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Short Selections in Russian Literature Academic Decathlon 2012-2013.

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1 Short Selections in Russian Literature Academic Decathlon 2012-2013

2  Russian literature flowered in the nineteenth century with the work of Alexander Pushkin, who is not as well known or appreciated in the West, but is certainly considered the equal of Shakespeare in Russia.  Pushkin, heavily influenced both by Shakespeare and Byron, initiated a shift in the national literature away from the classical forms of the eighteenth century and toward a Romanticism much like Byron’s, which was based upon the extraordinary individual or superfluous man, the adversary of the existing order. Literary Periods in Russian Literature

3  By the early 1840s, Russian Romanticism was being replaced by Realism, a movement which would find its culmination in the novels of Ivan Turgenev (1818–83), Leo Tolstoy (1828– 1910), and Fyodor Dostoevsky(1821–81), and reach its zenith between 1855 and 1880.  Initiated by an idea promoted by literary critic Nicolay Chernyshevsky that “the beautiful is life,” Realism in fiction moved away from an emphasis on individual emotion and toward a representation of occurrences as they appear in real life, or, even more accurately in the case of Tolstoy: “‘getting at what should be as well as what is.’” Move from Romanticism to Realism

4  Chekhov, coming nearer the end of the period of Russian Realism, produced a renewal of the realist tradition in his work.  Deeply reverent toward and influenced by Tolstoy, Chekhov, however, added the dimension of the scientist to the work of the writer, observing his characters almost clinically and arguing, “‘The writer must be objective like the chemist.’”  As both a physician and a writer, Chekhov served as one of Pasternak’s models for how such a combination of two apparently opposite worldviews—the scientist’s and the humanist’s— can come together in the character of Yurii Zhivago. Chekhov’s view of Realism

5  With the work of Alexander Blok, Symbolism reached a pinnacle of poetic achievement as it ushered Russian literature into the age of Modernism just before the onset of the Russian Revolution.  In the early years of the twentieth century, Realism in fiction began to yield to Symbolism, especially in poetic form.  Symbolism actually appeared in the 1890s, but by 1917, the short span of Symbolist art had come to an end as many Symbolist poets immigrated to Europe, fearing the loss of their artistic freedoms under the revolutionary government. From Realism to Modernism

6  Blok demonstrates the influence of European Symbolists like Charles Baudelaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Richard Wagner in his emphasis on the symbol as a system of correspondences which promises “ultimate wholeness in the transparent realm of the spirit.” Symbolist Blok

7  But Blok’s Symbolist work takes on a special feature based on the influence of Vladimir Soloviov, an earlier Symbolist poet, who critiqued rationalism, embraced the notion of an eternal feminine, and also added in an element of “pan- Mongolianism” as the vision of a wave of barbarians invading Russia from the East to destroy as well as renew a country imaged as an aging Rome. Blok

8  Blok, both chronologically and thematically, most closely influences Pasternak’s own conception of revolution and its impact on literature.  At first enthusiastic about the power of revolutions to bring about renewal, Blok turned ambivalent in his attitude toward upheaval in Russia as the poetry of his final years hows, and his work reflects that turn as it becomes less ethereal and idealized and more Futurist in its avant-gardism and its sense of “‘the old world crashing.’” Blok cont’d

9  Alexander Pushkin’s (1799–1837) all too brief life began on May 26, 1799 (Old Style Calendar), when he was born the son of aristocratic parents, Sergei Lvovich Pushkin and Nadezhda Osipovna Gannibal, whose lineage included famous names in Russian history.  Though connected to power until the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Pushkins lost those connections along with their influence and fortune when the Romanov dynasty came into power.  On Pushkin’s maternal side, his ancestry included a great- grandfather, Abram Gannibal, who was a black African slave in the court of Tsar Peter the Great.  Gannibal proved a loyal servant to the Tsar and was awarded estates and nobility.  Pushkin was always sensitive about what he called his “‘Negro ugliness’” while at the same time proud of the rise to power of his remarkable ancestor. Alexander Pushkin

10  Pushkin failed to find affection from either parent, but he was nurtured by his maternal grandmother, Maria Alekseevna, and his peasant nanny, Arina Rodionovna.  Pushkin’s first language, as it was for all aristocratic families in the Russia of the time, was French, but from his grandmother and nanny he learned Russian and spent happy summers on his grandmother’s estate near Moscow, where an old-fashioned Russian way of life prevailed.

11  My time under my father’s roof leaves little in the way of pleasant memories. Of course he loved me—but he showed no interest in me. I was entrusted to a series of French tutors, who were constantly being hired and fired. My first gouverneur was a desperate drunkard, the second, while not stupid or uneducated, could fly into such rages that he once tried to murder me for spilling a few drops of ink onto his waistcoat. The third, who was kept in our house for a whole year, was totally and obviously insane.  Pushkin’s ironic tone emerges here as he portrays a period in his life that could only have been painful Pushkin’s view of his childhood

12  Happier times followed, though, as Pushkin was sent to the Lycée, an exclusive boarding school for boys, from 1811 until 1817.  When he arrived, he was already extraordinarily well- read, for he had the run of his father’s extensive library, and he demonstrated an impressive command of French language and literature. Pushkin’s education

13  The school, recently founded by Tsar Alexander I, was located in Tsarskoe Selo and attached to the Tsar’s summer residence where students had access to the Tsar’s extensive library.  The school was considered the most progressive educational establishment with the most liberal faculty in Russia at the time.  While Pushkin’s reputation as a poet grew among his schoolmates and teachers, he was only a mediocre student, managing to graduate near the bottom of his class.  He wrote poetry constantly while there and, as he was exposed to English, was introduced to the philosophies of Locke and Hume and the poetry of Lord Byron. Pushkin develops as a poet

14  Upon graduation, Pushkin was assigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in St. Petersburg, where, with little to occupy his time in the way of real work, he led an indolent and dissipated life, gambling, attending the theater, and chasing pretty actresses and dancers.  In 1819, Pushkin reportedly visited a famed fortuneteller, Madame Kirchof, who had advised the Tsar during the War of 1812.  She prophesied that Pushkin would enjoy great fame, would endure two exiles, and, at the age of thirty-seven, should avoid conflict related to a white horse, a white head, or a white (blond) man.  Pushkin believed in her predictions, and, if, in fact, she did utter these predictions, they all came true. After graduation

15  Pushkin was also beginning to reveal a more serious side, advancing a politically liberal perspective and circulating radical poems in private.  These poems came to the attention of the Tsar, who threatened to  exile him.  In the end, though, the Tsar was persuaded to commute his sentence of exile to an administrative transfer to the south, where he could serve the general in charge of colonies recently acquired from Turkey.  Before leaving St. Petersburg, Pushkin completed his first major work of verse, Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820), an ironic poem patterned on a Russian folktale which became an immediate sensation. Pushkin moves to the left

16  In his travel to the south, Pushkin met General Raevskii, a hero of the campaign against Napoleon, and was allowed to join him and his family on a tour of the Caucasus and the Crimea.  Here, Pushkin found inspiration for The Prisoner of the Caucasus (1822) and a setting for his Byronic poem The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1824), his most popular work during his lifetime.  See page 62-63 for “The Fountain”

17  Back at his duty post in Kishinev under the benign supervision of General Inzov, Pushkin had the opportunity to view and sketch an ethnically diverse population; teased himself for being “African,” Pushkin showed great tolerance toward those who were ethnically and racially different.  Also while there, Pushkin also fought numerous duels—all ending without injury—and engaged in a string of affairs, most notably with a Greek woman, Calypso Polichroni, who mayalso have been one of Byron’s lovers.  More importantly, though, by 1823, Pushkin had begun work on his great novel in verse Evgenii Onegin, loosely modeled on Byron’s Don Juan. Life in Kishinev

18  In 1823, Pushkin was transferred to Odessa to serve under Count Vorontsov, the Governor-General of Southern Russia.  Vorontsov was both a hero of the Napoleonic Wars and a liberal who had freed his own serfs.  Pushkin’s lifestyle, though, despite the help and support of his supervisors, was flamboyant, and neither his meager salary nor his earnings from publications provided him with enough.  Pushkin earned three thousand rubles for The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, a great deal of money for the time, and managed to spend it all.  He also continued pursuing beautiful women, indulging in love affairs while in Odessa, and flaunting his disrespect for the authorities. Life in Odessa

19  For example, he made the mistake of writing to a friend that he espoused atheism—these were treasonous sentiments, for in offending the state religion, he had also offended the state.  When the letter came to the attention of the government, the Tsar removed Pushkin from Odessa and sent him into exile to his mother’s estate at Mikhaylovskoye in the north, about three hundred miles southwest of St. Petersburg.  hen he left for the family estate in August of 1824, Pushkin carried with him the beginning of his poem The Gypsies and most of the third chapter of Evgenii Onegin. Exiled Again

20  While at his mother’s estate, Pushkin was kept under police surveillance with his own father acting as his jailer.  It is possible that during this time he learned that he had fathered a daughter with Elise Vorontsova, the wife of Count Vorontsov, with whom he had begun an affair in Odessa.  Pushkin was bored in the country, but much happier when his family left in the winter.  His nanny provided companionship and folktales, which inspired Pushkin’s work, and he entertained himself by visiting neighbors.  From 1824 to 1825, Pushkin completed The Gypsies, a number of shorter lyrics, his Shakespearean historical drama Boris Godunov, and additional chapters of Evgenii Onegin.

21  In 1825, Tsar Alexander I died, and instead of being succeeded by his brother Constantine, who had secretly renounced the throne, another brother, Nicholas, was poised to take power.  During the vacuum of power, on December 14, 1825, secret radical societies mounted a rebellion in St. Petersburg known as the Decembrist Uprising, and forces loyal to Nicholas opened fire.  Pushkin knew many of the insurgents, and they knew his poetry; five rebel leaders were executed, and Pushkin feared he was at risk through his association.  As he tried to escape to St. Petersburg, a hare crossed Pushkin’s path, and in the presence of such an evil omen, Pushkin turned back.  Read Pushkin’s view of his life on p. 63 Decembrists Uprising

22  In September of 1826, Pushkin was summoned to Moscow by the new Tsar.  On the way there, Pushkin composed “The Prophet,” a lyric meditation on the role of the poet in the nation, in history, and in carrying out his divinely ordained mission: Upon the wastes, a lifeless clod, I lay, and heard the voice of God: “Arise, oh, prophet, watch and hearken, And with my Will thy soul engird, Roam the gray seas, the roads that darken, And burn men’s hearts with this, my Word.” Role of the poet

23  When he arrived in the Kremlin, Pushkin agreed not to contradict the regime, and the Tsar removed him from exile, but at the same time, the Tsar took on the role of acting as Pushkin’s personal censor.  Thus Pushkin, though apparently free, was in truth the Tsar’s hostage and had to report his every movement.  During the years between 1828 and 1830, Pushkin found himself constantly under the microscope and questioned about the politics of poems he had written much earlier.  He was relatively free to move around, though, and in his travels between Moscow and St. Petersburg, he had begun to think of settling down. Life under the new Tsar

24  In 1828, he met Natalia Goncharova, the woman he would marry.  By Easter 1830, he had finally struck an agreement with Natalia’s greedy mother, and his offer of marriage was accepted.  He finished Evgenii Onegin and began to write long narrative poems, drama, and prose in the interim before his wedding, during the first of his “Boldino autumns”— periods of enormous creative vitality and output.  Finally, after the proper period of mourning for the death of his uncle and after the threat of cholera had lifted from the area of Boldino, Pushkin was able to leave for Moscow, where, in February 1831, he and Natalia were married

25  Pushkin became increasingly interested in Russian history, and in 1833, he traveled to the Urals to collect evidence from eyewitnesses of the Pugachev Rebellion against Catherine the Great (1774), and he also began work on a history of Peter the Great.  As his poetic life advanced, his social life declined—his wife was beautiful and in demand at court.  To bring her close to him, the Tsar awarded Pushkin the status of page—a junior position that was insulting to the poet.  And because of the excessive spending habits of his wife, Pushkin was deeply in debt; Natalia, despite four pregnancies, managed to maintain her figure and beauty and remain at the center of court life. Pushkin develops interest in Russian history; wife is extravagant

26  In 1833, Evgenii Onegin was published, and Pushkin began to integrate his research on the Pugachev Rebellion into his novel The Captain’s Daughter (1835) and his nonfictional History of the Pugachev Rebellion (1834).  The novel owes much to the plot line of Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy and is representative of Pushkin’s finest prose work.  He received permission to travel to the provinces where the rebellion tookplace, hoping that publication of this new work would bring him badly needed funds.  On his way back, he stopped at his property in Boldino and stayed through the autumn, experiencing a second, powerful burst of creativity.

27  It was during this period that he produced “Autumn” and a number of other lyric and long narrative poems, including The Bronze Horseman and the prose tale The Queen of Spades.  On his return to St. Petersburg, where he and Natalia set up house to escape his grasping mother-in-law, Pushkin found his wife out at yet another ball.  Despite his editorship of a journal and the ongoing appearance of his work in print, Pushkin could not keep ahead of Natalia’s ability to overspend and was harassed by creditors for the next several years. Same song; second verse

28  By 1836, in addition to the favor of the Tsar, Natalia had begun to enjoy the serious attentions of a Frenchman, Georges d’Anthès.  Pushkin found himself publicly ridiculed as his wife continued to receive d’Anthès’s attentions even while pregnant.  Pushkin resolved to defend his honor and that of his wife by challenging d’Anthès to a duel, but the duel was put off as d’Anthès proclaimed his love for Natalia’s sister, Ekaterina.  D’Anthès married Ekaterina in 1837, but Pushkin refused to attend the ceremony or to entertain the newlyweds at his home. Trouble in paradise

29  As d’Anthès continued his pursuit of Natalia even after his marriage, Pushkin wrote an insulting letter to d’Anthès’s mentor Baron van Heeckeren, knowing that the inevitable outcome would be a duel with d’Anthès.  D’Anthès accepted the challenge, and the duel took place on January 27, 1837.  D’Anthès fired the first shot, hitting Pushkin in the abdomen, a fatal blow.  Pushkin managed to fire back, only slightly wounding d’Anthès. Pushkin lived for two days, dying on January 29, 1837.  Thousands mourned his death, and the government tried to maintain crowd control by moving the site of the funeral and sending the coffin with the poet’s body secretly, in the middle of the night, to the family estate at Mikhaylovskoye. Pushkin’s death

30  Pushkin was buried next to his mother at the Sviatye Gory Monastery.  Dead before his thirty-eighth birthday, Pushkin, the contemporary of other literary greats such as Byron, Goethe, and Dickens, survives in his work as Russia’s answer to Shakespeare and the father of modern literature in his land.  Read the epitaph on p. 65.  Read “Autumn” p. 65-66.  Using your resource guide, annotate your copy of “Autumn.” Pushkin’s impact on Russian Literature

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