- Russian literature
"This article is about literature from Russia. For the song by
Maxïmo Park, see Our Earthly Pleasures."
Russian literature refers to the literature of
Russiaor its émigrés, and to the Russian-language literature of several independent nations once a part of what was historically Russia or the Soviet Union. Prior to the nineteenth century Russia produced very little, if any, internationally read literature, but from around the 1830s Russian literature underwent an astounding golden age, beginning with the poet Aleksandr Pushkinand culminating in two of the greatest novelists in world literature, Leo Tolstoyand Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the playwright Anton Chekhov. In the twentieth century leading figures of Russian literature included internationally recognised poets such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatovaand Joseph Brodsky, and prose writers Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Sholokhov, Mikhail Bulgakovand Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Old Russian literature consists of several masterpieces written in the
Old Russian language(not to be confused with the contemporaneous Church Slavonic). Anonymous works of this nature include " The Tale of Igor's Campaign" (Слово о Полку Игореве, Slovo o Polku Igoreve) and the " Praying of Daniel the Immured" (Моление Даниила Заточника, or Moleniye Daniila Zatochnika). The so-called "жития святых" (zhitiya svyatikh, lives of the saints) formed a popular genreof the Old Russian literature. The " Life of Alexander Nevsky" (Житие Александра Невского, or Zhitiye Aleksandra Nevskovo) offers a well-known example. Other Russian literary monuments include " Zadonschina", "Physiologist", "Synopsis" and " A Journey Beyond the Three Seas". Bylinas – oral folk epics – fused Christian and pagan traditions. Medieval Russian literature had an overwhelmingly religious character and used an adapted form of the Church Slavoniclanguage with many South Slavic elements. The first work in colloquial Russian, the autobiography of arch priest Avvakum, emerged only in the mid-17th century.
The "Westernization" of
Russia, commonly associated with Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, coincided with a reform of the Russian alphabet and increased tolerance of the idea of employing the popular language for general literary purposes. Authors like Antioch Kantemir, Vasily Trediakovsky, and Mikhail Lomonosovin the earlier 18th century paved the way for poets like Derzhavin, playwrights like Sumarokov and Fonvizin, and prose writers like Radishchev and Karamzin, the later is often credited with creation of modern Russian literary language.
The 19th century is traditionally referred to as the "Golden Era" of Russian literature.
Romanticismpermitted a flowering of especially poetic talent: the names of Zhukovsky and later that of his protegé Aleksandr Pushkincame to the fore. Pushkin is credited with both crystallizing the literary Russian language and introducing a new level of artistry to Russian literature. His best-known work is a novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. An entire new generation of poets including Mikhail Lermontov, Evgeny Baratynsky, Konstantin Batyushkov, Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov, Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Fyodor Tyutchev, and Afanasij Fetfollowed in Pushkin's steps.
Prose was flourishing as well. The first great Russian novelist was
Nikolai Gogol. Then came Leskov, Ivan Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin and Goncharov. Leo Tolstoyand Fyodor Dostoevskywho soon became internationally renowned to the point that many scholars have described one or the other as the greatest novelist ever. In the second half of the century Anton Chekhovexcelled in writing short stories and became perhaps the leading dramatist internationally of his period.
Other important nineteenth-century developments included
Ivan Krylovthe fabulist; non-fiction writers such as Belinskyand Herzen; playwrights such as Griboedov and Ostrovsky and Kozma Prutkov(a collective pen name) the satirist.
The beginning of the 20th century ranks as the Silver Age of Russian poetry. Well-known poets of the period include:
Alexander Blok, Sergei Esenin, Valery Bryusov, Konstantin Bal'mont, Mikhail Kuzmin, Igor Severyanin, Sasha Cherny, Nikolay Gumilyov, Maximilian Voloshin, Innokenty Annensky, Zinaida Gippius. The poets most often associated with the "Silver Age" are Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstamand Boris Pasternak. These latter two women and two men are sometimes jokingly called "The ABBAof Russian poetry".
While the Silver Age is considered as the development of the 19th century Russian literature tradition, some avant-garde poets tried to overturn it:
Velimir Khlebnikov, David Burlyukand Vladimir Mayakovsky.
Though the Silver Age is famous mostly for its poetry, it gave some first-rate novelists and short-story writers, such as
Alexander Kuprin, Nobel Prize winner Ivan Bunin, Leonid Andreyev, Fedor Sologub, Aleksey Remizov, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Dmitry Merezhkovskyand Andrei Bely, though most of them wrote poetry as well as prose.
The first years of the Soviet regime were marked by the proliferation of avant-garde literature groups. One of the most important was the
Oberiumovement that included Nikolay Zabolotsky, Alexander Vvedensky, Konstantin Vaginovand the most famous Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. Other famous authors experimenting with language were Andrei Platonov, Mikhail Zoschenko, Yuri Oleshaand Isaac Babel.
Sovietization of the country brought Sovietization of the literature. Socialist realismbecame the only officially approved style. Novelists Maxim Gorky, Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov, and Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi; and poets Konstantin Simonovand Aleksandr Tvardovskywere the most prominent representatives of the official Soviet literature. Only a few, such as Ilf and Petrov, with their picaresque novels about a charismatic con artist Ostap Bender, could publish without strictly following the Socialist realism guidelines.
Many writers wished to resist official ideology.
Mikhail Bulgakov, author of The Master and Margarita, and Boris Pasternakwith his novel Doctor Zhivagocontinued the classical tradition of Russian literature with little hope of being published. The Serapion Brothersinsisted on the right to write independently of political ideology: this brought them into conflict with the government.
Meanwhile, "émigré" writers, such as poets
Georgy Ivanov, Georgy Adamovand Vladislav Khodasevich; and novelists such as Ivan Bunin, Gaito Gazdanov, Mark Aldanovand Vladimir Nabokov, continued to flourish in exile.
In post-Stalin Russia, "Socialist realism" remained the only permitted style, and while some good authors such as
Yury Trifonovmanaged to make it through censorship barriers, most, like Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn(who built his works on the legacy of the gulagcamps), or Vasily Grossmancouldn't publish their major works in the USSR.
The authorities tried to control Russian literature even abroad: for example, they put pressure on the
Nobel Prizecommittee to deny Konstantin Paustovsky the Literature Prize in 1965. The prize was awarded instead to Mikhail Sholokhovwho was more loyal to the Soviet regime. Pasternak was forced to refuse his Nobel Prize in 1958.
Post-Communist Russia saw most of these works be published and become a part of mainstream culture. However, even before the decay of the Soviet Union, tolerance to non-mainstream art had slowly started to grow, especially during the
Khrushchev Thaw. Some works of Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamovwere published in the 1960s. The decade brought out new popular authors, such as Strugatsky brothers who disguised Social criticism as Science fiction. Poetry became a mass cultural phenomenon: Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrey Voznesensky, Robert Rozhdestvenskyand Bella Akhmadulinaread their poems in stadiums and attracted huge crowds.
But the thaw didn't last long. In the 1970s, some of the most prominent authors were not only banned from publishing, but were also prosecuted for their Anti-Soviet sentiments or
parasitism. Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the country. Leaders of the younger generation, such as Nobel prize winning poet Joseph Brodsky, novelists Vasily Aksenov, Eduard Limonovand Sasha Sokolov, short story writer Sergei Dovlatov, had to emigrate to the US, while Venedikt Erofeyev"emigrated" to alcoholism. They remained known in the Soviet Union with the help of samizdat. The only relatively independent prose that could be published during this period of time was the Village Prose, whose most prominent representatives were Viktor Astafiyevand Valentin Rasputin.
The end of the 20th century has proven a difficult period for Russian literature, with relatively few distinct voices. Among the most discussed authors of these period were novelists
Victor Pelevinand Vladimir Sorokin, and the poet Dmitry Alexandrovich Prigov.
A relatively new trend in Russian literature is that female novelists such as
Tatyana Tolstaya, Lyudmila Ulitskayaor Dina Rubinahave come into prominence.
Detective stories and thrillers have proven a very successful genre of new Russian literature: in the 90s serial detective novels by
Alexandra Marinina, Polina Dashkovaand Darya Dontsovawere published in millions of copies. In the next decade a more "high-brow" author Boris Akuninwith his series about the 19th century sleuth Erast Fandorinbecame widely popular.
Tradition of classic Russian novel continues with such author as
The leading poets of the young generation are arguably
Dmitry Vodennikovand Andrey Rodionov, both famous not only for their verses, but also for their ability to artistically recite them.
Russian literature abroad
Russian literature is not only written by Russians. In the Soviet times such popular writers as
Belarusian Vasil Bykov, Kyrgyz Chinghiz Aitmatovand Abkhaz Fazil Iskanderwrote some of their books in Russian. Some renowned contemporary authors writing in Russian have been born and live in Ukraine ( Andrey Kurkov, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko) or Baltic States( Garros and Evdokimov).
A number of prominent Russian authors such as novelists
Mikhail Shishkin, Ruben Gonsales Galiego, Svetlana Martynchikand Dina Rubina, poets Alexei Tsvetkovand Bakhyt Kenzheev, though born in USSR, live and work in Europe, North Americaor Israel.
Themes in Russian books
Suffering, often as a means of redemption, is a recurrent theme in Russian literature. Dostoevsky in particular is noted for exploring suffering in works such as "
Notes from Underground" and " Crime and Punishment". Christianity and Christian symbolism are also important themes, notably in the works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov. In the 20th century, suffering as a mechanism of evil was explored by authors such as Solzhenitsyn in " The Gulag Archipelago".
A leading Russian literary critic of the 20th century
Viktor Shklovsky, in his book, "Zoo, or Letters Not About Love", wrote, "Russian literature has a bad tradition. Russian literature is devoted to the description of unsuccessful love affairs."
List of Russian language poets
List of Russian writers
Russian science fiction and fantasy
* [http://www.sovlit.com Encyclopedia of Soviet Writers]
* [http://www.lib.ru/ Maxim Moshkov's E-library of Russian literature] (in Russian)
* [http://russianpoetsdatabase.blogspot.com Contemporary Russian Poets Database] (in English)
* [http://russianpoets.blogspot.com Contemporary Russian Poets in English translation]
* [http://www.russiacristiana.org/RussiaCristianaNE.htm La Nuova Europa: international cultural journal about Russia and East of Europe]
* [http://www.professorandy.com/RussianLiterature.shtml Information and Critique on Russian Literature]
* [http://russianclassics.blogspot.com Russian Classics Bulletin] by Erik Lindgren (Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky)
* [http://russia-ic.com/culture_art/literature/169/ History of Russian literature] Brief summary
* [http://www.bookle.ru/ Search Russian Books] (in Russian)
* [http://ruthenia.ru/tiutcheviana/search/en/drevnerus.html Philology in Runet. A special search through the sites devoted to the Old Russian literature.]
* [http://public-library.narod.ru/ Публичная электронная библиотека Е.Пескина]
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