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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 about “new 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 epics – fused 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 ideas—the 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 heroes—this 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 and “Godless…” capital. Unlike Classic tragic heroes, the deaths of
male protagonists, such as in Nikolai Gogol’s Nevskii Prospekt and Dmitry
Grigorovich’s Svistul’kin, 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.
20th century With the victory of Russia's Revolution,
Mayakovsky worked on interpreting the facts of the new reality. His works,
such as "Ode to the Revolution" and "Left March", brought innovations to
poetry. In "Left March", Mayakovsky calls for a struggle against the enemies
of the Russian Revolution. The poem "150,000,000" discusses the leading
played by the masses in the revolution. In the poem "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin",
Mayakovsky looks at the life and work at the leader of Russia's revolution and
depicts them against a broad historical background. In the poem "It's Good",
Mayakovsky writes about socialist society being the "springtime of
humanity". Mayakovsky was instrumental in producing a new type of poetry in
which politics played a major part. In the 1930s Socialist realism became
the predominant trend in Russia. Its leading figure was Maxim Gorky, who laid
the foundations of this style with his works The Mother and his play The
Enemies. His autobiographical trilogy describes his journey from the poor of
society to the development of his political consciousness. His novel The
Artamanov Business and his play Egor Bulyshov depict the decay and inevitable
downfall of Russia's ruling classes. Gorky defined socialist realism as the
"realism of people who are rebuilding the world," and points out that it looks
at the past "from the heights of the future's goals". Gorky considered the
main task of writers to help in the development of the new man in socialist
society. Gorky's version of a heroic revolutionary is Pavel Vlasov from the
novel The Mother, who displays selflessness and compassion for the
working poor, as well as discipline and dedication. Gorky's works were
significant for the development of literature in Russia and became
influential in many parts of the world. Nikolay Ostrovsky's novel How the Steel
Was Tempered has been among the most successful works of Russian literature,
with tens of millions of copies printed in many languages around the world. In
China, various versions of the book have sold more than 10 million copies. In
Russia, more than 35 million copies of the book are in circulation. The book is
a fictionalized autobiography of Ostrovsky's life, who had a difficult
working-class childhood and became a Komsomol member in July 1919 and went to
the front as a volunteer. The novel's protagonist, Pavel Korchagin,
represented the "young hero" of Russian literature: he is dedicated to his
political causes, which help him to overcome his tragedies. The novel has
served as an inspiration to youths around the world and played a mobilizing
role in Russia's Great Patriotic War. Alexander Fadeyev achieved noteworthy
success in Russia, with tens of millions of copies of his books in circulation in
Russia and around the world. Many of Fadeyev's works have been staged and
filmed and translated into many languages in Russia and around the
world. Fadeyev served as a secretary of the Soviet Writers' Union and was the
general secretary of the union's administrative board from 1946 to 1954.
He was awarded two Orders of Lenin and various medals. His novel The Rout deals
with the partisan struggle in Russia's Far East during the Russian Revolution
and Civil War. Fadeyev described the theme of this novel as one of a
revolution significantly transforming the masses. The novel's protagonist
Levinson is a Bolshevik revolutionary who has a high level of political
consciousness. The novel The Young Guard, which received the State Prize of
the USSR in 1946, focuses on an underground Komsomol group in Krasnodon,
Ukraine and their struggle against the fascist occupation.
The first years of the Soviet regime were marked by the proliferation of
avant-garde literature groups. One of the most important was the Oberiu
movement that included the most famous Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms,
Konstantin Vaginov, Alexander Vvedensky and Nikolay Zabolotsky. Other famous
authors experimenting with language were novelists Yuri Olesha and Andrei
Platonov and short story writers Isaak Babel and Mikhail Zoshchenko. The OPOJAZ
group of literary critics, also known as Russian formalism, was created in close
connection with Russian Futurism. Two of its members also produced influential
literary works, namely Viktor Shklovsky, whose numerous books defy genre in that
they present a novel mix of narration, autobiography, and aesthetic as well as
social commentary, and Yury Tynyanov, who used his knowledge of Russia's
literary history to produce a set of historical novels mainly set in the
Pushkin era. Writers like those of the Serapion
Brothers group, who insisted on the right of an author to write
independently of political ideology, were forced by authorities to reject
their views and accept socialist realist principles. Some 1930s writers, such as
Mikhail Bulgakov, author of The Master and Margarita, and Nobel Prize–winning
Boris Pasternak with his novel Doctor Zhivago continued the classical
tradition of Russian literature with little or no hope of being published.
Their major works would not be published until the Khrushchev Thaw, and Pasternak
was forced to refuse his Nobel prize. Meanwhile, 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. Poetry became a mass
cultural phenomenon: Bella Akhmadulina, Robert Rozhdestvensky, Andrei
Voznesensky, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko, read their poems in stadiums and
attracted huge crowds. Some writers dared to oppose Soviet
ideology, like short story writer Varlam Shalamov and Nobel Prize-winning
novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote about life in the gulag camps, or
Vasily Grossman, with his description of World War II events countering the
Soviet official historiography. They were dubbed "dissidents" and could not
publish their major works until the 1960s.
But the thaw did not 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. Others, such as Nobel Prize–winning poet Joseph Brodsky;
novelists Vasily Aksyonov, Eduard Limonov, Sasha Sokolov and Vladimir
Voinovich; and short story writer Sergei Dovlatov, had to emigrate to the West,
while Oleg Grigoriev and Venedikt Yerofeyev "emigrated" to alcoholism.
Their books were not published officially until perestroika, although
fans continued to reprint them manually in a manner called "samizdat".
= Popular genres= Children's literature in Soviet Union
was considered a major genre, because of its educational role. A large share of
early period children's books were poems: Korney Chukovsky, Samuil Marshak,
Agnia Barto were among the most read. "Adult" poets, such as Mayakovsky and
Sergey Mikhalkov, contributed to the genre as well. Some of the early Soviet
children's prose was loose adaptations of foreign fairy tales unknown in
contemporary Russia. Alexey N. Tolstoy wrote Buratino, a light-hearted and
shortened adaptation of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio. Alexander Volkov introduced
fantasy fiction to Soviet children with his loose translation of L. Frank Baum's
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published as The Wizard of the Emerald City, and then
wrote a series of five sequels, unrelated to Baum. Other notable authors
include Nikolay Nosov, Lazar Lagin, Vitaly Bianki.
While fairy tales were relatively free from ideological oppression, the
realistic children's prose of the Stalin era was highly ideological and pursued
the goal to raise children as patriots and communists. A notable example is
Arkady Gaydar, himself a Red Army commander in Russian Civil War: his
stories and plays about Timur describe a team of young pioneer volunteers who
help the elderly and resist hooligans. There was a genre of hero pioneer story,
that bore some similarities with Christian genre of hagiography. In
Khrushov and Brezhnev times, however, the pressure lightened. Mid- and late
Soviet children's books by Eduard Uspensky, Yuri Entin, Viktor Dragunsky
bear no signs of propaganda. In the 1970s many of these books, as well as
stories by foreign children's writers, were adapted into animation.
Soviet Science fiction, inspired by scientistic revolution,
industrialisation, and the country's space pioneering, was flourishing,
albeit in the limits allowed by censors. Early science fiction authors, such as
Alexander Belyayev, Grigory Adamov, Vladimir Obruchev, Aleksey Nikolayevich
Tolstoy, stuck to hard science fiction and regarded H. G. Wells and Jules Verne
as examples to follow. Two notable exclusions from this trend were Yevgeny
Zamyatin, author of dystopian novel We, and Mikhail Bulgakov, who, while using
science fiction instrumentary in Heart of a Dog, The Fatal Eggs and Ivan
Vasilyevich, was interested in social satire rather than scientistic progress.
The two have had problems with publishing their books in Soviet Union.
Since the thaw in the 1950s Soviet science fiction began to form its own
style. Philosophy, ethics, utopian and dystopian ideas became its core, and
Social science fiction was the most popular subgenre. Although the view of
Earth's future as that of utopian communist society was the only welcome,
the liberties of genre still offered a loophole for free expression. Books of
brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and Kir Bulychev, among others, are
reminiscent of social problems and often include satire on contemporary Soviet
society. Ivan Yefremov, on the contrary, arose to fame with his utopian views on
future as well as on Ancient Greece in his historical novels. Strugatskies are
also credited for the Soviet's first science fantasy, the Monday Begins on
Saturday trilogy. Other notable science fiction writers included Vladimir
Savchenko, Georgy Gurevich, Alexander Kazantsev, Georgy Martynov, Yeremey
Parnov. Space opera was less developed, since both state censors and serious
writers watched it unfavorably. Nevertheless, there were moderately
successful attempts to adapt space westerns to Soviet soil. The first was
Alexander Kolpakov with "Griada", after came Sergey Snegov with "Men Like Gods",
among others. A specific branch of both science
fiction and children's books appeared in mid-Soviet era: the children's science
fiction. It was meant to educate children while entertaining them. The
star of the genre was Bulychov, who, along with his adult books, created
children's space adventure series about Alisa Selezneva, a teenage girl from the
future. Others include Nikolay Nosov with his books about dwarf Neznayka,
Evgeny Veltistov, who wrote about robot boy Electronic, Vitaly Melentyev,
Vladislav Krapivin, Vitaly Gubarev. Mystery was another popular genre.
Detectives by brothers Arkady and Georgy Vayner and spy novels by Yulian Semyonov
were best-selling, and many of them were adapted into film or TV in the 1970s and
1980s. Village prose is a genre that conveys
nostalgic descriptions of rural life. Valentin Rasputin’s 1976 novel,
Proshchaniye s Matyoroy depicted a village faced with destruction to make
room for a hydroelectric plant. Historical fiction in the early Soviet
era included a large share of memoirs, fictionalized or not. Valentin Katayev
and Lev Kassil wrote semi-autobiographic books about children's life in Tsarist
Russia. Vladimir Gilyarovsky wrote Moscow and Muscovites, about life in
pre-revolutionary Moscow. The late Soviet historical fiction was dominated
by World War II novels and short stories by authors such as Boris Vasilyev,
Viktor Astafyev, Boris Polevoy, Vasil Bykaŭ, among many others, based on the
authors' own war experience. Vasily Yan and Konstantin Badygin are best known
for their novels on Medieval Rus, and Yury Tynyanov for writing on Russian
Empire. Valentin Pikul wrote about many different epochs and countries in an
Alexander Dumas-inspired style. In the 1970s there appeared a relatively
independent Village Prose, whose most prominent representatives were Viktor
Astafyev and Valentin Rasputin. Any sort of fiction that dealt with the
occult, either horror, adult-oriented fantasy or magic realism, was unwelcome
in Soviet Russia. Until the 1980s very few books in these genres were written,
and even fewer were published, although earlier books, such as by Gogol, were
not banned. Of the rare exceptions, Bulgakov in Master and Margarita and
Strugatskies in Monday Begins on Saturday introduced magic and mystical
creatures into contemporary Soviet reality to satirize it. Another
exception was early Soviet writer Alexander Grin, who wrote romantic
tales, both realistic and fantastic. Post-Soviet era
The end of the 20th century proved a difficult period for Russian literature,
with relatively few distinct voices. Although the censorship was lifted and
writers could now freely express their thoughts, the political and economic
chaos of the 1990s affected the book market and literature heavily. The book
printing industry descended into crisis, the number of printed book copies
dropped several times in comparison to Soviet era, and it took about a decade
to revive. Among the most discussed authors of this
period were Victor Pelevin, who gained popularity with first short stories and
then novels, novelist and playwright Vladimir Sorokin, and the poet Dmitry
Prigov. A relatively new trend in Russian literature is that female short
story writers Tatyana Tolstaya or Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, and novelists
Lyudmila Ulitskaya or Dina Rubina have come into prominence. The tradition of
the classic Russian novel continues with such authors as Mikhail Shishkin and
Vasily Aksyonov. Detective stories and thrillers have
proven a very successful genre of new Russian literature: in the 1990s serial
detective novels by Alexandra Marinina, Polina Dashkova and Darya Dontsova were
published in millions of copies. In the next decade Boris Akunin who wrote more
sophisticated popular fiction, e.g. a series of novels about the 19th century
sleuth Erast Fandorin, was eagerly read across the country.
Science fiction was always well selling, albeit second to fantasy, that was
relatively new to Russian readers. These genres boomed in the late 1990s, with
authors like Sergey Lukyanenko, Nick Perumov, Maria Semenova, Vera Kamsha,
Alexey Pekhov and Vadim Panov. A good share of modern Russian science fiction
and fantasy is written in Ukraine, especially in Kharkiv, home to H. L.
Oldie, Alexander Zorich, Yuri Nikitin and Andrey Valentinov. Many others hail
from Kiev, including Marina and Sergey Dyachenko and Vladimir Arenev.
Significant contribution to Russian horror literature has been done by
Ukrainians Andrey Dashkov and Alexander Vargo.
Russian poetry of that period produced a number of avant-garde greats. The
members of the Lianosovo group of poets, notably Genrikh Sapgir, Igor Kholin and
Vsevolod Nekrasov, who previously chose to refrain from publication in Soviet
periodicals, became very influential, especially in Moscow, and the same goes
for another masterful experimental poet, Gennady Aigi. Also popular were poets
following some other poetic trends, e.g. Vladimir Aristov and Ivan Zhdanov from
Poetry Club and Konstantin Kedrov and Elena Katsuba from DOOS, who all used
complex metaphors which they called meta-metaphors. In St. Petersburg,
members of New Leningrad Poetry School that included not only the famous Joseph
Brodsky but also Victor Krivulin, Sergey Stratanovsky and Elena Shvarts, were
prominent first in the Soviet-times underground - and later in mainstream
poetry. Some other poets, e.g. Sergey Gandlevsky
and Dmitry Vodennikov, gained popularity by writing in a retro style, which
reflected the sliding of newly-written Russian poetry into being consciously
imitative of the patterns and forms developed as early as in the 19th
century. = 21st century=
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 about “new realism”. Having grown up after the fall
of the Soviet Union, the "new realists" write about every day life, but without
using the mystical and surrealist elements of their predecessors.
The "new realists" are writers who assume there is a place for preaching in
journalism, social and political writing and the media, but that “direct action”
is the responsibility of civil society. Leading "new realists" include Ilja
Stogoff, Zakhar Prilepin, Alexander Karasyov, Arkadi Babchenko, Vladimir
Lorchenkov, Alexander Snegiryov and the political author Sergej Shargunov.
External influences = British romantic poetry=
Scottish poet Robert Burns became a ‘people’s poet’ in Russia. In Imperial
times the Russian aristocracy were so out of touch with the peasantry that
Burns, translated into Russian, became a symbol for the ordinary Russian people.
In Soviet Russia Burns was elevated as the archetypical poet of the people –
not least since the Soviet regime slaughtered and silenced its own poets.
A new translation of Burns, begun in 1924 by Samuil Marshak, proved
enormously popular selling over 600,000 copies. In 1956, the Soviet Union became
the first country in the world to honour Burns with a commemorative stamp. The
poetry of Burns is taught in Russian schools alongside their own national
poets. Burns was a great admirer of the egalitarian ethos behind the French
Revolution. Whether Burns would have recognised the same principles at work
in the Soviet State at its most repressive is moot. This didn’t stop the
Communists from claiming Burns as one of their own and incorporating his work
into their state propaganda. The post communist years of rampant capitalism in
Russia have not tarnished Burns' reputation.
Lord Byron was a major influence on almost all Russian poets of the Golden
Era, including Pushkin, Vyazemsky, Zhukovsky, Batyushkov, Baratynsky,
Delvig and, especially, Lermontov. = French literature=
Writers such as Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac were widely influential. Also,
Jules Verne inspired several generations of Russian science fiction writers.
Abroad Russian literature is not only written
by Russians. In the Soviet times such popular writers as Belarusian Vasil
Bykaŭ, Kyrgyz Chinghiz Aitmatov and Abkhaz Fazil Iskander wrote some of
their books in Russian. Some renowned contemporary authors writing in Russian
have been born and live in Ukraine or Baltic States. Most Ukrainian fantasy
and science fiction authors write in Russian, which gives them access to a
much broader audience, and usually publish their books via Russian
publishers such as Eksmo, Azbuka and AST.
A number of prominent Russian authors such as novelists Mikhail Shishkin,
Rubén Gallego, Svetlana Martynchik and Dina Rubina, poets Alexei Tsvetkov and
Bakhyt Kenjeev, though born in USSR, live and work in West Europe, North
America or Israel. Themes in Russian books
Suffering, often as a means of redemption, is a recurrent theme in
Russian literature. Fyodor Dostoyevsky 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 Dostoyevsky, 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." Russian Nobel Prize in Literature
winners Ivan Bunin
Boris Pasternak Mikhail Sholokhov
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Joseph Brodsky
See also List of Russian-language poets
List of Russian-language novelists List of Russian-language playwrights
Russian formalism Pushkin House
List of Russian-language writers Russian fairy tale
Russian philosophy Russian science fiction and fantasy
Russian Booker Prize Anti-Booker
References Bibliography
Terras, Victor. Handbook of Russian Literature. New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1985 ISBN 0300048688 External links
Encyclopedia of Soviet Writers An Outline of Russian Literature by
Maurice Baring Maxim Moshkov's E-library of Russian
literature Contemporary Russian Poets Database
Contemporary Russian Poets in English translation
A bilingual anthology of Russian verse La Nuova Europa: international cultural
journal about Russia and East of Europe Information and Critique on Russian
Literature Russian Classics Bulletin by Erik
Lindgren History of Russian literature Brief
summary Russian Literary Resources by the Slavic
Reference Service Search Russian Books
Philology in Runet. A special search through the sites devoted to the Old
Russian literature. Публичная электронная библиотека
Е.Пескина "Russian Language and Literature".
Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
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