Pushkin's Life and Work

Pushkin PortraitHis Life
His Writing
His Poetry
A Time-Line
A Bibliography 

 

ALEXANDER PUSHKIN (1799 - 1837)

"Pushkin was the first Russian writer who paid attention to folk art and brought it into literature ... he enhanced the folk song and tale with the brilliance of his talent, but left their original meaning and strength unchanged."

                                              Maxim Gorky

Pushkin is Russia's best-loved poet and writer. Although born of minor aristocracy, he wrote in Russian - the language of the ordinary people - at a time when French was considered the language of literature. He gave the Russian people a new pride in their language and culture.

"There is something so fresh and vigorous and positive about Pushkin's writing that it has always held a strong appeal for young people, and the fact that he himself died young, like so many other poets of that time (Burns, Byron, Keats, Shelley) seems to remove him for ever from the fate of becoming a 'sage' burdened with some baffling generation gap. 

From our point of view, Pushkin's work with its immense variety must encourage young writers not to be afraid to take up any subject that interests them. Pushkin was fascinated by ballads and folklore, and has written poems of tragic love, of gypsies, of ghosts and the supernatural. He loved storytelling, and whether the story is set in older times, or imaginary places or within contemporary life, he knew how to keep the story moving along and hold the reader's attention. He had a strong feeling for nature in all its aspects, but especially in scenes of winter, with snow-blizzards, sledging and skating. The sea too, often in its wilder moods, makes its appearance, as do many animals and birds. But equally town and city life is captured: theatres, restaurants, dancing, crowds, friends, parties, being excited and being bored. And the wider issues of Russian life; politics, prisoners, national language and identity all find their place. Everything is grist to his mill." 

Edwin Morgan 

 

His Life


Pushkin's life was brief. He died in extreme pain on 27 January 1837, from gunshot wounds sustained in a duel two days earlier. At the time, next to Tsar Nicholas I, he was the most famous man in Russia.

Alexander Pushkin was the child of a feckless Russian aristocrat and the descendant - on his mother's side - of an Abyssinian slave who became a favourite at the court of Peter the Great. Two Tsars - Alexander I then Nicholas I - were suspicious of his poetry which was found amongst the papers of Decembrist activists. Pushkin was reckless, high-spirited, had a ready wit, which often landed him in trouble and was a profligate who had affairs with many society women. He chose a beautiful, younger woman - Natalya Goncharova - to be his wife. He ended fighting a senseless, and ultimately fatal, duel to defend her honour and his pride.

Pushkin's interest in politics was so diverse that many political factions have made use of his writing to support their own theories. Some of Pushkin's closest friends were Decembrists and his love of traditional Russian folk tales made it easy for the Soviet Government to paint him as an early Revolutionary. Because of his writing and his behaviour, Pushkin spent a total of five years in exile from the St Petersburg court and the Tsars exercised censorship over nearly everything he wrote.

 

His Writing

Puskins DeskAlthough a prolific writer, Pushkin's work shows simplicity, versatility and clarity. His reputation is based primarily on his achievements as a poet, which range from the mock epic Ruslan and Ludmilla (1820) to The Bronze Horseman, an intense story of the St Petersburg floods of 1824 with political and philosophical overtones. The novel in verse Evgeny Onegin is a simple story of unrequited love but complemented by images of both contemporary urban and rural Russian life. Arguably his greatest work, Evgeny Onegin shows great understanding of human beings and of life's tragedies. This makes it instantly accessible and gives it universal appeal.

Biographer Elaine Feinstein encapsulates Pushkin's writing for the English language reader as possessing "- the facility of Byron, the sensuous richness of Keats and a bawdy wit reminiscent of Chaucer."

 

His Poetry

The following poems by Pushkin have been translated, exclusively for us, by Scottish writer Prof. Edwin Morgan. Click on the titles below to read the poems and to listen to them being read by Linda Cuthbert. Enjoy.

The Caucasus
Demons
Untitled
Winter Morning
The Upas Tree

 

A Time-Line

1798

Born 26 May in Moscow

1800–11

Grows up lacking his parent’s affection. Brought up by nursemaids, French tutors and governesses. Is lazy but an avid readers. Learns Russian from the household serfs, especially his nanny Anna Rodionovna

1811–17

Studies at the new lycée of Tsarskoye Selo, near St Petersburg

1812

Napoleon declares war on Russia, defeating the Russians and burning Moscow

1817–20

Undemanding government post in St Petersburg and leads a life involving much drinking, gambling and womanising. Has some links with revolutionaries and circulates some unpublished poems in manuscript.

1820

Writes Ruslan and Ludmila. Exiled to Yekaterinoslav; transferred to Kishinev

1821

Writes The Captive in the Caucasus, The Robber Brothers.

1822

Writes The Fountain of Bakhchisaray

1823

Begins writing Yevgeny Onegin. Transferred to Odessa

1824

Returns north to internal exile at Mikhaylovskoye. Writes The Gypsies

1825

Death of Alexander I; accession of Nicholas I

1825

Writes Count Nulin and Boris Gudunov. Freed from exile, but with Nicholas I as personal censor in Moscow

1828

Writes Poltava

1829

Visits Transcaucasia: action against the Turks

1830

Stranded at Boldino by cholera outbreak. Writes The Little House in Kolomna, Little Tragedies and Tales of Belkin

1831

Marries Natalya Goncharova. Completes Yevgeny Onegin

1833

Travels east to the Urals, engaged in historical research. Second ‘Boldino Autumn’. Writes Andzhelo, The Bronze Horseman and The Queen of Spades

1833–36

Writes The Captain’s Daughter. Unhappy period in St Petersburg. Humiliation in court circles, mounting debts, jealousy of wife’s admirers. Little creative work done.

1837

Goaded by scandalous rumours into a duel with George D’Anthés, adopted son of the Dutch Ambassador. 27 January: Pushkin wounded in the stomach in the duel with D’Anthés; dies two days later. (D’Anthés unhurt and goes on to marry Pushkin’s sister in law)

 

A Pushkin Bibliography

These can be obtained from any bookseller including those on-line.

BRIGGS, A D P ALEXANDER PUSHKIN: A CRITICAL STUDY.
Bristol Press 1991, £14.95.
ISBN: 0 85399 172 4

BRIGGS, A D P EUGENE ONEGIN. CUP
(Landmarks of World Literature) 1992, £7.95.
ISBN: 0 521 38472 9. A lively new guide

BRIGGS, A D P, ED ALEXANDER PUSHKIN: A CELEBRATION OF RUSSIA’S BEST-LOVED WRITER. .
Hazar Publishing 1999, £16.99.
ISBN: 0 874371 14 8

EDMONDS, ROBIN PUSHKIN: THE MAN AND HIS AGE.

Macmillan 1994, £20.00.
ISBN: 0 33359209 3

FIENSTEIN, ELAINE PUSHKIN.

Phoenix Giant 1999,
£11.99. ISBN: 0 75380 749 1

PUSHKIN, A S COLLECTED STORIES. TRANS. P. DEBRECZENY.
Everyman’s Library 1999, £10.99.
ISBN: 1 85715 251 4
(also in Everyman’s Library the captain’s daughter. Trans N Duddingston. 1992, £8.99.
ISBN: 85715 083 X. Good introduction.)

PUSHKIN, A S THE COMPLETE PROSE TALES OF ALEXANDER SERGEYEVITCH PUSHKIN.
Trans. by Gillon Aitken. Vintage 1993, £8.99. ISBN: 0 09 926491 9

PUSHKIN, A S COMPLETE WORKS.
3 Vols.
Hutchison 1999, each Vol £17.99.
ISBN: Vol I 0 09 1750937 7, Vol II 0 09 175039 3, Vol III 0 09 175 040 7

PUSHKIN, A S EUGENE ONEGIN AND OTHER POEMS.
Trans. Charles Johnston. New edn. Penguin Classics 1999, £6.99. ISBN: 085715 739 7.
Also new edn. Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets 1999, £1.99. ISBN: 085715 739 7.

PUSHKIN, A S SELECTED LYRIC VERSE.
Trans. A Wood. Angel Books 1999, £8.95

PUSHKIN A S SELECTED POEMS. ED. A BRIGGS.
Everyman’s Poetry Series 1997, £2.
ISBN: 0 460 87862 X

PUSHKIN A S SELECTED VERSE.

Trans John Fennell. Bristol Press 1991, £15.95.
ISBN: 1 85399 173 2

PUSHKIN, ALEXANDER. MOZART AND SALIERI: THE LITTLE TRAGEDIES.

Trans. A Wood. Angel Books 1987, £5.50. Four short dramas.

PUSHKIN, ALEXANDER. THE QUEEN OF SPADES AND OTHER STORIES.

Trans. Rosemary Edmonds.
Penguin Classics 1962, £6.99. ISBN: 0 14 144119 0

PUSHKIN, ALEXANDER TALES OF BELKIN.
Trans. G Aitken and D Budgen. Angel Classics 1983, £5.50. ISBN: 0 946162 05 0.

VITALE, SERENA PUSHKIN’S BUTTON: THE STORY OF THE DUEL WHICH KILLED PUSHKIN.
Trans A Goldstein and J Rothschild. ISBN: 1 85702 937 2

WOLFF, TATIANA. SELEC, ED AND TRANS BY. PUSHKIN ON LITERATURE..
Northwestern University Press 1998, £14.95. ISBN: 0 485 12135 2.
This is the only English language edition of Pushkin’s critical writing. With extracts from his letters, articles and working notes. ISBN: 0 810 11615 4

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