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Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov was born in the town of Nemirov, Yaroslavl province, North of Moscow. His father, Alexei Nekrasov, was a descendant from Russian landed Gentry, and an officer in the Imperial Russian Army. His mother was a Polish noblewoman named Alexandra Zakrevska, who was originally from Warsaw and belonged to Szlachta.
Young Nikolai A. Nekrasov grew up on his father's ancestral estate, Greshnevo, Yaroslavl province, near the Volga River. There he observed the hard labor of the Volga boatmen, Russian barge haulers. This image of social injustice, so similar to Dostoevsky's childhood recollections, was compounded by the behavior of Nekrasov's tyrannical father. The father's early retirement from the army, and his public job as a provincial inspector, caused him much frustration resulting in drunken rages against both his peasants and his wife. That experience had traumatized the young poet and influenced his writings later in his life.
Nikolai A. Nekrasov admired his mother. He later expressed his love and empathy to all women in his writings. Nekrasov's mother played the pivotal role in his development, her love and support helped the young poet to survive the traumatic experiences of his childhood. Nikolai attended the classic Gymnasium in Yaroslavl for five years, but showed little interest in formal studies. In 1838 his father, bent on a military career for his son, sent the 16-year-old Nekrasov to a military academy in St. Petersburg. There Nikolai switched to St. Petersburg University. As a part time student, he was also able to audit classes, which he attended from 1839 to 1841.
Nekrasov's father stopped supporting his son, because he quit the army in favor of his university studies, so Nekrasov lived in extreme conditions, briefly living in a homeless shelter. Shortly thereafter Nikolay authored his first collection of poetry, Dreams and Sounds, published under the name "N. N." Though his patron poet V. A. Zhukovsky expressed a favorable opinion of the beginner's work, it was promptly dismissed as Romantic doggerel by V. G. Belinsky, the most important Russian literary critic of the first half of 19th century, in. Nekrasov personally went to the booksellers and removed all the copies of his first collection.
Ironically, Nekrasov joined the staff of “Notes of the Fatherland” under his critic Belinsky, and became close friends with the critic. Soon Belinsky recognized Nekrasov's talent, and promoted him to a position as a junior editor. From 1843-46 Nikolay edited various anthologies for the magazine, one of which, "A Petersburg Collection," included Dostoevsky's first novel, Poor Folk. At the end of 1846, Nekrasov acquired a popular magazine The Contemporary (also known as "Sovremennik") from Pyotr Pletnev. Much of the staff of the old NoF, including Belinksy, abandoned Pyotr Krayevsky's magazine, and joined "Sovremennik" to work with Nekrasov. Before his death in 1848, Belinsky granted Nekrasov rights to publish various articles and other material originally planned for an almanac, to be called the Leviathan.
Together with Stanitsky, Nekrasov wrote and published two very long picaresque novels: Three Countries of the World and Dead Lake.
By the middle of the 1850's Nekrasov had become seriously ill. He left Russia for Italy to recover. It was around this time that Chernyshevsky and Nikolai Dobrolyubov, two of the most radical and unabashedly revolutionary writers of the time, had joined the staff and became the major critics for the magazine. Nekrasov was attacked by his old friends for allowing his journal to become a vehicle for Chernyshevsky's sloppy and often poorly written broadside attacks on polite Russian society. By 1860 Turgenev, the naysayer of nihilism, refused to have any more of his work published in the journal.
After the Contemporary closure in 1866, Nekrasov made peace with old enemy Kraevsky, and obtained from his ownership of Notes of the Fatherland. He achieved new success with the journal over the next ten years.
Nekrasov's earlier works from the 1850s, such as his first big poem “Sasha”, are dealing with the challenges of Russian life, describing intellectuals and their never-ending conflicts with reality. His works of the 1860s, such as folk poems and poems for children, are among his best written works, such as "Peasant children" and " The Red Nosed Grandfather Frost" (a Russian version of Santa Claus).
Some of his deeper and philosophical poems are written in the style of confession, such as "A Knight for an Hour" and “Vlas”.
Among the writer’s other important works are also his later poems: "Russian women" (1871-1872), and “Who lives happily in Russia?” (1873-1876). The eloquent poem, "Russian women", is devoted to a noble woman, Volkonskaya, who loves her husband so much, that she follows her heart no matter what; the final scene of their last date in Siberia is among the most touching and poetic scenes in Russian literature.
“Who lives happily in Russia?” tells the story of seven peasants who set out to ask various elements of the rural population if they are happy, to which the answer is never satisfactory. The rhyme of the poem resembles a traditional Russian folk song.
Nikolai Nekrasov suffered from a chronic lung condition, for which he had to spend months in the warmer climate, mainly in the Mediterranean coast of Italy.
In 1875 Nekrasov, never very healthy, was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. His friends paid for the surgery performed by the leading doctor of that time, Dr. Bilroth, who was invited from Vienna. However, the surgery did not cure the illness, but only prolonged his agony, and Nekrasov suffered for another two years. At that time he wrote his “Last Songs”, filled with the wisdom and sadness of the shriveled and now dying poet.
Nekrasov's funeral at Novodevichy Convent cemetery in St. Petersburg was attended by many. Dostoevsky gave the keynote eulogy, noting that Nekrasov was the greatest Russian poet since Pushkin and Lermontov. A section of the crowd, youthful followers of Chernyshevsky, who connected some verses of the deceased poet with the revolutionary cause, chanted "No, he was greater!"
The St. Petersburg home of Nikolai A. Nekrasov, as well as his office of "Sovremennik" magazine on Liteyny prospekt is now a National cultural landmark and a public museum of Russian literature.
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