Alexander Pushkin


Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (June 6 1799 – February 10 1837) was a Russian Romantic author who is considered to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature of all times. Pushkin pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays, creating a style of storytelling—mixing drama, romance, and satire—associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influencing later Russian writers.

Born in Moscow, Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fifteen, and was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time of his graduation from the Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo. Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals; in the early 1820s he clashed with the government, which sent him into exile in southern Russia. While under the strict surveillance of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will, he wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, but could not publish it until years later. His novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was published serially from 1825 to 1832.

Because of his liberal political views and influence on generations of Russian rebels, Pushkin was portrayed by Bolsheviks as an opponent to bourgeois literature and culture and a predecessor of Soviet literature and poetry. Tsarskoe Selo was renamed after him.

Pushkin's father Sergei Lvovich Pushkin descended from a distinguished family of the Russian nobility which traced its ancestry back to the 12th century. Pushkin's mother Nadezhda Ossipovna Gannibal descended through her paternal grandmother from German and Scandinavian nobility. Her paternal grandfather, i.e. Pushkin's great-grandfather, was Abram Petrovich Gannibal a page raised by Peter the Great, and who traces his origin to Africa. After education in France as a military engineer, Gannibal became governor of Reval and eventually General-en-Chef for the building of sea forts and canals in Russia.

Born in Moscow, Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fourteen. By the time he finished as part of the first graduating class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo near St. Petersburg, the Russian literary scene recognized his talent widely. After finishing school, Pushkin installed himself in the vibrant and raucous intellectual youth culture of the capital, St. Petersburg. In 1820 he published his first long poem, Ruslan and Lyudmila, amidst much controversy about its subject and style.

Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals. This angered the government, and led to his transfer from the capital (1820). He went to the Caucasus and to the Crimea, then to Kamenka and Kishinev, where he became a Freemason. Here Alexander joined the Filiki Eteria, a secret organization whose purpose was to overthrow the Ottoman rule over Greece and establish an independent Greek state. He was inspired by the Greek Revolution and when the war against the Ottoman Turks broke out he kept a diary with the events of the great national uprising. He stayed in Kishinev until 1823 and wrote there two Romantic poems which brought him wide acclaim, The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray.

In 1823 Pushkin moved to Odessa, where he again clashed with the government, which sent him into exile at his mother's rural estate in northern Russia from 1824 to 1826. However, some of the authorities allowed him to visit Tsar Nicholas I to petition for his release, which he obtained. But some of the insurgents in the Decembrist Uprising (1825) in St. Petersburg had kept some of Pushkin’s early political poems amongst their papers, and soon Pushkin found himself under the strict control of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will. He had written what became his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, while at his mother's estate but could not gain permission to publish it until five years later. The drama's original, uncensored version would not receive a premiere until 2007.

In 1831, highlighting the growth of Pushkin's talent and influence and the merging of two of Russia's greatest early writers, he met Nikolai Gogol. After reading Gogol's 1831-2 volume of short stories Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, Pushkin would support him critically and later in 1836 after starting his magazine, The Contemporary, would feature some of Gogol's most famous short stories. Later, Pushkin and his wife Natalya Goncharova, whom he married in 1831, became regulars of court society. When the Tsar gave Pushkin the lowest court title, the poet became enraged: He felt this occurred not only so that his wife, who had many admirers—including the Tsar himself—could properly attend court balls, but also to humiliate him. In 1837, falling into greater and greater debt amidst rumors that his wife had started conducting a scandalous affair, Pushkin challenged her alleged lover, Georges d'Anthès, to a duel which left both men injured, Pushkin mortally. He died two days later. The government feared a political demonstration at his funeral, which it moved to a smaller location and made open only to close relatives and friends. His body was spirited away secretly at midnight and buried on his mother's estate.

Pushkin had four children from his marriage to Natalya: Alexander, Gregory, Maria, and Natalia, who later married into the royal house of Nassau and become the Countess of Merenberg).

Critics consider many of Pushkin’s works masterpieces, such as the poem The Bronze Horseman and the drama The Stone Guest, a tale of the fall of Don Juan. His poetic short drama "Mozart and Salieri" was the inspiration for Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. Pushkin himself preferred his verse novel Eugene Onegin, which he wrote over the course of his life and which, starting a tradition of great Russian novels, follows a few central characters but varies widely in tone and focus. "Onegin" is a work of such complexity that, while only about a hundred pages long, translator Vladimir Nabokov needed two full volumes of material to fully render its meaning in English. Because of this difficulty in translation, Pushkin's verse remains largely unknown to English readers. Even so, Pushkin has profoundly influenced western writers like Henry James.

Pushkin's works also provided fertile ground for Russian composers. Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila is the earliest important Pushkin-inspired opera, and a landmark in the tradition of Russian music. Tchaikovsky's operas Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (1890) became perhaps better known outside of Russia than Pushkin's own works of the same name, while Mussorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov (two versions, 1868-9 and 1871-2) ranks as one of the very finest and most original of Russian operas. Other Russian operas based on Pushkin include Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and The Stone Guest; Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, Tale of Tsar Saltan, and The Golden Cockerel; Cui's Prisoner of the Caucasus, Feast in Time of Plague, and The Captain's Daughter; Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa; and Nápravník's Dubrovsky. This is not to mention ballets and cantatas, as well as innumerable songs set to Pushkin's verse.

Alexander Pushkin is usually credited with developing literary Russian language. Not only is he seen as having originated the highly nuanced level of language which characterizes Russian literature after him, but he is also credited with substantially augmenting the Russian lexicon. Where he found gaps in the Russian vocabulary, he devised calques. His rich vocabulary and highly sensitive style are the foundation for modern literary Russian. Alexander Pushkin played an absolutely unique role in the Russian literature. Russian literature virtually begins with Alexander Pushkin. His talent set up new records for development of the Russian language and culture. He became the father of Russian literature in 19th century, marking the highest achievements of 18th century and the beginning of literary process of 19th century. Alexander Pushkin introduced Russia to all the European literary genres as well as a great number of West European writers. He brought natural speech and foreign influences to create modern poetic Russian.

Though his life was brief, he left examples of nearly every literary genre of his day: lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, the short story, the drama, the critical essay, and even the personal letter. From him derive the folk tales and genre pieces of other authors: Esenin, Leskov and Gorky. His use of Russian language formed the basis of the style of novelists Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Goncharov, and Leo Tolstoy. Pushkin was recognized by Nikolay Vasilyevich Gogol, his successor and pupil, the great Russian critic Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky, who produced the fullest and deepest critical study of Pushkin's work, which still retains much of its relevance. Alexander Pushkin became an inseparable part of the literary world of the Russian people. He also exerted a profound influence on other aspects of Russian culture, most notably in opera. Translated into all the major languages, his works are regarded both as expressing most completely Russian national consciousness and as transcending national barriers. Pushkin’s intelligence, sharpness of his opinion, his devotion to poetry, realistic thinking and incredible historical and political intuition make him one of the greatest Russian national geniuses.

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