Afanasy Afanasievich Fet (December 5, 1820 — December 3, 1892), or Foeth, later changed his name to Shenshin, was a poet who dominated the Russian poetry during the last quarter of the 19th century.
Afanasy was the child of a German woman named Charlotta who was initially married to Johann Foet. She remarried a rich Russian landlord named Shenshin in 1822 after Afanasy's birth in 1820. It is unclear if Afanasy was the son of Foet or Shenshin, but the decision was made by the Holy Consistory in Orel that he would go by his German father's name because the marriage between his mother and his Russian father was not legitimized soon enough. This was quite traumatic for him as Afanasyi completely identified himself with Shenshin, but not Foet. The Russian writer spent his youth studying at the Moscow University, and serving in the army until the year of 1856. In 1850, a young woman named Maria Lazich who was in love with Foet but who could not marry him because of financial reasons perished, having accidentally set herself on fire. This event and the image of Maria would be frequently evoked by Fet even in his latest verses. The stigma of illegitimacy haunted him all through his life, and after years of litigation he obtained the right to use the prestigious name Shenshin (1876). Promotion in the army ranks helped him to secure the longed-for admission to Russian nobility as well, just in time when the serfdom was abolished.
Fet was despised and ridiculed by the radicals as a mean personality of reactionary political views, but this doesn't concern his poetry. He held the view that a poet's lifestyle has little bearing to his art, and that artist doesn't have to be sincere. While in the army, he made friends with another officer, Leo Tolstoy, whom he always admired. Later he settled at the Stepanovka manor in his home district of Mtsensk and visited his illustrious neighbor as often as possible. Among Tolstoy's friends, he was the only professional man of letters.
In his later years, Afanasyi also wrote literary reminiscences and translated the Aeneid and The World as Will and Representation. At an old age, when his suffering became unbearable, Fet attempted to follow Schopenhauer's advice and committed suicide but was stymied by his family. He died from a heart attack during another suicide attempt.
When Fet first published his poetry in 1842, he was timid enough not to trust his own artistic taste. He therefore submitted his verse to the examination of Ivan Turgenev, whom he respected as an arbiter of literary tastes. This tradition continued for many years, until Fet realized that Turgenev had expurgated from his verse the most personal and original elements of his artistic vision.
Subjects of Fet's poetry are far from being original: unhappy love, modest nature of Central Russia, perfection of Greek statuary, and majesty of God. But he treated them in an impressionistic manner, always trying to catch a moment of volatile change. He could write a poem consisting of nouns only and yet making an impression of restless dynamism.
His last pieces, arguably influenced by Baudelaire, are intricate and obscure: the images are meant to evoke (rather than to record) subtle associations of half-forgotten memories. He once said that the most important thing in poetry is a thread that would bind all the rambling associations into a tightly structured short poem.
Fet was never a popular poet during his lifetime. But he had a profound influence on the Russian Symbolists, especially Innokentyi Annenskyi and Alexander Blok, and as such is firmly established among all-time Russian greats.
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