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Alexander Pushkin is one of the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. For many his was both Russia's Byron and Russia's Shakespeare.
A Russian poet, playwright, and novelist, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) is mostly known as the Father of Russian Literature because of its great romantic literary works. He is credited with introducing Russia to all of the European literary genres. He wrote short stories, dramas, poetry, critical essays, and personal letters - all with a romantic touch inspiring and warming up the heart of many Russians and beyond both adults and young.
He was also a journalist responsible for the birth of the Russian magazine culture by devising and contributing to the Contemporary, a magazine he founded in 1836. His life was romantic and adventurous as his poems - he went through a series of ill-fated love affairs, clashes with authority, and a number of duels including his final, fatal encounter with the French cavalry officer George d'Anthès where his lost his life.
Today Pushkin occupies a unique place in Russian literature. Many they don't see him only as their greatest poet but also as the symbol of Russian culture. His life, as well as his work, has acquired mythic status over the years.
Below is a brief look into the life of Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian poet.
Born in Moscow in 1799 during the month of May to a noble family, he attended the Imperial Lyceum, an educational institution founded by Peter the Great, and was a member of the first graduating class. His first poem was written at the Imperial Lyceum and was published when he was only 15.
Like many aristocratic families in early 19th-century Russia, Pushkin’s parents adopted French culture, and he and his brother and sister learned to speak French. Most of the time they were all left much to the care of their maternal grandmother.
It is interesting to note that Pushkin’s great-grandfather, Abram Gannibal, was a black African page raised by Peter the Great who was able to achieve the third most senior army rank as a result of Peter’s Table of Ranks policy, which allowed commoners to achieve noble status through merit and service. Gannibal was educated as a military engineer and put in charge of building Russian sea forts and canals.
In 1817 Pushkin moved to St Petersburg and he accepted a post in the foreign office at St. Petersburg, where he was elected to Arzamás, an exclusive literary circle founded by his uncle’s friends.
He married his wife Natalya Nikolayevna Goncharova in 1831 after courting her for years and settled in St. Petersburg for good. She had refused to marry him until she could be sure that the tsarist government no longer had any intention of persecuting the libertarian poet.
He had been exiled several times during his youth. Some of his early political poems were found in the papers of the insurgents responsible for the Decembrist Uprising. So, he was always on the government’s watch list. After returning from exile Pushkin was put under secret observation by the police and was openly supervised by its chief.
Even though he enjoyed some success, by 1837 Alexander Pushkin had fallen deep into debt. Natalya was a noblewoman, accustomed to fine things. Attending the grand royal balls was not inexpensive. He also had to cover the costs of publishing the Contemporary. So to get by he took up government service and was commissioned to write a history of Peter the Great.
Three years later he received the rank of Kammerjunker (gentleman of the emperor’s bedchamber). The social life at court, which he was now obliged to lead and which his wife enjoyed, was ill-suited to creative work, but he stubbornly continued to write.
One of Pushkin’s famous plays is Boris Godunov, although he was unable to publish it when it was written. By that time, in 1825, Alexander Pushkin was being watched closely by the Tsar’s political police because many of his earlier writings were political commentaries. A number of his other works were censored. Boris Godunov was not staged in the original uncensored version until 2007.
Of his many pieces, his personal favorite was Eugene Onegin, although the novel in verse was considered complex and difficult to translate into English. The complexity was not a problem for Tchaikovsky. His opera of the same name was written in 1879 and is quite famous.
The poetry of Alexander Pushkin inspired many operas including two others by Tchaikovsky: Queen of Spades and Mazeppa. Many ballets, cantatas, songs, and French poems were Pushkin-inspired, as well.
The Bronze Horsemen, a poem about Saint Petersburg’s statue of Peter the Great on horseback, is considered a masterpiece, as is the Stone Guest, a tale about the fall of Don Juan. Captive of Caucasus and another of his romantic poems brought him wide acclaim during his life.
In the last years, Pushkin's domestic affairs and official duties, including his life and financial situation were becoming very intolerable. In court circles, he was regarded with mounting suspicion and resentment, and his repeated petitions to be allowed to resign his post, retire to the country, and devote himself entirely to literature were all rejected.
As if his worries about his life, in general, were not enough, he became also aware of a rumor that his wife was having an affair with the French cavalry officer George d'Anthès. He was always ready to defend his honor and already fought in over 28 duels, but the 29th would be his last.
He challenged his wife’s alleged lover to a duel. Both men were injured. Unfortunately, he was mortally wounded and died two days later in 1837. The government feared there would be a political demonstration at his funeral, so attendees were restricted to close relatives and family. His body was quietly whisked away to his mother’s estate, far from the city of St Petersburg.
You should know that the literary works of Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) has contributed to the development and modernization of the Russian Language. His works are regarded both as expressing most completely Russian national consciousness and as transcending national barriers. His death at such a young age, 38 years old, is still considered tragic and a great loss to the world of literature.
If you plan a trip to St Petersburg we highly recommend visiting his memorial apartment in St. Petersburg (The Pushkin apartment, the last home of Alexander Pushkin - today a monument to Pushkin's literary contribution). The imperial city also boasts several stunning monuments to Pushkin, which you will see when walking around if you come.