Thursday, December 12, 2019 | ePaper

Founder of modern Russian literature

Aleksandr Pushkin

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Vasily Tropinin :
leksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin (June 6, 1799 - February 10, 1837) was a Russian romantic writer whom most Russians consider their greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.
Before the seventeenth century, Russian literature consisted mainly of religious hagiographies and chronicles written in the language of the Russian Orthodox Church, Old Church Slavonic. For some poets and dramatists writing prior to Pushkin-notably the Russian scientist Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov (1711-1765) and Gavriil Derzhavin (1743-1816)-there was no commonly accepted literary language.
By synthesizing European literary traditions with Russian folklore, Pushkin created not only the basis for the modern Russian vernacular, but also a style of storytelling-mixing drama, romance, and (satire). This style greatly influenced later Russian writers and has been associated with Russian literature ever since.
Pushkin occupies a singular status among both Russian common people and intelligentsia. During Pushkin’s time and the later Soviet period, poetry was one of the only means of free expression, and Pushkin remained the preeminent writer for the Soviet establishment and dissidents alike.
It is said Pushkin lived an undisciplined, dissolute life. He heard scandalous rumors of his young wife’s infidelities and lost his life in a duel over his wife’s honor. Of first rank among Russia’s poets, the scope of his influence is comparable to other pivotal national literary figures, such as William Shakespeare and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Poetry
Pushkin was a master of many styles of poetry. Critics consider many of his works masterpieces, such as the epic poem The Bronze Horseman and the drama The Stone Guest, a tale of the fall of Don Juan. Pushkin himself preferred his novel in verse Eugene Onegin, which he wrote over the course of his life. Although the definitive text leaves out several strophes and more than one variant of the text exists, it is a singular achievement in world literature. The text consists of eight chapters composed in fourteen-line stanzas. There is a regular rhyme scheme, later dubbed the Onegin strophe. It is generally credited with starting a tradition of great Russian novels. While the form is very structured, the thematic material is not. Onegin is a typical Romantic Petersburg dandy in the Byron mode, bored and tired of life. His friend, Lensky is a poet. Lensky's girlfriend has a sister named Tatyana who is young and inexperienced. She develops a crush on Onegin, and writes him an ardent love letter. His rebuff only strengthens her ardor. To put her off he flirts with Tatyana’s sister, Lensky’s girlfriend. To save his honor, Lensky challenges his friend to a duel and is killed. Tatyana marries a general, where the narrative breaks, resuming a number of years later. Onegin sees Tatyana again at a Petersburg ball. She has blossomed into a sophisticated woman. Naturally, it is now Onegin's turn to be smitten with her and to write her a letter expressing his admiration. It is Tatyana’s turn to reject him. Although she clearly still holds a torch for him, she is not willing to throw away her life and happiness to appease a schoolgirl crush. The structure of the novel is quite simple, the second half mirroring the first. The real hero of the novel is not its plot or characters, but Pushkin's language and narrative style. It has elements of the novel of manners, bildungsroman and roman à clef, to name but a few. Parts of it are autobiographical and lays bare some of the vulgar aspects of the Russian aristocracy.
Prose
Although primarily revered as a poet, Pushkin’s prose is now seen as significant in the development of Russian literature. It had no great audience in his lifetime, but appreciation for it has grown. The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin consists of five short stories. Its narrative style is rich in parody. ‘The Shot’ tells the story of a would-be Byronic hero, Silvio, who fights a duel. After his adversary misses, Silvio passes on his own shot, only to return and claim his right years later. He grants the adversary another shot. When he misses again, he humiliates him a second time by passing on his shot again. The Tales is somewhat uneven, but his story ‘The Queen of Spades,’ published in 1834, was a great success and brilliant gothic tale. Its hero, Hermann, is obsessed by his friend Tomsky’s grandmother, an old countess who is supposed to have the secret of three winning cards from Count Saint Germain. Hermann gains access to the old woman through her companion, Liza. He hides in her room and threatens her with a pistol. She dies of fright, but then appears to him in a vision, giving him the secret. He stakes his entire fortune on the three cards, the trey, seven, and ace. They all win, but before he can collect his winnings he discovers to his horror that the card in his hand is not the ace, but the queen of spades, in whose face he sees the old countess. Hermann goes mad, repeating the cards to himself, “trey, seven, ace-trey, seven, queen.”
Works
The famous Pushkin Monument in Moscow, opened in 1880 by Turgenev and Dostoyevsky. Ruslan i Lyudmila Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820) (poem), Kavkazskiy Plennik The Captive of the Caucasus (1822) (poem), Bakhchisarayskiy Fontan The Fountain of Bahçesaray (1824) (poem), Tsygany Gypsies (1827), Poltava (1829), Little Tragedies (including Kamenny Gost' ‘The Stone Guest,’ Motsart i Salieri ‘Mozart and Salieri,’ ‘The Miserly Knight,’ and ‘A Feast During the Plague’ (1830), Boris Godunov (1825; publ. 1831; officially approved for perf. 1866) (drama), Povesti Pokoynogo Ivana Petrovicha Belkina Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin (1831) (prose), The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1831) (poem), The Tale of the Golden Rooster (1834), The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish (1835), Yevgeniy Onegin Eugene Onegin (1825-1832) (verse novel), Mednyy Vsadnik The Bronze Horseman (1833) (poem), Pikovaya Dama The Queen of Spades (1833), The History of Pugachev’s Rebellion (1834) (prose non-fiction), Kapitanskaya Dochka The Captain's Daughter (1836) (prose) a romanticized historical novel of ‘Pugachevshchina,’ the life and times of Pugachev. Kirdzhali Kircali (short story), Gavriiliada, Istoriya Sela Goryukhina The Story of the Village of Goryukhino (unfinished), Stseny iz Rytsarskikh Vremen Scenes from Chivalrous Times, Yegipetskiye Nochi Egyptian Nights (poem), KAP Kern To AP Kern (poem, one of the most beautiful love lyrics ever written in the Russian language), Bratya Razboyniki The Robber Brothers (play), Arap Petra Velikogo The Negro of Peter the Great (historical novel, unfinished, based on the life of his great-grandfather), Graf Nulin Count Nulin, Zimniy vecher Winter Evening.
References
n Feinstein, Elaine, ed After Pushkin: Versions of the Poems of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin by Contemporary Poets. Manchester, UK: Carcanet Prees; London: Folio Society, 1999. ISBN 1-857-54444-7
n Pushkin: a biography London: HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0-00-215084-0 (U.S. edition: New York: Knopf, 2003. ISBN 1-4000-4110-4)
n Vitale, Serena. Pushkin's Button. Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998. ISBN 0-374-23995-5
Source: www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry

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