840s Chaadayev was an active participant in the Moscow literary circles. He befriended Alexander Pushkin and was a model for Chatsky, the chief protagonist of Alexander Griboyedov's play Woe from Wit (1824).

Most of his works have been edited by his biographer, Mikhail Gershenzon (two volumes, Moscow, 1913-14), whose excellent little study of the philosopher was published at St. Petersburg in 1908.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

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