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  • Russian literature refers to the literature of Russia and its émigrés and

  • to the Russian-language literature of several independent nations once a part

  • of what was historically Rus', Russia or the Soviet Union. Roots of Russian

  • literature can be traced to the Middle Ages, when epics and chronicles in Old

  • Russian were composed. By the Age of Enlightenment, literature had grown in

  • importance, and from the early 1830s, Russian literature underwent an

  • astounding golden age in poetry, prose and drama. Romanticism permitted a

  • flowering of poetic talent: Vasily Zhukovsky and later his protégé

  • Alexander Pushkin came to the fore. Prose was flourishing as well. The first

  • great Russian novelist was Nikolai Gogol. Then came Ivan Turgenev, who

  • mastered both short stories and novels. Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky soon

  • became internationally renowned. In the second half of the century Anton Chekhov

  • excelled in short stories and became a leading dramatist. The beginning of the

  • 20th century ranks as the Silver Age of Russian poetry. The poets most often

  • associated with the "Silver Age" are Konstantin Balmont, Valery Bryusov,

  • Alexander Blok, Anna Akhmatova, Nikolay Gumilyov, Osip Mandelstam, Sergei

  • Yesenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Marina Tsvetaeva and Boris Pasternak. This era

  • produced some first-rate novelists and short-story writers, such as Aleksandr

  • Kuprin, Nobel Prize winner Ivan Bunin, Leonid Andreyev, Fedor Sologub, Aleksey

  • Remizov, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Dmitry Merezhkovsky and Andrei Bely.

  • After the Revolution of 1917, Russian literature split into Soviet and white

  • émigré parts. While the Soviet Union assured universal literacy and a highly

  • developed book printing industry, it also enforced ideological censorship. In

  • the 1930s Socialist realism became the predominant trend in Russia. Its leading

  • figure was Maxim Gorky, who laid the foundations of this style. Nikolay

  • Ostrovsky's novel How the Steel Was Tempered has been among the most

  • successful works of Russian literature. Alexander Fadeyev achieved success in

  • Russia. Various émigré writers, such as poets Vladislav Khodasevich, Georgy

  • Ivanov and Vyacheslav Ivanov; novelists such as Mark Aldanov, Gaito Gazdanov and

  • Vladimir Nabokov; and short story Nobel Prize winning writer Ivan Bunin,

  • continued to write in exile. The Khrushchev Thaw brought some fresh wind

  • to literature and poetry became a mass cultural phenomenon. This "thaw" did not

  • last long; in the 1970s, some of the most prominent authors were banned from

  • publishing and prosecuted for their anti-Soviet sentiments.

  • The end of the 20th century was a difficult period for Russian literature,

  • with few distinct voices. Among the most discussed authors of this period were

  • Victor Pelevin, who gained popularity with short stories and novels, novelist

  • and playwright Vladimir Sorokin, and the poet Dmitry Prigov. In the 21st century,

  • a new generation of Russian authors appeared, differing greatly from the

  • postmodernist Russian prose of the late 20th century, which lead critics to

  • speak aboutnew realism”. Leading "new realists" include Ilja Stogoff, Zakhar

  • Prilepin, Alexander Karasyov, Arkadi Babchenko, Vladimir Lorchenkov,

  • Alexander Snegiryov and the political author Sergej Shargunov.

  • Russian authors significantly contributed almost to all known genres

  • of the literature. Russia had five Nobel Prize in literature laureates. As of

  • 2011, Russia was the fourth largest book producer in the world in terms of

  • published titles. A popular folk saying claims Russians are "the world's most

  • reading nation". Early history

  • Old Russian literature consists of several masterpieces written in the Old

  • Russian language. Main type of Old Russian historical literature were

  • chronicles, most of them were anonymous. Anonymous works also include The Tale of

  • Igor's Campaign and Praying of Daniel the Immured. Hagiographies formed a

  • popular genre of the Old Russian literature. Life of Alexander Nevsky

  • offers a well-known example. Other Russian literary monuments include

  • Zadonschina, Physiologist, Synopsis and A Journey Beyond the Three Seas. Bylinas

  • oral folk epicsfused Christian and pagan traditions. Medieval Russian

  • literature had an overwhelmingly religious character and used an adapted

  • form of the Church Slavonic language with many South Slavic elements. The

  • first work in colloquial Russian, the autobiography of the archpriest Avvakum,

  • emerged only in the mid-17th century. 18th century

  • After taking the throne at the end of the 17th century, Peter the Great's

  • influence on the Russian culture would extend far into the 18th century.

  • Peter's reign during the beginning of the 18th century initiated a series of

  • modernizing changes in Russian literature. The reforms he implemented

  • encouraged Russian artists and scientists to make innovations in their

  • crafts and fields with the intention of creating an economy and culture

  • comparable. Peter's example set a precedent for the remainder of the 18th

  • century as Russian writers began to form clear ideas about the proper use and

  • progression of the Russian language. Through their debates regarding

  • versification of the Russian language and tone of Russian literature, the

  • writers in the first half of the 18th century were able to lay foundation for

  • the more poignant, topical work of the late 18th century.

  • Satirist Antiokh Dmitrievich Kantemir, 1708–1744, was one of the earliest

  • Russian writers not only to praise the ideals of Peter I's reforms but the

  • ideals of the growing Enlightenment movement in Europe. Kantemir's works

  • regularly expressed his admiration for Peter, most notably in his epic

  • dedicated to the emperor entitled Petrida. More often, however, Kantemir

  • indirectly praised Peter's influence through his satiric criticism of

  • Russia's “superficiality and obscurantism,” which he saw as

  • manifestations of the backwardness Peter attempted to correct through his

  • reforms. Kantemir honored this tradition of reform not only through his support

  • for Peter, but by initiating a decade-long debate on the proper

  • syllabic versification using the Russian language.

  • Vasily Kirillovich Trediakovsky, a poet, playwright, essayist, translator and

  • contemporary to Antiokh Kantemir, also found himself deeply entrenched in

  • Enlightenment conventions in his work with the Russian Academy of Sciences and

  • his groundbreaking translations of French and classical works to the

  • Russian language. A turning point in the course of Russian literature, his

  • translation of Paul Tallemant's work Voyage to the Isle of Love, was the

  • first to use the Russian vernacular as opposed the formal and outdated

  • Church-Slavonic. This introduction set a precedent for secular works to be

  • composed in the vernacular, while sacred texts would remain in Church-Slavonic.

  • However, his work was often incredibly theoretical and scholarly, focused on

  • promoting the versification of the language with which he spoke.

  • While Trediakovsky's approach to writing is often described as highly erudite,

  • the young writer and scholarly rival to Trediakovsky, Alexander Petrovich

  • Sumarokov, 1717–1777, was dedicated to the styles of French classicism.

  • Sumarokov's interest in the form of French literature mirrored his devotion

  • to the westernizing spirit of Peter the Great's age. Although he often disagreed

  • with Trediakovsky, Sumarokov also advocated the use of simple, natural

  • language in order to diversify the audience and make more efficient use of

  • the Russian language. Like his colleagues and counterparts, Sumarokov

  • extolled the legacy of Peter I, writing in his manifesto Epistle on Poetry, “The

  • great Peter hurls his thunder from the Baltic shores, the Russian sword

  • glitters in all corners of the universe”. Peter the Great's policies of

  • westernization and displays of military prowess naturally attracted Sumarokov

  • and his contemporaries. Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov, in

  • particular, expressed his gratitude for and dedication to Peter's legacy in his

  • unfinished Peter the Great, Lomonosov's works often focused on themes of the

  • awe-inspiring, grandeur nature, and was therefore drawn to Peter because of the

  • magnitude of his military, architectural and cultural feats. In contrast to

  • Sumarokov's devotion to simplicity, Lomonosov favored a belief in a

  • hierarchy of literary styles divided into high, middle and low. This style

  • facilitated Lomonosov's grandiose, high minded writing and use of both

  • vernacular and Church-Slavonic. The influence of Peter I and debates

  • over the function and form of literature as it related to the Russian language in

  • the first half of the 18th century set a stylistic precedent for the writers

  • during the reign of Catherine the Great in the second half of the century.

  • However, the themes and scopes of the works these writers produced were often

  • more poignant, political and controversial. Alexander Nikolayevich

  • Radishchev, for example, shocked the Russian public with his depictions of

  • the socio-economic condition of the serfs. Empress Catherine II condemned

  • this portrayal, forcing Radishchev into exile in Siberia.

  • Others, however, picked topics less offensive to the autocrat. Nikolay

  • Karamzin, 1766–1826, for example, is known for his advocacy of Russian

  • writers adopting traits in the poetry and prose like a heightened sense of

  • emotion and physical vanity, considered to be feminine at the time as well as

  • supporting the cause of female Russian writers. Karamzin's call for male

  • writers to write with femininity was not in accordance with the Enlightenment

  • ideals of reason and theory, considered masculine attributes. His works were

  • thus not universally well received; however, they did reflect in some areas

  • of society a growing respect for, or at least ambivalence toward, a female ruler

  • in Catherine the Great. This concept heralded an era of regarding female

  • characteristics in writing as an abstract concept linked with attributes

  • of frivolity, vanity and pathos. Some writers, on the other hand, were

  • more direct in their praise for Catherine II. Gavrila Romanovich

  • Derzhavin, famous for his odes, often dedicated his poems to Empress Catherine

  • II. In contrast to most of his contemporaries, Derzhavin was highly

  • devoted to his state; he served in the military, before rising to various roles

  • in Catherine II's government, including secretary to the Empress and Minister of

  • Justice. Unlike those who took after the grand style of Mikhail Lomonosov and

  • Alexander Sumarokov, Derzhavin was concerned with the minute details of his

  • subjects. Denis Fonvizin, an author primarily of

  • comedy, approached the subject of the Russian nobility with an angle of

  • critique. Fonvizin felt the nobility should be held to the standards they

  • were under the reign of Peter the Great, during which the quality of devotion to

  • the state was rewarded. His works criticized the current system for

  • rewarding the nobility without holding them responsible for the duties they

  • once performed. Using satire and comedy, Fonvizin supported a system of nobility

  • in which the elite were rewarded based upon personal merit rather than the

  • hierarchal favoritism that was rampant during Catherine the Great's reign.

  • Golden Age The 19th century is traditionally

  • referred to as the "Golden Era" of Russian literature. Romanticism

  • permitted a flowering of especially poetic talent: the names of Vasily

  • Zhukovsky and later that of his protégé Alexander Pushkin came 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, Yevgeny Baratynsky, Konstantin

  • Batyushkov, Nikolay Nekrasov, Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Fyodor Tyutchev

  • and Afanasy Fet followed in Pushkin's steps.

  • Prose was flourishing as well. The first great Russian novelist was Nikolai

  • Gogol. Then came Nikolai Leskov, Ivan Turgenev, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin,

  • all mastering both short stories and novels, and novelist Ivan Goncharov. Leo

  • Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky soon became internationally renowned to the

  • point that many scholars such as F. R. Leavis have described one or the other

  • as the greatest novelist ever. In the second half of the century Anton Chekhov

  • excelled in writing short stories and became perhaps the leading dramatist

  • internationally of his period. Other important 19th-century

  • developments included the fabulist Ivan Krylov; non-fiction writers such as

  • Vissarion Belinsky and Alexander Herzen; playwrights such as Aleksandr

  • Griboyedov, Aleksandr Ostrovsky and the satirist Kozma Prutkov.

  • Nineteenth-century Russian literature perpetuated disparate ideas of suicide;

  • it became another facet of culture and society in which men and women were

  • regarded and treated differently. A woman could not commit the noble, heroic

  • suicide that a man could; she would not be regarded highly or as a martyr, but

  • as a simple human who, overcome with feelings of love gone unfulfilled and

  • having no one to protect her from being victimized by society, surrendered

  • herself. Many of the 19th-century Russian heroines were victims of suicide

  • as well as victims of the lifestyle of St. Petersburg, which was long argued to

  • have imported the very idea of and justifications for suicide into Russia.

  • St. Petersburg, which was built as a Western rather than a Russian city was

  • long accused by supporters of traditional Russian lifestyles as

  • importing Western ideasthe ideas of achieving nobility, committing suicide

  • and, the synthesis of these two ideas, the nobility of suicide being among

  • them. Novels set in Moscow in particular, such

  • as Anna Karenina and Bednaia Liza, follow a trend of female suicides which

  • suggest a weakness in character which exists only because they are women; they

  • are said by readers to be driven by their emotions into situations from

  • which suicide seems to be the only escape. These instances of self-murder

  • have no deeper meaning than that and, in the case of Bednaia Liza, the setting of

  • Moscow serves only to provide a familiarity which will draw the reader

  • to it, and away from Western novels. Contrastingly, many novels set in St.

  • Petersburg viewed suicide primarily through the lens of a male protagonist

  • as opposed to the females who held the spotlight in the aforementioned titles.

  • Beyond that, instead of the few females who commit suicide in these Petersburg

  • texts being propelled to such lengths by a love so powerful and inescapable that

  • it consumed them, financial hardships and moral degradation which they faced

  • in the Imperial Capital contaminated or destroyed their femininity; related to

  • this, prostitution became markedly more prominent in popular literature in the

  • 19th century. Another new aspect of literary suicides

  • introduced in the Petersburg texts is that authors have shifted their gazes

  • from individuals and their plot-driving actions to presentations of broad

  • political ideologies, which are common to Greek and Roman heroesthis step was

  • taken in order to establish a connection between Russian male protagonists who

  • take their own lives and Classic tragic heroes, whereas the women of the

  • literature remained as microcosms for the stereotyped idea of the female

  • condition. The idea of suicide as a mode of protecting one’s right to

  • self-sovereignty was seen as legitimate within the sphere of St. Petersburg, a

  • secular andGodless…” capital. Unlike Classic tragic heroes, the deaths of

  • male protagonists, such as in Nikolai Gogol’s Nevskii Prospekt and Dmitry

  • Grigorovich’s Svistulkin, did not bring about great celebrations in their honor,

  • or even faint remembrances amongst their comrades. In fact, both protagonists die

  • lonely deaths, suffering quietly and alone in their final hours. Until the

  • Russian revolution in 1917, such themes remained prominent in literature.

  • Silver Age The beginning of the 20th century ranks

  • as the Silver Age of Russian poetry. Well-known poets of the period include:

  • Alexander Blok, Sergei Yesenin, Valery Bryusov, Konstantin Balmont, Mikhail

  • Kuzmin, Igor Severyanin, Sasha Chorny, Nikolay Gumilyov, Maximilian Voloshin,

  • Innokenty Annensky, Zinaida Gippius. The poets most often associated with the

  • "Silver Age" are Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam and Boris

  • Pasternak. While the Silver Age is considered to be

  • the development of the 19th-century Russian literature tradition, some

  • avant-garde poets tried to overturn it: Velimir Khlebnikov, David Burliuk,

  • Aleksei Kruchenykh and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

  • Though the Silver Age is famous mostly for its poetry, it produced some

  • first-rate novelists and short-story writers, such as Aleksandr Kuprin, Nobel

  • Prize winner Ivan Bunin, Leonid Andreyev, Fedor Sologub, Aleksey

  • Remizov, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Dmitry Merezhkovsky and Andrei Bely, though

  • most of them wrote poetry as well as prose.