Russian Personalities

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Alexander Pushkin – Sun of Russian literature

Orest Kiprenskiy 1827

Portrait of A. Pushkin. Orest Kiprenskiy, 1827

Alexander Pushkin is one of the most famous and greatest poets. He is the most important Russian writer of all time, like Shakespeare in England or Dante in Italy. Pushkin provided the standards for Russian arts and literature in the 19th century. Russian children have grown up with his learned cat, who walked round and round the oak-tree, singing songs as he circled right, and telling tales as he circled left. They were fond of his exiled Prince, who was turned into a bumble-bee so that he could fly to his father’s court and sting his wicked aunt on the nose. Later they experienced Onegin’s boredom, Tatiana’s unrequited love, Godunov’s uneasy conscience, Herman’s tension at the gaming table, Saliere’s jealousy of Mozart, and heard the dead steps of the Stone Guest and the thundering hooves of the Bronze Horseman.
His life was no less exciting than his works.

Pushkin was born on June 6, 1799 in Moscow into an upper-class family. His father came of an old boyar family. His mother was a granddaughter of Abram Hannibal, who, according to family tradition, was an Abyssinian princeling bought as a slave at Constantinople (Istanbul) and adopted by Peter the Great and became his comrade in arms. Pushkin immortalized him in an unfinished historical novel, The Negro of Peter the Great. Like many aristocratic families in early 19th century Russia, Pushkin’s parents adopted French culture. Alexander and his brother and sister learned to speak French. When Sasha was a small boy he spent a lot of time with his old nurse, Arina Rodionovna Yakovleva. She was a simple Russian woman, but she loved the boy, paid a lot of attention to him, she told him many tales.


Presumed author – Lyceum drawing teacher Sergey Chirikov, 1815

In 1811 Pushkin entered the newly founded Imperial Lyceum at Tsarskoye Selo and there began his literary career. Here he wrote a number of verses following the style of the Romantic poets.
While at the Lyceum Pushkin also began his first completed major work, the romantic poem Ruslan and Lyudmila with an old Russian setting and making use of Russian folklore. It brought Pushkin fame, and Zhukovsky presented his portrait to the poet with the inscription «To the victorious pupil from the defeated master».
In 1817 Pushkin accepted a post in the foreign office at St. Petersburg. In 1820 the foreign office transferred Pushkin to Ekaterinoslav, and later to Odessa for writing anti-tsarist poetry. He traveled in the Caucasus, the Crimea and gained the impressions for his «southern cycle» of romantic narrative poems: The Prisoner of the Caucasus, The Robber Brothers and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray.
In 1823 he started work on his central masterpiece, the novel in verse «Yevgeny Onegin» (1833), which became the linguistic and literary standard. Pushkin finished the first chapter of the famous novel in 1823. But it appeared only on the 15th of June in 1825. This novel was written during seven years, four months and seventeen days. He finished it in 1830. The whole novel was published only in March, 1833.
For his letters against the tsar, Pushkin was exiled to Mikhailovskoye. Although the two years at Mikhaylovskoye were unhappy for Pushkin, they were one of his most productive periods. Alone and isolated, he wrote The Gypsies, the poem Count Nulin, the historical tragedy Boris Godunov. In 1824, Tsar Nicholas I allowed Pushkin to return to Moscow.
Another extremely productive period is connected with Boldino, a family’s estate near Nizhny Novgorod. There he wrote the so-called «Little Tragedies» —The Covetous Knight, Mozart and Salieri, The Stone Guest, Feast in Time of the Plague and the famous short story The Queen of Spades.
Pushkin fell in love with Natalia Goncharova, who was 16 then, and in 1830 they got married. Soon marriage to one of the leading beauties of the society brought problems. His wife was suspected of an affair with Baron Georges D’Antes; this became the subject of gossip. Pushkin challenged D’Antes to a duel and was mortally wounded. He died on February 10, 1837.

Ustinov Natalie 1988

Natalia Goncharova. Ustinov, 1988

pushkin duel

D’Antes, Goncharova and Pushkin

Pushkin’s use of the Russian language is astonishing in its simplicity and profundity. His importance as a great national poet was recognized even during his lifetime. He also exerted a profound influence on other aspects of Russian culture, most notably in opera.
His works are translated into all the major languages. They are transcending national barriers expressing most completely Russian national consciousness.
Pushkin wrote poems, novels, stories many years ago, but they are popular nowadays and millions of people admire them. I think that it is difficult to find a flat without books by A. S. Pushkin.

Alexander Pushkin was not only Russia’s greatest poet, but he was also the great-grandson of an African slave. The slave, whose godfather was Peter the Great, claimed to have royal blood of his own. Certainly his Russian descendants believed that he was an African prince.
Pushkin told the story of his black ancestor in “The Negro of Peter the Great”.

Portraits of Pushkin by different artists