XIX century literature
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860 - 1904)
Russian playwright, one of the great masters of modern short story. In his work Chekhov combined the dispassionate attitude of a scientist and a doctor with the sensitivity and psychological understanding of an artist. Chekhov portrayed often life in the Russian small towns, where tragic events occur in a minor key, as a part of everyday life. His characters are passive, filled with the feeling of hopelessness and the fruitlessness of all efforts.
Anton Chekhov was born in Taganrog, Ukraine, as the son of a grocer and grandson of a serf who had bought his freedom in 1841. His mother was Yevgenia Morozova, the daughter of a cloth merchant. Chekhov's childhood was shadowed by his father's tyranny and religious fanaticism. He attended a school for Greek boys in Taganrog (1867-68) and Taganrog grammar school (1868-79). The family was forced to move to Moskow following his father's bankruptcy. At the age of 16 Chekhov became independent and remained for some time alone in his native town, supporting himself through private tutoring.
In 1879 Chekhov entered the Moskow University Medical School. While in the school he started to publish hundreds of comic short stories to support himself and his mother, sisters and brothers. His publisher at this period was Nicholas Leikin, owner of the St. Petersburg journal Oskolki (splinters). He often depicted silly social situations, marital problems, farcical encounters between husbands, wives, mistresses, and lovers, whims of young women, of whom Chekhov had not much knowledge - the author was shy with women even after his marriage. By 1886 he had gained wide fame as a writer. Chekhov published his works in St. Petersburg daily papers, Peterburskaia gazeta from 1885, and Novoe vremya from 1886. He also published two full-length novels of which The Shooting Party was translated into English in 1926.
The failure of his play The Wood Demon (1889) and problems with his novel made Chekhov to withdraw from literature for a period. In 1890 he travelled across Siberia to remote Island, Sakhalin, where he conducted a detailed census of some 10 000 convicts and settlers condemned to live their lives on that harsh island. Chechov hoped to use the results of his research for his doctoral dissertation. It is probable that hard conditions also worsened his own physical condition. From this journey was born his famous travel book The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin (1893-94). Chekhov returned to Russia via Singapore, India, Ceylon, and the Suez Canal. From 1892 to 1899 Chekhov worked in Melikhovo, and in Yalta from 1899. Chekhov's fist book of stories (1886) was a success, and gradually he became a full-time writer.
Chekhov was awarded the Pushkin Prize in 1888. Next year he was elected a member of the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature. In 1900 he became a member of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, but resigned his membership two years later as a protest against the cancellation by the authorities of Gorky's election to the Academy.
As a short story writer Chekhov phenomenally fast - he could compose a little sketch or a joke while just visiting at a newspaper office. During his career he produced several hundred stories. 'Palata No. 6' (1892, Ward Six) is Chekhov's classical story of the abuse of psychiatry. Gromov is convinced that anyone can be imprisoned. He develops a persecution mania and is incarcerated in a horrific asylum, where Doctor Ragin becomes interested in his case. Their relationship attracts attention and the doctor is tricked into becoming a patient in his own ward. He dies after being beaten by a charge hand. - The symmetrical story has much similarities with such works as Samuel Fuller's film The Shock Corridor (1963), and Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over Cockoo's Nest (1975). Today Checkov's fame today rests primarily on his plays. He used ordinary conversations, pauses, noncommunication, nonhappening, incomplete thoughts, to reveal the truth behind trivial words and daily life. His characters belong often to the provincial middle class, petty aristocracy or landowners of prerevolutionary Russia. They contemplate their unsatisfactory lives unable to make decisions and help themselves when a crisis breaks out.
Chekhov's first full-length plays were failures. When The Seagull was revised in 1898 by Stanislavsky at the Moskow Art Theatre, he gained also fame as a playwright. Among his masterpieces from this period is Uncle Vanya (1900), a melancholic story of Sonia and his brother-in-law Ivan (Uncle Vanya) who see their dreams and hopes passing in drudgery for others. The Three Sisters (1901) was set in a provincial garrison town. The talented Prozorov sisters, whose hopes have much in common with the Brontë sisters, recognize the uselessness of their lives and cling to one another for consolation.
In The Cherry Orchaid (1904) reflected the larger developments in the Russian society. Mme Ranevskaias returns to her estate and finds out that the family house, together with the adjoining orchard, is to be auctioned. Her brother Gaev is too impractical to help in the crisis. The businessman Lopakhin purchases the estate and the orchard is demolished. "Everything on earth must come to an end..."
In these three famous plays Chekhov blended laughter and tears, leaving much room for imagination - his plays like stories reflect a multitude of possible viewpoints. Usually in Chekhov's dramas surprise and tension are not key elements, the dramatic movement is subdued, his characters do not fight, they endure their fate with patience.
In 1892 Chekhov bought a country estate in the village of Melikhove, where his best stories were written, including 'Neighbours' (1892), 'Ward Number Six' (1892), 'The Black Monk' (1894), 'The Murder' (1895), and 'Ariadne' (1895). He also served as a volunteer census taker, participated in famine relief, and worked as a medical inspector during cholore epidemics. In 1897 he fell ill with tuberculosis and lived since either abroad or in the Crimea. In Yalta he wrote his famous stories 'The Man in a Shell,' 'Gooseberries,' 'About Love,' 'Lady with the Dog,' and 'In the Ravine.' His last great story, 'The Betrothed,' was an optimistic tale of a young woman who escapes from provincial dullness into personal freedom. In 1901 he married the Moscow Art Theater actress Olga Knipper (1870-1959), who had on stage several years central roles in his plays. Chekhov died on July 14/15, 1904, in Badenweiler, Germany. He was buried in the cemetery of the Novodeviche Monastery in Moskow. Though celebrated figure by the Russian literary public at the time of his death, Chekhov remained rather unknown internationally until the years after World War I, when his works were translated into English.
Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
Russian novelist, journalist, short-story writer whose psychological penetration into the human soul had a profound influence on the 20th century novel. Dostoevsky's novels have much autobiographical elements, but ultimately they deal with moral and philosophical questions. He presented interacting characters with contrasting views or ideas about freedom of choice, Socialism, atheisms, good and evil, happiness and so forth. Dostoevsky's central obsession was God, whom his characters constantly search through painful errors humiliations.
Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow, as the second son of a staff doctor at the Hospital for the Poor - later he acquired an estate and serfs. Dostoevsky was educated at home and at a private school. Shortly after the death of his mother in 1837 he was sent to St. Petersburg, where he entered the Army Engineering College. In 1839 Dostoevsky's father died propably of apoplexy but there was strong rumors that he was murdered by his own serfs in a quarrel. Dostoevsky graduated as a military engineer, but resigned in 1844 his commission to devote himself to writing. His first novel, Poor Folk appeared in 1846, and gained a great success with the critics. It was followed by The Double, which depicted a man who was haunted by a look-alike who eventually usurps his position. The book was considered a failure.
In 1846 he joined a group of utopian socialists. He was arrested on April 23 in 1849 during a reading of Vissarion Belinsky's radical letter Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends, and sentenced to death. With mock execution the sentence was commuted to imprisonment in Siberia. Dostoevsky spent four years in hard labor in a stockade, wearing fetters. On his release in 1854 he was assigned as a common soldier in Semipalatinsk. Eventually he became an ensign. These experiences provided subject matter for the author. His heroes and heroines reflected moral values which were vitally important for the author. They also were men and women of action, who shaped the moral character of the young in Russia. During the years in Siberia Dostoevsky became a monarchist and a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Dostoevsky returned to St. Petersburg in 1859 as a writer with a religious mission and published three works that derive in different ways from his Siberia experiences: The House of the Dead, a fictional account of prison life, The Insulted and Injured, which reflects the author's refutation of naive Utopianism in the face of evil, and Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, his account of trip to Western Europe.
The Insulted and Injured was completed after Dostoevsky's penal service and exile and published on his return to Petersburg. The narrator is Ivan Petrovich, a young aspiring writer. His literary debut, working methods and social situation were taken from Dostoevsky's own life. The hero falls from the fame into poverty. When the book appeared it was coldly received by the critics. Dostoevsky defended the work in an open letter and wrote that he knew for certain that even though the novel should be a failure, there would be poetry in it and the two most important characters would be portrayed truthfully and even artistically.
In 1857 Dostoevsky married Maria Isaev, a 29-year old widow. He resigned from the army two years later. Between the years 1861 and 1863 he served as editor of the monthly periodical Time, which was later suppressed because of an article on the Polish uprising. In 1862 he went to abroad for the first time, traveling in France and England. He traveled Europe again in 1863 and 1865. During this period his wife and brother died, he was obsessed with gamblin and almost crushed by debts and frequent epileptic seizures.
By the time of The Brothers of Karamazov, which appeared in 1879-80, Dostoevsky was recognized in his own country as one of its great writers. Dostoevsky final novel culminated his lifelong obsession with patricide - the assumed murder of his father had left deep marks on the author's psyche in childhood. The novel is constructed around a simple plot, dealing with the murder of the father of the Karamazov family by his illegitimate son, Smerdiakov. One of the sons, Dmitri, is arrested. The brothers represent three aspects of man's being: reason (Ivan), emotion (Dmitri) and faith (Alesha). This material is transcended into a moral and spiritual statement of contemporary society.
An epileptic all his life, Dostoevsky died in St. Petersburg on February 9 (New Style), 1881. He was buried in the Aleksandr Nevsky monastery, St. Petersburg. Anna Grigoryevna devoted the rest of her life to cherish the literary heritage of the author.
Nikolay Vasiliyevich Gogol (1809-1852)
Great Russian novelist, dramatist, satirist, founder of the so-called critical realism in Russian literature, best-known for his novel MERTVYE DUSHI (1842, Dead Souls). Gogol's prose is characterized by imaginative power and linguistic playfulness. As an exposer of the defects of human character Gogol could be called the Hieronymus Bosch of Russian literature.
Nikolay Gogol was born in Sorochintsy, Ukraine, and grew up on his parent's country estate. His real surname was Ianovsky, but the writer's grandfather had taken the name 'Gogol' to claim a nobel Cossack ancestry. Gogol's father was an educated and gifted man, who wrote plays, poems, and sketches in Ukrainian. Gogol started write while in high school. He attended Poltava boarding school (1819-21) and Nezhin Higher School (1821-28). In 1829 he settled in St. Petersburg, with a certificate attesting his right to 'the rank of the 14th class'. Gogol worked at minor governmental jobs and wrote occasionally for periodicals. His early narrative poem, Hans Küchelgarten (1829), turned out to be a disaster. Between the years 1831 and 1834 he taught history at the Patriotic Institute and worked as a private tutor.
In 1831 Gogol met Alexander Pushkin who greatly influenced his choice of literarary material, especially his 'Dikinka tales', which were based on Ukrainian folklore. Their friendship lasted until the great poet's death. After failure as an assistant lecturer of world history at the University of St. Petersburg (1834-35), Gogol became a full-time writer. Under the title Mirgorod (1835) Gogol published a new collection of stories, beginning with 'Old-World Landowners', which described the decay of the old way of life. The book also included the famous historical tale 'Taras Bulba', which showed the influence of Walter Scott. The protagonist is a strong, heroic character, not very typical for the author's later cavalcade of bureaucrats, lunatics, swindlers, and losers.
St. Petersburg Stories (1835) examined disorders of mind and social relationships. 'The Nose' was about a man who loses his nose and which tries to live its own life. In 'Nevsky Prospect' a talented artist falls in love with a tender poetic beauty who turns out to be a prostitute and commits suicide when his dreams are shattered. 'The Diary of a Madman' asked why is it that "all the best things in life, they all go to the Equerries or the generals?" 'The Overcoat' contrasted humility and meekness with the rudeness of the 'important personage'.
Gogol published in 1836 several stories in Pushkin's journal Sovremennik, and in the same year appeared his famous play, The Inspector General. It told a simple tale of a young civil servant, Khlestakov, who finds himself stranded in a small provincial town. By mistake, he is taken by the local officials to be a government inspector, who is visiting their province incognito. Khlestakov happily adapts to his new role and exploits the situation. His true identity is revealed but then arrives the real inspector. Gogol masterfully creates with a few words people, places, things, and lets them disappear in the flow of the story. Vladimir Nabokov wrote: "Who is that unfortunate bather, steadily and uncannily growing, adding weight, fattening himself on the marrow of a metaphor? We never shall know - but he almost managed to gain a footing."
Its first stage production was in St Petersburg, given in the presence of the tsar. The tsar, as he left his box after the première, dropped the comment: "Hmm, what a play! Gets at everyone, and most of all at me!" Gogol, who was always sensitive about reaction to his work, fled Russia for Western Europe. He visited Germany, Switzerland, and France and settled then in Rome. He also made a pilgrimage to Palestine in 1848.
In Rome Gogol wrote his major work, The Dead Souls. Gogol claimed that the story was suggested by Pushkin in a conversation in 1835. It depicted the adventures Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, who arrives in a provincial town to buy 'dead souls', dead serfs. By selling these 'souls' with a cheaply-bought lands, Chichikov planned to make a huge profit. He meets local landowners and departs the in a hurry, when rumors start spread about him. During the last decade of his life, Gogol struggled to continue the story and depict Chichikov's fall and redemption.
Except for a short visits to Russia in 1839-40 and 1841-42, Gogol was abroad for twelve years. The first edition of Gogol's collected works was published in 1842 . It made him one of the most popular Russian writers. Two years before his return, Gogol had published Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends (1847), in which he upheld the autocratic tsarist regime and the patriarchal Russian way of life. The book arose disappointment among radicals who had seen Gogol's works as examples of social criticism. In the play ZHENITBA (1842) nearly everybody lies and the protagomist, Podgolesin, cannot make up his mind about marriage. He hesitates, agrees, then withdraws his promise, the life is full of cheating, but when people jeer at each other, they actually tell the truth.
In his later life Gogol came under influence of a fanatical priest, Father Konstantinovsky, and burned sequels for Dead Souls, just 10 days before he died on the verge of madness on the 4th of March 1852. Gogol had refused to take any food and various remedies were employed to make him eat - spirits were poured over his head, hot loaves applied to his person and leeches attached to his nose. Rumors arise from time to time that Gogol was buried alive, a situation familiar from the story The Premature Burial of the contemporary writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).
Ivan Andreyevich Krylov (1769-1844)
Russian writer of fables in the tradition of Aesop and La Fontaine. Krylov satirized social and individual faults in the guise of beasts, producing 203 fables in nine books. They are still an integral part of Russian primary and secondary education. Krylov was in his country one of the great representatives of the Age of Reason. His writings appeared in a period, which was marked by increasingly repressive rule in Russia.
Ivan Andreyevich Krylov was born in a provincial town near St. Petersburg into an impoverished family. His father was an army captain in the bureaucracy and died when Krylov was ten. At early age Krylov played violin and composed poetry. He played the violin in innumerable family concerts, in quartets with the best virtuosi of the day, and as a soloist.
Krylov had little formal education in his childhood. He entered the imperial civil service and in 1782 he was transferred from Tver to St. Petersburg. Between the years 1783 and 1793 he wrote five comic operas. Krylov became the center of small intellectual circle in St. Petersburg. From 1789 to 1793 he edited with Nikolai I. Novikov and Alexander N. Radishchev a satirical magazine Pochva dukhov. It published social commentary in the guise of letters written by figures from the underworld and soon had troubles with the censor. Krylov's own contributions include 'Kaib, An Oriental Tale,' which depicts insufficiencies of autocracy, and the 'Eulogy to the Memory of My Grandfather', a satire in the best spirit of Enlightenment. Krylov faced political persecution from the repressive government of Catherine the Great and he left St. Petersburg c. 1797.
From the mid-1790s to 1802 Krylov virtually disappeared from the literary scene. He traveled widely and experienced some hard periods, which made him more reluctant to express his opinions openly. Only two plays, the comedy The Pie and a mock tragedy Trumpf can be dated from this period. He tutored at country estate of a patron and served as a governor's secretary in 1801-02. After 1801 he lived in Moscow for five years and then returned to St. Petersburg. In 1806 he wrote two successful plays, The Fashion Shop and A Lesson to the Daughters.
In 1805 Krylov started to translate the fables of Jean de La Fontaine, but he soon found that he could write fables of his own. He had become associated with the cultural circle of A.N. Olenin, which advocated the creation of national literature. Krylov published his first collection of fables in 1809, devoting himself entirely to that genre. After Krylov's books attracted the attention of the imperial family, he gained a post in the St. Petersburg public library, where he worked for 30 years as a librarian. When Alexander I promised to support Krylov if he writes "well', he did not write anyting. Between the years 1824 and 1926 he did not compose any poems, and he was commonly called the laziest man in Russia.
Krylov wrote over 200 satires during his life time. He often dealt with human follies, but also social defects, and current events. Many of his aphorisms have become part of everyday Russian speech. Krylov died in St. Petersburg on November 21, 1844. Some of his writings were not published until 1860s, among them the satire 'Multi-colored sheep' about Alexander I's policies. In it The Lion doesn't tolerate multi-colored sheeps, but as a merciful ruler of animals it cannot destroy them straightforward. It asks the advice of the Fox, who tells that it should hire a wolfs as their shepherd. The result is that after some time the multi-colored sheep disappear completely, and number of the others, too. The rest of the animals explain this to themselves that the Lion is good but the Wolf is a bad robber. The play Trumpf was an attacked the regime of Paul I and was published in 1871.
Heaven save you from a foolish friend;
The too officious fool is worse than any foe.
(from 'Hermit and Bear' in Fables, 1809)
Among Krylov's friends were Ivan Gnedich, translator of Iliad and Alexander Pushkin, whose first line in Evgeny Onegin is a reworking of a line from Krylov. In the last decades of his life, Krylov was a loved figure of St. Petersburg artistic circles. However, the canonized image of a wise and kindly 'Grandpapa Krylov' is far from the unsentimental message of his works, his bitter political analyzis and social criticism. Krylov's animal fables blend naturalistic characterization of the animal with an allegorical portrayal of basic human types. His miniature dramas capture problematic situations common to all people - such as relations between people of the different caste and class. Krylov's epigrams often attacked corruption and incompetence. Some of his tales dealt with the Napoleonic wars, such as 'Wolf in dog kennel' and 'Friendship of dogs' - Bonaparte was of course the wolf. In the latter two full dogs decide to be friends and help each other but they break all promises immediately when a bone is thrown between them. Krylov referred in the tale to the peace negotiations of the Vienna Congress of 1815.
Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov - born on October 3 (New Time Oct. 15), 1814 - died July 15 (New Time July 27), 1841
The freedom loving Russian Romantic poet and author of the novel GEROY NASHEGO VREMENI (1840, Hero of Our Time), which had a deep influence on later Russian writers. Lermontov was exiled two times to the Caucasus because of his libertarian verses. He died in a duel like his great contemporary poet Alexander Pushkin.
Mikhail Lermontov was born in Moscow. His mother, Maria Mikhailovna Lermontova, an heiress of rich estates, died when he was two. His father, Yuri Petrovich Lermontov, a poor army officer, left the upbringing in the hands of his wealthy grandmother, Yelizaveta Alexeyevna Arsenyeva. In his new home Mikhail became a subject of family disputes between his grandmother and father, who was no allowed to participate in the upbringing of his son. Lermontov received extensive education at home, but it included doubtful aspects: in his childhood he was dressed in a girl's frock to act as a model for a painter. At the age of fourteen Lermontov moved to Moscow, where he entered a boarding school. At the Moscow University he started to write poetry under the influence of Lord Byron, adapting the Byronic cult of personality. He studied ethics and politics, later literature, but was expelled in 1832 for disciplinary reasons. He then went to St. Petersburg and graduated from the cadet school in 1834 with the lowest officer's rank of cornet. He was stationed in the same town to a Husser regiment of the Imperial Guards.
From his position in the Hussars and early devotion to writing, Lermontov observed the social life of the wealthy. By 1832 he had already written two hundred lyric poems, ten long poems and three plays. In 1837 Lermontov gained a wider recognition as a writer. After Alexandr Pushkin was killed in a duel, he published an elegy, SMERT POETA. In it he finds behind the blind tool of destiny arrogant descendants "of fathers famed for their base infamies / Who, with a slaveish heel, have spurned the remnants / Of nobler but less favoured families!" And Lermontov continues prophetically: "Before this seat your slanders will not sway / That Judge both just and good... / Nor all your black blood serve to wash away / The poet's righteous blood." The poem was enthusiastically received by liberal circles, but annoyed the autocratic Tsar Nicholas I. Lermontov was arrested and exiled to the Caucasus. Due to the influence of his grandmother, Lermontov was permitted to return to Petersburg.
In 1837 also appeared the poem About Czar Ivan Vasiliyevich, His Young Bodyguard, and the Valiant Merchant Kalashnokov. The scenery of Caucaus and the company of ordinary soldiers inspired Lermontov's best poetry. He produced a series of tales, later collected under the title A Hero of Our Times, in which he painted his revealing and Byronic self-portrait. The mountains, forests and cataracts of Caucasus had also inspired Puskin and later Tolstoy depicted this wild and colorful frontier and its people in Hadzi-Murat. Politically the Russian Empire gained control of the Caucasus in the 1860s, but it has been ever since a constant source of conflicts, lately in Checheno-Ingush region.
During this creative period he wrote such masterpieces as The Novice, The Cliff, Argument, Meeting, A Leaf, and Prophet. In Clouds (1840) the poet contrasted the clouds "free both to come and go, free and indifferent" to his fate in exile. The Dream (1841) anticipated the poet's death in the remote country: "In Daghestan, no cloud its hot sun cloaking, / A bullet in my side, I lay without / Movement or sound, my wound still fresh and smoking / And drop by drop my lifeblood trickling out." Lermontov's best-known poem, The Demon (1842), about an angel who falls in love with a mortal woman, reflected the poet's self-image as a demonic creature. The melancholic Demon, exiled from Paradise, wanders on Earth, past hope of making peace again. He visits at night Tamara who says: "Come, swear to me to leave behind / All evil wishes from this hour". The Demon promises: "You are my holy one. This day / My power at your feet I lay. / An for your love one moment long / I'll give you all eternity." His kiss like deadly poison kills Tamara, who is saved by her martyr's pain: "She suffered, loved, laid down her life - / And Haven opened to her love!" The Demon curses his dreams of better things - "Alone in all the universe, Abandoned, without love or hope!..." Lermontov drafted the sorrowful and self-accusing poem first at the age of 14.
Because of a duel with French ambassador's son, Lermontov was again exiled, this time to Tenginskii Infantry Regiment on the Black Sea. The regiment was almost permanently engaged on active service and Lermontov gained for his courage admiration of his fellow officers. However, serving in the front prevented him from writing. Pretending to be ill, Lermontov returned to the health resort of Pyatigorsk, near Moscow and joined the social life of the town. He quarreled with Major N.S. Martynov, an old acquaintance of the family, and was killed in 1841, at the age of 27, in a duel.
Nikolai Semenovich Leskov (1831-1895)
Russian storyteller, novelist, and journalist, who portaryed in his works a wide variety of characters from meek monks and religious fanatics to mad lovers, and from simple peasant to eccentrics, bureaucrats, and merchats. "Writing," Leskov once confessed in a letter, "is to me no liberal art, but a craft." In his stories Leskov renewed narrative techniques and used colloquial and peasant speech. Leskov, who was un-doctrinaire and never became agnostic, criticized the Orthodox Church for its rigidness and was condemned by conservatives, but he was also rejected by leftist intellectuals, who considered him an outcast.
Nikolai Leskov was born in Gorokhovo, Orel province. His mother came from an educated, noble family, and his father, belonging to gentry, owned a small estate. In his childhood Leskov became acquainted with the life of peasants and their stories. He was educated privately and at the Orel gymnasium, leaving it at the age of 15. When his father died he inherited him but the small property was destroyed in a fire. This accident, which ruined the family financially, also prevented him from continuing his education.
Leskov served two years as a clerk in Orel criminal court and then was transferred to Kiev as assistant clerk in the army recruiting bureau. There he lived at the house of his uncle, who was a professor of medicine. He read widely philosophy and economics, studied Polish and Ukrainian, and joined the liberal-minded circles of the old city. In 1853 he married Olga Smirnova; they had one son and one daughter. Between the years 1857 and 1860 he worked in estate management for an English firm and traveled in remote regions of Russia. Later Leskov considered these years crucial for his development as a writer.
After moving to Moscow he separated from his wife and started to publish articles in magazines. In 1861 he settled in St. Petersburg as a journalist and writer. In 1862-63 he traveled in Eastern Europe and France. He lived with Katerina Bubnova from 1865 until 1877. Their son, Andrei Leskov, became the author's biographer. Leskov's first stories appeared in magazines. While staying in Prague he finished his first novel, NEKUDA (1864), which depicted the struggle between idealism and reality. Leskov himself was accused of conservatism. His reputation among progressive intelligentsia became even worse after NA NOZHAKH (1870) was published. When liberal magazines closed their doors, he started to publish writings in conservative papers, but his criticism of civil servants and Orthodox clerics and laymen also angered the conservative circles.
The novella Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1865) told a story about a determined woman, Katerina, who kills her father-in-law to save her lover, Sergei. When her husband Zinovii returns from a journey, she kills him with Sergei, and later Zinovii's young nephew, Fedia. Katerina and Sergei are arrested and condemned to exile. Sergei becomes interested in another prisoner, Sonetka, a 17-year-old blonde. As the prisoners embark on a Volga ferryboat, she takes Sonetka with her into the river, where they both disappear. The Russian composer Dmitrii Shostakovich based his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk district (1930-32) and its later revision, 'Katerina Izmailova' (1963) on the story.
Leskov served on Scholarly Committee of the Ministry of Education from 1874. He was dismissed in 1883 due to his too liberal views. After religious crisis in the mid-1870s he published several stories which questioned Orthodox Christianity. In the summer of 1872 he travelled in Karelia and visited the Valamo monastery in Lake Ladoga.
In The Sealed Angel (1873) and The Enchanted Wanderer (1873), a picaresque story inspired by his travels in Karelia, Leskov had explored Orthodox piety, but still believed that the Church would "progress out of the stagnation into which she has fallen, crushed by her links with the state." During this later period he also made further trips to abroad. The protagonist of The Enchanted Wanderer is a Russian Odysseus, Ivan Sever'ianovich Fliagin, a monk, whom a group of Russian passengers meet on a boat. Fliagin tells his story, which is occasionally interrupted by his listeners. Ivan is son of a serf. He accidentally causes the death of a monk, who appears to him in a dream. The monk's prophesy changes Ivan's life, and he experiences several adventures before be becomes a holy pilgrim, or strannik. One time he is captured by the Tartars. To prevent him from escaping, they cripple him - they cut open his the soles of his feet, put in the open flesh horsehair, and close again the wound. Ivan is full of contradictions - he is cruel, brave, loyal, drunk, self-sacrificing, and a humble scapegoat. Leskov leaves Ivan's future open when the monk continues his journey, and his enchanted listeners don't want to disturb him with their questions.
By the late 1880s Leskov's growing criticism of the doctrines of the church started to arise the attention of censors. Under the influence of Leo Tolstoy he wrote several stories dealing with ancient church legends. During his last years Leskov suffered from the cancer of breast and thoughts of death occupied his mind. Leskov died on March 5, 1895. His collected works were published first time in 1902-03. After the Revolution his work was viewed with suspicion, although Gorky had defended him earlier, stating that Leskov "is the writer most deeply rooted in the people and is completely untouched by any foreign influences." Anton Chekhov considered Leskov is some respects his teacher. Leskov did not gain official approval for decades, partly due to his religious themes. In the 1940s appeared two scholarly monographs on his work. With the publication of his collected works in the 1950s and new printings and translations of his stories Leskov has secured his position among the major classic Russian writers of the 19th-century.
Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837)
Russian 19th century author who often has been considered his country's greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin blended Old Slavonic with vernacular Russian into a rich, melodic language. He was the first to use everyday speech in his poetry. Pushkin's Romantic contemporaries were Byron (d. 1824) and Goethe (d. 1832), but his ironic attitude can be connected to the literature of 18th century, especially to Voltaire. Pushkin wrote some 800 lyrics with a dozen narrative poems.
"Love passed, the muse appeared, the weather
of mind got clarity newfound;
now free, I once more weave together
emotion, thought, and magic sound."
(from Eugene Onegin, 1823)
Alexander Pushkin was born in Moscow into a cultured but poor aristocratic family. On his father's side he was descendant of an ancient noble family and on his mother's side he was a great-great-grandson of an black Abyssinian, Gannibal, who served under Peter the Great. In his childhood the future poet was entrusted to nursemaids, French tutors, and governesses. He learned Russian from household serfs and from his nanny, Arina Rodionovna. Pushkin started to write poems from an early age. His first published poem was written when he was only 14.
While attending the Imperial Lyceum at Tsarskoye Selo (1811-1817), he began writing his first major work, Ruslan and Ludmila (1820), a kind of fairy story in verse. It was based on Russian folk-tales which his grandmother had told him - in French. Years later at his father's estate he listened legends and fairy tales which his old nurse Arina Rodionovna told him, calling that process "making up for the defects in his accursed education." In 1817 he accepted a post at the foreign office at St. Petersburg. He became associated with members of a radical movement who participated later in the Decembrist uprising in 1825. Several of Pushkin's friends were involved in the affair, but he apparently had no connection with it. In May 1820 Pushkin was banished from the town because of his political poems, among them 'Ode to Liberty'. He was transferred south to Ekaterinoslav. During this time Pushkin discovered the poetry of Lord Byron. He was then moved to Kishinev, and in the summer of 1823 to Odessa. Count Vorontsoff, governor of Odessa, did not have high opinions about the poet: "... he is really only a wek imitator of a not very respected model - Lord Byron."
Although living in exile in different parts of Russia, Pushkin continued to write poems, rising gradually as the leader of Romantic movement. In 1823 he started his major masterpiece, the novel in verse Eugene Onegin, which appeared in 1833. His great historical tragedy, Boris Godunov, was published in 1831. It was based on the career of Boris Fyodorovich Godunov, the czar of Russia from 1598 to 1605. Boris is haunted by his quilt over the murder of the tsarevich Dmitry. When an ambitious young monk claims to be Dmitry, Boris tries to defend his throne, but he falls ill and dies. The composer Mussorgsky used this play as the basis of his opera (1869-74) of the same name.
In 1834 Pushkin received an appointment as a functionary at the court, but his minor status was considered humiliation. Pushkin's debts were mounting and he was worried about his wife's possible infidelity.
In his last years Pushkin started to write historical work of Peter the Great, which was left unfinished. In 1829 he fell in love with 16-year-old Natalya Nikolayevna Goncharova, a beauty of the Imperial court, whom he married two years later. The marriage was unhappy and Pushkin had little peace for intense creative activity. His wife's frivolous social life led Pushkin into debt and eventually to his early death. A gossip of an affair between Baron Georges d'Anthès and his wife started to spread. Pushkin defended his wife's honor with her brother-in-law in a duel. He was fatally wounded and died on February 10 (New Style), 1837. The czar buried buried Pushkin in secret in the monastery near Mikhailovskoye, for fear of popular risings at the funeral. He also paid all the remaining debts of the poet.
As an essayist Pushkin was prolific but most of his writings remained in draft form and over half were published posthumously due to repressive censorship. Chiefly Pushkin concentrated on literature and history. He saw that overwhelming use of French by the upper class delayed the progress of Russian literature. In this matter Pushkin was not speaking without own experience - his first language was French and he read French writers well on into adolescence. The responsibility of Decembrist Rebellion Pushkin shifted onto foreign influences, and argued against corporal punishment in teaching. He was fascinated by democratic republicanism but perceived the tendency to idealize both the natural state of life, as exemplified in the work of James Fenimore Cooper and in the political discussion in the United States, as shown in his essay "Dzhon Tenner" (1836, John Tanner).
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Russian author, one of the greatest of all novelists. Tolstoy's major works include War and Peace (1863-69), characterized by Henry James as a "loose baggy monster", and Anna Karenina (1875-77), which stands alongside Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Fontane's Effi Briest as perhaps the most prominent 19th-century European novel of adultery. Tolstoy once said, "The one thing is necessary, in life as in art, is to tell the truth." Tolstoy's life in often seen to form two distinct parts: first comes the author of great novels, and later a prophet and moral reformer.
Lev Tolstoy was born at Yasnya Polyana, in Tula Province, the fourth of five children. The title of Count had been conferred on his ancestor in the early 18th century by Peter the Great. His parents died when he was a child, and he was brought up by relatives. In 1844 Tolstoy started his studies of law and oriental languages at Kazan University, but he never took a degree. Dissatisfied with the standard of education, he returned in the middle of his studies back to Yasnaya Polyana, and then spent much of his time in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In 1847 Tolstoy was treated for veneral disease. After contracting heavy gambling debts, Tolstoy accompanied in 1851 his elder brother to the Caucasus, and joined an artillery regiment. In the 1850s Tolstoy also began his literary career, publishing the autobiographical trilogy Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854), and Youth (1857).
During the Crimean War Tolstoy commanded a battery, witnessing the siege of Sebastopol (1854-55). In 1857 he visited France, Switzerland, and Germany. After his travels Tolstoy settled in Yasnaja Polyana, where he started a school for peasant children. He saw that the secret of changing the world lay in education. He investigated during further travels to Europe (1860-61) educational theory and practice, and published magazines and textbooks on the subject. In 1862 he married Sonya Andreyevna Behrs (1844-1919); she bore him 13 children. Sonya also acted as her husband's devoted secretary.
Tolstoy's fiction grew originally out of his diaries, in which he tried to understand his own feelings and actions so as to control them. He read widely fiction and philosophy. In the Caucasus he read Plato and Rousseau, Dickens and Sterne; through the 1850s he also read and admired Goethe, Stendhal, Thackeray, and George Eliot.
Tolstoy's major work, War and Peace, appeared between the years 1865 and 1869. The epic tale depicted the story of five families against the background of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Its vast canvas includes 580 characters, many historical, others fictional. The story moves from family life to the headquarters of Napoléon, from the court of Alexander to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino.
War and Peace reflected Tolstoy's view that all is predestined, but we cannot live unless we imagine that we have free will. The harshest judgement is reserved for Napoleon, who thinks he controls events, but is dreadfully mistaken. Pierre Bezukhov, who wanders on the battlefield of Borodino, and sees only the confusion, comes closer to the truth. Great men are for him ordinary human beings who are vain enough to accept responsibility for the life of society, but unable to recognise their own impotence in the cosmic flow.
Tolstoy's other masterpiece, Anna Karenina (1873-77), told a tragic story of a married woman, who follows her lover, but finally at a station throws herself in front of an incoming train. The novel opens with the famous sentence: "Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy juxtaposed in the work crises of family life with the quest for the meaning of life and social justice. "The Oblonsky home was in turmoil," Tolstoy writes as an introcution to his themes. Anna Karenina comes to Moscow to reconcile the Oblonskys. Her love affair with Vronskii is accompanied with another intertwined plot, Konstantin Levin's courtship and marriage to Kitty Shcherbatskaia, the sister-in-law of Anna. Tolstoy sees that everywhere the family life of the landed gentry is breaking up, but he did not accept nihilist theories about marriage. Aleksei Karenin, a cold and ambitious man, is unable to save his career or make Anna happy. "For the first time he vividly conjured up her personal life, her thoughts, her wishes; and the idea that she might, and even must have a personal life all her won was so frightening that he hastened to drive it away. This was the chasm into which he dared not look." First Anna agrees to end the affair, but when Vronskii is injured in an accident, she resumes the relationship. Anna gives birth to their child, and Karenin finally agrees to allow Anna to run away to Italy with Vronskii. However, she believes that he no longer loves her, and commits suicide. Through Levin, who seeks the meaning of existence, Tolstoy states, that "everything has now been turned upside down and is only just taking shape." He and Kitty learn the values of toil and happiness.
In the 1880s Tolstoy wrote such philosophical works as A Confession and What I Believe, which was banned in 1884. He started to see himself more as a sage and moral leader than an artist. In 1884 occurred his first attempt to leave home. He gave up his estate to his family, and tried to live as a poor, celibate peasant. Attracted by Tolstoy's writings, Yasnaya Polyana was visited by hundreds of people from all over the world. In 1901 the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated the author. Tolstoy became seriously ill and he recuperated in Crimea.
Tolstoy's teachings influenced Gandhi in India, and the kibbutz movement in Palestine, and in Russia his moral authority rivaled that of the tsar. After leaving his estate with his disciple Vladimir Chertkov on the urge to live as a wandering ascetic, Tolstoy died of pneumonia on November 7 (Nov. 20, New Style) in 1910, at a remote railway junction. His collected works, which were published in the Soviet Union in 1928-58, consists of 90 volumes.
In his study What is Art? (1898) Tolstoy condemned Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Dante, but not really convincing. He stated that art is a conveyor of feelings, good and bad, from the artist to others. Through feeling, the artist 'infects' another with the desire to act well or badly. "Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen." Tolstoy used ordinary events and characters to examine war, religion, feminism, and other topics. He was convinced that philosophical principles can only be understood in their concrete expression in history. All of his work is characterized by uncomplicated style, careful construction, and deep insight into human nature. His chapters are short, and he paid much attention to details of everyday life. Tolstoy also refused to recognize the conventional climaxes of narrative - War and Peace begins in the middle of a conversation and ends in the first epilogue in the middle of a sentence.
Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)
Novelist, poet, and playwright, known for his detailed descriptions about the everyday live in Russia in the 19th century. Turgenev portrayed realistically the peasantry and the rising intelligentsia in its attempt to move the country into a new age. Although Turgenev has been overshadowed by his contemporaries Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, he remains one of the major figures of the 19th-century Russian literature.
Ivan Turgenev was born in Oryol, in the Ukraine region of Russia, into a wealthy family. He studied at St. Petersburg (1834-37), Berlin Universities (1838-41), and completed his master's exam in St Petersburg. At the age of 19 Turgenev Traveled to Germany. He was on a steamer when it caught fire and rumors spread in Russia that he had acted cowardly. This revealing experience, which followed the author throughout his life, formed later the basis for his story A Fire at Sea. In 1841 Turgenev started his career at the Russian civil service. He worked for the Ministry of Interior (1843-45) for a short time. After the success of two of his story-poems and Turgenev devoted himself to literature, country pursuits and travel. He had a relationship with the opera singer Pauline Garcia Viardot, living near her or at times with her and her husband. Turgenev travelled to France with them in 1845-46 and 1847-50. Viardot remained Turgenev's great and unfulfilled love; in his youth he had had one or two affairs with servant-girls, and produced an illegitimate daughter, Paulinette.
During his studies in Berlin, Turgenev had became confirmed for the need of Westernization of Russia. Lacking the religious faith of his two great compatriots, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, he represented the moderate side of reform movement. In a letter he wrote about Tolstoy's 'charlatanism' and even from his death-bed he begged Tolstoy to cast away his prophet's mantle. Dostoyevsky, on the other had, caricatured Turgenev as Karmazinov in The Possessed. Turgenev's solution was not revolution, mystical nationalism, or spiritual renewal but in the industriousness of the confident, methodical builders embodied by the engineer Vassily Fedotitch Solomin, a side character, in Virgin Soil. The 'positive hero' was a new type of personality, who will liberate Russia from her backwardness. In the center of the book, full of discussions about progression, literature, aesthetic life, emancipation, beauty, patriotic principles, etc., is a love story, in which a young woman must choose her of way in life.
In the 1840s Turgenev wrote poems, criticism, and short stories under the influence of Nikolay Gogol. With the short-story cycle A Sportsman's Sketches, he (1852) made his reputation. It is said that the work contributed to the Tsar Alexander II's decision to liberate the serfs. The short pieces were written from a point of view of a young nobleman who learn to appreciate the wisdom of the peasants who live on his family's estates. However, Turgenev's opinions brought him a month of detention in St. Petersburg and 18 months of house arrest.
Under the influence of the critic Vissarion Belinsky Turgenev abandonment of Romantic idealism for a more realistic style. In the decade 1853-62 his fiction arrived at its full artistic maturity. He wrote some of his finest stories and novellas during this period and the first four of his six novels: RUDIN (1856), DVORIANSKOE GNEDO (1859), NAKANUNE (1860) and OTTSY I DETI (1862). Central themes were the beauty of early love, failure to reach one's dreams, and frustrated love, which reflected his lifelong passion for Pauline. Another woman who deeply influence Turgenev was his mother, who ruled her 5,000 serfs capriciously with a whip and whose dreadful personality left traces on his work.
Among Turgenev's close friend's in France was the writer Gustave Flaubert, with whom he had similar social and aesthetic ideals. They both rejected extremist right and left and stuck to nonjudgmental if somewhat pessimistic depiction of the world. Struggling with his last, unfinished work, he wrote to Flaubert: "On certain days I feel crushed by this burden. It seems to me that I have no more marrow in my bones, and I carry on like an old post horse, worn out but courageous." Turgenev died in Bougival, near Paris, on September 3, 1883. His remains were taken to Russia and buried in the Volkoff Cemetery, St.Petersburg. Turgenev's later works include novellas A King Lear of the Steppes (1870) and Spring Torrents, which rank with First Love (1860) as his finest achievements in the genre. His last published work was a collection of meditations and anecdotes, entitled Poems in Prose (1883).