Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837)
Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin was Russia's greatest poet. His use of the vernacular as the language of poetry freed Russian writing from the constraints of tradition, and his preference for subjects from history and folklore brought fresh vitality to Russian literature.
Born in Moscow, Pushkin was descended from a family of cultured but impoverished aristocrats. He studied at the Lyceum in the town of Tsarskoye Selo, later renamed Pushkin, and after graduating (1817) was appointed to a post at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital city of St Petersburg. Here Pushkin indulged in the glittering social life available to a well-born Russian youth of his day -the life he would eventually satirize in Eugene Onegin (1823-31). Despite the somewhat frivolous nature of his social pursuits, Pushkin remained deeply committed to social reform and gained the reputation of spokesman for literary radicals. As a result he angered the government and was transferred from the capital, first to Kishinev (1820-23) and then to Odessa (1823-24).
Pushkin again clashed with his superiors in Odessa and was again exiled, this time to his mother's rural estate. In 1826 he was recalled to Moscow under the tsar's protection, but his relations with the government remained strained throughout his life. He married Natalia Goncharova, a society beauty, in 1831. His wife's social ambitions involved him in a reckless social life, put him deeply in debt, and eventually killed him. Early in 1837 he was forced to fight a duel to defend Natalia's reputation and was mortally wounded.
Pushkin's early writing is mainly in the 18th-century classical tradition of light, frivolous verse. Pushkin's deep regard for his compatriots and his distaste for the rigid class structure of his society are evident in most of his mature work. In Wasteland Sower of True Freedom, a political tract published in 1823, he deplores the cruelties of serfdom and warns prophetically that reform is necessary to avert revolution. Several of his major dramas recall great Russian heroes of the past, notably Boris Godunov (1831), Poltava (1828), and The Bronze Horseman (1837), which depicts the legendary Peter the Great. In later years Pushkin frequently wrote prose. Two of his most widely read works are the novel The Captain's Daughter (1834) and the short story The Queen of Spades (1834).
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