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||Aleksandr (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 the 18th century, especially to Voltaire. Pushkin wrote some 800 lyrics with a dozen narrative poems.
"Love passed, the muse appeared, the weather
Aleksandr Pushkin was born in Moscow into a cultured but poor aristocratic family. On his father's side he was descended from an ancient noble family and on his mother's side he was a great-great-grandson of a black Abyssinian, Abram Petrovich Hannibal (1696-1781), who was sent as a gift to Peter the Great (1672-1725) by the Russian ambassador in Constantinople. Exceptionally talented, he was educated in France in the best European fashion. Eventually he became a general of artillery for the Russian Navy and was granted nobility. While serving in the French army in his youth, he adopted the surname Gannibal, or Hannibal. Pushkin himself had black hair and swarthly complexion. 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
(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 to legends and fairy tales told by
his old nurse Arina Rodionovna, 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 liberal friends were involved in the affair.
Some of them were hanged or exiled for life to Siberia, but Pushkin
apparently did not take part in their conspiracy; and he was absent in
the south at the time of the insurrection. In May 1820 Pushkin was
banished from the town because of his political poems, among them 'Ode
to Liberty' and 'The Village,' which were circulated in
handwritten copies. "I sing of Freedom's victorious fire / Chastised vice enthroned
on royal bench," he wrote in the 'Ode to Libery'. (Translated by M.A. DuVernet, in Pushkin's Ode to Liberty: The Life and Loves of Alexander Pushkin by M.A. DuVernet, 2014, p. 11) Its full text was not printed until 1906. Noteworthy, Pushkin's friends did not consider him a
person. One Decembrist characterized his posturing as "chatter and balderdash".
On May 6, 1820, Pushkin left St. Petersburg for his
exile. Upon arriving at Ekaterinoslav, he caught a cold. In the
outskirts of the Russian Empire, Pushkin discovered the poetry of Lord
Byron, whose influence is manifested in the long narrative poem
entitled Kavkazsky plennik
(The Prisoner of the Caucasus). With its publication, the critic Vissarion
Belinsky declared that "the grandiose image of the Caucasus with its
bellicose inhabitants was re-created for the first time in Russian
poetry– and only in Pushkin's poem did the Russian public become acquainted for the first time with the Caucasus . . ." ('Pushkin and the Caucasus' by Harsha Ram, in The Pushkin Handbook, 2005, edited by David M. Bethea, in p. 379) Pushkin himself said later that the poem was immature.
From Kishinev, where Pushkin spent almost three years, he moved 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 weak imitator of a not very respected model – Lord Byron." Vorontsoff made later a brief appearance in Tolstoy's novella 'Hadji Murad' (1904).
Pushkin's Evgenii Onegin (1833), a novel in verse, is considered the greatest masterpiece of Russian literature. Evgenii Onegin is a dashing young aristocrat : "In French Onegin had perfected / proficiency to speak and write, / in the mazurka he was light; / his bow was wholle unaffected." On inheriting his uncle's estate, he retires to country. Soon Onegin befriends Vladimir Lenskii, who is in love with a local girl, Olga Larina. Her unpolished, romantic elder sister Tatiana falls in love with Onegin, but he rejects Tatiana's love. He considers himself mysteriously doomed, he would be a bad husband. "But I for bliss was not created: / To that my soul is foreign still. / In vain, in vain, are your perfections;/ Of them I count myself unworthy." At a party Onegin insults Olga, and Lenskii challenges him to a duel, and is shot dead. Three years later Onegin meets Tatiana who is married to a prince. She is the last of the principal characters introduced to the reader, but she is also central for the story. Onegin declares his love to her, and writes her a series of letters expressing a mad passion. Now it is her turn to reject him. She confesses that she loves him but insists that they must part for good. Pushkin's novel has been a rich source of character types for Russian writers. Tatiana has been regarded as the ideal of Russian womanhood. She is faithful, generous, sincere, and considerate. Among others Turgenev modelled his heroines after her.– Vladimir Nabokov's commentary and translation of Alexandr Pushkin's comedy of manners arouse much controversy. The ten-year-long work was first brought out in 1964 by the Bollingen Foundation in four volumes.
The libretto for Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin (1879) was adapted from Pushkin's novel in verse by the composer's brother Modeste. Originally the singer Elizaveta Lavrovskaya suggested to subject toTchaikovsky. At first, he had considered the long narrative poem too known to be subjected to the conventions of opera; he was afraid that he would only invite hostility from Russians devoted to the poem. "Where shall I find the Tatyana whom Pushkin imagined and whom I have tried to illustrate musically?" he asked. The first performance, directed by Nikolay Rubinstein, took place in 1879 at the Moscow Conservatoire. Since the Mariyinsky Theatre production in St Petersburg in 1884 the opera has secured a place in the repertory all over the world.
Although living in exile in different parts of Russia, Pushkin continued to write poems, rising gradually as the leader of the Romantic movement. In 1823 he started his major masterpiece, Eugene Onegin. He fell also in love with the daughter of his friend. Her small feet were celebrated in a stanza of the verse novel. He also later wrote love lyrics of Amalia Riznich, the wife of a Dalmatian merchant and his mistress. Pushkin's 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 guilt 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.
"Like to some magistrate grown grey in office
Pushkin's troubles with the authorities continued. In 1824 he was banished to his family estate of Mikhailovskoe. Pushkin's father tried in vain to keep his son under his control, but the result was, that the poet's friends applied to the Czar, and Pushkin père was exiled from his own estate. When the new Czar, Nicholas I, allowed Pushkin to return to the capital. Due to the Czar's patronage, he openly abandoned revolutionary sentiments. In 1829 he made a four-month visit to Transcaucasia, witnessing the action with the Russian Army against the Turks. In 1830 he visited another family estate, Boldino, and was stranded by cholera for three months. This was a very productive literary period. He wrote a group of plays, among them The Avaricious Knight, Mozart and Salieri, The Stone Guest, and The Feast During the Plague. Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin (1831) was possibly inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Pushkin published the work anonymously and surprised Russian readers. However, the tales did not gain the popularity of his poems. Proper Mérimée, who admired Pushkin's light touch, translated Tales of Belkin into French. 'The Queen of Spades' (1834), Pushkin's most famous short story, was later made into an opera by Tchaikovsky. The tale about a gambler's breakdown struck close to the poet's own life – he was a gambler, too, to the end of his life.
"Lisaveta Ivanova listened to him with horror. So those passionate letters, those ardent demands, the whole impertinent and obstinate pursuit - all that was not love! Money - that was what his soul craved for! It was not she who could satisfy his desire and make him happy! The poor ward had been nothing but the unknowing assistant of a brigand, of the murderer of her aged benefactress!..." (from 'The Queen of Spades', 1834)
In 1833 Pushkin travelled east to the Urals for historical research. Next year he received an appointment as a functionary at the court, but his minor status was considered a humiliation. His debts were mounting and he was worried about his wife's possible infidelity.
Arap Petra Velikogo (The Blackmoor of Peter the Geat),
a historical novel, on which Pushkin worked his last years, was about
his maternal great grandfather, who is called Ibrahim in the story. It
is not known why he left it unfinished. The Romanov Tsar had been a
figure in his narrative poem 'The Bronze Horseman' (1833), partly
inspired by the flooding of Petersburg in 1824. Pushkin was
ambivalent about the "awful Emperor," who "despised
humanity perhaps more than did Napoleon" (St. Petersburg: A Cultural History by Solomon Volkov, 1995, p. 12),
but at the beginning of the poem Pushkin famously glorified Peter for
cutting "a window through to Europe" and pours out his heart into words
every Russian knows: "I love you, Peter's creation". Referring to this
line, Dostoyevsky remarked in the notes for a section of A Diary of a Writer for 1876, "I confess, I do not love it". (Pushkin and the Genres of Madness: The Masterpieces of 1833 by Gary Rosenshield, 2003, p. 183) Only the Prologue to 'The Bronze Horseman,' with
the wretched Finnish fisherman, was allowed to be published
during Pushkin's life, it appeared under the title 'Petersburg. An
extract from a poem'.
In 1829 Pushkin fell in love with 16-year-old Natalya Nikolayevna Goncharova, whom he married two years later. Her family was as impoverished as Pushkin's, but she become a beauty of the Imperial court. The marriage was unhappy and Pushkin had little peace for intense creative activity. His wife was invited to every ball at the palace, and her frivolous social life led Pushkin into debt and eventually to his early death. The gossip of an affair between Baron Georges d'Anthès and his wife started to spread. An anonymous note informed Pushkin that he had been elected to "The Serene Order of Cuckolds". Although d'Anthès married Natalya's sister, the scandal was not quite over. Pushkin defended in a duel his wife's honor with her brother-in-law. D'Anthès fired first his pistol. Fatally wounded, Pushkin fired also his shot and his opponent got a slight wound. Pushkin died on February 10 (New Style), 1837. The Czar buried him in the monastery near Mikhailovskoye, in secret for fear of popular risings at the funeral. He also paid all the remaining debts of the poet. Natalya received a pension.. D'Anthès was expelled from Russia. He died in 1895.
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, but he did not develop a systematic philosophical view – it has been said that Pushkin lacked "central vision". He saw that overwhelming use of French by the upper classes delayed the progress of Russian literature. In this matter Pushkin was not speaking without his own experience – his first language was French, he read French writers well on into adolescence, and his characters, such as Onegin, spoke French. The responsibility of the Decembrist Rebellion Pushkin shifted onto foreign influences. He was fascinated by democratic republicanism but perceived the tendency to idealize the natural state of life, as exemplified both in the work of James Fenimore Cooper and in political discussion in the United States, as was shown in his essay "Dzhon Tenner" (1836, John Tanner).
his 1924 poem
'Iubileinoe,' written for the 125th anniversary of the birth of
Pushkin, Vladimir Maiakovsky imagined himself working together with the
poet on propaganda posters. He
wanted to blow up his monument in Moskow with dynamite. Daniil
Kharms parodied the Pushkin myth in Anecdotes from the Life of Pushkin
(1937), but in general, in the Stalinist Soviet Union, he was
comradized and his legacy served as a tool for nationalist discourse.
Andrei Platonov wrote in Literaturnyi kritik
in 1937, "In Pushkin the nation found inspiration and learned the true
value of a life comprised not just ideal things, but also of ordinary
ones, a life lived not just in the future, but also in the
present." If measured by the number of copies of his books printed
between 1918 and 1954, Pushkin was the most popular poet of the period.
('Pushkin in Soviet and post-Soviet Culture' by Evgeny Dobrenko, in The Cambridge Companion to Pushkin, edited by Andrew Kahn, 2006, p. 2009-213)
For further reading: Puskin by D.S. Mirsky (1926); Pushkin by Ernest Simmons (1964); Pushkin by David Magarshack (1967); Alexander Pushkin by Walter Vickery (1970); Russiam Views of Pushkin, ed. by D. Richards (1976); Alexandr Pushkin: A Critical Study by A.D.P. Briggs (1983); Pushkin's Prose by Abram Lezhnev (1983); Alexander Pushkin, ed. by Harold Bloom (1987); Russian Views of Pushkin's 'Eugene Onegin', ed. by Sona Stephanie Sandler (1989); Eugene Onegin by A.D.P. Briggs (1992); Pushkin by Robin Edmonds (1994); Pushkin by Iurii Lotman (1995); Pushkin's Poems by J.Thomas Shaw (1996); Social Functions of Literature: Alexander Pushkin and Russian Culture by Paul Debreczeny (1997); Pushkin and the Genres of Madness: The Masterpieces of 1833 by Gary Rosenshield (2003); The Cambridge Companion to Pushkin, edited by Andrew Kahn (2006); Pushkin's Lyric Intelligence by Andrew Kahn (2008); A Commentary to Pushkin's Lyric Poetry, 1826-1836 by Michael Wachtel (2012); Taboo Pushkin: Topics, Texts, Interpretations, edited by Alyssa Dinega Gillespie (2012); Challenging the Bard: Dostoevsky and Pushkin, a Study of Literary Relationship by Gary Rosenshield (2013) - See also: Nikolay Gogol, Prosper Merimée. Note: The Complete text in Russian of Secret Journal 1836-1837 (Tainiye zapiski) by A.S. Pushkin, translated into 16 languages and banned in Russia, as well as excerpts from other books: M.I.P. Company, The Publisher of Controversial Russian Literature. Pushkin's books in Moskow at Knizhnaia kompania Vosok-Zapad, ask for Galina Karochina, tel. 333-6546, fax 333-9013, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M.I.P Company, e-mail: email@example.com